Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Temporarily Out of Service

I generally don't like things to end. Put another way, I'm a great starter but a poor finisher. At the same time, I seek clarity, purpose, and resolution in my life, so I tend to recognize when something isn't working properly or needs refinement.

In this case, I am referring to my blog. After 164 posts, I've learned alot about myself and about blogging. I've often felt energized when sharing and often felt annoyed by self-induced pressure to keep writing. The most important lesson I've learned, however, is that I want to write and I believe I have something valuable to say.

Just not now.

Our family is in a stage of life that is insane. Or maybe I just feel insane. Either way, finding time to write creatively, or prophetically, or just for fun, is a stress that I can't handle at the moment. Also, I've taken alot of inspiration from other blogs, and I've realized that I need more focus and direction if I want mine to last. I want to feel like I'm serving my readers and developing a blog that you can count on.

So I'm (temporarily) stepping away from this blog for awhile. My hope is to take the next 6-12 months to pray, play, brainstorm, and write, in order to discover what it is that I really want to say and how I want to say it. I WELCOME YOUR SUGGESTIONS, FEEDBACK, AND HELP in this process! Would you take the time to:
  • let me know what post(s) have particularly touched you? what was meaningful about those words?
  • what you wished I wrote more about? is there something you want to know my thoughts about or an area of my life that you wished I shared more?
  • tell me what you think my strengths are (as a writer, artist, Christian, friend, general human being)? what topics might I be particularly gifted to speak on? 
  • give me any suggestions, tips, or other feedback related to me as a person or my blog? 
  • share your favorite blogs with me? Why do you love them?
 Email me your thoughts - ANYTIME - to ndever1979[at]gmail[dotcom].

In the meantime, if you want to follow our New York City journey and adventures, please check out our Tumblr site: DevereauxsInNYC. Every month, we share specific NYC updates; we post weekly on other fun news, such as before/after pics of our house and encouraging stories about life. Plus, you'll see regular pictures of our adorable girls.

Thank you for your prayers, comments, and support! Can't wait to make a big comeback in a year or less.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Faith and Art

In the beginning, God created...

The very first words in the Bible, and then the entire first chapter, loudly proclaim that God is creative. Creator God makes stuff! From nothing, God imagined, designed, and then made stars, planets, the deep seas, soaring birds, elephants, tulips, weeping willows...and, as the pinnacle of his work, God made humans in his own image, male and female, he created them in the image of God.

Part of bearing God's image must then, necessarily, mean that we too are creators. We, too, can imagine, design, and make stuff!  One Christian artist (putting a spin on Hebrews 11:1) says that Art is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen.

Let that land for a moment. If you are a person of faith, a person who knows the God-who-creates (and re-creates in Jesus), then you know what it means to hope in the unseen. Yet, art is an opportunity to make the invisible, visible. Like creation, which declares the glory of God and proclaims his handiwork, art is a tangible expression of our likeness-of-God and it points back to him as the ultimate creator. 

This, to me, is why ART MATTERS, in the midst of trials, death, depression (and good stuff, too!). And, in light of this conviction, if you are a Christian, then I specifically invite you to consider supporting the artists who have given me a home these last 6 years. I don't claim to be particularly talented, but God has blessed me with favor in the theatre community here. Sandbox Theatre creates art like no one else. Our art-making is collaborative, challenging, risky and beautiful. Our artists are messy, talented, brilliant souls who don't know the God that I do but whose work reflects his truth.

This Friday October 25, my husband and I will be enjoying Sandbox's latest original work, This Is A World To Live In. After the show, the entire audience (just 30 people) will stay for a party with the artists. This is an opportunity to comment on the art you've just viewed and speak into the lives of these artists. It's an opportunity, as my friends and fellow Spirit-bearers, to make Christ evident, to bring the church to the world rather than expect the world to come to us. As an added incentive, everyone who attends this event will receive a commemorative pint glass, Sandbox window cling, a free admission pass to the Walker, and a free NiceRide pass. Plus, it will be a damn good party, and Christians ought to be known as the greatest party people on the planet!

Tickets are $30 and should be reserved ahead of time here. There are 12 other performances ($20 tickets) between now and Nov 16 if you can't make it on Friday. If I can, I will join you on any night!

Browse through the Sandbox Magazine to get a feel for the artists and hear their stories. Come to our show, party with us, and MAKE ART.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Makeover Monday: From the Heart

"I have something kind of hard that I have to say to you. And I'm really nervous to say it."

I was surprised. My friend and I had been enjoying a meal and meaningful conversation for the last couple of hours, and, as I thought we were closing our time, she suddenly shared this news. I was surprised, not just that she had waited so late into the evening to bring it up, but also that she was so hesitant about it. This is a woman I respect, confide in, and know to be quite firm in her convictions. What could possibly be so difficult for her to say to me?

My friend needed to confront me, and, like most people, she wasn't particularly excited about it. Confrontation is frightening because we don't know how the other person will respond to our words and we risk hurting her (and our friendship) by bringing up an area of weakness in her life. Exactly how we want to spend Friday nights with our pals, right?
Let me tell you a secret about me, though. If I hurt, offend, or wrong you in any way, or if you see me hurting, offending, or wronging another person, I feel loved when you confront me about it.

As my friend was tripping over her words and gently phrasing her concern about me, my heart was actually filling with joy. I felt honored that she took the time to sit with me and speak honestly about a flaw in my character. I felt thankful that I had a friend like her, who cared about my edification and my reputation as a minister of the gospel. And I felt humbled by the truth in her words. Having a mirror held up to your mess isn't very pretty. But it's how we can start cleaning it up.

In my case, I have ALOT that needs cleaning! (Thank God for his grace) The irony of me feeling loved as she confronted me is that her confrontation was about how I hurt people. With my words. Often.

Now, I've known this about myself, and my husband of 13 years has done quite alot of work to help me grow in this area. With him and the Holy Spirit, I've come a loooooong way (by his judgment). But it's still obviously an issue because a number of other people had shared ways I had hurt them with my friend; so many, in fact, that she finally felt compelled to confront me about it. (Thank God for his grace)

She provided specific examples of situations in which I had been hurtful and unkind, but we didn't stop there. Because the benefit of having a true friend confront me is that I can sort through not just my outward behavior (my words) but also ask questions about the inner cause (my heart). Acknowledging that my friend was right about those circumstances was the easy part. The real work was processing what was happening in my heart to even bring those words to the surface.

Of course it is difficult to hear that I had (unintentionally) caused other people pain. But if all I did was apologize for my words without understanding their source in my heart, then I wouldn't have the opportunity to change. Which is why it is so loving to confront one another, why the Bible says that the wounds of a friend are faithful.  Confrontation is not just a step towards reconciliation (forgiving one another), it should have as its goal sanctification (being formed more into Christ) .

I am on a lifelong journey towards holiness and I need faithful friends who will admonish me in wisdom and exhort me every day, so that I am not deceived about my own sin. I am so thankful that my friend loved me enough to name the works of my flesh and call me towards the work of the Spirit. God has used her (more than once) to "make me over" in his image!

