redemption and transformation

photo (1)The other day, my daughter gave me a priceless gift.

It is a calendar made from her incredibly amazing photographs. (You can see her gorgeous work in film at http://www.sarahjoellephotography.com/) The fine-art printed cards are clipped to a handcrafted wood board redeemed from deadfall beetle-destroyed pine trees¹. The unusual blue color is evidence of the damage done by the insects, but death has been transformed into a work of art – a powerful redemption.

I received the gift while we were helping our daughter and her husband move in to their new home in Tennessee. They are in an old (1920’s), quaint, character-filled home, and we worked long hard hours painting, remodeling, and furnishing to make it “theirs”. In a few days, it had undergone a loving transformation.

The redeemed gift and transformed home give me special hope during hard days.

This past week, a teammate died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a very ill wife and three children. He had been providing special care for his wife; now she will have to do many things he did for her… while missing him terribly. When something painful like this happens, I long for an answer to the incomprehensible question, “why?”, and I wait trusting for the certain redemption and transformation that will come with time.

…because redemption and transformation will come.

I have seen it so many times. Where there is faith, good and grace are found even in tragedy. Kindness and generosity and peace and strength come from the most unexpected people and places.

Hope returns while grieving hearts find comfort in the promised heavenly home and aching arms wait for eternal reunions.

Easter is also a season of redemption and transformation. I am grateful today for a faith that sustains and for a promise of eternal life… and for a special gift that reminds me of the power of redemption and the hope of transformation.

When have you seen redemption or transformation in your life? What gives you hope?

________

¹ The great company that makes the wood boards is Artifact Uprising. Check out their site!

emotional roller coaster

roller coaster
I have always loved roller coasters – the bigger and the scarier the better! I love the sense of risk and adventure and speed… all while feeling safe and secure by the buckles or bars that hold me safely inside the car. I enjoy the views and sites from above the highest peaks… and I never mind the flying-stomach sensation as the car dives down to the lowest levels or squeals around the curves. Wind in my hair, screams in my throat, hands lifted high… I intentionally look for that kind of fun at the amusement parks.

…but I do not want that same experience when I get back home.

Somehow when life’s happenings have the same character of risk and speed and change, it does not feel like fun anymore.

The last few days have felt like an emotional roller coaster to me. I have been on the high peaks of new friends, stimulating and encouraging work, and progress towards settling in a new home. Within hours, I have also traveled to the low valleys of family struggling with death-at-the-door illness, fear and exhaustion, carrying the guilt that I can not do more, and grieving the loss of my once-vibrant father who now hardly recognizes my voice when I call.

These ups and downs also affect my stomach, but now it is groaning and aching rather than flying, and I do mind it, and I wish it would go away.

I spoke at a retreat this weekend about how much we need to invite others into our life adventures and look for something to appreciate even in the hard times. The heart attitude and the help of others make a big difference for me when my life is twisting and spinning in all directions on short notice. I feel more secure on the wild journey when my faith holds me tightly and my friends sit in the car beside me.

I recognize that the peaks and valleys will be part of my experience until the ride ends. Sometimes I will slowly chug along on a mellow straight path, but adrenalin-pumping crazy tracks are often just ahead. I am learning that if I consider life’s challenges as an adventure, as an inevitable opportunity to grow and trust, and if I do not attempt the ride alone, it is not as scary for me. It is even fun at times.

Do you like roller coasters? How do you ride the emotional roller coasters of life?

how do you want to be remembered?

Bob Morgan memorialHow do I want to be remembered when I die? Not something I think about very often… or want to.

However, attending a memorial service this past weekend caused me to think about things that I am often too busy to consider.

My father-in-law died a few weeks ago (about one year after his beloved wife, Nancy) and we gathered for a very special time with family and friends to share stories, hugs, tears, and time together. Meals, music, and memories filled the days. We remembered Bob as family, friend, coach, and faithful husband.

Bob’s life did not begin easily. His father deserted the family when Bob was young, and Bob ran the streets unsupervised with his “river rats” pals. There are plenty of stories about their escapades and mischief… and probably some that still remain untold! Bob
credited the Marines and basketball for turning his life around, teaching him the discipline, values, and commitments that characterized his later life.

At Bob’s memorial, we looked at picture boards and video presentations and listened to some of his favorite songs and people share about his life. Over 80+ years, Bob left a lasting legacy.

