Wednesday, October 17, 2018

just do the most what you do the best

When my kids were little, one of our favorite bedtime stories was Max Lucado's Your Special Gift.  Little puppets called Wemicks woke up one day to find that they were all given special gifts.  The baker got a new spoon, a little boy got a guitar, the Mayor's wife got a book and they were all so excited.  One day, a downtrodden family came to their village and the Wemicks scrambled to help.  The baker tried to repair the wheel with a hammer, the little boy tried to sew their clothes, the Mayor's wife tried to cook a meal, but the results were less than stellar.  Their wagon remained broken and their dinner was burned.  They took their problems to Eli, their Maker, and he reminded them about their special gift.  "Use the gift I gave you," he said, "don't try to use a gift you don't have. JUST DO THE MOST WHAT YOU DO THE BEST."

Even though I'm not the greatest photographer in all the world, I have a great camera and some experience under my belt- not to mention a fascination and a passion for capturing all the gifts God gives us every day in photographs.  I've wanted to use my special gift- the one God gave me- to bless others and spread the Gospel.  I'm so thankful I was given the opportunity to do just that.   I was able to capture over 200 children in individual portraits, using  photography to communicate worth and value and belonging and beauty to a people group often overlooked and marginalized.   I wanted them to know that they are seen and beautiful and are of great value to God and I pray that the portraits they received as well as our interactions were able to communicate just that.  Because they are.  The gypsy/Romani people's beauty and rich culture and joie de vivre easily showcase how each one of them bears the image of God.  

Additionally, to witness Darcie and Brigette teach English as a second language with scripture, and Glen sing and play music and forge cross cultural relationships, and Clista organize and minister, and Amye teach and plan parties, and Dolores encourage and teach and spread her joy, and Meredith and Caleb love on kids and spread the Gospel through sports... well, that was a very special gift as well.  What an experience! 

I hope our story inspires you as well to just do the most what you do the best.  There is a Maker who smiles big and wide, so glad you're using what He gave you, when you do.  

*musical side note: FBC ministers Glen and Clista Atkins were full time missionaries in Hungary some years ago.  While they were there, Glen directed a gypsy/Romani choir.  He directed the kids in a rendition of their national anthem and put it on You Tube.  It was then picked up by Stephen Angelo who remixed it to the techno version that you hear in the video and royalties now go to the school.  
*funny side note:  In all earnestness, I tried to put "Jesus Loves You" in Hungarian on the back of their portraits.  I thought Google translate would do just fine.  But after I proudly showed my Hungarian friend Richie my work, he told me what I had actually written was "Jesus I love you you."  A for effort, right?  ;)
*sweet side note:   I did some special fundraising photography sessions to pay for my trip.  At the end of a family session, an 8 year old boy gave me $20 of his own money and told me he was praying for me and our trip.  I was able to give that money to a Hungarian girl who could really use it and most importantly, God connected all of us relationally all the way across the globe.  How inspiring is this little boy's faith and generosity?  Amazing.  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

not a thing 

One week ago I was worshipping at a Hungarian church where there were these cubbies outside of the sanctuary, a holdover of Communist rule when it was illegal to have a Bible outside of the church building. So today I’m thankful for the religious freedom I often take for granted but also for the love of God that cannot be quenched- even in the face of oppression and great opposition. Nothing can separate it from us. Not a thing.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I do too

I struggle with sleep and with depression. I am well acquainted with that heavy feeling that relentlessly pulls one down down down into an abyss of darkness. I often don't like being in my own skin or being with other people. I have the head knowledge that I am beautiful and that being with others is so important but it doesn't translate easily to my heart every day. I have to work at it. I have to make myself fight for gratitude and I have to borrow the joy of God daily. My family isn't perfect and I'm not the best mother and I often fail others. Others struggle much more, others struggle less, but I struggle. And I just need anyone who knows me or likes me to know that. I struggle TOO.  

If you see anything good in me, it's because I've hidden myself in the Rock. I've let the Spirit fill me and use me and that's all I've got. I take medicine and supplements and I watch what I eat (most times) and I've taken to meditating more often and practicing hospitality and gratitude and these are all important. But being myself and taking care of myself isn't enough. I have to let the Spirit of God take care of me, let myself be set free in Jesus, to let truth wash over me every day so that I can run free and into the calling God has just for me. This doesn't fix circumstances but it brings peace when I let it.  

Last night an old friend and I were talking about our personality types and she said, "I'm really surprised [that we're the same type]... I don't know what that means except I guess that I battle against anxiety and depression and I guess I don't imagine that you do?" So this is just me getting real and setting the record straight. I struggle too. You are not alone.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

beauty comforts

In Anthony Ray Hinton's book The Sun Still Shines, he describes the 30 years he spent on death row for a crime he didn't commit.  His story is heartwrenching and moving and I highly recommend reading it, but one of the things I've been pondering was what he briefly mentioned about his visits with his mother. Of the two sets of prison clothes Anthony was issued, he wore one set daily but the other set he folded carefully and set aside for visiting day so that on the day his mama and his best friend Lester visited, he could look his very best.  It was a very small thing, but it was something Anthony could do to comfort his mom.  It's a principle I've come to understand.  Or maybe it's a theory.  But this is it:  beauty comforts. Even if it's just your best set of prison whites and a smile. 

