Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Advent Recap

I flew back to Connecticut today, and I came home to a dead Christmas tree.

So, Christmas really is over. But as I put away my decorations and drug my dead tree outside, I listened to Christmas music.

I discovered this weekend that all this time, all through Advent, I've had an Andrew Peterson Christmas album, "Behold the Lamb of God," on my iTunes. Not only that, but I learned of Indelible Grace's Christmas album titled "Your King Has Come." I just couldn't end the season without giving both a good listen.

So before you pack up your decorations and drag your Christmas tree to the curb, check out these albums online, or maybe buy them for next year. You can listen to "Your King Has Come" for free on Matthew Smith's website. Matthew Perryman Jones' rendition of O, Holy Night is what I was looking for all month--what an incredible song! And there's a song on Andrew Peterson's album that you just have to hear. Check it out, via Lala, below:

Joy and peace to you in the New Year!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Advent Thoughts

It's Christmas Day, and I'll admit, I'm a little sad. I have always loved the anticipation of things--birthdays, vacations, holidays, parties--almost as much as the thing itself. And so it is with Christmas. As a little girl, I would lie awake in bed for weeks before Christmas, imaging the fun times with family and the many gifts under the tree. I would count down from at least a hundred days to the day, driving my mom crazy. And then Christmas would come. It would be glorious, of course, everything I imagined it to be and more. But then it would be over so quickly and I would feel sort of empty. I loved that anxious feeling, the beforehand waiting, the most. I guess that's why I love Advent.

And now it's over. Taylor and I packed up our presents and brought them upstairs. In a couple of days I'll pack up my suitcase and go home. When I get back to Bethel, I'll pack up my Christmas decorations and put them away. And this sweetness, this waiting for Jesus to come, it seems I'll have to pack it up as well.

But the beauty of Advent is that it not only celebrates Christ's coming to us in a manger, but anticipates His coming to us in undeniable glory. That anticipation, that waiting, does not have to be packed up with the Christmas ornaments. And when the Day finally arrives, it will not pale in comparison to my anxious waiting for it, as Christmas sometimes does.

What I have loved this Advent is learning to relate to God as the One Who Comes. It wasn't just in that Bethlehem stall that God revealed Himself as Immanuel--no!--He has been Immanuel for all of eternity past. He is the God who is present with His people.

In fact, it's the pillar of cloud, again, that reminds us of God's ever-present-ness with the Israelites. It was the cloud by day and the fire by night, the Shekinah, Hebrew for "dwelling," that reminded God's people of His care for them and directed them where they should go (Numbers 9). God came to Moses in the burning bush. He spoke to Abraham. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He said to Joshua, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." God with us. Not just beginning with Jesus, but from the beginning of creation.

In Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, John MacArthur writes, "You see, God only whispers in His creation. He revealed a shadow of His glory in the Shekinah. But He speaks with absolute clarity in His Word. 'God...spoke' (Hebrews 1:1), and not in a whisper, but in full voice. Still, there was an incompleteness in it all until, '[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son" (Hebrews 1:2).

"Now that is God shouting. You can't mistake it. Christ is God, and you see every attribute of God manifest in him. His judgment, his justice, his love, his wisdom, his power, his omniscience. It's all there in person as we see Him walk through the world, working his work, living his life. The fullness of God may be seen as it was never seen before in Jesus Christ."

And this is the One we call Immanuel, who saw fit to leave his heavenly dwelling and make his home among us, visibly and personally. This is the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas: the coming of the One of whom the prophet Zechariah said, "Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you," declares the LORD" (Zechariah 2:10). He is the one
who enables the psalmist to declare,
"say to those with fearful hearts,
"Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you" (Psalm 35:4).

