Meal Trains

I have mixed feelings about Meal Trains.  In recent weeks, I have had the privilege of setting up two, separate meal trains for women in my life who were facing seriously challenging situations.  To set up the Meal Train was {for me} quite simple- create the link and send it out so people can sign up to bring a meal to the person in need.  Providing a meal for someone is a practical and tangible expression of love and care.  Having the opportunity and ability to step into the hard and even a difficult journey of another person by bringing them a meal communicates, “I see you and I’m with you in this.”

However, last week, my friend texted me to ask if our Community Group could bring my family meals.  Now, let me tell you that no one has died in our family.  No one is terminally ill.  No one has undergone surgery.  So, my initial thought was to say, “Oh, we’re good, but thanks for thinking of us.”  But to be honest, these last few weeks have been hard for my family- emotionally and mentally.  Not that we are special or need recognition, but to have people in our life that recognize that sometimes, life is just hard and sometimes, we just need to know we are seen and cared for- it took me by surprise.   

For me, it has been so much easier to be on the giving end than the receiving end.  To respond to my friend and say, “Well.  Yeah.  Meals would actually be really helpful for me and the kids next week.” It was hard. To be on the receiving end of a Meal Train has humbled me.  It has reminded me of my neediness. 

The fact is- we live in a really hard world.  And if you are anything like me, we put on fronts that make us look like we have it all figured out- that we don’t need any help.   

And my friend’s text about a Meal Train for my family has been the Lord not letting me go on the importance and NEED for community and bearing each other’s burdens. 

I recently read the story of Jonathan going to attack the Philistines in 1 Samuel.  And for weeks now, I keep thinking about this story.  It’s on repeat in my head.  And it’s not Jonathan’s boldness or courage in pursuing the Philistines without his father, Saul, or Saul’s army that sticks with me.  It’s not the overwhelming situation of passing through the terrain with giant cliffs rising on either side- a great disadvantage in battle- that stands out.  It’s not even the fact that he was outnumbered going into battle, that I can’t forget… even though these are all details of the story that add great weight.  

The part that always stands out to me is who was with Jonathan.

Jonathan says to his young, armor bearer, “Come, LET’S go over to the Philistine outpost…”  He says, “LET’S go.”  Together. Not alone. But together, Jonathan and his armor bearer march into Philistine dominated territory.  They march into a hard and difficult situation.

What they were headed into was unsettling at least.  The situation bleak, impossible.   The odds were stacked against them.  It was likely overwhelming.  There were unknown outcomes.  They were facing GREAT uncertainty.

Anyone else been there lately?  Unsettling.  Impossible.  Odds stacked against you. Unknown outcomes. Overwhelmed. Uncertainty.

But.

The armor bearer went with Jonathan. Despite the daunting situation- the armor bearer went.  Side by side. Together.

He said, “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

What a gift?!  Jonathan was not alone.  His armor bearer was right there with him- every step of the way- fighting right alongside him until the victory came. 

And this is what the Lord won’t let me go on… we each NEED armor bearers, BUT we are each called to BE armor bearers. 

Having friends- armor bearers- in my life that help hold me up, keep my eyes fixated on Jesus, remind me that I’m not alone and enter the hard with me are life giving.  Having my friend show up on my front porch this week with a warm meal for my family brought me to tears.  They didn’t wait until I asked- they just entered in. 

Being an armor bearer is about carrying the burdens alongside those we are doing life with- it’s about having courage to enter the hard and protecting those the Lord has placed in our lives.  The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he will devour.  (1 Peter 5:8) It is easy to devour those that are on their own, those that our isolated. 

As armor bearers, we shoulder the load. We go with. We engage. We show up.  We don’t wait to be invited.

So, my encouragement to you is this- who in your life needs an armor bearer?  Who needs a listening ear?  Who needs a text message to say, “I’m thinking and praying for you.”?  Who needs an encouraging word from Scripture to point them back to the Gospel?  Who needs a phone call, a meal, a walk at the park to talk?  Identify those people that God has placed in your life and commit to walking alongside them- in the hard, messy, difficult parts of life.  Go with them until the victory comes.

You may BE one that needs an armor bearer.  And my encouragement to you is- don’t sit in the hard alone.  Be like Jonathan and invite others into your journey.  Invite others to go with you into the overwhelming, the unsettling, the uncertain of life with you.  Text that friend and ask for prayer- invite someone into your battle. 