It's why floral arrangements fill funeral homes.  It's why mamas sing lullabies to their crying babies.  It's why the sight of a football player or celebrity at a pediatric cancer unit makes us tear up- we know that this is right and good.  People who can make a beautiful football pass or sing a beautiful song or make a beautiful movie- these people coming to be with us in our suffering- this comforts. That's not to say that the presence of beauty just makes us feel better, but it can also bolster our strength and sensibilities and actually make us stronger in the midst of the sufferings we encounter.   All beauty points to the God of all comfort, the One who is always with us.  It reminds us of the very presence and care of God.

It's like the rainbow I captured on the way to a funeral- God's comfort in our storms.

These glimpses of Presence and Beauty don't make our sufferings completely dissipate and they don't give us all the answers.  But it gives us enough of a hint to make it through if we can receive it. 

It's why Paul tells us that "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things."  Philippians 4:8

There are some flowers just starting to wilt on my coffee table.  A friend remembers me every year on September 7th- the due date for what would have been my fourth baby had I not miscarried.   The flowers were beautiful but they don't hold a candle to her the beauty of her thoughtfulness and her love and her presence in my life. 

May we all be that kind of beauty-bearing person in a dark and suffering world. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

The pallbearer 

In 1949, Sarah Margaret Chaney glided down the center aisle of First Methodist Church in the small town of Clinton, Louisiana radiating beauty and joy. Sixty-nine years later, a photo of her vibrant smile graced the front and center of that same country church as her family and friends gathered to visit, pray, sing, reminisce, and celebrate her life so well lived and her heavenly homecoming. Her daughter Susan beamed her usual joy as she took her daddy’s arm and walked under the huge and ancient cedar tree to the burial site. Uncle Kenny made us laugh (he always does) and Barbara’s eulogy made me reach for my handkerchief. The great grandkids ran around and broke the silence bringing us all great comfort- these new little lives in the midst of loss. We had our sweet tea and fried chicken and jambalaya and banana pudding in the church’s fellowship hall where the neatly painted cinder block walls have bathrooms labeled “men” and “ladies.” We’re on the road home but I’m thankful for the time together (I’m kind of the smartest person ever for marrying into the sweetest family on earth) and for this kindhearted lady who made such an impact on so many. Our lives are short- but a breath- but they really do mean something for forever. See you soon, Ms Sarah. Give my daddy a hug for me.  

Monday, August 20, 2018

Where are you?

It was right after I had a fleeting thought that maybe studying the Bible was getting old, doubting how could I learn something from a passage I've read so many times, when it was almost like a splash of freezing cold water on a sleepy face- these aren't just words. They are living and breathing gold mines that go deeper than you could ever know.

Case in point.

After the first sin- the biggest and most consequential act of disobedience- God simply had one question.

"Where are you?"

Doesn't that speak volumes about who this God is?

If it were me, I would have and could have raged with anger saying things like...

"What were you thinking?"

"How DARE you?"

"I gave you ONE rule."

"Do you realize that you have screwed EVERYTHING up?"

"Do you know how much pain and suffering you've caused for the entirety of all of the world for ages to come?"

"Was all of Paradise and unencumbered relationship with me not enough?"

"Did you really think I was holding out on you?"

"Why did you doubt my love for you?  Did you think I was lying?"


God doesn't say that.  Because God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. He loves us more than we can understand.

He simply asks, "Where are you?"

He doesn't shame because that's not God's nature.  Shame is a big, damaging, relational death bomb.  In fact, I think that's why so many of us are running from God, hiding from God even now just like Adam and Eve did because we are afraid that God will shame us.  We perceive our guilt and there is still a serpent accuser still whispering lies about who we are and what we've done and who God is when in fact, all God is saying with a big heart of love is...

"Where are you?"

So where am I?  Where are you?  Where are we?

Are we running to God in our weakness and fear and frailty or are we running away?

Let's run back to Him.  He's ready to receive you with open arms, healing balms for our wounded hearts, and a covering for our sin that cost Him everything.

If you want to and you're local, you can sit on my back porch on Tuesdays at 8:00 and laugh with me and my ridiculous know-it-all notion that I had the Bible figured out.  Because learning about God together is the best way to go about it- hands down.  And if my back porch doesn't work for you, find  a group that is running to God and join them.  Because no matter how far away we are from Him, I am certain all of Heaven rejoices at that first tiny step back.

Find your tribe and do life together- this is God's best for us.  Just check out the data!  God doesn't want us isolated, hiding in shame and fear.  God wants us living in community and relationship- eyeball to eyeball.  Let's run together. 