But there is more! The One who came to us then, and who made himself continually present by imparting the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of believers (John 14:26), is also the One who will come again! Revelation 21:1-8, one of the Advent Scriptures, gives us a beautiful description of what will happen on that Day:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"

And so our Jesus, the supreme expression of God with us, will come and dwell among us fully and finally. He will make everything new and--the most encouraging thing to me this first Christmas after Grandma Russell's death--will do away with the affects of sin, all pain and death and mourning. Glory! This is the holy paradox: our God has come...and He is coming to reign forevermore!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Confessions

Our 6 p.m. service tonight at Walnut Hill was beautiful. Not only did we sing Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, but the sermon was about sin. Call me crazy, but I love a good sermon about sin.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not one of these legalists who loves to wallow in condemnation and guilt. It's just that sometimes I'm so painfully unaware of my need for a Savior. And if you ask me, that's the worst place to be at Christmastime. After all, how can you rejoice in being free if you don't recognize the depth of your sin to begin with?

I have a sweet little gaggle of high school girls who come to my house once a week to study the Bible. It's the most precious time. And yesterday, as we were munching on M&M cookies, talking about boys, and discussing Romans 5, one of them said something really insightful about sin and our need for God's grace. I shared Spurgeon's famous quote with them: "If your sin is small, your Savior will be small. But if your sin is great, then your Savior will be great also." We talked about how Spurgeon (and Paul, whom he was sort of paraphrasing) wasn't saying that we should sin more...he wasn't even necessarily claiming that some sins are greater than others. Rather, he was alluding to how we understand our sin.

Here's a confession: I sometimes pretend my sin isn't such a big deal, that I'm doing okay, really. And that's when my Jesus starts to seem awfully small, too.

So tonight, I relished the reminder of sin's potency in my life. There was a time of silent confession, reminiscent of Sundays at Third, that seemed oh-so-appropriate just days before this holiday where we celebrate the Incarnation. My sin is great. So great, in fact, that it demanded the death and resurrection of God's own Son to reconcile it. That God would pay that price for me, for the world, is the real miracle of Christmas.

Tonight's Advent Scriptures included John 3:16-21. I think I might have skipped over those familiar verses had it not been for the timing of this evening.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
John 3:19-21

Oh that we might come into the light this Christmas and let our sin be exposed! Then, and only then, will we realize how great is our Savior King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Tunes

A friend at the church office sent me a link to an article posted on "Relevant" magazine's website in which the editors picked their favorite spiritual Christmas tunes. (Read it here.) The story is complete with a free playlist of the songs that you can listen to over and over simply by creating an account with Lala.

In the spirit of great Christmas music, I've created my own Advent playlist for you on Lala. It comprises a couple more obscure hymns (imagine that!) than "Relevant's" list, is far less trendy, and excludes Relient K's "I Celebrate the Day" (great melody; the theology is just a little limp), but there are one or two overlapping songs. Unfortunately, there were also a couple of songs I wanted to include that Lala doesn't have...

1. Third Day's Christmas Offerings is consistently good. This song sticks out to me because it's one of my favorite carols in general.

2. I admit, Sufjan Stevens is "weirdly weird"...or "beautifully weird," depending on who you talk to. But I fell in love with "Once in Royal David's City" when we sang it at Third during Advent a couple of years ago. And I've come to love Sufjan's quirky version of this neglected hymn on his Songs for Christmas album.

3. Amy Grant's Breath of Heaven is old school, and maybe a little cheesy. But ever since I played Mary in a Christmas musical at Vale Baptist (the musical was called "The Perfect Gift," and I can still sing a great rendition of "No Room for You"), I have loved imagining what it must have been like to be the mother of Jesus. So something about this song gets to me!

4. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel might be my favorite all-time Christmas hymn. Bold statement, I know. But yall know I love songs that talk about Israel--there's something powerful about reflecting on God's hesed, or "covenant faithfulness" to His people. Rosie Thomas' version of the song is, I think, inspired. I usurped this one from "Relevant's" list, and I just love it!

5. I first heard Jars of Clay's rendition of Little Drummer Boy in my Grandpa Corwin's minivan back in middle school. It's still the best version of the classic I've ever heard. Very back-in-the-day Jars sounding.

6. Union grad Chris Rice's "Welcome to Our World" is a long-time favorite that ties manger to cross beautifully. Lala's version (from an album with a title too lame to mention...) is a letdown compared to the track from Deep Enough to Dream. If you're going to purchase it on iTunes, I'd highly recommend the latter.

