Tag Archives: ministry

A Prayer for Our Country

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A Prayer for Our Country

Last week I was sitting in church when we began singing these lyrics . . .

“We call out to dry bones, come alive, come alive!
We call out to dead hearts, come alive!”

At the time I had no idea what our sermon would be about.  However, here is what came to my mind.  At this time in our country’s history, what would happen if we as a church began to cry out to our political leaders and institutions the invitation to come alive and if we called out to God to revive the dead hearts found in the halls of our country’s government institutions?  How would our country change?  This isn’t about a political party or affiliation.  I hope that we are not naive enough to believe that any human party has a corner on the market of Christ-likeness.  This is about realizing the need for us as a church to be about the business of the Kingdom.

One of my religion professors in college once said this, “The Kingdom of Heaven is not a pipe dream.”  In other words, when Jesus entered this world he ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven and while it may not reach completion until we arrive in heaven, that in no way negates the fact that he calls his followers to be about the business of bringing that kingdom here and now.  We are positioned at exactly the time and place that needs the Church.  Needs us to reject the idea that one ideology or political party has all the answers.  Needs us to reject the notion that we have to question each other’s faith if we question their vote.  Needs us to reject the easy path of only listening to those who agree with us.  We need to engage, to listen, to love, and to fight for the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is not a pipe dream and we have a responsibility to work towards its realization on earth.

So, as I sat in my seat and listened to the song I began to pen this prayer.  And as the sermon began I was surprised to find the message was connected to this same topic.  Maybe God was trying to tell me something.  Maybe he’s trying to tell us all.  Will you join with me in praying this over our country?  And will you join me in the fighting to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth?

Be with our leaders—in each branch of our government
Be with our leaders—in community organizations, churches, and non-profits
Be with our leaders—in town councils, schools, and emergency services
And be with us—the citizens who stand in this divided time

Where there are dry bones and dead hearts, we call out “come alive!”
Where there are hardened hearts, we pray that you would open them with your grace
Where we have closed ourselves off, we pray that you would break our hearts for what breaks your
          heart
Where there is fear that has left us paralyzed or hiding behind closed doors, remind us of your
frequent call to “fear not” and strengthen us in your power
Where there is mistrust and resentment, enable us to risk understanding where others are coming
from

Where there is hurt and past scars, give us the grace to forgive and move forward
Where there is selfishness and greed, reorient us to your kingdom values
Where there is hatred and anger, overpower us with your love and allow us to see our enemies as
your children whom you love with an overwhelming fierceness
Where there is division, fill us with unity, help us to be peacemakers

Help our leaders
Help our churches
Help us
          to be the standard bearers of your image
          to honor you with our words and actions
          to stand for all your children
          to remember who our neighbors are
          to work to bring your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven
Help us, Oh Lord

I feel pretty . . .

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The next topic on my blog challenge was to write about the best compliment I ever received and why it meant so much. Contrary to the title of this post, my favorite compliments have nothing to do with being pretty.

For those of you that don’t know, my first love was theatre.  In fact, my undergrad degree is in theatre, with a minor in vocal performance.  Back in college I walked off stage after performing a monologue in “The Good Doctor” and a fellow cast member told me “You inspire me.”  I’m not gonna lie, it felt pretty dang good.  Partly because that cast member was a professional actor who’d been being paid to act for years.  But if we’re being real, it probably had a lot more to do with the fact that I had a massive crush on him.  So maybe that’s not really the best compliment I ever received.

Then there was this time about six years ago I asked a parent I knew to write a reference for me.  I was applying to work as a nanny and I needed to have several written references.  Within her letter she wrote, “I believe Amanda would sacrifice her life and take a bullet for my kids.”  Awe.  It was awesome . . . and it really is true.  I fall in love with every kid I am blessed to work with and I’m so thankful that not only the kids, but also the parents, feel that love.

But probably my favorite complement came one day in college when someone came up to me.  I’m not really sure how she knew me.  Honestly, I can’t even remember who it was.  But she looked at me with a slightly curious look on her face.  Then she said, “I see Jesus in you.”  And that was amazing.  That’s my life goal right there.  For people to look at me and not see my occupation or IQ, not my dress size or faults, but to see the love of Jesus through me.

