From determined to devoted

My super-woman sister reminded me this weekend about how our father taught us NEVER to use the word, “can’t.” It’s not a word he would say. We don’t use that word in this house. You CAN.

This is the kind of determination I learned growing up. To jut out my chin and put up my fist and say “Yes I can!”

The trouble was my father would use plenty of other words (other than can’t) in our house that seemed just fine. The four-letter kind I learned to utter in my own frustration. This and other crazy things that happened in my house growing up led me to constantly question, “Does my father really love me?” .. because the words and the actions didn’t always match up.

Of course I knew my earthly father loved me, the best way he knew how. I’m so grateful for how he gave me so much. But I’m learning now that his imperfect love led to a lot of confusion in my little girl heart.

My dad was bullied and beat up as a young boy. So he learned to raise his fist at the world and with a long list of curse words say, “YES – I – CAN!” He was determined to live. To survive. To prove those guys wrong.

No matter how imperfect my dad was, I always admired his determination. But like any good human quality like passion, intelligence, confidence, and even courage – if we’re not rooted in the right place we will find these qualities can only get us so far. And I’m finding, they can actually keep us from the life God wants for us.

Philippians 4:23 says “I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens me.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be under the teaching of the best of the best. Pastor Steven Furtick’s book Crash the Chatterbox is a must-have for anyone who’s ever struggled with the lies of insecurity, fear, condemnation, or discouragement. This past weekend at Elevation, his wife and my friend Holly Furtick preached an incredibly practical message on discouragement I know I’ll go back to again and again.

Through this consistent teaching, and studying God’s word on my own, I’m learning how instead of overcoming my fears through Christ’s power IN me, I’ve been consistently denying my fears and pushing past them in my own strength. And with two little boys and a husband and a rewarding ministry and demanding schedule – my strength is a limited resource.

Today, I’m learning how to move from being determined (in my own strength) to being devoted to the one whose resources are unlimited.

Thank you, Jesus for this day. I am a limited being. I can’t do everything in front of me today on my own. But your word says that IN YOU I can. I have to be smart, Jesus – I can’t say YES today to everything that’s placed in front of me, so I ask that you’d sift the work of my hands. Help me to discern what tasks are mine alone God – which ones I can delegate to others on this journey with me – and which ones I should push aside for another day. More than anything God today I want to know you better, and be devoted to you. I trust that as I devote my life to you, your love will overflow through me so I can bring YOUR peace, YOUR joy, and YOUR love to those around me. Thank you for first loving me. Amen.

Am I willing to listen?

My sweet mama from Spokane says I started talking in full sentences at 8 months of age and never stopped. Speaking was never a problem. Listening has always been a problem.

I’ve got words, baby. Plenty of them. And they’ve gotten my in trouble plenty of times. Like that time I pulled over at the start-finish line and told the flagman what I really thought of his abilities. Or that time I told my boss what I really thought about his criticism. And so on. And so on.

My dad used to say, “Remember to put your brain in gear before putting your mouth in motion.” I remember him telling me that maybe a dozen times.

James 1:19 says “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this; Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…”

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Seems like maybe I’ve had it turned around for awhile.

I’ve always admired good listeners. I’ve decided I want to be more like that.

Today I will breathe more.

Pray more. Listen more.

Why can’t I make them happy?

I am far too easily distracted. Do you have this problem, too or is it just me? And many of these distractions come because I have trouble discerning the difference between what is my business, and what is God’s.

Recently, I told our spring 2014 class of Elevation Church Interns about a dangerous prayer I often pray.

It is, “God, show me someone to love for you today.” It’s dangerous because God is so faithful. And it helps me notice the people who need a touch of his presence in their lives. But sometimes I find myself getting in the way of what he wants to do.

Jesus makes this point in John 21:21-22 – When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that I can’t make everyone happy. I can’t can’t fix everything. In fact, I can’t really fix much of anything at all on my own. This is especially true with my amazing husband and kids. Oswald Chambers talks about this in a devotion called, “What is that to you?”

Probably the worst part of my fixer mentality is thinking I really know what’s best for other people. “It takes a long time to realize the danger of being an amateur providence,” says Chambers devo – “that is, interfering with God’s plan for others. You see someone suffering and say, “He will not suffer and I will make sure that he doesn’t.”

