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?