What about you? How has God used faithful friends to work on your heart? How have you responded when he has called you to confront someone?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Isn't God Enough?

My recent post on depression generated such a response that I felt it necessary to follow up by addressing a problematic question that has plagued the church on this issue. Many of you commented that the topic of depression is taboo in the church, and that, as a whole, the church has often approached depressed people by telling us that God should be enough.

While I understand the (hopefully) genuine ignorance behind the question, I'd like to challenge the church to consider that asking a depressed person why God isn't enough is like saying -
  • to the single woman who desires to be married - "You don't need a husband to be fulfilled. Be thankful that you are married to Jesus. Isn't he enough?"
  • to the couple struggling with infertility - "You can be happy without kids. God has a good plan for you. Isn't he enough?"
  • to the unemployed person - "God will provide all your needs. Trust him more. Isn't he enough?"
  • to the woman whose husband ignores her heart - "Jesus is your perfect bridegroom. Be satisfied in him. Isn't he enough?"
You can see where I'm going with this. We could justifiably ask this question to any person struggling in any situation.

Because the answer to all these questions is YES. 
Yes, Jesus fills up my soul in a way that my husband, children, job, or any other thing in this world cannot satisfy.
Yes, Jesus is enough to bring me from death into true life.
Yes, Jesus is the only one I can look to to give rest to my soul.

So, yes, Jesus is enough. AND...
We can't find him alone. 

Remember the Garden of Eden? The perfect place on earth? God created Adam there. ONE person, who walked with God face to face, with nothing hindering their relationship. In fact, God was all that Adam had for companionship.

Yet, God decided that it was not good for the man to be alone.

Wait - how is Adam alone? ISN'T GOD ENOUGH for the man?

You see, God didn't create Eve so that God could have another person to hang out with. He created the woman for the man (and the man for the woman) so that they could be like each other in their humanness and work together toward common goals. Even though Adam had unlimited access to God, he still had a need for a human connection.

Now, I am no psychologist and I don't know the biological factors that play into depression. But I have a theory. First of all, I am absolutely certain that if life had continued on as God had intended in the Garden, then there would be no depression (as well as no infertility, unemployment, or jerky spouses). So we must acknowledge that our circumstances are affected by brokenness and sin.

Which leads me to also suspect that:
  • if I never felt spiritually alone - never felt distant from God
  • if I never felt emotionally alone - never felt misunderstood or disconnected from the people around me
  • if I never felt physically alone - never walked through a trial or had a hard day by myself 
Then I might not also experience depression. Because in the Garden, we walked with God. In the Garden, we were "naked and unashamed". In the Garden, we had perfect companionship. And since we are no longer able to enjoy any of those blessings perfectly, all the time, we suffer. Some of us suffer from depression. And while Jesus is enough to reconcile us to God so that we no longer have to suffer that separation (although, in our sin, we still do), he also intends to reconcile the church to one another so that we do not suffer from emotional and physical aloneness.

I'm still learning what true, Christlike community looks like. And I have hope that if the church can learn to rest in our identity as the family of God and move towards one another in consistent, persistent, unashamed togetherness, then perhaps, someday, we will no longer need anti-depressants. As we press on toward the call of God in Christ, as we preach the gospel to each other, and as we confess our sins to one another, I have hope that we will experience the fact that JESUS IN US is enough.

So the next time that you learn about someone in your life with depression, instead of asking her why God isn't enough, ask God how YOU can help be God-in-flesh. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Makeover Monday: Mental Health

I've never thought of myself as a depressed person.

Oh, sure, there was that time in middle school when John Carpenter broke my heart and I made a mix tape of just one song that I played over and over again while I sobbed in despair. And there were a few moments in college where I sat in the bathtub all day or hid in my room to avoid final papers. But I would consider those isolated incidents...or, at least, momentary hormonal overreactions (sometimes I can be a bit...dramatic).

Two years ago, I finally realized that I have seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D. - what a terrible acronym) but I managed that with Vitamin D supplements. The same year, we were called to start a church in New York City and conceived Esme. Enter whirlwind of pregnancy, birth, and preparations to move our family to the craziest city on earth.

Then earlier this year, I noticed that I was irritated all the time. Little things that really shouldn't bother me started getting under my skin alot. It took all my energy to drag myself out of bed each morning and I felt like I was in total survival mode every day. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed about everything.  There was absolutely no joy.

At first, I attributed this to the insanely long Minnesota winter (summer may have come - and gone - in July). A few friends were going through some very difficult personal situations, and I found myself thinking about and praying for them in the middle of the night, not being able to sleep as I wondered what could be done for them. Then, it occurred to me that I might be experiencing postpartum depression.  

I met with a therapist friend, who gave me a simple emotional health assessment. My results came out mildly depressed, and, as we talked, I felt she summed up my state accurately by noting that I was functioning fine but not thriving. In other words, I wasn't over/undereating, avoiding responsibilities, or withdrawing from my life, but I was simply managing my sadness without restoring joy. She suggested that I meet with my family doctor to discuss trying an anti-depressant.

Here, I should note two very important points. First, I tend to be extremely anti-drug in my lifestyle. I don't take Ibuprofin when I have a headache. I gave birth at home. Twice. So, my hesitation in considering anti-depressants is NOT because I think they're wrong or wacko or anything. It's my own personal wariness about drugs in general and how they affect my body. Which is where point #2 comes in - THANK GOD for the best doctor ever. I LOVE our doctor and trust her implicitly.

I made an appointment for my annual check-up, and, as usual, we spent quite alot of time talking about life. I shared with her my concerns about depression and asked her opinion. She pointed out the extreme life stresses that have been taking shape over the last couple of years - not to mention what lies ahead - and recommended that I start a low dose of a daily anti-depressant.

Now, because she knows me well and my feelings about drugs, she instantly pulled out this massive book that explained every possible side effect, how this specific drug worked, and any potential concerns about breastfeeding. We also discussed how long I should try it and how I would know if it was "working". Needless to say, this conversation was exceedingly helpful in assuaging my concerns and I decided to give it a try.

As of May 1, I have been taking 10mg a day of Citalopram. Not a "happy pill", this drug simply slows down the breakdown of my body's natural release of serotonin. It took about 4 weeks (as my doc had explained) for me to notice that I was no longer irrationally irritated or unusually overwhelmed. I experience all my normal moods, feel annoyed when my 4 year old whines or my baby wants to be held while I'm making dinner, but I no longer feel consumed by these emotions. I feel like myself.

I also feel like I have a better understanding of depression, thanks to my friend and my doctor. The word depression can conjure some negative or dramatic images when, in reality, the range of symptoms varies from the (relatively minor) irritation I was experiencing to a deeper sense of despair or anxiety. Family history, spiritual health, and sense of community also contribute to our mental and emotional states. Depression looks different in everyone, but it is real and it can be treated. 

Depression can also point us to God. It is an illness, a product of our weak bodies trying to live in a broken world. It shows me how much I need the real God, the one who heals me where I need it most, in my soul. He is the one who sustains me, brings me joy, and gives me a purpose far greater than my mind can imagine.  And depression gives me hope for the day when Jesus will make all things new, when no mourning, crying, nor pain will have any hold over me.