What about you?  What kind of compliment has made your day?

Catching Up

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It has been a crazy season of my life.  Then again . . . when isn’t it crazy in my life?  I like to spin the Merry-Go-Round out of control fast and just keep riding.  For those of you following my fostering journey, I’ve completed all the home visits for my home study.  They were nothing at all like what I expected.  I imagined a hundred different scenarios, tried to practice answers as if I was prepping for an interview.  None of my predictions were anywhere close to what actually happened.  My home study  consisted of two visits, each one about two hours long.  We sat at my kitchen table, had coffee, and the home finder asked me a list of questions.  A list which just so happened to coincide almost identically with the questions I answered in writing on the biography section of my application.  I went through my job history again, where I’ve lived, my family relationships, etc.  Then he wrote down my answers.  I wanted to go print off a copy of the biography section I’d typed up to save him (and me) from all that extra time, but I thought it might come off as rude.  One of my friends who works in the system said it’s to make sure I’m telling the truth.  At the end of my first visit he spent no more than 90 seconds walking through my home.  He wasn’t checking to see if anything was or wasn’t there.  No looking for CO2 detectors, food in the pantry, or medicines laying out.  He just made a diagram of the layout of my house for his files.  Most of that diagram was drawn at my kitchen table.  The second visit was much the same as the first, only no walk through.  If only I’d known how this was going to work I could have saved myself hours of time scrubbing windowsills and base boards.  At the end of the second visit he did ask a few questions that hadn’t been covered elsewhere and got a more specific list of what challenging behaviors and/or special needs I’d be wiling to take.  Then he told me we were done.  The next step was for him to type up his notes, send out my references (inside I was groaning realizing he still hadn’t done it), wait for them to come back, and have his supervisor sign off on approval.  Then he will come back and I will sign off on the home study report.  He told me I could expect to be approved by mid-January.  That was December 16.  I haven’t heard anything yet, but I do know several of my references didn’t receive a reference letter in the mail until last week.  Hopefully I’ll be approved soon.  This process is such a long one!

In other news, I thought I’d try to catch up on the blog challenge I started months and months ago.  It was supposed to take 31 days.  It may take me a year.  Anywho, the next challenge was to write about my dream job.  This is a hard one for me, because in many ways I feel like I have my dream job.  I love what I do, I love the people I work with.  It’s great.  But I guess if I were going to describe my dream job, I might have to take into account that there are a lot of things I love doing, that I don’t get to do very often.  So perhaps I need a job-rotation.  Like preschool centers where you get to go from one area to another and then back again.  No one has ever described me as ADD before, but writing this makes me wonder.  Anyway, if I could go back and forth between all my favorite types of jobs, here’s what they would be:

My current job as a children’s pastor.  I love getting to impact kids lives and help grow stronger families.  I also love that in my current job I get to be more than just “the kids person.”  I get to preach, teach, lead outreaches, and be a part of the team.  Did I mention how great my job is?

Working with the church in the Middle East.  I did this for a year and absolutely loved it.  I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the awesome food.  When I did this I taught a college course, worked with child sponsorship programs, taught English, led kids programs, and trained people to work with kids.  All of it was amazing.

Acting.  I miss this a lot.  There’s not too many opportunities for me to do this anymore.  I get to direct kids a lot, but I miss being on stage.  I’m dying to play Jane Eyre–anyone wanna resurrect that musical and cast me?  I look young for my age, I promise.

Wedding Planning.  I’ve always teased that if I quit my day job this is probably what I’ll end up doing.  I love the beauty and celebration of weddings, and I love planning events.

Author.  Writing is a life-long passion of mine.  I’ve actually written a lot, but just can’t seem to find the energy and do the work it takes to get published.

Teacher.  I love teaching.  I love being able to challenge people, open their minds to new ways of thinking, and help them grow.

Traveler I’m not sure what kind of job would let me travel all the time, but I am IN LOVE with traveling to other places–whether a new place in the US I haven’t been to or somewhere across the globe.

So that’s it.  What would your dream job include?

I should have been a black girl . . .