7. Emmanuel, from Chris Tomlin's Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs for Worship, doesn't sound especially Christmasy, but you've got to love the rich lyrics.

8. Of course I can't resist including some Caedmon's Call in any playlist! City on a Hill produced this compilation album last year, and Caedmon's Babe in the Straw is a favorite.

9. Hillsong put out a Christmas album a couple of years ago called Celebrating Christmas that to be honest, I could take or leave but for this one song. O Rejoice is this powerful invitation to behold the God-man. It's easily my favorite modern Christmas song. Lala doesn't feature it for some reason, but you can listen to the full MP3 here.

10. Sandra McCracken sent an e-mail the week before last announcing a new album she'll be releasing in the next few months--it's a sequel to The Builder and the Architect, which was a hymns project. The new album includes a Luther hymn called This is the Christ, and as a Christmas treat, she offered a rough version of the recording to fans via Noisetrade. You can download it for free just by forwarding the link to five friends. Just scroll down the left-hand side of this blog to find the widget. I've loved the song and can't wait for the rest of the album!

11. I couldn't have been more thrilled on Sunday when the Walnut Hill praise band broke into Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus during the offering. Since I've been reading a book by that title (see previous post), I have meditated on the words of the song some this season. After singing it in church on Sunday, I decided to look for an audio version to download. I found several that I really liked--Chris Tomlin and Christy Nockles do a great rendition on Tomlin's Christmas CD and Red Mountain Church, one of my favorite hymns resurgence groups has a beautiful modern arrangement as well. But my favorite is by Daniel Renstrom, a relative newcomer on the worship/hymns scene. His album was produced by Nathan Nockles, and from what I can tell it's really solid. It reminds me of the worship band at West End--just that beautiful blend of rich, old songs put to really quality guitar-driven music. You can listen to a clip of the song here.

So there you have it: my favorite Christmas tunes. I hope they inspire you to press in to the heart of God this Advent Season!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Readings

In my quest to find Christmas afresh this year, I ordered a book of Advent meditations called Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas. It's a collection of 22 essays and sermons by theologians such as John Piper, Tim Keller, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and R.C. Sproul. It also includes a sermon excerpt of Skip Ryan's, who is the chaplain of Asian Access and a Dallas friend's pastor at Park Cities Pres! The book draws its title from Charles Wesley's hymn by the same name. Check out the lyrics of this lesser known hymn--they're incredible!

These readings have been a beautiful complement to the daily Advent Scriptures. I thought I would share a little snippet with you in order to endorse the book. Keller writes:

'In the first chapter of Luke, Elizabeth says, "Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished." Elizabeth is saying to Mary--and to us--"if you really believe what the angel told you about this baby, if you take it in, you'll be blessed.'

"But our English word 'blessed' is so limp and lightweight. In English we use blessed to mean something like 'inspired.' But in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the word for blessed meant something much deeper than that. To be blessed brings you back to full shalom, full human functioning; if makes you everything God meant for you to be. To be blessed is to be strengthened and repaired in every one of your human capacities, to be utterly transformed.

"What Elizabeth is saying to Mary, and what Luke is saying to us is, 'Do you believe that this beautiful idea of the Incarnation will really happen? If you believe it, and if you will take it into the center of your life, you're blessed, transformed, and utterly changed.'"

I love that! To internalize the Incarnation is to be transformed into all that God intended us to be (i.e. to be regenerated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit).

So even as this week feels a little frantic, I'm determined not to "bustle about but only in vain" (Psalm 39:6), but in all things to "believe that what the Lord has said will be accomplished" (Luke 1:45).

Grace and peace,

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent Scriptures

Is it just me, or does Christmas get easily buried beneath a slew of parties and cookies and tinsel? We're just days into the Advent season, and my mind is spinning. I love the pace of Christmastime at Walnut Hill because there are so many wonderful festivities--like the Happy Birthday Jesus Party held this morning for preschoolers, or the fun-spirited parties I'm busy planning for our middle and high school students. But somehow, before it all even started, I felt dry. At Thanksgiving I told my mom I was pining for the rhythm of Advent as it's celebrated at Third Pres in Richmond.