Even if you don't live with depression, you probably know someone who does. What have you learned about depression that has helped you better understand its effects or has pointed you more towards Jesus? What other resources can you recommend to encourage those with depression?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Shoe Shopping Is NOT A Sin (I Hope)

The night before, I had a dream about it.

I showed up at Nordstrom's but I had forgotten to call ahead of time, so Dia (the sales associate) was not there and couldn't help me.

Then, in my dream, I 'woke up' and realized it was a dream. So I called Nordstrom's (still in my dream; confusing, I know). I spoke with Dia, gave her specific instructions about the boot I was looking to buy, and told her I'd see her in a couple hours.

At the arranged time, my friend Emily met me and Dia at the store. Dia had pulled 46 different pairs of shoes for me, none of them the type of boots I wanted (although they were all very fun, stylish footwear). I started trying all the shoes on and getting feedback from Emily. But about halfway through, Emily had to leave (she was obviously frustrated with all the time we had wasted on these shoes). As soon as she left, Dia also disappeared. So I was sitting alone in Nordstrom's, surrounded by all these shoes I didn't want.

I found a very nice-looking, smartly dressed young man and told him my dilemma. He promised to bring me to Julie, the best women's shoe sales associate in the store. Along the way to Julie, I started sobbing to him. I explained that I had never bought a nice pair of shoes in my whole life, and that it had taken me a month to feel ok about spending so much money on a pair of boots, and that I had really hoped Dia would help me. But she kept trying to get me to buy all these shoes that were beautiful but I couldn't afford them and there just wasn't any room in my NYC apartment and all I wanted was a pair of Frye boots and I hate shopping and this was the worst shopping experience of my life!!! I had a complete meltdown in Nordstrom's, and then I woke up (for real).

That's how the morning of my shopping trip started. Reality was only slightly less painful.  

I have been journeying through a wardrobe makeover since June, and one of the "must-have" items that my friends convinced me to purchase was a good, full-priced pair of boots that I could walk all over New York City in, every day, for many years. I started hyperventilating at the thought of spending more than $20 on a pair of shoes, but I faithfully began visiting shoe stores, searching online, and sharing my wish lists.

Friends, it took me a month to finally walk into a store and hand over $297 for a (beautiful, well-made, guaranteed-to-last) pair of boots. In that month, many people had to repeatedly assure me that this was not a sin. My friend Emily did actually join me and Dia at Nordstrom's. She patiently sat through over an hour of me deciding between two (just two) options, calling my husband in a last-minute crazy fit, and talking me off the ledge of walking out without a pair of boots. She is a saint. (so, by the way, is Dia. I highly recommend her to any of you who plan to purchase women's shoes at Nordstrom's at the MOA. She far surpassed the Dia of my nightmare)

I wish I had a wonderful, spiritual lesson I could share as a result of this. I wish I could say that I am totally comfortable with spending so much money on footwear. Maybe when I am actually in NYC, wearing my unbelievably wonderful Frye boots every day all over the city, I will do a little skip of joy and thank God for the generosity of my husband, who sold many of his personal belongings to give me the cash for these shoes.

But don't expect to see me at the mall anytime soon.
Anyone brave enough to share about a recent splurge of your own? What items are worth the extra money to you?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Makeover Mondays: A New Series

Remember back in May when I wished for a wardrobe makeover? Thanks to some fashionable, generous friends, my dream has come true! And I'm going to share all the heart-wrenching and gory details with all of you. Soon.

Because, as with other fun, seemingly mundane, experiences I've had, God has used this physical makeover as a metaphor for other areas that he wants to change in my life.

It has taken longer than expected to get to NYC, and I've been talking to God alot about that. He reminded me of a word he gave me in July 2012, when I was still pregnant 13 days past my due date. On that day, I wrote in my journal

The Lord planted this baby in my womb and gave us a day to look forward to - her arrival. I faithfully nurture her in this weak body of flesh and eagerly prepare for her coming. But the day and hour of her birth is outside of my care - the time belongs to God alone. And her birth will be laborious, not without pain, as will the time of recovery, healing, and adjustment to our new family...
So, too, we are now pregnant with plans for NYC. We look forward to arriving there, but this will be accompanied with trials, pain, and transition. God will be faithful to sustain us. 

I prayed that the Lord would help us prepare well and not send us before we were ready for the task ahead. And we have been seeing SO many answers to this prayer these last few months!

I am super excited to share with you the many ways that God has been making me over, tilling the ground in my heart and preparing its soil for the new seeds that he is planting and will grow in me while we are in NYC. I am incredibly thankful for this work he is accomplishing in me now, surrounded by a community that loves me and desires only good for my future. Over the next 4 (or more) Mondays, I'll open up the closet of my life and let the new wardrobe spill out. Expect to hear some makeover stories about my -
  • mental health
  • emotional and spiritual refinement
  • marriage
  • and, of course, my fresh new look!
Will you join me?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Parenting In Community

Parenting is exhausting.

Even on happy, perfectly easy days (do those actually exist?), parenting requires a constant balance of patience, emotional investment, personal attention, and skilled multi-tasking. One family member's imbalance can throw off the rhythm of the entire group, and even expert calm-in-spite-of-chaos parents have to think quickly in order to recover. Parents need to be the most creative, resourceful problem-solvers on the block.

Last week, I wanted to take some pictures with my daughters and friends at the iconic Sculpture Garden. I don't think it's entirely unusual that my girls, who are usually quite lovely little people, suddenly turn into crabby monsters at the idea of a posed snapshot. That camera comes out and my almost-5-year-old only has 2 faces: wild tongue or pronounced pout. This is, of course, dependent on whether she is actually standing in the frame with the rest of us.

Kids are professionals at knowing the best place and time to push their parents' buttons, and being in public during a planned event is a premium choice. With other people around, the parent is hard-pressed to lose her cool and draw the critical stares of onlookers, but she is also unable to exercise any real consequences for misbehavior. Instead, the parent internally boils until safely in the privacy of the family car, when hell is unleashed and the rest of the day is successfully ruined.

But this day, I was able to be a smart  - dare I even say humorous - parent.

My teaching moment with the pout-face
I quietly took my older daughter aside and said, "Honey, I am very sad that you are choosing to misbehave and not cooperate for these pictures. I can't really think of a consequence for you right now, but you are really draining my energy. When we get home, you can work hard to help get my energy back, but don't worry about what that will be right now. You can do whatever you want the rest of our time here and when we get home, we'll figure out how you can get my energy back."

Then I moved on with my afternoon and the rest of our picture-taking. My friends and I laughed and sat amazed at a couple who refused to move off of a sculpture while we stared at them for a good 15 minutes (wasn't it obvious that we were trying to take pictures?!? what happened to social etiquette?). My daughter, on the other hand, could not move on. From that moment, through the entire car ride home, and our first minutes back in the house, she was worrying. Instead of misbehaving, she was fretting about how she was going to restore my energy.

One of my friends drove with us, and she participated in the fun.

5 year old: mom, I am really sorry that I was misbehaving. I just don't know how I'm going to get your energy back!

