Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Oddest Birthday Present

As most of you reading will probably know, I turned 40 recently -- December 15th to be exact. For the 40 days leading up to my birthday, I blogged about something I was grateful for. On the 12th, some friends gave me a surprise party. On the 16th, my friend Jill and I spent the day together. The 40 days were a great reminder for me to be grateful for what I have. I loved the party and my day with Jill. Overall, it was a good birthday.

On the 15th I got, perhaps, the oddest present I could get. It came in the form of an email from a woman at church. Earlier in the summer, I had interacted with her over a topic. While I wasn't angry with her, that isn't how I came across. She was emailing me after several months to let me know how much that interaction still bothered her.

Honestly, I was surprised. My instinct was to go into defense mode -- a mode I operate out of a lot. Before I could go into lock down, God's voice rang through. "This is how you lived your first 40 years. How will you live your next 40?"

I am convinced that only His Spirit could compel me to immediately type the following

Thank you for the email. I am sorry for how things transpired. None of it was ever about you. But I do recognize that it may have hurt you. Would you be willing to get together with me and perhaps Jill or someone else to talk this through?

I would really like to resolve it and apologize in person.

We were able to meet today. I think it was a good time of sorting through things and bringing some closure to the issue. But it was hard and scary going into it. I've had a lot of anxiety thinking about it since that email and didn't sleep much at all last night thinking about meeting today.

The woman was totally unaware that it was my birthday the day she sent it. But I do believe it was an odd sort of birthday present, because God's presence spoke so quickly and swiftly in the moment of reading and responding and set in motion the possibility of meeting and reconciling today.

I prefer warm fuzzy, birthday greetings -- but this one provided the opportunity to bless me and help me grow but also, I hope, to bless her.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Cannot Tell -- Hope Chronicles 84

Recently, I found myself in a discussion about the second coming of Christ. Someone pressed me a bit on it, but I stayed true to my answer. It is not something I have studied extensively so I am hesitant to take a firm stance on if the rapture will happen pre or post the millineum. I do not know if the things written in Revelation are literal or figurative.

I do know that many people missed Jesus' first coming because they were so entrenched in their belief of what a king and his coming kingdom would look like. When you think King, you do not think of a baby, swaddled in a manger. You do not picture a boy in hand me down clothes or with sawdust in his hair. You do not picture a man riding on a donkey instead of a great stead. You do not picture the cross. Even more than that you do not picture a rolled away tombstone.

In many ways, I cannot fault so many for missing Jesus when he did not come like any king they knew. But that is the rub. He wasn't and isn't like any king they knew.

I went to a hymn singing Methodist church during my junior high and high school days. But it wasn't until I was in InterVarsity as a college student that I came across the hymn by William Young Fullerton called I Cannot Tell. Even then, the only place I have ever heard it sung was sporadically at camp. To be honest, the range does not lend itself to something I can sing well. However, the lyrics captured my mind and embedded themselves in my heart.

If you've never heard this hymn (and even if you have), will you take the time to read the words? It alternates between "I cannot tell" and "This I know". In my estimation, it is a song of hope of who He was and is and who He will finally come as.

I cannot tell why He whom angels worship
Should set His love upon the sons of men
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers
To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary
When Bethlehem's manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and laboured,
And so the Saviour, Saviour, of the world is come.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here

I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
How He will claim His earthly heritage
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
and He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendour
When He the Saviour, Saviour of the world is known

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubiliation
When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth will answer:
At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is King.

So, when things turn to the second coming, I hesitate -- not because I doubt the second coming -- but because I do not want to miss a moment of it because of my preconceived ideas of what that will look like. I pray that my heart and soul would be tender enough to recognize my Lord when He comes in a whirlwind or a whisper. Better yet, I pray that I will recognize Him in the everyday dealings in my life. It is both a scary prayer and a hopeful prayer because I think it is one He is only too willing to answer.

I've found the last few months to be a daunting time with the economy and relationships and every manner of thing. I love the perspective of this song: His past, His present, His future. Tonight, I am particularly thankful and hopeful for who He is at work in my present circumstances:

But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here
Merry Christmas. The Saviour of the world is here.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When I was 10

When I was 10 I wanted to be a dolphinologist. There is no such thing, but that is what my land locked Ohio self wanted to be. I was terribly jealous of kids whose birthdays were in the summer. Every year we went to Kings Island and they always picked someone who had a birthday to come up and help with the show. I probably would have felt shy, but my fascination with dolphins might have over come it.