So, the relatively new-found Presbyterian in me (of course, I say that tongue-and-cheek since I work for a non-denominational church now!) decided this would be the year: the year I do my own daily Advent readings. The year I intentionally set aside time every day to not lose Christmas under a pile of wrapping paper. Not that Presbyterians are the only ones to celebrate Advent--it's just that before I attended Presbyterian churches, all I knew of Advent was the calendar full of chocolate my grandparents gave me every year.

I'm loving this new Advent rhythm. Every morning, I snuggle back under the covers, post-shower, with my Bible and read the morning Advent Scripture for the day. Every evening, I lounge on my couch in front of my five-foot Balsam Fir and meditate on the evening Scripture. It's a sweet tradition that is melting away the stress and distraction of the day. (Kind of like the daily chocolate from those Advent calendars!) I'm beginning to relax into the presence of God as I ponder His coming. Slowly, He's preparing my heart for Christmas.

But Advent isn't all about relaxing. Actually, it's more about anticipating. I love how Lauren Winner puts it in Girl Meets God:

"It's Advent, the weeks before Christmas, which means we are waiting for Jesus. It is the season of expectation, of being primed and pumped, the season during which you are supposed to cultivate longing for Him, the type of longing you feel when your beloved has been out of town for three weeks but you know he is coming home tonight.

"Every creative attempt to make the season meaningful, to steal it back inside the church, away from the shopping malls and cheesy radio stations, has been tried, and most of those creative attempts have proved wanting. Perhaps the problem is that we don't know what the meaning of this holiday, of Jesus' pushing into the world, is. If we did, we wouldn't have to worry about consumerism; if we knew what the Incarnation meant, we'd be so preoccupied with awe that we wouldn't notice all the shopping."

So that's my goal this year. To really get at the Incarnation. To anticipate not only Christmas, but also the Second Coming of my King in a fresh way. To know that all the shopping, baking, and wrapping is small fries compared to the glory of this God who made Himself small for me. Like chomping on an Oscar Myer wiener when there's a banquet waiting.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning...The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-2, 14

To read the Advent Scripture along with me this year, check out my adaptation of a 2005 Advent calendar (below) that I found on Advent Readings 2009
I've also made it available on the Walnut Hill Youth page for our students and adult leaders.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Good Read: "A Biblical Theology of Alcohol"

Rob Tims, a friend, former boss, and a favorite theologian, wrote a great blog post about alcohol. Rob looks at the issue of alcohol from a systematic theological standpoint, meaning he's not just proof-texting Scripture, but considering what the whole Bible says about the topic. I think you'll find he presents a really balanced view. I especially appreciated the questions he recommends Christians ask to hone their Biblical understanding of alcohol. Read the article here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving and Peace

Two verses--Philippians 4:5-7 and Colossians 3:15-17--have resonated this past month as I've grappled with my grandma's death and as I've continued to transition into a new job, home, and life in Connecticut. Interestingly, they share the themes of thanksgiving and peace. As I've meditated on these verses, I've realized how closely related those ideas really are. In fact, thanksgiving begets peace. And that's been a beautiful concept for me leading up to Thanksgiving--and especially during this season when I've so needed the peace of God to just pervade my life and my heart.

Philippians 4:5-7 says "The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, make your requests know to God. And the peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Some translations say "Be careful for nothing." I love that! We can forge boldly ahead in our lives if we are taking our concerns to the Lord with thankful hearts.

I think of Corrie ten Boom, one of my early heroines. While I was growing up, my mom would always remind me that Corrie and her sister thanked God even for the lice while they were imprisoned in a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their home. (The lice kept the guards away so that Corrie and Betsie could host a Bible study in the barracks.) There is something about a heart of gratitude that allows us to live freely and joyfully!

I also love Colossians 3:15-17: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

I'm thankful for so many things this year--for family and friends, for the blessing of a job and a ministry that I love, and most of all, for His grace poured out through Christ, setting us free to experience true gratitude and tangible peace.