Me: would you like some ideas? you could clean your room -

daughter: oh nooooooooo!

Me: you could vacuum -

daughter: can I clean the bathroom?

Me: no, you did that yesterday.

My Friend: maybe you could scrub the floors.

daughter: oh, yes! I think I could scrub...maybe just the kitchen floor?

Me: well, my energy is really drained. I think if you want to make sure to get all my energy back, you might need to scrub all the floors. {my friend and I silently giggle}

and so it went...

The point of this story is not to show what a brilliant mom I was in that parenting moment. In fact, just the opposite. As I am learning to lean more into community, I am realizing that inviting others into my mess can be a blessing. Because my friends were with me that day, I was able to get outside of myself and realize that my day didn't have to be ruined just because my kid was being a brat. Rather than blow up at my daughter (the temptation was certainly there), I could take a breath, come up with a temporary solution, and continue to enjoy my visit with my friends. The car ride was just icing on the cake, as my friend got involved in the problem-solving of restoring my energy.

I could have chosen to have been embarrassed that my child was misbehaving during an outing with others. I could have spent my time apologizing to my friends and trying to cajole my daughter into smiling for pictures. I could have wasted my energy worrying about what my friends thought or feeling disappointed that the pictures weren't "perfect."

But the blessing of community, in that moment, allowed me to allow my daughter to just be a normal rebellious kid. And I got to be the calm, cool, and collected mom who had fun anyway (and got my kitchen floor scrubbed out of the deal). I'd like to hope that my friends got something out of that time, too.  
One of our (many) not-so-perfect pictures

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Love My Girls

I am under no illusion that my children are perfect. FAR from it! They whine when they want something, use fake tears to get my attention, and spill liquids on my technology. They are selfish and sometimes rude. They have bad moods and meltdowns and just plain rotten days.

But I am still astonished at so many of their wonderful qualities, for which I can claim (almost) no credit. And I especially love some of their similarities. So permit me a moment to brag about my daughters...

My girls have gorgeous smiles and infectious laughs. I'm pretty sure every kid, when she gives that smile of pure delight, is just perfectly beautiful. So this is not original, but it still melts my heart when I see those little girls flash their joy around. And since I have a terrible sense of humor, I am surprised every time they burst into laughter (which is alot when they are together). The happiness of a child is one of life's best gifts.

My girls love social gatherings. Although both are slightly shy in new situations, they truly adore meeting new people and engaging with them - especially in public places like grocery stores and parks. This is particularly helpful for us as a family, given that we are in the 'business' of constantly developing new relationships. And it has definitely encouraged my efforts at being more hospitable.

They pay attention. Kids learn by observation and they are always soaking in the world around them! My little one is in the "great explorer" stage and nothing gets past her, but my older daughter is still incredibly observant. Both of them help me slow down and pay attention to life. They're also very intent on understanding the long answers we give to their thoughtful questions and to receiving any instruction we give when they are misbehaving!

They adore each other. I know sisters go through stages of love and hate, and I cannot predict the future. But right now, I am simply smitten with the ways my girls interact. Of course the younger follows the older around and tries to imitate everything, and they consistently share toys well, fall into giggling fits, and find creative ways to play together. I pray that their current joy runs deep, wide, and long through life. 

Have you spent time with my girls? What do you love about them?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I'm Still Learning: Hospitality

I grew up in a large Greek-Italian family. Among many other distinguishing factors, such as being loud and passionate, this involved a lot of eating. Our table was always full of food, and it seemed that our door was always open to whoever happened to stop by. Amidst the plethora of extracurricular activities for us 5 kids, our family ate dinner together most nights every week.

I treasure the family meal and am so grateful that, for the better part of the last 13 years, my in-laws have hosted dinner every Sunday evening. Our ministry schedule has often made our own family dinners a little difficult to navigate, but I am constantly searching for ways to make our mealtimes meaningful and fun.

Somehow, though, this joy of eating together as a family has not translated well into my church community. When we lived in an apartment, I said, "when we have a house, we'll have people over more." And then we bought a house. And I said, "when we're done with house projects (HA HA), we'll have people over more." And then we had kids, and I said, "when our kids are older, we'll have people over more."

You noticed the trend?

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has convicted me in this area (more than once). Over the last five years, I've taken mental notes when I visit with people who are gifted with hospitality. I asked a few of them to give me their notes on how to do this well. And then, I just started doing it more. Most of my life learning has been trial-by-fire, so why approach hospitality any differently, right?

Here are a few lessons I've gratefully learned:   
Offer What I Have. Skilled hostesses seem to have many food options on hand at all times, but novices like me are learning to become comfortable just offering whatever is in my house. This relates to considering everything I have as belonging to everyone else, so if leftover mac'n'cheese is what's in the fridge, then our guests will be invited to it.

An unexpected blessing to this, though, has been that I think more about our communal family when I go grocery shopping. I check our pantry for snack supplies and buy a little extra of sale items so that the kitchen isn't completely empty if we spontaneously enjoy company. If I want to develop daily community, then I would like to be prepared to serve them well!

Involve My Kids. Hosting is a family affair! Young children can learn to greet guests warmly and thank them for coming to our home. My older daughter finds joy in setting the table for friends and offering available drinks. I often meet with women throughout the week for discipleship or prayer, and my girls are usually part of that time in some way.

I love seeing how my children are affected by regular community. Their definition of family expands beyond those in our immediate household. They experience the Holy Spirit's presence in people other than their parents. And they learn generosity, as they, too, share their space and possessions.

Love Covers a Multitude of Messes.
I used to believe that my home needed to look like a Martha Stewart magazine before I could successfully have people over. Obviously, a clean house provides a good welcome, but if I want my church to be my family, then I have to be comfortable hosting in my flawed everyday mess.

I've realized that the state of my heart sets the tone of our home far more than the condition of our floors or the mismatched placemats on the table. I am working to have a sense of orderliness from day to day, but, more importantly, I try to say a prayer before anyone comes to our door, so that they are welcomed in the Spirit, rather than my flesh. 

My small faith has been stretched as I step out in these little ways to cultivate community and learn hospitality. But I'm still learning! What tips or encouragement can you share with me?

Friday, August 30, 2013

I'm Still Learning: Community

We, as a culture, are decidedly terrible at engaging people in meaningful conversations that require us to listen to one another - the deep, heart-level type listening. In fact, we barely know how to ask the right questions in order to get the kind of answers that reveal any truth about a person's real emotional (spiritual, mental) state. This problem is compounded by our crisis of individualism, in which we often don't want to hear all these intimate answers because then we might have to respond to one another.

While I can understand this lifestyle in non-Christians, I believe it is anathema to the life of the church. As a family, we are called to enter in to each other's sorrows and joys, to encourage and serve one another. This requires us to be both vulnerable in sharing our true selves and generous in caring for others. This is HARD WORK. It means facing the fear of showing our flaws to someone else and confronting our selfishness in not wanting to give what little we think we have [of time, energy, resources] away for someone else's good.

In my last post, I raised 20 questions that I wish the church asked one another more often. But because of the depth of conversation such questions would engage, I believe they raise an even more challenging issue for us: creating the communal space for heart conversations to happen.