It doesn’t mean we choose not to care. It doesn’t mean we don’t give to worthy causes, or give when someone has an immediate need that God has given us the opportunity to meet. We should do these things. It also means we should pray and be with people who are suffering. But as I learned in the Nuba mountains of Sudan, when people are in desperate need – the only thing of value I really have to offer personally, is Jesus.

“Your part is to maintain the right relationship with God so that His discernment can come through you continually for the purpose of blessing someone else.” (Chambers)

Maybe I should also be praying, “God please work in me and through me, but help me stay out of your way today.”

For more, check out these great Elevation Church sermons from the archive:

Frustrations of a Fixer, You be Jesus – Let God be God.

If you’re interested, these are a couple great books that have helped us frame our strategies in Elevation Outreach – Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts.

And for more on the work we got to do together through Elevation Outreach in East Africa watch our 2013 documentary, Beyond the Banner.

Choose Grace

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In my first attempt at five-minute Friday I’ve picked a way-too-big topic.
(on Sunday)

Grace is waking up in the morning.
… the running-me-down hugs my Asher gives me.
… clean, drinkable running water.
… a hot shower.
… an unsolicited, “I love you Mommy” from my Cooper.
… a kind word from a friend.
… another birthday.
… a good doctor’s report.
… a paycheck WITH health benefits.
… my beautiful savior loving me even when I’m being a spoiled, selfish brat.
… choosing to overlook an offense.

For one more minute – a quick thought on number 10.

Choosing to overlook an offense…

My friend Lysa TerKeurst writes, “He who holds the tongue holds the power.” I find that to be a beautiful and frustrating paradox. I see that I have the power to CHOOSE GRACE in situations where I could fly off the handle and be all messed up and offended. I’m working on choosing grace daily. I’m making imperfect progress. And I’m grateful for Jesus’ example. What are you choosing today?

Five Minute Friday

Pray more, talk less, LOVE always

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

We just wrapped up an epic night in the this history of Elevation Church. Hundreds of people got baptized at three of our locations. Though it was an incredibly public evening – with thousands of us cheering on each person in the tank – I can assure you it was an intensely personal experience for each of the beautiful people in line.

I know, because I was in that line in 2008 waiting to get baptized myself. Our church was only two years old. We were at Elevation Providence and I’d been waiting until my mother could fly in from Spokane, Washington to participate in a day that would be a turning point for me.

I’d been a follower of Christ since college when a friend walked me through what it meant to put Jesus at the center of my life. And when I got baptized, I remember being so happy, and so grateful for this refreshing new phase in my faith. I didn’t realize how far from God I had become in the way I led my life.

It’s been an amazing journey since then. I’m grateful for the people who’ve invested in me, believed in me, and encouraged me along this path. But the biggest change I’ve had to make is how I’ve had to learn to pray MORE and talk LESS. I’ve had to learn to trust God to work in people’s lives instead of trying to do the work for him. That just wasn’t working out so well for me.

I would often scream out loud, “Why will no one listen to me?!!!”

I suppose it’s because I was talking too much. Criticizing too much. Preaching too much. Loving too little.

So yes, my mantra these days is “Pray more, talk less, LOVE always.” In the working it out, I’m finding that God is showing up in beautiful ways I never anticipated. I’m finding it is true that LOVE never fails. And I’m grateful that I am raised to life in Christ.

Below: Family baptism gallery – Tonia 2008, Ciara 2011, Cooper 2013.

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Running from my life..

20140220-001826.jpgI work in the greatest place in the world. Really. I’ve worked other places and thought they were pretty amazing at the time – but Elevation Church is really the greatest place in the world to work. And it’s not just because I get to see all God is doing through the generosity of the people in our church first-hand. Though that’s pretty great.

It’s more than that. Expectations are clear. Leaders guide with integrity. We are encouraged to create, dream, and collaborate. Learning and cultivating healthy habits and fun are an integral part of our culture. We have a “game of the month.” We compete in games like air hockey, foursquare, ping pong, and tennis.

You’d think in a place like this, I’d be good at having fun. Everybody else is having a great time.

My report card came in the form of a question from my six-year-old. “Mommy,” he said, “why do you not like to play with me?”

