Poor Reflection

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“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror. Then we shall see face to face.”

This verse is taken from 1 Corinthians 13, most known for its initial verses as the Love Chapter. It’s read at weddings and carries a romantic reputation within its words. However, this passage of Scripture came alive in a new way to me last night.

I have a new nephew. He’s only three months new, to be precise. He was born thousands of miles away from me, in Japan, yet I had the joy, privilege and honor of being with him in his third and fourth weeks of life. I held him, shushed him, sang to him, wrapped him and rocked him. I read Scripture to him and prayed over him. I told him that I was his and he was mine. I laughed at his tiny yawns and little noises, and cried at the mere thought of leaving him. As he began to trust me, he nestled his way not only into my arms but into my heart. We bonded deeply.

This Thanksgiving, as was the same for the past two, I was blessed with the chance to travel home to spent time with family and friends and in NJ. Of course, baby nephew was the talk of many conversations and I was able to show him off through the pixels of my phone’s screen.

We video chatted with him and his parents and I just about bursted watching him meet the friends and family I love dearly. I could sense them falling in love with him as well. He smiled and cooed at them. They “oogled” and “awwed” at him. It was magical and special. We could hear him and see him and interact with him and smile at him. It brought joy to my heart and wonder to my mind that a small piece of technology can span great distances across the earth. And yet, there was a sense of sadness in my heart because it was only a poor reflection of the real thing!

Screens cannot convey the warmth of human touch. They cannot accurately portray the three dimensions of reality. They cannot recreate the fullest sense of sights, smells, and intimacy as when sharing a moment with another person, face to face.

This is how it is with our relationship with Christ. We are able to hear Him, to interact with Him, and talk to Him. We can read all about Him in His Word. We can love Him and know Him and experience all of that in return, and it brings joy and relational intimacy. I know His voice and can feel His touch and He responds to my cries. I find wonder at His a Creation and marvel when He speaks to me in subtle impressions on my spirit. But, my friends, it is only a poor reflection of the real thing. Because of sin, we are separated from the fullness of relationship that God intended from the beginning.

And yet, in the midst of that sadness while talking to my nephew, there was hope. You see, he is coming home with his parents in a few short weeks from his birthplace of Japan. Soon, we all will be reunited over Christmas and the New Year! We will be together, sharing laughter and tears. We will be able to touch and hug and kiss one another. We will see each other face to face. We will experience the fullness of relationship in real time. Oh what joy that day will bring! The anticipation in all of our hearts is enough to fill an entire ocean!

And this is when it hit me. God the Father longs for us to be reunited with Him in the same way, but so much more. He is crazy in love with us and desires to be in right relationship with His Creation (us!). He sent Jesus, His Son, to take the punishment of sin on our behalf so that we can enjoy relationship with Him now on earth. We just have to let Him into our hearts and cultivate intimacy and love with our Perfect Father this side of eternity. If the glimpses of relationship with Him are this good, I can’t even imagine what the real thing will be like! There is more to come when we reach Heaven! On that Day, when He returns, we will be reunited and experience the fullness of relationship forever! We shall see face to face. And, one of the best parts is that we shall get to experience it all with our friends, family and loved ones who similarly believe in Jesus as their Savior. Oh, what joy THAT Day will bring!

In the meantime and until then, instead of letting the sadness of the dim reflection dominate my heart, I’m letting the anticipation and the hope of future reunions reign. And just as those little glimpses through my screen sustain my relationship with my nephew, the glimpses through prayer and the Bible sustain my relationship with my God. And it is good.

What are you anticipating this Christmas season?

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13‬:‭12-13‬ NLT)

Just Receive

*Warning at the end of this post is a semi-graphic photo of stitches.  If you are queasy, I apologize!*

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“I think we need to go to the hospital,” I heard as I looked up into the concern faces of my college-age students, who had just analyzed the damage I had done to my hand. “It looks deep.”