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I once had a boss tell me “We love you and we’re so glad you’re on our team.  But our ideal candidate was someone with your skills and abilities, who was also a black woman with XYZ in their background.”  Instead they got me — a girl so white my friends in high school teased that I was Casper the Friendly Ghost on a trip to Florida.  They chose me, and they were happy to have me, but the point is they were intentionally looking for diversity.

There are a lot of people that don’t like the idea of affirmative action.  To them it feels like discrimination, an unfair advantage, or bias.  In their eyes affirmative action is a rejection of the skills, gifts, and abilities of people in the majority group.  I respect these people.  I understand where they’re coming from.  But I don’t agree.

Diversity doesn’t happen by chance.

Want proof?  Go visit any large city and take a drive through the different neighborhoods and boroughs.  Go visit some schools in the inner city and then drive out to the suburbs.  Pay attention to who’s sitting at which lunch tables.  Try out a few different hair salons.  Or better yet . . . go visit any church on an average Sunday morning.

We live in a very segregated world.  A world that seems to only be capable of defining ourselves by defining who is other.  I know I am A: not B, C, D or E.  Don’t believe me?  I challenge you to go  have an honest conversation with someone who is trying to live as an “AND” in an “either/or” world.  A biracial teen.  An adult who grew up in one country and now lives in another.  An LGBT Christian.  A Liberal Christian.  The list could go on and on.  There is a tension that exists in their life.  We are a world that likes to categorize and define and put things in boxes.  And we like to keep those boxes separate.  We do it without thinking.  We divide people by race, gender, ethnicity, economic status, age, education level, religious background, political affiliation, and more.  Some areas are more natural to us than others, but we still do it.  This is what comes naturally to us.  (This, in my opinion, is one of the consequences of the fall.)

So wherever we find diversity we should celebrate it.  And we should realize it didn’t come about by chance, but by choice.  Someone — some leader or group of people — decided that diversity was valuable enough to work for it.  To take risks and make changes.  To set goals and take steps to make them a reality.  And some days they don’t make progress, but they don’t give up.  (Some days you hire the pasty white girl, but you keep looking for that amazing black woman also.)

I have spent most of my adult life working in churches.  One of the things we talk about is that when people come into a church for the first time they will look around and ask “Is there anyone here who is like me?”  This doesn’t just apply to race and gender, but  to whatever it is that we have defined ourselves as.  And one of the first places we will look to answer that question is the platform–who’s on stage or listed on the website.  We’re looking for an answer because we don’t want to be an other.  We are all born with an innate desire to belong.  If we want to be a church where everyone feels comfortable, then we must be a place where everyone can answer that question with a confident “Yes!  I’m not alone!”

This week the denomination that I am ordained in is making some very important decisions regarding the future leadership of the church.  These decisions are always tough because there are so many amazingly qualified potential leaders.  It is my prayer that as decisions are made, those voting will remember the value and beauty of diversity.   Diversity of thoughts and perspectives, ethnicities and genders, ages and backgrounds, talents and skills.

And as I pray this, I also pray . . . not my will but yours be done.

Reflections on Volunteering at a Homeless Shelter

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dull plop
of
hard crusts
and mashed pasta
spooned onto
cold pastels of
plastic trays
white plastic spoon
white plastic fork
pale hands
with smooth skin
perfectly filed
fingernails
trembling
smiles
pass the hard tray
out the
window
bitterness,
gratitude,
fear,
loneliness
in tired eyes

children
thin bodies
thread bare
flannels
faded
jeans
rough hands
big smiles
large hearts
tight hugs
but
tired eyes
I hold you
in my lap
I smile large
laugh loud
but inside
I cry
and so do you
we try to be strong
for each other—
the world
if only
I could hold you
forever
but impossibility of humanity
prevents it

so instead
I whisper sweet words of
Jesus
in your ear
and
sing you happy songs
and hold you
for this moment

 

Hunger Games, Nanny Diaries, and a Father’s Love

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Tonight I enjoyed an awesome girls night watching The Hunger Games.  We tried to go last night at midnight, but apparently even in a small town like Fredericksburg, all ten showings were sold out days in advance.  One person in our group hadn’t read the book, so everything was fresh for her.  Afterwards I asked her what she thought and she told me that she wasn’t too emotional until the famous scene with Rue and Katniss.  (Just in case any of you haven’t read the book or watched the movie yet, I’ll leave out which scene.  But for those of you that have, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) Anyway, she told me that when it got to that scene she was OK until she looked over at me and thought about me and my kids.  (As I affectionately call all the children who I am blessed to minister to.)  What would I do if it were one of my kids?