I responded with a pile of excuses as high as my unfolded laundry. I blamed my busy schedule, my dysfunctional upbringing, my unfinished chores. Gah. In my own defense… I play card games. I play chess. I play Legos. We built a snowman together the other day. I do play. But do I like it? Do I look forward to playing with my son or do I think of it as a chore? Well, apparently IF I like it I don’t act much like it.

In his book “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,” Dr. Stuart Brown proposes the seven properties of play, and the first one is that it is apparently purposeless. And somewhere along the way of my reaching and striving, I’ve forgotten how to play. To have fun just for the fun of it. I’ll do it if I have to. But it’s the first thing to go if I think I’ve got “too much to do.”

Blah. How self-important am I that I think something will crumble if I spend some time doing nothing but laughing and being silly?

In his new book, “Crash the Chatterbox,” Pastor Steven helps us learn to hear God’s voice above all others. And I’m realizing how many of my habits are based in fear and insecurity. Pastor Steven quotes the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-3 “Now Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” Pastor Steven goes on to unpack the story and comes to the conclusion that fear had Elijah running FROM his life.

I want to stop running FROM my life. I want to really enjoy playing with Legos and jumping on the trampoline and whatever else my boys want to do. I know I need to truly value these beautiful gifts God has given me. As my friend Lysa TerKeurst guides in her book, Unglued, I can choose to live in the grace of imperfect progress.

This day, I got to encourage 170 children in Trinidad from God’s word. And I stopped long enough for my talented husband to snap a photo. This is what progress looks like for me. What does it look like for you?

On Generosity…

Happy Birthday, Pastor Steven. Thank you for teaching and leading with excellence and integrity. What God has done through you has changed everything for our family.

I am blessed to work for people I know must be among the most-generous in the world. They’re certainly the most generous I’ve ever been close to. Pastor Steven and Holly Furtick seem to always be waiting for God to show them a new way to bless someone they love.

Sometimes it’s with a perfectly-timed, thoughtful and uplifting word. Sometimes it’s a physical gift. Pastor publicly praises his wife as being the best gift-giver at any baby or bridal shower. And he’s right. She’s so thoughtful and intentional. And so is Pastor Steven. He honors special guests to our church in remarkable ways. And he blesses our staff children and families with incredible intentionality.

I want to be more like this. I’m not. I could have been. I still can be.

I’ve started asking generous people how and why they do what they do. I love to hear their stories. One woman in our church told me the story of how her husband gave their vacation cash to a pastor who was headed to Jerusalem. The pastor used the cash to bless someone there who had lost everything and needed a way to get home.

Proverbs 11:24-25 says “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (NIV)

I’m challenged and inspired by the Message version of this passage, too. “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.”

A colleague back from a recent short-term mission trip suggested we’re the most stingy with our time. That we’re so concerned with being busy and filling our days with activity, that we have no time for giving our time to serving others in meaningful relationships.

I think she’s right. So in 2014, I’m seeking and studying what it means to have “A Generous Heart.”
Last year, I prayed and studied and learned about Unity in our family. I’m so grateful for the lessons I learned and how God changed my heart. I’m looking forward to what He’ll teach me in 2014.

Here’s a link to some of our church’s best messages on generosity.

How do you give back? How have you been inspired or challenged in this area?
I look forward to hearing from you.

Compassion and Contentment

_SL76625How does it start so early? That comparing and wondering…
Have I received the right gift? Is this the best one? Was this one really meant for me?

5-year-old Micolai was among the 170 children receiving a gift box from Operation Christmas Child this Tuesday morning. He was dressed in a tidy uniform and waited patiently with his classmates at Las Lomas Government School. The OCC Trinidad Tobago National and North Carolina advance teams work for months to find the right partners and the right opportunities to bring gifts and share the gospel with children here and all over the world.

With the unopened box in his lap and full of promise, Micolai waited with anticipation through the countdown – “3-2-1… Go!” The sweet boy squealed with excitement as he tore open the tape that read “Boy, age 5-9” eager to see what treasures he might find inside.

His teacher tells me he started school this fall timidly – seemingly fearful of adults. It’s five months into the school year now, and he is improving. He smiles broadly at me as he pulls out a shiny red matchbox car, and then a fist-sized bouncy ball. He stops for a long time when he pulls out his next gift. A toothbrush. I watch as a look comes over his face that is a mix of confusion and wonder.

Micolai looks around to see what the boy next to him received. He looks back at his toothbrush, and then again at his classmate who is looking over his pack of 5 lollipops.

