Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Least of These

I just returned from an awesome weekend at the Women of Faith conference in Atlanta, GA. I spent a weekend with 34 other beautiful women from North Point and enjoyed time with friends both old and new. We worshipped together, cried together and laughed together as we sang and listened to incredible women of God sharing their lives with us. There were many “take away” moments from the weekend that I may write about in future blogs, but none stood out as much to me as the one that happened outside the walls of the arena, away from the spot lights and loud music.

On Saturday, several of us walked outside as a group to pick up our boxed lunches. We searched around to find a place to sit to enjoy the nice temperature. We had to walk down to an area a little outside of where most conference goers were sitting, near a stop for the public transportation. This meant that there were many “non conference” people passing through. Before we even sat down, all of us noticed two men who appeared to be homeless, sitting about a 50 yards away from us. One was stretched out on the ground, seemingly unaware of all the people around him. The other sat in a plastic chair beside him, several bags of his personal items propped nearby.

As we sat down, I had feelings of guilt at all the people scattered in the area, eating right in front of him. He was shabby looking, not at all kept or clean. He watching everyone around him, very observant of people. I felt sorry for him.

I’d love to say at this point that I hopped right up and sacrificially gave him my lunch. But I did not! If I have to be honest, I must tell you that my first thought was that I probably should be setting a good example to all these ladies with me since I was their pastor’s wife and all. (Real self serving, huh?) The second thought that crossed through my mind was not what would Jesus have me do, but what would my husband have done? He probably would have taken him a lunch. I wish I was as good as him. As I wrestled with these thoughts, one of the ladies with our group did go over and use her lunch ticket to take him a lunch. Wow! I probably should have done that. While she was gone, a lady from another church also took a lunch to him, which he set down beside his friend who still seemed a little out of it.

All of this was neat to watch, but the best was yet to come. I watched as he moved his friends lunch up closer to him, trying to get him to wake up, and making sure they both had equal food to eat. Soon, a lady from another church, came near where we were sitting with a large stack of Styrofoam trays to attempt to put in a trash can a couple of few feet from us. We watched her struggle, not able to get them in through the small opening at the top. Again, I ‘d love to say I got up to help with a servants heart. No! I sat, eating my lunch and still thinking about how sorry I felt for this man and trying to pretend not to smell the area around us, which we had decided early on was probably a rest room for men like these.

As she walked away to find another trash can, I saw this man running towards her. I was sure he wanted to save the trays to rescue any remaining food so I again felt guilty for not sharing mine. How wrong I was!! He ran over to her, gently took the trays from her hands, walked over to the trash can and actually took off the dirty top of that filthy can so that he could stuff the trays into the trash. I was amazed. Here was this man…somewhat unsightly, clothes hanging on him, hands filthy, unshaven, walking around in only dirty socks, no shoes in sight. He did what none of us would dare to do. He was acting as a true servant. I certainly was not going to risk getting dirty under my nails or on my clothes to take off this trash can lid.

Again, a few moments later, I watched as he came to the trash can to stuff down more trash, almost as if doing some house cleaning. His hands were covered in dirt, fingernails dark from not being washed. He stood only a few feet from me. My friend offered him her chips and I passed some fruit to him. I looked him in the face as he took it graciously, thanking us, and walked back to his seat. I realized for that moment, looking into his eyes, that I did not have pity on him….but perhaps him on me.

I do not know this man’s name. I don’t know his story. I don’t know if he had a spot to lay his head that night. I don’t know if he got to this place as a result of life’s hard blows, or from a series of his own poor choices. As I’ve had time to come home and get some rest, I’ve realized it does not matter. I felt like I looked into the face of God that day. Here was a man who acted out of compassion, with a true servants heart. He did not sit and ponder what he should do. He did not look around to see who was watching or worry what others would think. He did not look down at his clothes to determine how he could help in a way so as not to get messed up. Here he was….dirty, ragged, already probably at one of life’s lowest points, yet he acted humbly to meet a need at the very moment he saw it. I am ashamed that I could not do that same. I am touched by this man who I will never see again. He taught me at that moment far more than I ever could have imagined. Father, help me not to stay the same!!

Matthew 25:44-45
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a
stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help
the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

Monday, September 22, 2008

Getting Real

John asked me and our Associate Pastor's wife to share a testimony on Sunday about how God has used our accountability group in our life over the past year. Those of you who know me well know that John was the one gifted with the speaking ability, not me, so this was totally out of my comfort zone. But, I thought I'd share with you the script of what I shared on Sunday.