Love and thanksgiving!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Harvard Professor on the Origin of Life

I've been listening to Mark Driscoll's (Mars Hill Church in Seattle) sermon series on doctrine while I work out. It's kind of like systematic theology in a nutshell. I'm loving the refresher on some of my classes at SBTS from last year and would commend the series to you if you're looking for a little theological nibble. (You can download it for free on iTunes under Mars Hills Church.)

In his sermon on creation, Driscoll quotes Nobel Prize winner and Harvard biology professor Dr. George Wald:

"When it comes to the origin of life, we have only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility…spontaneous generation was scientifically disproved one hundered years ago by Louis Pasteur, Spellanzani, Reddi, and others. That leads us scientifically to only one conclusion- that life arose as a supernatural creative act of God…I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible, spontaneous generation arising to evolution."

Hmm. So a Harvard biology professor is basing his understanding of the origin of life on a personal philosophical preference? Pretty scary, when you consider how widely accepted this disproved theory is in the scientific community today. (If you don't believe me, check out my post on the documentary Expelled.)

I love what Driscoll says to encourage the Christian who isn't sure what he believes in the old earth/new earth debacle that divides so many Christians today:

"To my Christian brothers and sisters, who say 'I believe in one God who created the heavens and the earth and I don't know how old the earth is...,' do not feel ashamed and embarrassed that somehow you are negating scientific methodology and coming to your presuppositions with biases. You are coming to the same logical conclusion as a Nobel Prize winner, and you are accepting the facts where he is unwilling to, by his own admission."

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:20

Monday, November 2, 2009


During my sophomore year of college, I took a nonfiction writing class with Josephine Humphries, an acclaimed Southern fiction and nonfiction writer with whom I was enamored. One day in her office, Jo asked me what I wanted to write that semester. When I told her I didn't know, she replied, "I know. You want to write something true." I always thought that was beautiful. The problem with wanting to write something true, though, is that it is a daunting thing. I'm finding that's especially the case when one wants to write about someone who is gone. At least, that's how it's been in these weeks following my grandma's death.

Oh how I want to capture her spunk and grace and generosity! But language, much as I love it, is so limiting. I've decided to summon up my courage and give it a go because remembering is therapeutic.

Grandma's love for me--for all of us girls (her daughters and granddaughters)--was so lavish. You could see it in the candy bowls that littered her game table. No matter the occasion, one candy bowl just wasn't enough. There were usually at least six, all filled with our favorite candy. Chocolate covered raisins for Dad, Butterfingers for the Brown girls, Grandpa's favorite spice drops, boxes of Russell Stover that we all loved, and other treats that changed seasonally. As for me, I didn't discriminate. (I inherited my sweet tooth from Grandma Russell and Grandpa Corwin, my mom's mom and my dad's dad.)

There was also a kitchen drawer filled to nearly over flowing with Bazooka bubble gum, of which we were allowed to eat as many pieces as we wanted. My cousins and I would "chew the sugar out"--as Grandma put it--of one piece, and then go back for another and another, relishing the jokes and the juicy sweetness of each piece. At Grandma and Grandpa's, I was never told to save room for dinner. It was perfectly acceptable to munch on candy and chew bubble gum until I was nearly sick. And even after all that, I was still allowed to have desert: usually a bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and the four or five different kinds of sprinkles my grandparents kept in their pantry for just such occasions. (No one else ate them except for me.) Luckily, each of us had a toothbrush at Grandma and Grandpa's as well. It sounds like a silly comparison, but from my grandma, I learned what God's abounding generosity looks like. He isn't stingy with His forgiveness or His blessings; He never holds out or tells us to save room later. He wants us to be filled to overflowing with His sweet gifts.

It wasn't just with sweets that Grandma was lavish--her affection for us was so sincere. The Dean-Russell women are expressive almost without exception. In fact, the family tie to Mary Todd Lincoln reminds us all that we have to watch this about ourselves, lest expressiveness turn to craziness! But oh, how I love expressive, warm people, and Grandma was the epitome of expressive and warm. You would walk into her house and her whole body would just tremble with excitement. And then she would hug you--the best hugs in the whole world, I think!--and then quickly hold you at arms length again so she could look you over. At that, she would promptly exclaim "Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!" her mannerisms oozing excitement. I'm not sure, actually, if she said that to everyone, or just to me. Maybe she had her own special greeting for each of us. Regardless, it's one of the things I've missed most about her--knowing I'll never again hear her say that this side of Heaven. It's a beautiful thing to know love like that: that someone so genuinely delights in you. The security that came from that kind of love freed me to love her in a really special way.