Here are a few tidbit about dolphins: 1) they are actually a type of whale 2)they live in pods 3) they are one of the few creatures that while hunted by sharks can also kill a shark. They ram them in the gills 4) Baby dolphins are called calves.

I was going to have several dolphins in the pool outback and my 12 kids were going to grow up swimming with the dolphins. We would totally figure out dolphin communication and win some big prize. At least, that is how life was going to go when I was 10.

I may not be able to do all of that, but some day I'm going to take a vacation to somewhere that lets you swim with the dolphins.


Thursday, December 18, 2008


There's a saying in Illinois, though I've heard it about other parts of the country as well, that if you don't like the weather just wait 10 minutes and it will change. Hmmpf. I'm not buying it or all of it. They forgot to say that if you don't like it that it might just get worse!

We have snow on the ground. Tonight we are suppose to get freezing rain. They are anticipating about an inch of ice on the ground in the morning. Hello. I can't skate. When I go to the skating rink, I'm lucky to make a couple laps while holding the wall.

Illinois does have seasons. On an intellectual side, that appeals to me. On a more rational side, I would love to skip winter. I was talking to a neighbor and she agreed that it seems like the last couple of years we've gotten more and more snow earlier and earlier.

The way it's headed, it could very well be a white Christmas. While it makes everything look clean and pristine for about 30 minutes, snow is highly over rated for those of us who are adults. If I have to have a white Christmas, I just wish it was a white, sandy beach type of Christmas!

PS. I should mention that I get claustrophobic when I think I can't get out and about even if I wouldn't normally be going out and about.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday's Tidbits Begin

If you know me at all, one thing you will note is that I am full of random information that at some point somewhere held meaning for me. For example, when I was in the second grade I learned a poem about a purple cow. Thirty-two years later, I can still recite the purple cow poem.

But I thought I would try something fun and light hearted and begin Tuesday's Tidbits. If you want to play along on your site, feel free to grab the graphic. I'd love to know that I am not alone in the amount of useless information cluttering up my brain cells! Maybe you can use it in Trivia Pursuit or to awe your children.

Today's tidbit: Do you know what sheds it's entire skin every 7 days? Guesses? It's human beings. We are constantly sloughing off skin cells which contribute to a lot of dust. I suppose it is kind of gross to think about it too long. But you could put it in perspective by being in awe over the fact that it gives new meaning to the fact that you are totally made over every week.

I learned this in the 4th grade from a robot like toy we got for Christmas that asked questions and you had to answer. I remember the info but couldn't for the life of me tell you the name of that toy.


Monday, December 15, 2008

40 to 40 (Gratitude 40)

This my last 40 to 40 post. (Though I may have to modify the button and throw in the idea of practicing gratitude every now and then.) I apologize upfront if it is on the long side, but there is so much to say.

Forty years ago today (11:09 EST to be exact), I made my way into this world with my sister close on my heels 5 minutes later. We were born several weeks early. I weighed in at 3lbs 4oz and she weighed in at 4lbs 3 oz. We were scrawny, tiny things. Though it's not the cutest picture of me, this is the earliest picture that I have of me:

But we grew. I think we were fairly cute by the time we were toddlers:

And here is a picture from elementary school which includes my younger sister, Cathy. Can you believe that long blond hair when we had very short, curly, black hair? She took after my father. We took after our mother.

And then the gangliness of the teen age years:

And then came the college years. Here I am with some of the crew from my School of Leadership Training family group:

And here I am just a few days ago with my friend Jill at the surprise party my community group through for me.

Doing 40 to 40 over the past month and a half has been good for me. The first few were easy. Then I hit a patch and it became harder. I didn't want to "cheat" and just start naming people or items, though there were people I mentioned as well as groups of people. I wanted each one to have some memory or really thought out gratitude to it.