Where are you? 

Monday, July 23, 2018

a car full and a corpse foot

We were busting at the seams with six kids and two mamas in one vehicle driving eight hours to the beach, but we did it and it was SO worth it.  It was a chicken nuggets and peanut butter crackers and cereal kind of trip with both of us reminding the kids not to get sand, water, or excess noise in the "mom area" on the beach.  And for the most part, it was a hexagon of kids splashing in the ocean for hours upon end while Nora and I let go of all the stuff of life that weighs on you and we just sat in God's gorgeous theater of green and blue that was Pensacola Beach and it was glorious.  Make that trip with your friend and her kids, friends. You won't regret it- even if a kayak lands on your foot and your end up with a foot so black and blue it looks completely dead.  Even that can't knock this kind of trip's payoff down one bit.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

back to the beginning

The eight of us met about fifteen years ago in little  Wilore, Kentucky, while the guys were enrolled in various graduate programs at Asbury Seminary.* When we first started meeting, we were all in our first fewish years of marriage. None of us had kids yet which made things like sitting around and having nice meals and enjoying long talks fairly easy.  Fast forward to July 2018 and now we’re four families and 18 kids strong.  Getting together can be tricky as two of our four families live on the other side of the world but we fight schedules and calendars to make it happen.  

And I’m so thankful we fight that fight.  Life hasn’t been a joy ride for any of us so the getting together and the encouraging each other and the praying for one another and the truth telling and the blessing one another really really matters.  It is an epic pick-me-up, a reminder that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that He is WITH us.  God has given us each other FOREVER and I couldn’t be more thankful.  

If you don’t have a group like this, pray about finding them and then make a meal and open your door.  Don’t try to find how-are-you-doing friends but how-are-you-really-doing friends.  You’re looking for how-is-your-heart friends and let’s-pray friends, I-don’t-care-what-your-house-looks-like friends and let-me-help-with-your-kids friends.  We’re so thankful we have this in these awesome humans and some key people in Shreveport and Texarkana and Atlanta and Colorado and Alabama and Texas (the list goes on- stop moving away everybody) as well because it makes all the difference.  

Fifteen years seems like a really long time ago but it’s really nothing.  We talked about coming back to our little spot in Stanton, Kentucky in the year 30 billion 18 and I can’t wait.  These friendships will endure because they’re built on the hope of eternal life and the love of a God that has promised to make all things new.  These last fifteen years are really just an eye blink but the love that remains a constant is a gift and it’s something we’ll take with us always.  

Thanks be to God.  

*Truth be told, we would have never met these people if I hadn’t shared a laugh with this spunky girl from Northwest Arkansas who happened to be in my bible study group in Lexington and whose husband happened to be at the same seminary as my husband but that’s another story. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

creativity’s catalyst 

Boredom is a breeding ground for creativity and there was no more fertile soil than these past two weeks at our house without camps or programs or schedules.  To cope, my brilliant teenager created, organized, and implemented "Fun Week," and I think the photos speak for themselves.  To say I’m thankful for her genius may be an understatement.  This past week was one we’ll always remember- even if it was just a "boring" week at home.  It was hot, messy, loud, and at times crazy-making, but it was good and I am forever grateful for these kids and their friends and the community we share.  Eucharisteo! 

Monday, June 18, 2018

tenacious for beauty

"I will make everything around me beautiful- that will be my life."  Elsie De Wolfe

If you're lucky enough to have met Edna Dunaway, you know that her expressions of delight and surprise are quintessential Edna.  She met and married my husband's grandfather a number of years ago after having both been widowed and now, the more I'm around her, the more I am enraptured by the joie de vivre that comes not from having an easy life or a trouble-free life, but quite the opposite.  She's faced formidable odds and difficulty in her life and while she'll mention it, she will not dwell on it- it is only a stepping stone in her story, a matter of fact but not a root of bitterness.  She's like a wildflower that is determined to grow through a crack in the sidewalk- Edna is fiercely tenacious in her mission for beauty and love and grace and it's nothing short of wildly inspiring.  She didn't pick up a paintbrush until she was 42 years old, but she now has a house full of her paintings, her walls an gallery of love and color and joy.  Edna is a master storyteller and the kind of hostess you want to learn from (I take mental notes every time I'm around her).  So of course, she invited us over for tea when we were in Baton Rouge and of course it was thoughtful and sweet- the kind of event at which you feel completely at home but also like the most honored of guests.  "Not for the king, just for the people I love," she said.  But somehow she makes everyone feel like royalty.  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

because I want to 

"... unless I tell it because I want to, it’s as if it never happened; it gets closed off and then it’s lost." Tove Jannsen from The Summer Book

All these images are stories and gifts I want to remember not necessarily because of their inherent greatness (although they are truly awesome) but because they make me look up in thanks.  It’s a wonder we’re here and that we are given so much. Our Creator God, Master Gifter, is a wonder.  I tell these stories because I want to.