"Community" has long been a buzz-word in Christian circles, so I doubt I will add much to the discussion here. We know that we were "made for community", from the communal nature of the Trinity, to the creation of both man and woman so that neither would be alone. Our identity in Christ brings us into a spiritual family; we are each a living stone being built into a spiritual house. But despite what I have known (in my head) about my call to community, I confess that I've been quite negligent about putting it into practice. As I've been preparing to live missionally in New York City, I have been asking the Holy Spirit to teach me more about his design for community and help my weaknesses in this area. And he has been faithful to encourage me!

Community requires daily pursuit. The King of heaven willingly relinquished his throne and the privileges of his deity to come to me. As he walked among us, he invited crowds of people to listen to him and shared the message of truth with all of them. Yet, he only called 12 men to participate in his daily life. As a pastor's wife, I often feel that I need to pursue every woman in the church. I can easily fill my time meeting with one new person after another. But, if that is all I ever did, I could never cultivate deep community with any of them. I am able to discuss heart issues in the one meeting we have, but because I don't have the time to develop ongoing relationships, I fail to enjoy the blessing of intimate community. I know that I don't have the ability to actively pursue 12 women right now, but the Holy Spirit has helped me identify 4 that I have a desire to know and to love on a daily basis. This is where technology has been a blessing, as I can FaceTime, text, call, or email these women nearly every day, just to check in, be mutually encouraged, and say a prayer for what is happening for them in that moment. Then, when we are able to be together, our lives are quickly opened to one another because we have known each other in the moments between our meetings.

This may seem obvious to some of you (especially you extroverts!) but this is a new realm of friendship for me and I am daily learning how easy it is to open myself up to these few women in order to experience greater depth in our relationships. I am taking the exhortation in Hebrews to heart, exhorting others every day so that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and considering how to stir up one another to love and good works.

Community requires generosity. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:32 - He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? And again, in Ephesians (my favorite book), Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. If it is true that now that I am in Christ, if my life does not belong to me, but to him, then everything I have is not my own. It's fairly easy for me to live this out with my talents, believing that any spiritual gift I have is for the good of others, but it is much more difficult for me to give away my time, my energy, and my resources. Yet, again, as I invite the Holy Spirit into my weakness here, he has given me grace to see the opportunities to share what he's given to me with others (especially those 4 ladies). 

What freedom I'm discovering in this! I am still training my mind to consider everything I have as belonging to someone else (considering others' needs as the same or greater than my own), but each time I step out in faith here, I feel immeasurably blessed! This has looked like inviting more people into our home, adapting my time when I see an opportunity to share it with someone else, and giving away more of our stuff than might be comfortable. Simple, small steps that are making huge changes in my heart.

What about you? What have you learned or are being challenged with concerning community? How do you cultivate deep community?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Twenty Questions

Missionaries, church planters, and anyone who is being sent from one community to another, all reach a point in their journeys when the people around them reduce conversations to about three questions:
  1. when are you leaving?
  2. do you have a place to live yet?
  3. are you feeling excited?
While these questions are well-meaning and express interest, the missionary soon begins to feel like a pregnant woman. Because she is 'pregnant' with preparations for her new work, it seems like who she is has been overshadowed by where she's headed. The present state of her heart and life practically disappear from interest and she can often feel lonely, even as people constantly ask the same questions in an attempt to engage her.

If you know anyone in this situation, or anyone who's returned from the mission field, or anyone on the mission field, or anyone who's actually pregnant, or who's just had a baby, or is about to start a new job, or is unemployed, someone who's been working the same job forever or who just moved...well, actually, if you are involved in community with anyone, in any way, then I challenge you to avoid asking the obvious questions and consider pulling one of these 20 questions out of your pocket the next time you connect.  

The challenge, of course, is not just asking the question but also being prepared to respond generously to what you hear.  
  1. How is your marriage?
  2. How have you been encouraged lately?
  3. What are you reading?
  4. What do you find yourself worrying about?
  5. What has God been teaching you recently?
  6. What are you most looking forward to?
  7. How are you balancing your time right now?
  8. What's bringing you joy?
  9. How can I pray for you?
  10. What does rest look like for you?
  11. How have you changed in the last year or two?
  12. How do you feel about that change?
  13. What do you sense God wants to work in you in this next season?
  14. Who have you been sharing the gospel with lately?
  15. In what areas are you feeling discouraged or challenged?
  16. Who is God calling you to serve right now?
  17. What are you thankful for?
  18. What truths about God are you struggling to believe and put into practice?
  19. What do you want from God today?
  20. How can I help you?
What are your go-to conversation starters?
Why do you think we so easily rest on the obvious (more superficial) questions? 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sex and (the children of) The City

Have you ever felt like God was chasing you down about something?

Other than the fact that he is obviously sending us to Brooklyn, God has also been pressing a new issue on my heart. I'm not sure how it started, but about a year ago, I suddenly had this deep concern for the young women around the world who are victims of sex trafficking. This is certainly not a new issue (unfortunately). But, like most things that don't affect my daily life, I hadn't given it a whole lot of thought before.

Until suddenly it was on my mind. Alot.
So I started asking God what that meant. And he started showing me how much these women mean to him.

He provided an opportunity for a blogger I follow to witness an international rescue mission firsthand and challenged me, through her, to respond.

I found an organization in New York City that provides safe houses and restorative assistance to former sex slaves.

A friend recently blogged about his own failed attempt to intervene right here in Minneapolis.

And then, today, I was moved by what this crazy guy is doing to redeem 50 young women in Ethiopia. (Please check out his post and consider joining his effort).

All of these messages are conspiring to keep this crisis at the forefront of my mind, and I admit that I've begun dreaming about a specific way that I can get involved. It's a BIG dream, that will take years to realize, and I haven't even spoken it out loud yet. But I had to name this issue in this space. I have to ask you to consider if there is something that you can do and ask for your prayers as I keep seeking God's purposes for me.

What about you? Did you respond to any of the links I gave above?
Do you have other resources, organizations, or stories about sex trafficking that you can share?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Reality Sets In

My obsession with Resource Furniture must now come to an end.

Last week, I finally bit the bullet and contacted this incredible furniture dealer.

August 2, 2013
Hi, _________. 

I have a problem.

I am addicted to your website. 
I lust over the space-saving tables.
I might be in love with the queen-bed space savers. 
I can't count the number of times I've watched this video.
I've even broadcast my addiction on my blog.

I've been afraid to admit my problem to you because that might inspire you to send me actual prices for these tempting pieces and frankly, seeing amounts larger than 3 months' salary will dash all my hopes of actually consummating a relationship with my dream furniture. 

However, I think I need you to crush my fantasies. I can't continue on like this, staying up late at night drooling over the bookseat and the Lollipop bunk bed. So will you put me out of my misery and let me know how amazingly unable I am to purchase The Goliath, the Lollipop, and the Swing queen bed?

I am also willing to offer ways I can work off these prices. Do you need a dish washer? Someone to stand on the street and drag people into your store? Do you offer artist discounts? clergy discounts?
thank you for helping me move on. have a wonderful weekend!