It is a really powerful thought– what would you do to protect the kids that you love?  I remember a time when I was working as a nanny.  Little Zach, who was about two and a half, was supposed to be taking a nap.  But he didn’t want to sleep–there were monsters lurking in his closet.  Or maybe he just wanted to play, and the monsters were his fall guys.  At any rate, I lay down next to him and began to sing him lullabies until he fell asleep.  And as he lay there, curled in my arms, I realized just how powerfully I loved him.  I thought about all those mothers whose baby boys were taken from them and slaughtered back in Egypt at the time of Moses’ birth and again in Palestine at Jesus’ birth.  What would I do if someone broke down my door demanding Zach?  All my strongly held pacifist beliefs were getting a run for their money.

And I wonder, what if that same fierce, protective love is the way my Heavenly Father feels about me?  About all of us.  Surely my love for Zach is not stronger than the Father’s love for him . . . or for me–as baffling and hard to believe as that may be.

So today, for Poetry Friday, I offer up this poem for everyone who offers a fierce love to their children.  Whether as a parent, a pastor, a nanny, or a Father.  And I offer this poem to all the children in our world — may you always be aware that there is someone who fiercely loves you.

 

I Hold You

I hold you
sweet child
in my arms
I hold you
whispering lullabies
in your ear
I hold you
in my steady arm
fighting off
the monsters that lurk
in your nighttime

Fear not
sweet child
in my arms
Fear not
I watch over you
wreathing flowers
in your hair
Fear not
you are not alone
in the shadows of this pain

Take heart
sweet child
in my arms
Take heart
I cradle you
singing peace
into your soul
Take heart
there is a hope
stronger than fear

Fly away
sweet child
in my arms
Fly away
you are secure
in my embrace
which breathes new life
into your brokenness
Fly away
into the freedom
that breaks all chains
and births creation anew

Living in the Spare Room

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i wondered into your home,
not expecting to find you there
i tiptoed past your doorway
not believing you were really inside
i danced in your fountains
splashing water like a child
i dozed on your couch
finally resting after years of rushing

i ran through your hallways
pretending i had urgent business
i brushed past your children
not seeing your face reflected in theirs
i pretended to be your
caretaker, housekeeper, governess, hostess
i settled into a spare room
unpacked my baggage

until one day i ran
head long, crashing collision
ran into you
while running through your halls
(i’d almost forgotten i was in your house,
i’d made myself so at home there)

i’ve been living in your home,
eating from your cupboards,
swimming in your pool
pretending i was helping
pretending you needed me

but i’ve not sat at your table
and broke bread with you
i’ve not walked through your garden
and talked with you
i’ve not sat at your side
and dreamed with you

you wanted a bride
and i offered you
cook, cleaner, babysitter, gardener

you wanted my love
but i was too busy
to offer you anything but my service

is it too late to
leave that spare bedroom and
move down the hall?

 

 

 

Are you really a Christian?

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Have you ever noticed what a wide variety of factors we consider when determining if a person is “really a Christian?”  I’ve been in professional ministry for about a decade and I could almost write another 613 laws based on some of the stipulations I’ve heard.

Are you really a Christian?  I’ve been told you’re not a *real* Christian if . . .

  • you’re a Democrat
  • you’re a Republican
  • you don’t home school your kids
  • you home school your kids
  • you’re a working mom
  • you’re a stay-at-home dad
  • you believe in gay marriage
  • you don’t believe in gay marriage
  • you believe in a pre-millenial rapture
  • you believe in a post-millenial rapture
  • you work on Sundays
  • you’re business is open on Sundays
  • you drink alcohol
  • you never drink alcohol
  • you can’t remember the date you choose to follow Jesus
  • you don’t picket outside family planning clinics
  • you do picket outside family planning clinics

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  We all have this picture (whether we want to admit it or not) of what a Christian looks like, acts like, and believes.  And most of the time our picture addresses things that go far beyond the questions of  “Do you believe in Jesus?  Did you seek forgiveness for your sins?  Do you choose to follow God?”