There is no doubt that my heart is tender and fragile in light of all that my family is facing in the day in and day out of a broken and sinful world.  BUT. Jesus reminded me this week, through my Community Group, that my family is not alone.  He sees us and is with us through the practical expression of a Meal Train.  And knowing that we aren’t alone and others are willing to step into our hard journey with us- to be the hands and feet of Jesus- gives me courage and faith to keep going and trusting in my God just like Jonathan.

Party for Patty

So. Two weeks ago we threw a party for our cat. Yes. A party for our cat. I know. It’s as insane as it sounds. But when you have a six-year-old daughter that loves her cat and you’ve been cooped up for 6 weeks {at the present time} due to the COVID-19 virus, you do crazy things, right?

It all started with our daughter acknowledging that it was in fact the month of April and that Patty’s- said cat- birthday was in the month of April. Now, none of us really know when Patty was born. We adopted her three days before Christmas two years ago and the Animal Shelter estimated that she was 8 months old when we picked her out. So, being put on the spot with my daughter pressuring me on an *exact* date for Patty’s birthday, I simply took December 22nd and subtracted 8 months which put us at April 22nd- Patty’s birthday… of course.

Well, it came time for her party, and we had the cupcakes and streamers all set. Yes, to my husband’s dismay, I spent THREE whole dollars on streamers for our cat’s birthday party… anyhow… we sang happy birthday and blew out the candles and then, my daughter got her feelings hurt. Even now, two weeks later, I still don’t know what got her upset, but all I know was that I was trying to be patient in the moment and sensitive to her hurt feelings. There were quite a bit of unsolicited tears and crying. And in the midst of the noise… and chaos… and commotion of the party and her hurt feelings, her older brother shouts out in her direction, “IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!”

I, of course, shot back in some form or fashion and not so many words, “Son, have some compassion!” Right? But his frustrated explosion of “IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU” has stuck with me. It keeps ringing in my head… and really in my heart. It’s been on repeat for me the last two weeks- IT’S. NOT. ALL. ABOUT. YOU.

Audrey & Miss Patty

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament since January- thank you to my 2020 New Year’s Resolutions {wink face}- and I’m going through some incredible stories of men {and women} who were living their lives… going through the day-to-day of life… sometimes aware of the reality and consequences of their actions and choices, but often times, not so much. They didn’t always understand their circumstances and I can imagine wondered “why” a few times in between.

I have read the story of Abraham again- one of my favorites- and here is a man that packed up his home and family and all that he knew to travel to a land that God would show him. He didn’t know what lay a head or what exactly the Lord was doing when he was asked to go, but he just did the next obedient thing in front of him.

Then, there’s Joseph- another favorite of mine- who was beaten up by his brothers, sold into slavery and endured crazy hardship. He had no clue that when his brother’s sold him into slavery, that God Himself was at work and would use all the hurt and pain and frustration to save His people during a famine.

And Moses. Oh, I love Moses. A man who despite a stubborn and stiff-necked people, continued to lead and bring the Lord’s people up out of slavery. He continued to contend on their behalf despite the wilderness and wondering. Continued to keep the Lord Most High at the forefront of their questions and uncertainty.

Skipping ahead, there’s Ruth- yet again… another favorite- who after losing her husband refused to leave her mother-in-law. She was determined to stay by her side even though it meant that she may never marry again, that she would potentially face severe hardship. However, the Lord was at work and provided. God isn’t really even mentioned in the text YET His fingerprints are all over her story.

These are only a select few stories out of SO many- and NOT that any of them were perfect or had it all figured out- YET through their stories, we get a *small* glimpse of our Mighty God at work. Each of these men… and women… were doing the next thing in front of them that God was leading them to do. Even in the midst of HARD. Even in the midst of UNknowing. Even in the midst of questions… and most likely some doubt. They kept putting one foot in front of the other and trusting in their God.

God was working in their very personal lives to achieve something so much bigger than who they were.