Grandma was always up for anything. When 101 Dalmations came out in theaters, she and my Aunt Kathy took the four of us girls to see it in Champaign. We all loved it so much that when it was over, Grandma exclaimed, "Do you want to see it again?!" Of course we were delighted, so she went and paid for six more tickets. I think that was the only time in my life I ever watched the same movie twice in a row in the theater--it was such a treat!

I think it was Grandma Russell who taught me to love sleepovers. I always felt so lucky as a little girl because I had two grandmas, and both of them would sleep in my bed with me when I stayed at their houses or when one came to stay with me. There were so many fun sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa's house. The most storied took place every year on Christmas Eve until I was six years old. My three cousins and I would read Jolly Old Santa Claus, a tradition started by our moms and carried on by Taylor and me to this day. Then we would sleep length-wise in a double bed...although, there was never much sleeping. We would lie awake most of the night, listening for reindeer hooves, telling silly stories, and imagining what elaborate gifts would await us in the morning. Even though Grandma didn't sleep with us those Christmases, it was her influence that made them so special. When at last the parents became exasperated by our late night antics, you could still see the twinkle in her eye, discretely egging on our fun.

And for every Christmas sleepover, there were a dozen more everyday ones. My cousin Lindsey and I would plan overnights at Grandma and Grandpa's house every so often. Grandma would crash on the couch with us in the midst of our movie marathons and girl talk. Even into our teens (junior high for me and high school for Linds) she kept this tradition with us. What a girl she was to keep up with us in all our giggles and silliness! These past few years Grandma preferred to stay up late into the night and sleep late in the morning. I often thought of her while I studied at night and wished we lived in the same city. I would have loved to snuggle up with hot chocolate and a movie like we did so many nights at their house growing up.

I know there were many times when Grandma stayed at our house, but I remember two in particular. One was when Taylor was born. I was in kindergarten and was so excited to have a baby sister. But I was also desperately needing some attention (imagine that!) with a new baby around, so it was special to have my Grandma Cherry and Grandpa Corwin there before Taylor LaRue graced us with her presence and Grandma and Grandpa Russell afterward. Grandma and I read a lot together that week and she did all the things my mom would have otherwise done. She walked with me in those first few days of big sisterhood; she was, after all, a big sister herself. I know she was over the moon with excitement about her sweet new baby granddaughter, but I remember feeling just as appreciated and loved by her as ever--what a gift to a six-year-old in the midst of that huge change!

The second time I remember vividly was in third grade. By then, I had a guinea pig, Marshmallow, living in my bedroom. Plenty of seventy-year-old women would have thought this was gross--and actually, Grandma probably did, but you'd have never known it. She even petted my furry little rodent friend and nodded knowingly when I confided that Marshmallow was a Christian. (I had, of course, shared the gospel with her, having not yet understood the theology of souls). Grandma also helped me study for the school spelling bee that week. She was so proud that I had made it to the finals. She had something of a photographic memory and was an excellent speller herself. Just as she did in everything in my life, Grandma cheered me on so enthusiastically that week. She spent hours combing through the thick newsprint spelling guide with me, testing me on harder and harder words and relentlessly going back over the words I had missed. Neither of us are very disciplined people, so I think it's a testament to how much she loved me and to just how much fun she was to be around.

Grandma also introduced me to many new foods. What a cook! Anyone who could successfully convince this picky child to try apple sauce, green beans, vegetable soup, and hamburgers was pretty impressive. And what's more, I actually learned to like those things because of Grandma's cooking. Truly, I didn't eat hamburgers until I was in second or third grade. I'm not sure why, but they grossed me out. And then one night, Grandma and Grandpa fried me up one of their legendary bacon cheeseburgers. My family will tell you that it's Grandma's green beans or cheesy potatoes that take the cake--and those recipes are utterly delicious, to be sure. But take it from me, there is just nothing like one of these burgers. Mom says the secret is that Grandma and Grandpa fry them up really "hot and quick." I think the secret is that they somehow always manage to fry up the best bacon I've ever tasted in my life--it's reminiscent of those Christmas mornings at their house after all the presents had been opened and the kitchen smelled like a little piece of heaven as the skillets sizzled. I'm telling you, those burgers changed my life!