My life is nothing like what I imagined as a child growing up. It's nothing like I thought it would be when I was in college. And it is definitely not what I've craved over the last few years. But doing 40 to 40- practicing gratitude- has helped my focus on the positives over the years with things ranging from an elementary school teacher to the church I am in now to an attribute of God. 40 to 40 has kept me focused on the vast amount of things that I have to be thankful for. Does it take away some of my heart's desires? No, but it does put into perspective all that God has done and is doing over the course of the last forty years.

Today's gratitude is that I am thankful that I know a living, personal God who holds me in the palm of his hand. There are several pieces to this:

He knit me together in my mother's womb. I struggle with knowing this deep down in my heart, but I am claiming that God knit me together without dropping a single stitch:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderly made; (Psalm 139:13-14 NIV)

Not only am I created by God, He has called me by name and I am His. Names are so important. Just think of how good it feels when someone you've met knows your name. As a twin, I was always just one of the twins and always got asked, "Which one are you?" But God has never -- even as only one among billions and billions of people -- had to scratch His head and say, "Which one are you?"

But now, this is what the Lord says -- he who created you O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name and you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
I am a person riddled with fears. Very slowly God is helping to rid me of those fears. Scripture is clear even in the verse above that we should not fear because we have been redeemed by God. Psalm 23:4 puts it this way:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I can hope because God is transforming me. I may sometimes wish it could be quicker, but I am not who I was yesterday or who I will be today. Colossians 1:27 says

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
More than anything, I can be grateful because God loves me. J. I Packer wrote the book Knowing God. One of my favorite passages in the book says this:

. . . There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on a prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.
God's love is utterly realistic. He knows all the bad things I've done, the thoughts I've had, the times when I knew He wanted me to respond one way and I did something totally other. God knows all that and He still loves me.

Even in knowing all of that Zephaniah 3:17 gives a picture of how great His love for me is:

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

It's hard to imagine that God loves me enough that he rejoices over me with singing. His love, despite all of the the things He knows about me, His utterly realistic love wraps around me day and night. It is for this love from a singing God that makes me stand in awe. I do not fully understand it. I do not think it has fully penetrated the depths of my heart and soul, but it is this tenderness and love for which I am most grateful.

And He cares enough to respond to the little details of my heart. I had thought that for this birthday I really wanted a cake. But I couldn't imagine a whole cake just for me and I didn't want to buy one and was unsure about making what I imagined. I imagined a round two layer cake with icing in between. On Friday my small group surprised me for my birthday. Here is the cake:

It was three layers rather than two. And God threw in some raspberry filling to top it all off. I hadn't told anyone about that desire. So, in my mind it shows God's great care even over something as small as birthday cake.

If you didn't see enough of my growing up pictures click here.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

40 to 40 (Gratitude 39)

I am thankful for Proverbs 31. I know that I've already named off a couple people and She Speaks, but they all need to go into a gratitude. Since I went to She Speaks a couple of years ago, got involved in the blogging community, and went again to She Speaks year, I have gotten to know some wonderful people.

This past summer She Speaks 2008 was a true highlight for me. I was astounded that the minute I walked in I felt like I was stepping into family. Some of that was due to other bloggers I had met online like Lelia, Nicki, Lisa, and the list could go on and on. It was so great to see them in person.

But it was also wonderful to meet the staff. I've gotten to know a few of them over the past year and then again at the conference. I'm thankful Glynnis being willing to publish a couple of my things in the P31 magazine. I'm thankful for LeAnn and all she did to put the conference together. I'm thankful for people like Wendy and Samantha who did and do so many behind the scenes type things. I'm thankful for the whole lot of them.
Even after this conference they have continued to love on me. I was doing really well at the conference and rode pretty high a couple weeks after. Then due to insurance coverage I needed to change a couple things with my medication. Med changes for depression are really hard.

I called and talked to Melissa some and Terri a bit. They were encouraging that they were all praying.

One day a package showed up. It was a beautiful picture with hands reaching down and some reaching up. It said, "From Jesus." And it was filled with scripture and my name had been inserted in Isaiah 43:1.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed Amy; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

I suspected it was from Melissa as she and I had been keeping the most contact. I recently found out that it had been LeAnn's idea and that it truly was a gift from the whole office. I was touched that they would all want to send it.