And these stories have brought such comfort to my own heart in the midst of COVID-19, as I have faced my own uncertain and hard… as I have asked my own questions and allowed doubt and fear to creep in. There are many days that I have to remind myself that everything that is going on really IS our reality. That our world really has been turned upside down and inside out. I really am doing school at home with my three {little} kids while continuing to fulfill my responsibilities at work. There really are restrictions on my interactions with the people around me. There really are people dying of a virus that is so pervasive.

Yet through these stories of those that have gone before us- I am reminded that our God is alive and active and on the move. Right now. Present day. I don’t fully understand what He is up to, but one thing I know… He is using all that we are facing- in our current day, personal lives- to do a mighty work not just in my own life, BUT ALSO, in our world at large. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU rings out, loud and clear in my heart. God, You are up to something. And it’s not just about me.

Then, the cry of my heart comes from Galatians 6:9, “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

The weeks are wearing on. The weariness is setting in. The grief and loss is *at times* overwhelming and suffocating. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but we still don’t know what we are facing on the other side of all this. But. Let us not grow weary in doing good. Let us not grow weary in clinging to Christ. Let us not grow weary in soaking in the Word. Let us not grow weary in crying out to the Lord in prayer. Let us not grow weary in anchoring our hearts to Jesus. Let us not grow weary in doing the next, right thing that He has placed in front of us. For at the proper time, we will reap a harvest. We will see what all the hard and uncertain and questioning was really about.

Our God IS in the business of making His name great and drawing all men {and women} to Himself. He’s been doing it SINCE THE BEGINNING. And now, present day, He has stripped away security and comfort. He is pruning and cutting back. But He continues to draw us in and draw us close to Him.

At the end of the day, He IS doing a work in each of us. BUT. It’s not ALL about us. He is on a mission that is bigger than any of us. We are just a small, small part of His bigger story.

Jesus, have your way in each of us and remind us that we are part of something SO much bigger than who we are… that what is happening in our very personal lives is part of Your much, much bigger plan.

Planting Seeds in a Hurricane

At the beginning of summer, I tried to set up a friendly, reading competition with my oldest boy. I wanted to keep his mind sharp and his nose in a book throughout the summer, so he would be ready for third grade this Fall.  We were going to see who could read a book a week for the duration of his summer break. There would be 9 weeks, with us taking a week off for our vacation. His books average 100 pages and mine are a couple hundred more than his. It seemed like a fair competition. 

The only problem is that my boy HATES to read. It is like pulling teeth to get him to do it. 

This week alone, he is supposed to read Chapter 4.  It’s 22 pages.  How long can that take him?!

But he has put it off and put it off. 

And now. He has consequences. 

No tablet. No TV.

Until his book is read.

And for an 8-year old, it’s the end of the world. And basically, the end of the world for my husband and I, too, because now our parenting really gets tested. 

As his Momma, I have been SO frustrated with him. “Just stop whining and pick up your book and READ.” “Just do it.”

Ugh.

And then the Holy Spirit gently pricks my heart.

I’m the same way.

When it comes to my Bible reading and time alone with God, I put it off and put it off. I let myself become distracted with everything else that I push my Bible reading to the side and don’t do it. I want to do SO many other things, than sit and read my Bible. 

Why is that?

  • I’m tired.
  • I’ve made other things a priority over my quiet time with the Lord.
  • I don’t love God’s Word.
  • I’m a sinner.

The truth is, we can’t live our lives for ourselves without consequences.

Same for my boy. Same for me. 

My boy has lost his tablet and TV time. I’ve lost my peace and joy and strength that comes from being in God’s Word. My brain is mushy, and I get emotional.  I don’t have right perspective on my circumstances or God’s character. I look to other things to bring satisfaction when my soul will only be filled through God and His Word. 

Spending time with the Lord is a choice. Same as my boy has a choice to obey or not, so do I. 

In the summer Bible study, Firmly Rooted, with Susan Black, she said, “being in God’s Word is like a marriage- there are not always fireworks, but we don’t pull away.”

Pastor Aaron prayed during our Leadership Meeting this week, “help us to fulfill our duties until our duties become joyful.”

Being in God’s Word often feels like a duty. There are not always fireworks or big “Ahh-ha!” moments.  But let’s not pull back. Let’s continue in our duty until our duty becomes our joy!

The beautiful part is that God is our Everlasting Father.  And unlike me, He is patient and long-suffering with us. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. He continues to work in our hearts to grow us and shape us into His image. Just as I feel like I’m planting seeds in a hurricane as I parent my boy, the same is true for God in my life- He’s planting seeds in the hurricane of my life.