Those words shot through my gut like a sucker punch. “I’m the leader,” I thought. “This shouldn’t be happening to me.”

I’m a teacher, mentor, and small group leader at Oceans Edge School of Worship.  I had my small group over to my home one Friday night to enjoy a meal together, hang out, and make fun memories. I had no idea that that night would create probably the most memorable experience of this school year.

Over dinner I felt led in my spirit to do what I call an “edification circle.”  As we ate, I asked the students to declare what they love about the person sitting to their right and their left.  It was amazing to hear what they had to say about one another, but as it drew nearer to my turn, I felt anxiety rise in my heart, not because of what I had to say about my students, but what they had to say about me.

I don’t like receiving compliments. I have a difficult time receiving feedback. I feel uncomfortable receiving gifts.  I’m not good at asking for help.

I’m a giver.

It was then that I felt God say to my heart, “Just receive.”  My eyes filled with burning tears, my cheeks blushed with embarrassment and my throat began to tighten as I listened to the students to my right and left edify me. Their hearts were genuine and their sentiments were true.  I heard their words, but was I really receiving from them?

Twenty minutes later, after we had finished eating, I was at the sink, washing the dirty dishes that indicated full bellies and full hearts.  Suddenly, the plate I was scrubbing slipped from my soapy grasp and crashed into the side of the sink.  My instincts told me to reach out and catch it, but I was too late.  The broken dish sliced my hand.

I’m not good with blood, especially my own.  All of my students rushed around me and the sink as I proceeded to squat down for fear of passing out or letting them see the tears that threatened to drop from my eyes.

“I think we need to go to the hospital,” I heard… “It looks deep.”

“I’m the leader,” I thought. “This shouldn’t be happening to me.”

Again, I also heard, “Just receive.”

I had no choice but to acquiesce. That night, I was escorted to the ER by two of my students who prayed over me and kept me calm amidst all of my panic.  The rest of my small group stayed behind and cleaned up my house, my broken plate, my blood.  My roommate met us in triage and relieved my heroes.  She stood by my side while we waited for hours, making me laugh despite the tears that rebelliously rolled down my cheeks and filling in as a nurse while the nighttime ER doc put six stitches into the web and ring finger of my left hand.IMG_6812

“You’ll have to clean the wound and change the dressing every 24 hours,” he counseled. “And then after a few days, put some Neosporin on it leave it open to heal.”

“Doctor, I’m a musician. Will this affect my ability to play?” I questioned.

He told me I wouldn’t be playing for a few weeks, and I began to panic.  I’m a worship leader.  My church and my team need me to play for them.  What was I going to do?

There was no way I could do it myself. I needed help.  And I would continue to need help as long as my wound needed time to heal.

Again I felt the familiar sting of tears forming in my eyes and the squeeze of the tourniquet around my throat. A million thoughts rushed through my head.  “How am I going to do my job if I can’t play music?  Just thinking about blood is enough to drain it from my face.  How am I going to take care of this hand?  My car is a stick shift.  How am I going to drive to work?  Or get food?  Or take a shower? Or… Or…?”

“Just receive.”

God was reminding me that I can’t do it alone.

I have a tendency to need to prove that I’m strong, independent and capable.  I don’t need anyone.  I’m a big girl now, living on my own away from home. My stony heart can take care of itself, thank you very much. 

But that’s not the truth.

We were very much designed for community.  Admitting we need help doesn’t make us weak or incompetent.  Receiving from others teaches us how to freely receive from Father God.  And while we are receiving, we are allowing others to practice giving.  My small group bonded in ways I never thought possible.  My roommate gently took care of my wound, drove me around, and cooked for me.  My worship team stepped up and some substitutes stepped in and filled the gaps that my 6 stitches had left.

The care, love and support I received from my small group and my roommate/chauffeur/nurse/chef and my worship team helped solidify this crucial lesson in my life.  It was a lesson I thought I had learned before, but must have forgotten.