Today, all of my hopes and dreams were finally dashed to pieces when a kind employee replied.

Hi Nicole,

Thanks for your email! We always love when our products have such an extreme effect  on someone!

The Goliath ranges from $3,995-$5,995 depending on the finish you select. It is available in wood, open pore lacquer, closed pore lacquer and glass. Starting prices are for the Goliath in wood and the top range is for glass version.

The bunk beds start at $6,600 and go up to $10,000. There are many finish options, all of which effect price. Starting price is for the system in melamine, then matte lacquers (over 25 options) and then multi-color lacquer panels and other serigraphic motifs. Mattresses are custom sized for all our systems, ranging from $500-$950. The starting price of $6,600 does include the mattresses since this is our special package from this system.

The Swing system is available in a two seat version as well as the three seat sliding chaise that is shown on the web site. The range is quite wide due to the two sofa options, from $9,500-$19,000. The same finishes are available for all of our systems. The mattresses range from $1,250-$1,950 and are typically sold separately because there are six options to choose from.

We deliver and install in the NYC metro area. The goliath has a delivery fee of $550 and the beds have a starting price of $950 to deliver and install. There is additional costs for walk-ups.

We do offer a 10% trade discount, but the designer must be the point of contact and source of any designing involved.

I wish we had a kitchen! We all joke that as soon as we get a bathroom equipped with a shower and a kitchen(ette) we will all soon be living in the showroom…or take turn living in the showroom.

So, let me know if you have further questions. You should also come into the showroom as nothing compares to seeing these in person.

Please let me know how I may assist you further.


So there you have it, folks. If any of you want to help finance ONLY my dream table (which I will keep forever and ever and consider having your name engraved on it), I just need a check for $4545 (if you want to help with delivery charges). If you'd like a super-sweet bed to sleep on when you visit, consider donating $12,000 to that cause.

Or we can go visit the showroom together when you're here and we'll drool on all the furniture that we can't afford. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Top Ten

My brain thinks in top ten lists when it comes to entertainment, though I admit I can't compare to a certain friend whose name rhymes with Teeve Blockter, who carries around a handwritten top 10 list in his shirt pocket at all times. Long story. Fun guy.

Anyway, I've started a dozen different top 10 lists, but I never complete them. This is actually a habit of mine, starting things and not finishing. For example, I don't finish the drink in my glass or every last bit of food on my plate...I like to leave a little...behind. Maybe I don't like things to end? I don't feel comfortable with finality? I want to leave the possibility of change OPEN and available to myself!

So today, I'm sharing my (unfinished) Top 10 All-Time Favorite Movies.

1. Stand By Me. This coming-of-age story of 4 boys in search of a dead body is a classic tale of binding friendships and childhood adventure.

2. Casablanca. In case you haven't seen it, I won't spoil the ending. But Hollywood doesn't tell love stories like this anymore, where real love involves sacrifice, honor, and true commitment to the good of the other person, rather than selfish fulfillment.

3. Moulin Rouge. I'm a Baz Luhrman fan. I think he's a genius (except for that Australia disaster). Also, the gospel is beautifully portrayed in this fantastical musical delight.

4. Miracle/Remember the Titans (tie). I am a sucker for true stories, and there's something about sports movies - something about men laying aside their egos to act as a unified body - that I really enjoy experiencing.

6.  While You Were Sleeping. I love this romantic comedy not for the adorable couple that falls in love but because of the AWESOME family that surrounds them. Just watch this clip and tell me you wouldn't love to be around this gang. This is my feel-good movie pick. 

7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I also think Charlie Kaufman is a genius (Adaptation is a close second choice here). This movie tells an age-old story in an inventive, heartbreaking, and hopeful way.  

Those are my confident 7 choices, which means I need 3 more to finish my list! Some considerations:

Requiem for a Dream. Oh, man. Darren Aronofsky is ANOTHER genius. And this movie, to date, is the ONLY movie I have ever seen where I had a visceral reaction while I was watching it. I actually had to stop the DVD and walk away before finishing it. It is the most painful, yet truthful, movie I have ever seen, and Ellen Burstyn totally should have won an Oscar for her performance (instead of Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovitch...that's also the year that Gladiator won Best Picture...argh, don't get me started!). 

21 Grams. Now this is an incredible story of redemption, really digging into the ugliness of our pasts and yet leaving us with hope for the future. Also pretty dark.

The King. This is a relatively unknown movie with some incredible actors and a shocking ending. I think this is an excellent picture for Christians to wrestle with the power (and necessity) of forgiveness. Another dark movie, though, and gut-wrenching.

What do you think of my list?
What movies should I add?
What's on your top 10?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Esme's Birth Story

My official due date was a Thursday, but for some reason, I had always anticipated giving birth on a Sunday. That first Sunday came and went; not surprisingly, since Maren had been five days late. The following Saturday was my birthday, and that weekend passed without event as well.

I woke up on Sunday July 29 at 5:00am with a significant amount of wetness in my pajamas. Not enough that I was convinced my water had broke, but enough to get up and change clothes. I laid down and waited to see if any contractions would start. None did, but an hour later, my water definitely broke.

I didn't want to wake up Michael or Maren, so I went downstairs to call Erin (my primary midwife). I knew women whose labor started with the breaking of the waters but whose contractions didn't start for hours, even days after, so I was prepared to keep waiting. However, the moment I hung up the phone, at 6:15am, I had my first contraction.

Labor with Maren was only 10 hours, and we expected this one to go even more quickly, so I decided I should make myself something to eat while I still had a handle on things. My early labor began just like my first one, with short (30 second) contractions coming every 3-5 minutes. Unlike my first, I knew what to expect, so I was able to breathe easily through them.

I woke Michael at 8:00am and told him I was in labor. My contractions were coming about every 2 minutes by this point and lasting a little longer, 60-90 seconds. Even though they were more intense, I remembered some breathing tricks and moved around to manage the pain. We checked in with Erin sometime around 9:00am and she asked if she could head over, since things seemed to be moving quickly and, again, we all anticipated a fast labor. My mother-in-law also arrived and took Maren to church to get out of the house for a bit. Maren was very hopeful that she would have a baby sister by the time she returned. My dear friend Kristi and our other midwife Jeanne also arrived sometime before 10am.

Soon after that, my contractions became much more intense, and I also began having back labor. This is an entirely different category of birthing experience, which I would never have anticipated and would never, ever want to endure again. I instantly went from joking between contractions to torturous screams of pain. By 1:00 pm, I had entered transition. Contractions were very hard, came very close together, and lasted longer at this stage.
All photos copyright Adrian Meg
For me, the back labor was incredibly painful by this point. I could barely tell when one contraction stopped and another began because the back pain never let up. I was not getting any breaks between contractions and could not relax because of the continuous pain in my back. I kept yelling at my team, "I cannot do this! I need you to tell me I can!"

Perhaps in a futile attempt to escape the pain and try to speed things up, I labored in every position and every room possible. I laid in my bed, pushed against the walls in the hallway, bore down on the toilet, squatted in the birth tub, got down on my hands and knees. The pain was constant, deep, and overpowering. I mentioned (actually, screamed, more than once) that if I were in the hospital, I would be taking drugs. There seemed to be no relief.