Trinidad is an island of 1.3 million people. Las Lomas is considered high poverty and very low income. Basic needs often go unmet, and teachers tell me many of the parents do not take the care of their children very seriously.

When Nicolai smiles I notice first the sparkle in his big brown eyes. But next I see the gaps in his smile. Where he should have a row of shiny white baby teeth, instead he has rotten little black stubs. What Nicolai really needs is a better oral hygiene. What he sees and desires – his friends’ pack of lollipops – is exactly what he does not need.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 we are reminded to focus on that which we cannot see. When we take our eyes off Jesus, and start looking and comparing and wandering to follow whatever is in front of us, we find ourselves drowning in a sea of discontent.

Thankfully, little Micolai didn’t stay focused on the lollipops for long. He was too busy trying to figure out how to open what was certainly the biggest tube of toothpaste he had ever held in his little hands. And thankfully for me, it was easy to find contentment in being with beautiful children receiving gifts from generous people like you.

On assignment…

20140218-021504.jpgI’m so grateful for the partnerships we have through the work of our church. One of my favorites is Operation Christmas Child. I’m en route to Port of Spain this week with a team of more than 50 people from all across the country to deliver shoeboxes to children in Trinidad-Tobago.

The trip is blessing me already. My husband, Sean and I will get to work together capturing stories to bring back to church while we’re here. Plane rides are just the best times for me to get caught up on reading. My sister sent me Brene’ Brown‘s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” for Christmas and I had the opportunity to finish it on the way down. It’s packed full of Dr. Brown’s amazing research and truths about love, connection, vulnerability, shame, gratitude, and joy.

The trip is three short days. It’s the first time I’ve been out of the country since last year when we travelled to East Africa to document the work of our outreach partners for the film, “Beyond the Banner.”

God showed me so much on that trip. I expected to see God working in dark and desperate situations. I expected to have my heart broken by unnecessary suffering and injustice. But I received unexpected lessons and gifts as well – and I know it will be the same this time.

In his book, “Wrecked” Jeff Goins writes, “It’s hard to get your heart broken on the couch. You have to go. To search. To journey. You have to learn to live an adventure, and all the best ones ultimately lead you home.”

That’s certainly been the case for me. One of the things I learned while praying with a broken-hearted mother in war-torn Sudan was that I’ve got nothing meaningful to give anyone but Jesus. And that if I’m not doing a good job at that in my own home, I’m altogether missing the point of God blessing me with a family. The journey led me home.

I’m looking forward to hearing stories from your trips. Some of our colleagues are with Bless Back Worldwide in Nicaragua to dedicate a new medical clinic paid for by the generous people in our church. You can see Kyle Ferlic’s trip journal entries on our Elevation Outreach blog.

Have you been on a short-term mission trip? Did you find it valuable? Why? If you’ve not been, I’d be happy to help you connect to an organization. Just leave me a note in the comments section below.

On being brave…

imageMy 6 year old son, Asher is so brave. He’ll jump off of and into any situation, without fear. But he will also lash out in anger at his brother at the slightest hint of offense.

I used to think I was brave. I can remember standing up to the bullies in my life with defiance on my face and pointed words in my mouth. I certainly have learned to put on a brave face.

But I’m rethinking bravery. The things I used to do – the bold remarks, the decisive moves, the quick choices – was this bravery? Or recklessness? Or some of both? And what did I miss out on while putting on that brave face for the world while secretly wishing someone would take up that fight for me? And what was I fighting anyway?

I’m rethinking bravery.

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

(1 Peter 2:23, 24 NIV)

A Child’s Place

Thanks to your generosity, we gave “A Child’s Place” a check for $20,500 this past week.  It’s part of your church’s commitment to give 12% of everything that comes in, right back out into the community through outreach.

We serve.  We give.  It’s who we are.  Check out the video below to hear more about “A Child’s Place.”  And click the “Join the Movement” tab to see how you can plug in to serve homeless children in our city.  New opportunities are being added EVERY day!

Come on over…

Hey friends, this blog is moving.  Elevation Outreach news now has its own spot in the Elevation Church website.  So you can get the latest outreach news there each day as we share what God’s doing through your service.  Thank you for following and engaging with me here.  I look forward to seeing you over at Elevation Outreach!

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