If this is for you, if you are struggling to be in God’s Word- you’re not alone. I’m there with you.  But it’s not okay. We’ve got to make the hard choice.  Carve out time. Make God’s Word a priority. Let’s confess our sin to the Lord and safe people in our lives. Let’s invite others to hold us accountable. Let’s get into His Word and allow it to work in our lives.

Maybe I need no Instagram until my time in the Word. What about you?

Pure Joy in the Hand

My son is 7 years old. He’s in the second grade. And he *thinks* he knows everything. No one can tell him anything because he already knows the answer. It’s amazing to me… and drives me crazy all at the same time.  However, I’m not that much different than him.  I remember when I was growing up, I always thought that I was older and wiser than the age I was at the time. It’s something that I most likely still to think today. Anyone else with me?

When I was 24 years old, my husband and I, moved to San Francisco, California. We were barely two years into our marriage when we put our “yes” on the table to re-pioneer an urban ministry in one of the last African-American neighborhoods of the city- Bayview-Hunters Point. You could see the old 49er Stadium from our back porch, which more than thrilled my “Niner Loving” husband. There were 16 known gangs in our neighborhood and a plethora of opportunities to share the love of Christ with those living around us. We were eager and ready. So we thought.

“Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3

We had no idea what lay before us. My husband loved the neighborhood.  He was out on the streets daily- praying, talking with people, telling them about Jesus.  I, on the other hand, began a silent battle within my heart.  I loved Jesus.  I loved missions.  I loved my husband. But I did not love living in a huge city with no real friends or community. I did not love the isolation or loneliness that crept into my heart. There were so many things not to love about that season and I began to have a lot of anxiety and panic attacks when I could no longer suppress the battle that was raging in my heart. I couldn’t hide the struggle any longer. 

Being two years into our marriage, it was almost more than we could bear.  Our ministry directors at the time were gracious to us and after several months of prayer, processing, and counseling, the decision was made for my husband and I take a step back from ministry. It was a huge blow to both of us. We had communicated to our family and friends and supporters that THIS was what we were led by God to do. We *thought* it was right.  How could the Lord call us here and then allow such an intense struggle only to pull us out of ministry? We were left broken, defeated, shamed, and embarrassed. 

I felt like my 7-year-old son. We set out *thinking* we knew the ins and outs of ministry and with Jesus, could handle that intense environment. Looking back now that eight years have passed, I see so many areas where the Lord has grown me and taught me and shown me His loving-kindness.

Since leaving San Francisco, the Lord has opened the opportunity for me to step back into full-time ministry working as the Missions Director here at Community Bible Church. Stepping back into ministry has been exciting and fun.  I’ve loved being able to use my gifts again for the sake of the Gospel and to advance the Kingdom. But I would be lying if I said that it didn’t come with many challenges. There have been many challenges that have stirred my anxiety back up in a very real and similar way as it was when I lived in San Francisco. There have been times when I have cried out to God to release me. I have questioned our decision for me to step back into ministry.  But every single time, the Lord has kept me right where I am.  He has not let me go or allowed me to run. I have had to face the challenges and insecurities and pressure. 

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:4

This isn’t just my story. It’s all our story. Life is hard. We each have battles and struggles that we face daily. And through it all, the Lord wants to bring us to maturity so that we are not lacking anything.  He wants to grow and shape us into His image. He can’t always do that in easy times. It’s in the valley’s that we learn to lean in and trust Him fully. 

For many years, I didn’t understand why the Lord allowed me to “run” from San Francisco- why He allowed me to bow out of the hard and difficult season that was life there because I have found my time working at Community Bible to hold many similar parallels as to the season in San Francisco. But I see James 1:2-4 at work in my life… the trials that I faced in San Francisco and even those that I face today as the Missions Director are developing perseverance in my life. They are growing me to maturity in Christ. They are bringing me to a place where I am not lacking anything because everything that I need is in Christ. 

This is not something that I boast in of myself, but I boast about the work that Christ is doing in me. If you knew me intimately, you would know that I am a mess. It’s all Him. 