"I accepted Christ at the age of six while growing up as a preachers kid.
I’ve been in church since birth and have heard most Bible stories at least
once, some of them many times. I’ve grown in my walk with Christ
through many seasons of my life….high school, college, being a
newlywed, seminary, learning my role as a wife and mother and then as a
pastor’s wife. The season I’ve been in for a little more than a year has
been one of those big spiritual growing times.

Almost two years ago, I was asked if I wanted to be in an accountability
group with several other women. Accountability was something I’ve
learned about all my life and always thought was great for “other people”
to do, but never truly considered as something I personally needed. I
thought being in this group would probably be a good thing, but never
really thought I could be really transparent, open and honest with other
women. Today, I am so thankful that God brought these ladies into my
life and allowed this group to begin. It has totally changed my life.

A year ago, if anyone from North Point had asked me how my quiet times
were, I would not have been able to reply honestly that they were great.
In reality, they were few and far between. The truth is, I’ve spent many
of my adult years being really good at playing the part of a Christian, but
not necessarily living it out in my daily life. I wanted to grow, but was not
putting in the time necessary to do so. I had enough head knowledge to
pretend like everything was all okay.

God has used a group of very special, godly women, in incredible ways in
my life. I know I have a group of sisters in Christ that I can share life with
in deeper levels than I ever imagined. I now am seeking to know my
heavenly Father in a deeper, more intimate way than ever before. I don’t
get it right all the time, and know that I never will, but I know these
women are going to ask me each week how my quiet times are going, or
how I’ve treated my kids, or how my relationship with my husband is
going. And I have to answer honestly.

I’ve been reading through the Bible in it’s entirety for the first time in my
life and continue to seek God’s will each day for all He has for me. I now
believe that being accountable to others is an essential part of a believers
life. It’s not something that is meant to be punishment or to be afraid of.
It’s not about getting a slap on the wrist because you messed up. It is a
joy and an honor and I would encourage Christ followers to seek out
accountability relationships with other believers.
I promise you will not be the same!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Fish Tales

Okay, we went into this whole fish ownership thing with me believing that all you had to do to keep fish alive was feed them and keep the water clean. When we purchased this fish tank in June, I thought we had spent the most money we would need to spend on the initial setup, and all it would involve from here on out was restocking the fish food pantry. Wrong....

We purchased this tank, with help from our kids from their "fish fund" they had been saving up and immediately realized we needed decorations to make the tank look realistic. I am not sure what is realistic about fish swimming in circles all day in a 16 gallon tank, but I was as equally excited as my kids about making it look beautiful. So, we purchased gravel, a glow in the dark corral type piece (in case they need a night light), some fake plants and a very large rock piece which I do really love. However, this rock needed a pump so that bubbles would come out of the top of it. I guess there are many rocks in the sea that actually have bubbles coming from them? But, I liked it and it adds to the atmosphere. Of course, extra tubing was also required to make it fit.

So tank, decorations, and pump in hand we set up the tank, filled it, and soon added our first five fish, followed by three more the next week.

I have now learned that it is necessary to own a vacuum to suck up all the stuff that the filter did not get up from the bottom of the tank. This process also involves a large bucket and usually some amount of water that has been spilled onto my carpet.

Then, when several fish died, including our two favorite dalmatian fish, we learned our chemical levels were all out of whack so it would be necessary to "upgrade" our filter. Apparently, the filter that originally came with our tank was only suitable if you were never going to actually put any fish into the tank.

Next came the need to purchase a chemical testing kit. I had been assured that this could be done for free by taking a water sample to our local pet store and having them test it on the spot. However, I guess it is more fun to get to play with test tubes, so we now have a test kit.

Then, two weeks ago, we discovered that one of our fish had babies. We found one little speck of a fish still alive at the bottom of the tank, but think mom may have dined on the rest of them. How sad!! This one we were not able to save, but a week later, discovered another tiny baby. Now, I have to add that we knowingly purchased three females and one male to see if they would have babies, thinking this would be educational and fun to follow. A couple of weeks after purchasing them, we started to noticed the females had put on some "padding" shall we say. One of our females looks like she could pop open at any moment. Of course, the male is swimming happily around, skinny as a rail. (Isn't that just how it is!!!)