After about 3 hours of transition, Erin checked my cervix. I knew that something must be wrong then, because with Maren, the midwives never did a single check - everything progressed smoothly and quickly. She told me that the cervix felt a little swollen and also that only one side was fully effaced. The left side was still thick and covering baby's head.We were monitoring Esme's heartbeat, which was strong and consistent, so my midwives were not expressing a lot of concern at this point. They told me that I would have to work to get the other side of the cervix to thin out and had some suggestions for me to try. They said we could wait another hour or two but if the baby still hadn't entered the birth canal, we would need to consider other options (i.e., going to the hospital).

I did everything they offered. I started by lying on my side on the bed with one leg pulled across my
body. Then I wanted to move again, so I headed for our staircase. With every contraction, I made sure my left foot was a step higher than my right and, during the contraction, I lunged/leaned into my left side. I hadn't thought it was possible for my labor to get even more intense and the contractions to get even closer together, but doing stairs while in labor certainly kicked everything up a HUGE notch.

During these stair lunges, I could feel my body opening up but baby was still not dropping into the birth canal. The back pain continued, so I wanted to keep shifting positions. Back in the bedroom, we had a stepstool that I put my left foot up on and then squatted, with it raised, during contractions. Over and over again, I willed my body to open and cried out for that baby to come down. I asked God to help me and to bring this baby forth.

Sometime around 6:30pm - having now been in transition for 5.5 hours - my midwives calmly began encouraging us to consider transporting to the hospital. They reminded us that this was not an emergency situation, since baby's heartbeat was still healthy and strong and I was able to continue laboring. But because transition had lasted for such a long time with no progress, we had to start asking what the problem may be.

Michael started to figure out which hospitals our insurance covered, and Jeanne checked my cervix one last time. Much to our surprise, she told me that it had thinned out and she could feel Esme's head right there. She said that if I gave a small push with my next contraction, she could manually lift the cervix over baby's head so that baby could enter the birth canal. She didn't have to say it twice! With Jeanne's hand on my cervix, I gave a small push, she slid it over the head, and Esme dropped down.

Everyone got really excited and started saying that baby was almost here. Ever the realist, I replied, "no she's not. I've got at least another hour of pushing to get her out!"

Back labor was still going strong but at least now I could push during contractions and feel baby making her way out. The work felt far from over and it went more slowly than we all would have liked. Once she crowned, I climbed into bed and decided I wanted to deliver on my hands and knees, which is how Esme Nicole entered the world at 7:50pm.
My birth position meant that I couldn't see Esme when she came out, but apparently, she was quite blue and not breathing. Her eyes opened quickly and she was very alert, but Erin administered a quick mouth-to-mouth while Jeanne rubbed her intently to bring in the color. I'm sure it felt long to everyone who was watching, but I felt like I heard her cry fairly quickly and she was soon in my arms.
Our midwives had 3 theories about why Esme was unable to enter the birth canal on her own. Her fist was by her mouth, adding another 1-2 cm that my cervix needed to dilate. Also, her head came in at a slight angle, which may have been her effort to get into the canal because the cord was wrapped around her like a harness: under one arm, behind her head, and under the other arm. With a short cord, and so much of it around her body, we guessed that each time she tried to push down, the cord pulled her back up. This may also be the reason that she was 17 days past due!

We didn't name her that evening, but on Monday morning, Maren woke me up by saying, "Mama, I have the perfect name for my baby sister. What do you think about Esme?"
It turns out that both Michael and I had immediately wanted that name when we saw her the night before, so it became a unanimous family decision.
Happy Birthday, lovely little girl!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Roof Over My Head

Does it seem like I'm always talking about moving to New York?

Yeah, that's life lately. Unfortunately, I've been doing more complaining than praising in this season of preparation, especially when it comes to my house. We need to sell the darn thing before we can afford NYC rent and it feels like a boat anchor around my neck right now. I'm not worried about it selling but I have this terrible habit of worrying about when it's actually going to be put on the market (something I am not in control of).

Some of you may remember that a whole year before we were called to Brooklyn, I had this irrepressible urge to move out of our house and into an apartment. I'm calling that the Spirit of God, but then my flesh took over and began filling my mind with 1,001 reasons why I hate owning a home. Three years is a long time to be ungrateful about a gift, don't you think?

I recently reminded myself that complaining arises from a proud spirit that demands my "rights" while gratitude says, "I deserve nothing but have received everything". So today, I'm going to share why I'm thankful for the roof over my head.

What I Love About My House
  1. Our large (by South Minneapolis standards) backyard
  2. The beautiful bathroom my husband remodeled
  3. A sizeable working kitchen, which holds an oven we found FOR FREE when we moved in 8 years ago
  4. My washer and dryer on the first level (oh, so endlessly convenient!)
  5. Walking distance to three parks, three grocery stores, the farmers market, the light rail, the bank, Target, and the library
  6. The wonderful memories of hosting friends, prayer nights, counseling sessions, and family in all our lovely space
  7. Giving birth to both our daughters here
  8. Amazing insulation, thanks to my husband replacing every single window, which keeps our energy bill low and the house warm/cool enough for every season
  9. Hardwood floors
  10. And then there's the obvious - a safe place where our family has grown together
I am looking forward to saying good-bye to this house and I am really happy for its future owner. But I am also so thankful for all that God has given to us in this space!

What about you? Where should you be thanking instead of complaining?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On The Other Side

Eleven years ago, I met an amazing single woman who was wholeheartedly seeking Jesus. We spent a year interning at our church, wrestling with our faith, sharing lots of smoothies, and getting into each other's messes; we remained friends long enough to start a church together, for my husband to marry her to an equally godly man, and for us to joyfully send them on mission with God in Latin America. Here, she shares some reflections on how God was working to prepare her for this season of ministry, which encourages me greatly as I am in my own season of preparation. 

Dave and Angie in a sweet moment of rest
Almost a year and a half ago, my husband and I moved to San Jose, Costa Rica to be involved in full-time ministry among the people here. There are a lot of practical things we did to prepare for this move, like selling most of our belongings, doing our best to prepare ourselves with solid Biblical teaching and understanding different worldviews, as well as having five part-time jobs to avoid going into debt. There is also an enormous focus on the spiritual side of getting us here which included immense amounts of time spent in prayer, asking other people to commit to praying for us as well, trusting God’s call and His timing as well as raising all of our necessary financial support so we can live overseas and minister fulltime. These things were all incredibly difficult, exhausting, joy-filled and obviously ordained by God for us.

