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

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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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An Unhurried Christmas

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This month has been ridiculously busy.  being in full time ministry during the Christmas season calls for overtime and increased productivity.  I wrote, organized and directed a Christmas production involving almost thirty people at my church (thus the banner I made above).  the students at ocean’s edge put on their annual Christmas show, Not So Silent Night.  On top of that, I finished my master’s degree from Liberty University Online on December 14, so had to complete final projects, papers and exams.  I’ve also been having problems with my car and am in the midst of getting new car and health insurance for the new year.  Additionally, I hadn’t done any Christmas shopping or preparation for spending time with my family until today, when everything else was out of the way.  At times it felt like I was just trying to keep my head above the water.  There was just so much to do!

For one of my classes, I had to read a book called The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  Like so many of the other books I was required to read, I really enjoyed this one.  One of the chapters talked about developing a discipline of an unhurried life.  I’m one of those people who stresses easily about being on time… I hate being late.  I like to leave ample time in my schedule so that I don’t have to hurry. I hate the anxiety and adrenaline that accompanies haste.  I resent people, whether they are loved ones I’m spending time with or complete strangers in a beat up, pick-up truck driving ten miles per hour under the speed limit on a two lane road, who make me late.  I’ve got to go!  I have things to do!  Especially if I want to sabbath this week!

John Ortberg diagnosed me with hurry sickness.  I need to be productive.  I rush, even when there is no need.  I love multi-tasking.  I’m impatient in the slow lane.

The cure?  Purposeful patience.  Intentional slowing.  Practicing solitude.

I literally groaned when I read that.  The next time I went into Publix, I chose the lane with the slowest-looking cashier and the customer with the most groceries.  And I was purposefully patient.  On I95 in South Florida, I chose the lane furthest to the right to drive in, and put my cruise on 64 MPH.  Nightly, since the student I live with have gone home for their Christmas break, I have enjoyed solitude and began reading more of my Bible again (there was just not enough time before!).

These simple cures have changed my perspective.  I have seen results, even though it has only been a few weeks.  Today, I drove up to a mall in Boca, two days before Christmas which might have been one of the bravest or dumbest things I’ve ever done.  There was a long line of luxury cars at the traffic light to turn into the mall.  The parking lot was a free-for-all, with Land Rovers and Explorers alike creating their own parking spaces.  People’s eyes were manic with shopping fever.  Hurry sickness everywhere!  Yet, in my spirit, I was calm, relaxed and peaceful.  I accepted that I was not getting anywhere quickly and enjoyed a slower pace.  I did not get angry or flustered.  It was amazing!

It’s a shame that the Christmas season is so busy and hurried.  We focus so much on all we have to do, that we miss the reason why we’re doing it.  Don’t hurry Christmas.  You must ruthlessly eliminate it!

I’m flying home in the morning, and am going to enjoy an unhurried week with my family and friends in NJ.  I pray your Christmas is happy, healthy and unhurried!

the “light up” reaction

have you ever seen one of those stuffed animals that lights up and plays music when you squeeze it?  a few of the kids i’ve watched have them and like to snuggle with them.  curious george’s head or glow worm’s face reacts endearingly to embraces by little arms and the song inside of them sings a melody to comfort the spirit of the little ones.

i just got back from spending a week in florida, visiting ocean’s edge and calvary ftl for their essential worship conference.  i had been looking forward to my trip for weeks beforehand, getting refreshed and equipped at the conference, relaxing by the pool or on the beach in the hot sun, and reuniting with the friendly faces of my oe family.  on my spirit air, $9 fare member seat, equipped with a straight back chair and approximately six and a half inches of leg room, a funny sensation swept over my body.

anxiety.

my mind slipped into dangerous territory as i began to worry what my time would actually be like down there again.  i started listening to the lies, “what if they don’t really like me?” “you’re really just going to be one of those lame alumns who go back to their alma mater to relive the ‘glory days’.” “they don’t need you or want you to come back.”  my spirit started sinking.  i wondered if i’d made a mistake in going back down and in my mind, i thought i had just created this fantasy with my memories of south florida.