I don’t know what you may be going through, but I do pray today that you would consider it pure joy that whatever you are facing, whatever you are going through- may you know that the Lord is using that very thing to grow your faith and develop perseverance in your life. Don’t give up. Press into Him. Know that He doesn’t want you to lack anything. In Him, you have everything that you need for this life.  He is with you. His grace is there. He will see you through, just like He did for me in San Francisco and just like He is doing for me daily as the Missions Director at CBC. 

Consider it pure joy.

Who Are Your People?

A few weeks ago, I was reading Matthew 16:21- 28, where Jesus predicts his own death. In verse twenty-one, “Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Jesus knew what was before Him. He knew that pain and suffering, the sin of the WHOLE WORLD, and the cross were before Him.

But He was focused and fixated on the task before Him. Jesus was always fixated on the task. He was always stepping out to walk in obedience to what His Father asked of Him.

However, in verse twenty-two, Peter comes alongside Him and begins to question Jesus. He even goes so far as to rebuke the very plan of God. He says, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

And Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter was a stumbling block to the very will and plan of God. His eyes were focused and fixated on the world and earthly matters.

We laugh at Peter and the audacity he had to rebuke the very Son of God, to rebuke the will of God Himself. But I can’t say that I wouldn’t have been questioning the plan myself were I in Peter’s shoes. Peter had walked with Jesus. He was one of his twelve disciples.  He was close.

I can imagine in Peter’s mind that he’s wondering- there MUST be an easier way!? There must be a plan that does not involve suffering or pain or hardship or death. From the world’s point of view, Peter’s rebuke made total sense. Their King had come! Why die now? The throne was before Him.

Is suffering and hard and painful and difficult the REAL way of God? Surely, there must be an easier way?

But.

God’s ways are not our ways.

God has laid before each of us a plan and purpose to accomplish His will and make much of Him in the nations. His plan leads to our good and His glory. And just as Jesus “had his people,” we also have our people. We have our people that speak into our lives. We have people that impact and influence us. Peter was trying to influence Jesus. He was trying to talk Him out of the very purpose for which He had come to Earth- to die for the sins of the world, to bring reconciliation to God and man, to rescue us!

And as Peter is speaking, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!”

So.  Who are your people?

Who are the people in your life that are speaking to you and influencing you?

Are they pointing you to Jesus?

Are they encouraging and championing you towards the will of God? EVEN if it’s hard or challenging or difficult.

Do they have in mind the things of God OR do they have in mind the things of men?

What lies before you may not be easy. It may be hard. It may be very unnatural for you. It may involve pain and sacrifice. It may require A LOT of dying to self.

But. We must keep our eyes fixated on Jesus. That’s what He did. He kept His eyes fixated on His Father. We must do the same. Far be it from us to miss what He has for us or to walk away from the very thing for which we were created.

In 2018, I felt the Lord leading me to create more margin in my life. I felt a strong sense that I needed to get super intentional with my time and relationships. This does not come easy or natural for me. I am a “Yes Girl.” But the Lord, in His kindness and grace, has given me a husband that has no problem saying no. Doesn’t bother him one bit. {Help me, Jesus!} So, 2018 brought a lot more “Nos” for me. It was not easy for me. Sometimes, it was hard and painful. But through my person, my husband, I was able to do it. I was able to get more intentional with my time so that I could be more effective and focused on what God desired for me.

I also have three really, great girlfriends. They are mommas in the same season of life as me. And they love Jesus with all their hearts. They get the wild and crazy called Motherhood. But even in the midst of raising our babies, we still desire to use what’s in our hands for the glory of God- we want to raise our babies to know Jesus and love Him and serve Him. We also want to serve our church and the nations. These girls are so good for me. They challenge me. They spur me on. They push and encourage me.  They don’t just tell me what I want to hear, they tell me what I need to hear. When it’s hard, they don’t tell me to quit. They pray for me and fight for me. They understand what’s at stake. They won’t let me walk away from the will of God for my life.

I encourage you to take inventory of your relationships. Do you have people around you that are championing the cause of Christ in your life? Do you have people that tell you what you want to hear or what you NEED to hear? Are they spurring you on even in the midst of hard situations?

If not, ask Jesus to give you people that will not let you off the hook. Ask Him to bring people into your life that will encourage you in the things of God and challenge you to step out in faith. I promise, He’ll do it!