And all that has me wondering . . . when people who don’t consider themselves Christians look at us, what factors do they use to determine who is and who isn’t Christian?  Are they asking us questions about our belief systems or are they judging based on who “goes to church?”  Are they evaluating our behaviors and moral boundaries or are they examining our political and social beliefs?

Or, what if Jesus actually knew what he was talking about when he said: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Try to forget that you’ve ever heard that verse before.  Try to forget the watered-down definition of love that our culture has come to believe in.  Try to forget everything you’ve come to assume is what defines you as a Christian.  What if the only way for people to know that we have anything to do with the God-man we call Jesus Christ, is if we love each other?  With the kind of radical, deep-running, lay-down-your-life kind of love that I believe Jesus was talking about.

If that was the measuring stick of our Christianity, what would people on the “outside” think of us on the “inside?”  Would they see us as Christians when they looked in our churches, our homes, our offices, and our ministries?  Would they see a radical love between all those people gathered in an auditorium on Sunday morning?  Would they see a deep love if they visited our church board meetings?  Would they see an edifying  love if they walked through our offices?  Would they see a self-sacrificing love if they hung out with us in our family room?

What if, radical as this may be, what if God looked at us the same way?  What if he was a lot less concerned with our political party or our views on end-times than he was with how we loved each other.  It’s a freeing proposition–that I don’t have to end up on the right side of the debate or have all the correct answers.  But it’s also a terrifying thought.  Because loving people–the way I believe God wants us to love people–isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy to love the person you can’t agree with.  It’s even harder to love the person who hurt you.  And we do that in the church . . . a lot.  We hurt people.  We don’t mean to, but we do.  We’re not God, we’re messed up humans and we make mistakes.

The question is, is it even possible to live with that kind of radical love?  To love the family member who broke your heart?  To love the person on the other side of the aisle who betrayed your trust?  To love the congregation down the street whose beliefs don’t line up with yours?  To love the coworker who drives you crazy?  Is that kind of love really possible here on earth?  Is that thing we call the “Kingdom of Heaven” ever going to be realized in this world, or is it only possible when Jesus returns?

I’ll tell you what a wise man once told me:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is not a pipe dream.” 

Maybe we’ll never perfect that Kingdom reality in this lifetime.  Maybe our love will never be that complete.  But I’d love to see us try.

Give Me

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Give me sweet fall days
warm afternoons
cloudless skies
mountain mazes

Give me childlike wonder
innocent questions
unwavering trust
perfect love

Give me big city lights
concrete jungles
urban rhythms
skyscraper dreams

Give me beauty and art
breathtaking paintings
captivating performances
music and motion

Give me classrooms of learning
students with stories
quiet-nooked libraries
lightbulbs exploding

Give me passports to adventure
untasted delicacies
secreted new lands
friendships not yet begun

Give me the broken and lonely
wandering confused
secret doubters
prodigal daughters

Give me the fatherless children
bullied heroes
frightened victims
brave warriors

Give me arms to hold
breath to share
love to paint
grace to journey
persistence to never accept less

Giving All to Bandage the World

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she sits
silent
her face void of all expression
her hands clasped quietly in her lap
but if you can look into her eyes,
you can see her heart open before you
she wants to take the world into her arms
and make everything all right
but she sits
silently
as the knowledge of her inability to do so
haunts her

she stands
shamed
her face hidden in her hands
and if you can pry into her mind
you can see her thoughts laid bare
she’s torn between giving all to bandage the world
and keeping it to comfort herself
so she stands
as her unwillingness to sacrifice
haunts her

she steps
uncertainly
into an unknown journey
her face torn between tears and laughter
and if you ask for her story
you will hear the rhythms of grace in her voice
she wants God to take the world through her arms and hold it
in his love
so she goes
as her faith in his ability to do so
sends her