I've placed it on my desk at work so that whenever I'm frazzled, I can look over and be reminded of God's love and care for me.

I am thankful for the entire P31 team and all they do.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

40 to 40 (Gratitude 38)

At my church we have things called Community Groups. They are our version of small groups. We meet every other week. I had kind of decided that I wasn't going and had communicated this to Debbie earlier in the week.

As I predicted, it was an extremely busy week. I worked Wed. and Thursday at B&N and I knew I was scheduled to work all day Saturday (8:45-4:00). I thought I would need the veg time with the cats.

I came home and changed and went and worked out. When I got home, I checked my email and had one from my friend Jill saying "Did you get my texts or my messages?" As I was reading it, she knocked on my door. She said something about surprising Joe and Debbie and them not knowing whatever and I shouldn't miss it.

Of course, I was highly suspect at this time, but I went. My community group and Mark and Jill had a party for me complete with a triple level chocolate cake.

The really touching part is the gift Jill put together for me. She had emailed or mailed various people in my life ranging from my student days to my InterVarsity days to the present and had compiled a book of encouraging notes.

I am grateful for all the lives it represents, the people I've intersected with throughout the years. They say that some people are only in our lives for a season. This represents many seasons in my life and are good memories. I am thankful for those memories and for each person involved. Perhaps it is eye opening for someone who feels alone so often to visibly see all those connections. I am grateful for that.


Friday, December 12, 2008

40 to 40 (Gratitude 37)

In these economic troubled times where I sometimes feel a true pinch, I am grateful for having enough to share. I am particularly blessed by my Compassion International children and getting to know them.

Knowing that what I give each month helps meet even there basic needs is humbling in light of everything else I have. So, yes, money is tight, but I am coming to believe that I do not know the true meaning of tight.

I am thankful for the ability to give.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Batter Up! -- Hope Chronicles 83

Have you ever noticed a phrase that you've heard all your life but never known the origins? One such phrase for me is in the form of a question, "Who's gonna bat for me?" My take on it is that someone cannot bat for some reason so a fellow teammate bats in his place. (This may or may not be accurate.)

Recently, I was surprised by some confrontation on a issue in my life. The issue is confrontation and how I respond. I'll admit that I do get stubborn but it was hard to hear that I get mean with my words. I've been challenged to look at this area and make amends.

I've wanted to respond with a "Yes, but. . . ." In other words, "I'll own my stuff when they own their stuff." Which a friend pointed out is the problem. She thinks I need to just own my stuff and not worry about their stuff. My rallying point is, "But that isn't fair. There's a double standard here . . . ."

As I've thought and prayed about it, I've realized that my attitude is really born out of fear. The relentless question in my mind has been, "But who will bat for me?" When I was a child, my dad was fairly abusive. My mom knew about what was going on but didn't step into protect me. I learned this lesson: if I don't protect myself then no one will. And I think it is the mode I operate out of today. When someone confronts me the barriers go up and I peek through the slot in the heavily reinforced door.

Admitting my part without a respective commitment from them, seems like making myself vulnerable and defenseless.

This summer I read Gary Haugen's book Just Courage. It's a wonderful little book but really challenging. The final challenge is "Do you want to be safe or brave?" Haugen writes

". . . . I'd like to be brave, but I'd also like to be safe. My heavenly Father, however, loves me deeply enough to tell me the truth. He says I can't be both brave and safe. He wants me to be clear that I have to decide -- and he wants me to choose to be brave, which means choosing not to be safe."

The challenge is that God wants us to be brave knowing that our real safety (maybe not in the concrete ways we want) resides in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.

So, please pray with me as I begin to look at my relentless concern about who is batting for me? Jesus was and is batting for me. There is hope in that.

But I need the courage, the bravery, of letting my defenses down. At the heart of the issue is trusting that God has my best in mind and is batting for me. I'm not sure how to do that, so your prayers would be appreciated.


40 to 40 (Gratittude 36)

I am grateful for my friend Debbie. I've only known Debbie about a year and a half. I appreciate it that at times she can help me keep life in perspective.

Debbie is very petite. Her husband Joe is extremely tall. Debbie has said that it took her a long time to realize how tall he was. For most people I think his height is obvious, but I think part of it is that Debbie has enough self-confidence that in her mind she probably is as tall as Joe.