The Father looks down on us and says “I love you. You don’t have to do anything.  You need me. Receive My love.

When I look down at the scars on my hand, I will forever be reminded of the lesson He gently chiseled into my heart of stone.  As I watched the wound on my hand heal, gradually, day by day, and unassisted by any conscious effort of my own, I also felt my heart soften by Love, engraved with a scar of its own:

“Just receive.”

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  Ezekiel 36:26

Choosing Joy

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“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just been informed by maintenance that this plane has irreparable damage at this moment and we need to change planes,” our captain broadcasted over the PA system onboard my flight that was scheduled to leave before 8am. The sleep and caffeine-deprived Jersey-bound passengers were not happy as muttered expletives resounded about the cabin like ripples in a pond.

As we de-planed, I heard the flight attendants announce that any complaints or suggestions should be made at the information booth in the airport terminal. They anticipated the backlash.

An hour and a half later, I found myself on a new plane in the same seat, but the difference was the grumpy attitude that had filled the air.

“I have to cancel my spa reservation now because, of course, there was a delay.”

“I need to speak with the Captain. We shouldn’t have to pay for refreshments now, because of the inconvenience.”

“Ugh, I am so tired and I have to be at work in a few hours.”

I was dumbfounded by the entitlement mentality that my fellow passengers exuded. It was toxic. I felt myself almost give in and agree with them:

“Yea! This is ridiculous! I deserve a free cup of coffee because you guys are trying to keep us safe!”

In moments like this we have a choice. We can choose life or death.

I’m really into chalk art right now. A few months ago I found a quote by Henri J. Nouwen that I handlettered on the chalkboard that’s in my house.

“We have to choose joy and keep choosing it.”

I think about the quote daily because I’m reminded of it every morning as I leave the house.

I also came across an article recently on the seven secrets to live a happy life, as taught by children. One of them was embracing joy! When was the last time you squealed with wonder at snow falling from the sky? Or how often to you jump up and down with excitement at just the sight of someone you love? As adults, we lose our ability to express childlike joy. We choose to grumble. We choose death.

What’s the use in freaking out about something that you can’t control? What makes you so entitled that you feel the need to be compensated for a minor inconvenience? Why is your immediate reaction a negative one?

My God is so sovereign that He knows what’s going to happen before it happens. So perhaps we were delayed so that my dad wouldn’t get in a car accident on the way to the airport. Or maybe the mechanic that was fixing the first plane needed overtime to feed his family. Or maybe I just needed to learn this lesson in choosing joy.

So, early this morning, instead of jumping on the bandwagon of complaints, I waved it along and chose to ride on my tricycle of joy. My circumstances will not affect my attitude. I’m sitting in a padded chair, in an air-conditioned cabin, traveling over 600 mph, miles above the ground on my way to see faces I love. Wheeeee!

Today, and everyday hereafter, I’m choosing joy. What about you?

How Traveling 200 Miles Gave Me Eternal Perspective

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Back in August I went on a missions trip overseas to the Bahamas.  It was a short trip (both in length measured in miles and length measured in days), but it expanded my perspective in massive ways.   I wrote an article about it for my friends at Circles of Faith.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has just alerted us that we’ve reached our cruising altitude.  You’re now free to move about the cabin,” the flight attendant chirped over the loudspeaker in our tiny airplane heading from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, to Nassau, Bahamas.

What seemed like less than five minutes later, I heard her voice again announcing that we had begun our initial descent and anyone moving about the cabin had to return to their seats with seat belts securely fastened. Our flight time that August morning lasted a total of 26 minutes.

I had expected a quick flight. I hadn’t expected that through this trip God would teach me vast lessons about His character and my heart.

Read more about it at Circles of Faith!