So, I came home one night this week from my accountability group to discover that we now have a nursery floating in the top of the tank, which housed the largest female at the top, and the still tiny baby in the bottom. Who knew!!! I also began to look closely and noticed an algae eater that had not been there earlier that day. Would you believe all three of my kids denied having been to Pet Smart that night with their dad??? And we wonder why I had a lying issue with one of them yesterday?

I have now resigned myself to the fact that we need a line item in our budget labeled fish and that I would do well just to rearrange my furniture so that our fish tank can be viewed from every seating position. I do believe the people at Pet Smart have probably handed my husband a store key so that he can just come in and get what he needs anytime. And I am quite sure there are many more fish "necessities" that I have yet to hear about. But I do have to admit, it has been fun watching them and watching the excitement of all of our family as we see changes to them each day. And I love the peaceful sound of trickling water coming from our sparkling, new super filter!!

(After posting, we found three more baby fish in our tank this morning...two were added two the nursery. We lost site of the third. Did I mention these fish give birth to live babies, and can have 20-100 every couple of months?? Yea, I think next time we'll call all male. But it is cool!)

Faith of a Child

I am so excited to be seeing the first signs of fall….a cool night last night and a pleasant day today. The first signs yet that the summer heat will eventually fade away. Fall has always been my favorite time of the year and I anxiously await the cooler days.

I had the great privilege of spending about an hour with one of my three favorite kids in the world today. We had the rare opportunity to take a long walk, just the two of us. With three kids and homeschooling, this does not happen as often as I’d love it to. But this was a great chance just to talk…one on one….without the interruptions of siblings, tv, play, etc. To protect this child’s identity, I’ll not refer specifically to him or her. But after we’d been walking for awhile, I asked the question, “So, what has God been showing you lately?” To preface the response, I have to tell you that we spent part of our school morning with this child dealing with a lying issue that happened this morning. We talked about it, prayed about it and awhile later, a very repentant, tearful child had a very different countenance.

The answer I received to this question was this, “God showed me I’ve been doing some bad things lately.” I asked what God showed him/her to do about it and the reply was, “To start walking a different way.” Wow!! It seems so simple. We are breaking God’s heart, the Holy Spirit convicts us of this, and we just repent….we turn around and start walking a different way. Not veer slightly off the path we were on, not slow down or speed up, not sit down on the path and hang out there until we decide to move…no, we turn around and start walking a different way. I was really blown away by this child’s depth at that moment. He/she never realized how powerful that was for an adult to hear….it just seems simple. It’s what God tells us to do. If only we could all have the faith of a child all the time!

We did go on to talk about how that is sometimes easier than at other times and how our pride can get in the way and make us want to keep doing what we were doing. But I was very blessed today to get to spend some time walking with this sweet, child of God, and anticipating the change in seasons and marveling at the change of heart I’d seen today.

Friday, September 5, 2008

And then there were seven...

As I've talked about previously in my blog, we were coerced into purchasing a fish tank this summer by our sweet children. We successfully kept all nine of our first fish alive for about two months. One green fire tetra, four red wag poly's, two neons, and two dalmation fish. Last week, while cleaning out the tank, we discovered our first loss. One of our little neon fish had perished. I had warned my children not to get attached to the fish as they had short life spans and would probably not be permanent house members. I also knew our record of plant growing in our house so these poor fish were not looking too lucky. So this first loss was not a big deal.

However, we've noticed the water looking really cloudy since that cleaning and wondered what was causing it. A water test today at the pet store showed the water to be not exactly friendly for our fish. We knew we'd be cleaning it out again tonight. But sometime during dinner, one of my personal favorites bit the dust. He was a black dalmatian fish and I really liked him and his sibling, a white dalmatian fish. They had longer tails and fins they kind of flowed in the water, and though they sometimes appeared a little aggressive or domineering towards the smaller fish, they were really fun to watch. I knew I went against everything I told my kids....I got a little attached and admit to feeling a little sad after our discovery.

So, my kids being the great kids that they are, decided we needed to bury the fish and have a service. (I think the first one just got flushed!) All five of us our pajamas...under our deck in the backyard as we placed the fish in his final resting place. Our precious dog Boo was nearby. The kids thought this was really sweet that she wanted to be part of everything. I think she wanted to remember the spot for a late night snack! But we said some parting words, my son placed some flowers, and we went back inside. The tank is on the way to being clean again, and now we have room for our next victims.