then i arrived at the airport and was greeted by open arms, smiling faces, and warm embraces from two of my dear friends.  furthermore, when they dropped me off at the apartments, shrieks of joy and two more sets of arms wrapped their love around my waist.  the next day at the conference, the pattern continued all day as i reunited with more and more of my family members.  i literally felt their spirits lift mine and the anxiety i cultivated on my flight melted away.  i was foolish to believe those lies.

each one of those reunions was memorable and important.  i’d like to call these moments, the “light up” reaction…  you know, when the face of someone you love literally lights up because they see you.  think about what that does inside of you.  these reactions actually feed our spirits, because it’s as if someone is saying, “YOU!  you are here. you being here makes me better. you are valuable, you are precious, and you are loved!”  

our spirits, much like our bodies, need to be fed.  if they aren’t fed, they will whither.  you can feed your spirit by doing things you enjoy, listening to good music, enjoying nature, hanging out with close friends, enjoying a well-cooked meal, reading an inspirational story, celebrating a victory, or simply sitting in silence with a kindred spirit.  one of my favorite ways to be fed though, is through the “light up” reaction.   my friends in florida provided such good food to my spirit, as if they were human versions of the light-up stuffed animals who sing their soothing songs to the little ones who hug them.

be the kind of person who lights up when a loved one walks into the room.  you will serve the receiver a meal for their spirit that they won’t soon forget.

thanks @oceansedge friends, for feeding my spirit!

the week that changed everything

if one sign that i needed to go wasn’t enough, God provided with many many more that week that just confirmed everything.

tuesday:  i got an email and phone call from doug telling me the pastor emailed him about our conversation, saying it was very positive.  he was meeting with his team of leaders on friday to discuss everything, and would get back to me or doug shortly thereafter.  doug also gave me a little wiggle room to arrive because orientation was on saturday and classes would be starting in exactly one week…  the short time frame was stressing me out, but to receive grace on his end was comforting.

wednesday: i met with my counselor again and told her literally everything that was going on.  more tears.  more burden-lifting.  more excitement.  she prayed over me, spoke more encouraging words into my life, and validated all of what i was going through.  she told me that my situation had the handprint of God on it, and my only responsibility was to respond in obedience.  He will take care of the rest.  i was so assured after i left that going to oe was the right thing to do.  if you’ve never experienced a peace like this, i pray that one day you will!

thursday: i received a phone call from habitat for humanity international saying that they received my application and if they are interested in pursuing me, that they would contact me.  i asked if there was any way i could speak to someone directly in the national service department (in an effort to plead my case), and she kindly said no.  alright then.  consider that a door closed.

friday: got a text from my mom’s cousin, asking me if i could babysit her kids on labor day.  i responded no because i’m moving to fort lauderdale to go to school for music…  that in itself was a crazy thing to say!  she called me back a little while later and asked what the name of the school was, and i told her.  she freaks out and tells me that she just got off the phone with her best friend who lives in fort lauderdale and whose kids go to school at calvary chapel academy!  they want to help me get settled in!  she wants to give me her information so we can connect once i got down here.  i’m sorry, what?!  what are the chances?

saturday: packing.  ugh.  since it was labor day weekend, my sister had off on monday and asked for tuesday off as well. i only had one day to back since she and i decided that we would leave on sunday and plan to arrive on tuesday afternoon.  it was crazy, too btw, that she was able to get that day off so soon before she asked… anyway, i generally dread packing.  it stresses me out.  i always over-pack and regret it or forget that one thing that i really need and regret that too.  but this day of packing all of my worldly possessions into boxes and bags went so smoothly, it was unreal.  and everything fit so well in my little car.  awesome.

i was ready to move to florida.  all that was left were goodbyes…

genesis 12:1 “go… and i will show you.”

the breakdown

first off, i’d like to say that i am now a believer in good, christian counseling.  when issues arise in a family, marriage, or any kind of relationship, it is helpful to get an outside and godly perspective to help bring light to the stuff we like to hide behind.  i was skeptical because i know there are a lot of counselors out there who claim to be christians, but in reality, they are shallow and use it more as a marketing ploy than a ministry tool.   that being said, the month of august i was involved in christian counseling and it was probably the best thing that happened to me all summer.