PERSONALLY – Bob invested his life with passion into those things he loved and enjoyed. Bob served bravely and proudly in the Marines. After his tour of duty, Bob dedicated his life to his love of basketball. He played in college, and then coached for many years, winning the 1971 Wisconsin State Championship for high school boys’ basketball… and many years later, he came out of retirement to coach a win-less, small-town, girls’ team to their only winning season. Bob loved the “lake”: fishing, pontoon rides, and the spectacular seasonal views from his front porch. He also loved all kinds of music and enthusiastically sang and played with family and friends through the years. He was famous for his Louis Armstrong karaoke version of “What a Wonderful World”, and we sang it at his service.

What are you passionate about?
Are you investing your time, abilities, 
energy and resources there?

RELATIONSHIPS – Even without early strong role models, Bob left a legacy of strong family bonds and loyalty. Bob adored his wife Nancy; it was obvious to all who knew them. His family laughed together, cried together, disagreed, and forgave each other… always staying close and enjoying time together. Bob also developed long-term friends from all walks of life. He was friendly and witty, and had a special place in his heart for the underdog. The Morgan campfire always warmly welcomed family and loved-like-family friends.

How are your relationships? Are they committed, loving, loyal, deep?

FINANCIALLY – Bob was a high school teacher and coach… not highly paid professions. Yet, Bob and Nancy were excellent stewards of their resources. In life, they were thoughtful gift-givers and traveled frequently to visit family. They opened their home and hearts to many, some for short visits, others for long-term care. They wintered in South Padre, TX for many years, enjoying warm weather and dear friends. When they died, they left an inheritance to their children. They were generous in life and in death.

Are you a good steward of what you have earned/received?
Are you generous to others?

FAITH – Bob and Nancy both demonstrated a personal faith and encouraged it in others. They faithfully attended church through the years, although the particular denomination was not important. Personally, I am grateful for how they encouraged our missionary family and prayed for us, even when they knew that our faith choices meant our family would never live near to them. Both Bob and Nancy understood God’s gift of
forgiveness and were at peace when they died.

Where are you on your faith journey?
Would you be at peace with God if 
you were to die today?

Bob and Nancy have helped me reflect on my own “wonderful world” and the legacy I want to leave behind… How about you? How do you want to be remembered?

who do you trust?

Easter is one of the most reflective seasons of the year. Many people consider faith options during this time, searching for truth, peace, and purpose. When I was in college, I found these things for my life in a personal relationship with God. I took time to investigate options, ask questions, study further… eventually I trusted in what Christ did for me on the cross, rather than in my own efforts. That decision changed my life; it gives me hope for each day and security for my eternal future.

If you are searching, questioning or studying… I offer you this video as part of your process. Our ministry, cru, created these four minutes of powerful visual images to help people understand God’s love and forgiveness, and the reason we celebrate Easter = Christ’s death and resurrection for us. I hope you enjoy it and that it is helpful for your own personal journey. Let me know what you think!


honoring a great woman

patronsaintsmidwivessynchroblogIn honor of International Women’s Day, Sarah Bessey is hosting a link-up for us to honor the Spiritual Midwives and Patron Saints in our lives. My mind immediately began to race about all the incredible and amazing women who have graced my life…

Spiritual Midwives (those I know personally), Patron Saints (those I have never met), and precious lives that have intersected with mine through the years. I could write about so many of them…

Today I have decided to honor one woman in particular… my sister.

terry n lulu

This very special lady was instrumental in introducing me to a personal relationship with God. In her new faith, she bravely shared with me her child-like knowledge, facing my skepticism and scoffing, and her changed life was one of the key elements in my ultimate choice for saving grace. Her continued faith through the years is a great encouragement to me.

Her life has not been easy and she has had her share of struggles and stumbles along the way, but she continues forward always. She has never given up – although I know she has felt tempted. She prays for, serves, defends, and loves her husband, children, family, friends, and community. She is authentic and real about her life story, and her lack of pretense attracts others to her.

She is a faithful listener and a truth-speaker. We love to walk and talk together, and she has challenged me more than once to reconsider my heart attitude and my natural inclinations for something better. She speaks without judgement, but rather with a sincere desire to help and encourage.

My sister’s help is so often sacrificial. We have to remind her to take care of her own needs. She is hospitable, generous, creative and humble. She is often found cooking, cleaning, running errands, or babysitting for others. She has welcomed my whole crazy family into her small, cozy home for too-long periods of time more times than I could ever count. More than that, she has welcomed us into her heart.

My sister will probably never be famous outside of a small community circle, but her influence will reach the world through the people she prays for and supports.