She is always on an even keel and helps me by asking, "So, why does what they think matter?" If you know me at all, what other people think matters intensely to me. Sometimes I need this counter balance to the idea that what people think matters intensely.

I love it when I go over there and she says, "Ella es mi amiga" to her children. (She is my friend. In other words I'm there to see her and not play with them.) I feel like she values my company.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

40 to 40 (Gratitude 35)

I am grateful for many of the women at P31. Renee Swope is one of them. She is kind and sweet and fun. I've enjoyed getting to know her over the past year through the blogs and then at She Speaks.

She was one of the people who so warmly greeted me this last conference. One thing I will never forget is a small kindness she showed me. I don't know if she was aware or not of how easily I feel left out. She invited me to have lunch with her. When I arrived she told me that some worship leaders were going to be joining us as well as her assistant.

Renee was primed to sit between me and the worship leaders. Suddenly she shifted to the opposite side of me. Her assistant said something to her while they were standing behind me. I don't believe it was meant for me to over hear, but I did and I was blessed. Renee explained her seating choice based on the high probability that if she sat next to the worship leaders I would be left out of the conversation. I was touched by her thoughtfulness and her desire to have me feel

Renee also gave a very powerful talk that night about being in the shadow of the cross. I was moved to tears by it. As part of it we all got scriptures with a pale word behind them that you might miss if you weren't told they were there. Providentially, my word was "blessed." I tend to see the negative of things, so I don't often associate myself with that word. But as I've soaked it in these last few months I realize that I am very blessed.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

40 to 40 (Gratitude 34)

I am grateful for my nieces and nephews. I do not see them much, but when I think of them they make me smile.

Last night in the bookstore I was reminded of my twin's youngest. A little girl came literally hopping into the store making frog noises. When my sister's daughter was three or four she went through a phase where she would only respond to and as the animal of the day. She would be "Baby Horse" one day and "Baby Elephant" another and so on. They eventually had to make a rule that she could be "Baby _________" at home but she had to respond to her name in public.

Kids are so funny.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Crooked Sticks -- Hope Chronicles 82

There are lots of amazing things about the gospel:

  • God chose an ordinary, uneducated girl rather than a wealthy, educated woman to give birth to His Son
  • God chose a blue collar man rather than a Rabbi to raise His Son
  • God chose to come as a helpless infant rather than a grown man just appearing
  • God chose to allow Jesus to know hunger and thirst and temptation
  • God chose the cross and the grave
  • God chose to know separation from His Son when Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
  • God chose uneducated men and women to start his church
It's all pretty amazing if you think about it. Jesus could have come as a king with a commanding army. His army could have been angels that would make every knee bow. He could have come as good looking but scripture indicates there was nothing to draw us to Him. He could have come with trumpets. He could have ridden Seabiscuit instead of a donkey.

Even today, there are lots of things God does that are amazing. It's amazing that God chooses to work through you and me. C.S. Lewis wrote:
The good news of the Gospel is that God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.

I don't know about you, but I'm a crooked stick. While I can be loving and kind and loyal, my moods are up and down. I can be stubborn. I can have bite in my words. I am a crooked stick. Yet God still uses me. I'm somehow still a part of his plan in spite of all my imperfections. He uses me to encourage the fellow employee at work, to help a child find his mother, to step in with a helping hand. He uses me to point to Him in my own imperfect way.

From one crooked stick to another, isn't it hope that God chooses to use us at all?


40 to 40 (Gratitude 33)

I am grateful for trust. This past week I helped with childcare (teen) for my friends' children. One of their older children and his wife stayed with them for the majority of the week. I helped out with transportation after school and then this weekend.

I am grateful that my friends trust me with their children. They were a bit worried that in the midst of so many people helping out that someone would forget somewhere. Remarkably, no one got forgotten as far as I know. Their older daughter actually listened to some phone messages and alerted me that one of the boys had a dental appointment. Between the two of us we managed to get him there and picked up. When I went to drop the boy off, his mom had called the office apologizing that she needed to cancel. She didn't know we had worked it out.

I am grateful for this trust.