for the first couple of sessions i tried to participate but also distance my emotions.  i wanted to keep it together.  i would talk but only a sentence maximum.  that’s just how i roll(ed).  but the monday after my weekend of fasting, the last night of the session, i finally broke down.  hot tears burned my cheeks as i struggled to find words.  in the end, i was able to voice some past, deep wounds and scars, about being #2 as a middle child, and my current frustrations, fears, and anxieties about not knowing what to do with my life.  it was the most horrible yet wonderful thing that i’ve ever done.

let me back up for a minute.

that morning i received a phone call from the director of ocean’s edge (shout out to @dougfarrar), who presented me with a job opportunity.  he told me he received a call from a pastor of a local church plant who was looking for a new worship leader.  he thought of me because my application “happened” to be on his desk.  he asked me a few questions about my past worship leading experience and my time working with habitat, listened to my heart and my fears about finances, and responded to everything with confidence and enthusiasm.  i was shocked.  i used my voice and he listened to me.  i was flattered that he pursued me.

it all was perfect timing.  i even received the phone call as i was leaving the gym walking to my car- any sooner or later i would’ve been inside and not heard my phone or driving and not want to answer.  twenty minutes later i received a phone call from the local pastor.  he asked me similar questions and also listened to my heart.  his responses were full of hope and excitement, told me they would be willing to invest in me, and even laid out the opportunity to work for them upon graduation from oe if i were to stay in south florida.  the conversation ended with him hoping for the best for me and promising to get back to me after he had met and talked with his board on friday.  my heart was swelling!

was this is answer to all of my prayers?  i still wasn’t completely convinced…  sneaky little doubts crept in – “am i even qualified to lead a worship team?”  “what if i don’t like oe and want to move home?”  “do i have to stay in south florida forever?”

fast forward to the counseling session that night.  after my breakdown, my counselor looked me in the eye and said, “denise.  i think you need to figure out who you are as an individual.  you need to move 3000 miles away and find your destiny.”  that was like a shot to my heart.  she had no idea that i was even considering moving far away to go to school, yet the Holy Spirit gave her discernment and spoke through her, confirming everything that was going on.  it was incredible.

i decided that i had to go to oe.  God was opening up these doors and asking me to follow Him.  how could i not obey?

losing hope

the week after my job ended continued as the weekend was: miserable.  lonely.  frustrating.  sad.  i didn’t know what to do with myself.  i felt all panicked like i had to figure something out.  i began searching for other job opportunities.  “a bank teller?  i could do that.  a barista?  i love coffee!  a nanny?  i do miss being around babies…”

i also looked into graduate school programs.  i love graphic design and one day would like to pursue a master’s in it.  or maybe go to liberty and get a graduate degree in worship ministry.  both are practical for my life and things that i enjoy.  both cost money.  both i would have to wait to start because the deadlines had past.

i could see myself doing any of the things i looked into, but when i went to bed at night (and didn’t sleep), i truly only wanted to work for habitat.  i called the headquarters that week to inquire about my job application.  i rehearsed the speech a million times in my head, trying to sell myself over the phone, hoping to just get a hold of someone who could hear my passion and my potential.  turns out, i had to leave a message for the staffing office.  so i had to wait longer.

that week i also got a phone call from the admissions director at ocean’s edge, wondering where my deposit and housing paperwork were.  i was completely honest with her and told her that i don’t think i can afford to come.  i asked that if some miracle happened and i was backed financially, when they had to receive my paperwork by.  she said the end of the week, and told me that she’d be praying for me.  i thanked her, but in my head, had written it off.  there was no way i was willing to go into more debt for a one-year program that i thought could offer me just as much learning experience as my church was offering for free.  i couldn’t justify it.

friday of that week, i was emotionally drained.  i decided to take a day of rest.  i went to the manasquan reservoir, brought my sketchbook and my bible, and spent 5 or 6 hours walking, praying, and drawing.  it was so good to get away, expend some energy, and be alone.  i didn’t take my ipod because i wanted to be able to listen for God’s voice.  as i sat quietly or walked slowly, songs kept popping in my head.  it was pretty cool.  i kept praying for direction, discernment, a sign, anything.  at the end of the day though, i still felt as lost as ever.  and as tears slipped onto my pillow that night, i tried not to lose hope.