I believe that God controls everything and that He uses everything for His good, that there is no separation between the “practical” and “spiritual” sides of things that I listed above. God was equally interested and involved in both. So, now that I am on this side of the years of preparation, I can say there are six things that God did or used in my life that helped better prepare me for life in a different culture.
  1. I have almost no sense of personal space. Seriously. I love being close to people. Probably uncomfortably close for most people from the States. But it certainly helps when I am jammed on the bus, waiting in line somewhere or making my weekly purchases at the local market. I am very rarely offended by the people constantly touching me and entering my personal bubble because it seems like God didn’t create me with one.
  2. Thirteen years ago I spent many months praying for patience. And instead of being supernaturally given this gift, God decided to teach me patience by putting me in countless situations beyond my control that required me to simply trust He knows how I should use my time. This virtue goes a LONG way in a context where almost nothing starts on time, there is no such thing as a bus schedule (to date the longest I have had to wait is an hour and twelve minutes), I lose water weekly and electricity on a monthly basis. I still get frustrated for sure, but have come a long way and find myself handling these situations with a much better attitude. 
  3. In 2006 I started forcing myself to cook things on a weekly basis that I had never tried to make before. I learned how to make a lot of things from scratch like salad dressing, seasonings, ice cream, bread, etc. This went a LONG way in preparing me for the amount of time I now spend in my kitchen and for the number of items that aren’t available here that I know how to make. 
  4. I am learning to be much more grateful. Instead of being frustrated when I see a cockroach in my cupboard or when my pipes break (for the fifth time in four months) I find myself being grateful for fumigation that has killed most of the bugs in our house and the opportunity to rent. Sure, there are days when I would love my own house and to live in a world where armies of ants were not constantly trying to invade our living space, but most days I find God has filled me with a spirit of gratitude that is clearly only from Him. I truly love my life and believe that I am most richly blessed. 
  5. I grew up on a farm with my nearest neighbors living a whole mile away. I love silence, tranquility and the calm that comes with the farm. But God has given me a love for the city and the people in it. I am used to the noise, handle sharing both side walls of my house with neighbors better than I ever expected, and appreciate public transportation. 
  6. When I started college at the UMN, my psychology class had more people in it (800) than my entire school (K-12) where I grew up. I felt completely suffocated. My very wise advisor told me to take a language course because they cannot have more than 30 students in them. Although I had taken Spanish in high school in order to avoid having to take it in college, I followed her advice. And five years later, by the sheer grace of God, I graduated with a degree in Business AND Spanish. At the time I had no idea what I would do with it. And now, ten years after graduation, I couldn’t be more grateful that I spent that time investing in learning the language of the people I currently serve among. Oh, I still make lots of mistakes, (just last week I gladly shouted, “We are the champions!” But instead actually said, “We are the mushrooms!”) but I LOVE being able to understand and communicate on a deep level here.
Now that we are here, we are overwhelmed by the way God continues to bless us and continually reminds us that we are exactly where He wants us to be.  It is so encouraging to think that when God created me He knew I would be serving in Latin America now and used so many circumstances to prepare me for this life. I am sure while going through some of the learning I was not as joyful as I am on this side of the experience. But hopefully I am learning so that as God continues to grow me I enjoy the process and rejoice in what He is doing, knowing that on the other side I will be more equipped for whatever He has prepared for me. I am learning that not only has he prepared good works for us to walk in (Eph 2:10) but He also prepares us for those good works.

Want to know more about the Ziels and what God is doing in Latin America? Follow their blog, on Twitter, or just enjoy some pictures!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Land That I Love

As you know, I'm preparing to plant a church in Brooklyn pretty soon (woo hoo!). So I thought I'd take a moment, in this little space, to share some info about my new neighborhood. Keep in mind: I've been there ONCE. For ONE DAY. So I really don't know anything about Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I'm moving there because God told me to. For real.

But if you follow pop culture, HBO, or haters-against-normal-women, you might be familiar with Greenpoint because of the hit tv show Girls. I've never seen it, so don't take this as a recommendation. {incidentally, producers are now casting "only well educated and extroverted" girls in a reality tv show based in "hipster Brooklyn"}

A young woman on our team tipped me off to a sweet website that helps people who are relocating to NYC, and the founder recently wrote a short piece on our neighborhood. We have 3 beautiful parks!

Some Midwest musicians just opened Lake Street Bar in Greenpoint, paying homage to Minneapolis. {Apparently, there are multiple connections between Minneapolis and Greenpoint, which is no surprise since the moment I came up from the subway that one day I visited, I instantly felt at home}

And if you're a stats kind of person, you can get your fill of neighborhood info over at City-Data.

So basically I just gave you a bunch of random links with news about Greenpoint. That's what I've got to go on, people.

Do you know something I don't? Please share!!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Are Your People?

Today’s post wraps up our series on protecting yourself from ministry burnout, and I want to build on the practical wisdom that Ned shared. In addition to the theological truths that keep our hearts centered on Jesus, rather than ourselves, I believe that one of the primary reasons our family has not experienced burnout is because we’ve always had safe people in our lives. Broadly speaking, this has been marked by participating in healthy church community, but more specifically, this has meant cultivating vulnerable friendships in which no topic is off limits and no secret left unshared.

Early in our marriage, whenever we met up with a certain couple, one of the four of us always ended up on The Hot Seat. We joked about this repeated pattern of examining each other’s lives, but I believe there was great value in the questions, challenges, and encouragement that came out of those times. As we became more involved with leadership in the church, we kept our lives open to our colleagues and invited them into the (sometimes very) ugly parts of our story.
At nearly every point in our journey, we’ve had mentors. Early in ministry, our mentors were involved in our context and were able to address issues or concerns related to our service. Our former pastor had a habit of asking “are you walking in the Spirit or the flesh today?” As we grew in leadership and met other experienced ministers outside of our church, we benefited from mentors who encouraged us to persevere and offered counsel on sensitive issues.    

I’m also personally convinced that team leadership not only relieves the burdens of ministry but also forces you to evaluate (over and over and over) the state of your heart. Planting a church with another couple is risky and is also scarily similar to getting married. But, just as in marriage, the more you let go of your own ego, the more you move toward your partner(s) in ministry, the more blessing you experience. Ministry teamwork - intimate, truth-wrenching teamwork - exposes your sin, selfishness, and pride, but also provides the safest place to confess these weaknesses and be sanctified.

Of course, in all the examples I’ve listed, it’s not just about having safe people around you. Christian friendships are essentially worthless if you do not share openly about your struggles. I can have all the friends in the world but if I never let them see the dark corners of my heart, then I miss out on the sharpening that they offer. The best trick that Satan plays is convincing Christians that we have something to hide. We are afraid that if others saw the “real me”, then they would reject us; we cover up our messes in an effort to escape shame. And darkness cannot serve the light, so eventually, our feeble attempts to serve the church eventually overwhelm us and we burn out.

I know this to be true: all of us are sinners, wretched and without hope in this world. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who sets us free from these bodies of death! Therefore, we can confidently share our mess with one another, for we have nothing to prove and no one to impress, since there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. {a joyful paraphrase of some of the apostle Paul's words to the church in Rome} 

Friends, whether you are in vocational or lay ministry, whether you are a pastor or volunteer, if you are part of the body of Christ, then you must have "a person" who you trust with your most intimate secrets and, more importantly, who keeps pointing you back to Jesus. We must sympathize with each other, yes, but more than that, we must preach the gospel to each other so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from the living God. 

How has your person helped you keep seeking Jesus when you wanted to give up?  
How can we help one another find "our people"?