Languages of Love

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We all know about Gary Chapman’s best-selling book The 5 Love Languages.  The website has a handy quiz that even helps you discover your love language.  According to the quiz, I’m a sucker for quality time and words of affirmation.  No offense to Dr. Chapman, but more and more lately, I have come to realize that there are more than five ways to give and receive love.  I have felt loved in a number of ways this past month, including when I passed a mile marker and got to go home for a few days.  Below are just a few of them.

 

On Valentine’s Day, I could have gotten cranky and celebrated another “Singles’ Awareness Day.”  Instead I got a bouquet of flowers sent to my office from my dad and thanked God for my family (see photo above).

The students I’m living with are doing a good job of cleaning up after themselves in the living room and kitchen.

I received a strong and warm embrace from a friend I hadn’t seen in two weeks.

A woman from my church sent me an email to thank me for doing a “fantabulous” job, noting that I give God all of the glory.

I constantly get encouragement in the form of texts, emails, Facebook likes and comments from my tech-savvy momma.

Another friend played with my hair and spent time rubbing a knot out of my shoulder, where I tend to keep my stress.

My brother-in-law sent me two “thank you” notes, when one wasn’t even necessary.

My sister let joyful tears slip down her cheeks when I surprised her for her 30th birthday.

I was escorted to and from the airport in NJ by my chauffeur, I mean, younger brother.

One of my students prophetically prayed for me during one our small group gatherings.

 

I have heard love defined as sacrificing oneself for the sake of another.  That definition could not be more accurate:

LOVE

What are some ways you feel loved?

It’s Supposed to Be Hard

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The beginning of this month marked 6 months of me living in Florida. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s what makes it great.

One of my favorite movies is A League of Their Own. It’s about an all-women’s baseball league in 1943 when the men were drafted overseas during WWII. When Geena Davis’ character decides to quit the team after her husband returns, her excuse was that it just got too hard. Her coach, played by Tom Hanks, retorts,

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

That line has stuck with me. In the moments where I just want to give up and move back home, I’m reminded that the hard is great. I don’t want to enjoy an easy, comfortable life. I don’t want to do the things that everyone does. In those moments, I feel far from God because I don’t need Him. But in the moments when things are difficult, I need Him. I pray harder. My faith grows deeper. My spirit grows stronger. I want to be someone that others can look to and say, “If she can do it, so can I!”

I am reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, studying Daniel, and am going through a series called Fresh Encounter with my church. It is amazing how these three resources, in conjunction with the Bible, are saying very similar things. I am being encouraged to persevere, persist, resolve, and endure through the hard. No one achieves greatness easily. It is hard, my friend!

I don’t want to hear or use the excuse that it’s just too hard. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:36). I’m circling that promise! I want to be great!

Do you want to be great?

 

Year In Review

I wanted to spend some time reflecting on what God has brought me through this year. Remembering in retrospect is a valuable way to see how He has planned every step, and gives me confidence that He will continue to do so with my future.

In 2012,

I nannied for two wonderful families, bonding with their three children and learning valuable life skills for my own children one day.

I celebrated (and cried about!) the engagement of my sister.

I was offered and accepted a new job as a full time Music Minister.

I planned a surprise bridal shower in 2 months for my sister, with the help of amazing bridesmaids and my mother.

I thoroughly enjoyed our annual family vacation in Wildwood NJ.

I watched my sister walk down the aisle to the man who is the answer to countless prayers and celebrated the beginning of their lives together.

I also mourned the end of our four years together living in Ocean Grove.

I packed my entire life, minus my winter clothes, and moved to South Florida with the help of my brother.

I wept when he left.

I began mentoring and discipling young women who are students at Oceans’s Edge.

I studied Pastor Counseling from Liberty University Online and completed my Master’s Degree in December.

I’ve kept the airline companies in business by visiting my family or researching the cheapest flights for them to visit me.

I’ve met and bonded with new people, adjusted to a new life, and embraced new challenges in my career.

These are major life changes and it is wondrous to watch them unfold! I am thankful for 2012 and hopeful for 2013. What about you?

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