I love you, Laura, and I honor you on this International Woman’s Day! May your legacy be an encouragement to many other woman today and in the future. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

_____

Who are your spiritual midwives or patron saints? Who would you like to honor today?

a place to belong, a place to become

We are finishing 17+ years of ministry in Mexico; we are sorting through our stuff, passing the baton… and my husband has been putting up (very) old pictures on Facebook. Some of those years of ministry were amazing – incredible growth, excitement, impact. As I reflected on that time, I realized we were living out our values. Those values are still relevant today as we move forward…

Faith: We all trusted God for big things and took steps of faith. We moved our family – with four young children – to a different country and started something new where there was nothing. We led an international team; many of them had also left their comfort zone and moved from their homes. Students took steps of faith to begin a relationship with God even when they faced family and friends’ rejection. Staff and students shared their faith boldly with others, took on new responsibilities, asked God to take charge of their future.

Where is God asking me to take a step of faith?

Development – Growth:  We committed to growing in community and building others to be all they could be. We prayed for our teammates and disciples, and created and followed through with semester plans for basic teaching, experiences, retreats, summer projects, etc. to provide an environment for growth. We worked in teams and shared leadership often. We moved out of the way and let others lead. We invited in teams from other places. We learned from them; they learned from us.

What am I doing to develop personally and those around me?

Effectiveness – Fruitfulness: We cared about results. Effectiveness meant fruit of changed lives – for eternity. We evaluated our goals and progress regularly – individually and organizationally. We asked for feedback from others and willingly changed the format of the meetings, tried crazy ideas, invented new materials. Sometimes we did something different to compensate for a weakness, sometimes to adjust for incredible growth. We did not settle for status quo.

Have I done an honest evaluation lately? Do I need to make some changes for greater effectiveness?

Unity: Our work on campus had incredible unity in purpose and personal relationships. Different cultures, backgrounds, fields of study, ages came to learn and grow together. Our early theme was ” a place to belong, a place to become“. Our teams of staff and students worked hard, side by side to create amazing skits, parties, outreaches, and conferences for a vision and passion bigger than themselves. Students sacrificed their time and money for each other. New people were welcome and deep, authentic, caring, long-lasting friendships came from studying the Word, praying, …and eating and playing together!  

What am I doing to build unity with my team or my organization?  

Integrity: Along with all the fun, there were also tough times. We confronted lying, bribery, immorality, interpersonal conflicts, suicide attempts – temptations and spiritual battles of all kinds. We did not ignore, hide, or excuse any behavior that might be a seed of division between people and God. We taught that God cares about every part of us; we cannot have sin in one area without it affecting the rest of us. We tried to live that example also.

Is there an area of my life that lacks integrity?

How would you respond to those questions? How do you make where you work or minister a place to belong and a place to become?

(**If you were involved in the ministry, please share with us what you remember!)

use the past to build your future

Facebook and Twitter are full of “new beginnings” this month… everyone with thoughts of leaving behind the last year and starting fresh.  I love the idea of new starts, but I have been thinking about the fact that it is also important to build on the past – not just wipe it away and forget about it.

The past year is important for building the future.

  • the past shows me where I need to grow

It is a humbling experience to review the past year and recognize where I messed up or where someone pointed out that I needed to grow. I remember work reviews that indicated my leadership weaknesses. I remember apologizing to my co-workers because my stress level made me critical and grumpy. I remember comments on my MA papers that indicated writing methods I didn’t know or challenged me to “step it up” and take more risk. There will be many opportunities for me to grow this next year. I wrote about an idea for recording some of these areas now so I can look back at the end of the year and see the difference!

  • the past reminds me that I am not in control

There were so many things that happened last year that I would not have done that way IF I was in control. I would not have had so many dear people die, or struggle with cancer, or get hurt by mean comments, or struggle to pay bills, or … But I couldn’t stop that pain, and I couldn’t make other good things happen that I wanted. God is God, and I am not. The past reminds me of that truth for today and the future.

  • the past teaches that I can make choices every day

I get to decide HOW I will handle what happens each day. Will I greet adversity with faith or fear? Will I treat people with love or with judgement? Will I spend time in reflection or be too busy for that? Will I waste my time, or will I invest in my health, energy, experience and resources to help others? I didn’t always make the best choices last year; I know that, but I made some good choices. And I get to make new choices today and in the days to come.

  • the past confirms that God is present and He is good

No matter what I look back on, I see that God redeemed, restored, renewed or refreshed – even during very difficult situations. I enjoyed wonderful times with family, incredible memories, great friends, laughter, goals reached… and I prayed anguished prayers and cried over tragedies and pain. He was always there, He was always involved, and He always brought some good out of the circumstances. My past experiences tell me that He will also be there and act that way in this year ahead.

We often say, “Reality is our friend”. The past is part of our reality; the past is our friend. You might want to take time to reflect on your past year in these next days, learn from its lessons… and build on that past for an even greater future!

I’d love to hear… What has the past year taught you?