One of the things I loved most about my grandma was the depth of her walk with God. The intensity with which she loved the Lord Jesus was an inspiration to me from a young age--today I consider her one of the spiritual greats (and now she is part of that "great cloud of witnesses" Paul talks about!). In little ways she would impart spiritual wisdom to me just by sharing little tidbits of Scripture in conversation and in the everyday things. She was a mighty, mighty prayer warrior on my behalf and for many others. I know that she and Grandpa prayed for me everyday of my life, not just by name but by specific situations in my life that needed lifting up. They were both so invested in that way, and it showed in the way they asked me about what was going on in my life, and most of all in the way they rejoiced with me when God answered in a powerful way. I think of them as the furnace that has fueled so much of God's blessing in my life--there they were, laying each of my concerns before the Lord. So much of what I've experienced of God, His call on my life, the places He's taken me, I owe to their faithful intercession. The sweetest gift I received at my grandma's funeral services last month were the two women who came up to me to tell me that it was Grandma led them to the Lord. And I know from past stories that there were many more such women whom Grandma walked with and prayed for in hopes that they would know her Savior. What a legacy she has left behind!

Grandma had this rare gift for making things special. As if the extravagant gifts under the tree weren't enough on Christmas morning, our stockings would have up to 20-some gifts in them. Never did Scotch tape and Steak 'n' Shake gift certificates and pretty Post-it notes feel like such treasures! Whether it was a visit to her house, a trip to Curtis Apple Orchard, or just practicing for the school spelling bee, everything was a celebration with her. The girl loved to party!

Oh sweet Grandpa Russell, Grandma Cherry, and Grandpa Corwin: Please know that you are so precious to me, that each of you holds a spot in my heart so dear I can hardly stand it, that I count myself absolutely the most blessed girl in the whole world to have such wonderful people for grandparents--people I would want as friends even if you didn't belong to me! So please don't despair when I say that I just feel orphaned and strangely alone without Grandma Russell. I've always heard people describe that feeling after losing a parent, but you all have been so crucial in my life--in raising me, spoiling me, and lifting me up in prayer--that I think losing one of you is affecting me in a similar way.

I started to feel it coming on Easter if I'm honest with myself. Sarah had come home with Matt and me for the holiday, so I was filled to brim with joy and love to have two of my dearest friends and my parents, Taylor, and my four grandparents all near that weekend. Grandma had not been well the previous time I was home, so I was just bursting at the seams to see her and it was such a special day. At the end of it, I was a wreck. Sometimes the things that are said and the prayers that are prayed when I'm with my grandparents are so sweet that the parting really is difficult and there are some tears. But this time I was just falling apart as I we left and for a good hour on the road back to Nashville with Matt and Sar.

But the last time I saw Grandma was at a party. It is just a perfect last memory and so appropriate, considering that, as my mom says, she was a party girl at heart! And truly, she was in her element that night. It was the hundredth anniversary of Penn. Avenue Baptist Church in Urbana, and by divine appointment, it was also the day I was coming home from Nashville before moving to Connecticut. Grandma hadn't been able to get out much these past few years, so her going to the celebration at church was no small event. Grandpa was looking sharp in a suit and tie, and Grandma, her hair done and makeup perfect, was the life of the party. I pushed her around in her wheelchair (the first time I had ever seen her in a wheelchair) and literally got swarmed by crowds of women who couldn't wait to hug her neck. It was so much fun to watch her just soak it all in, her friends doting on her and telling her how beautiful she looked. As I write this, the tears are coming because I am realizing we didn't take any pictures that night. How I would love to have one of her surrounded by her friends!

I know it's at a party where we'll meet again. Only this will be the Party to end all parties! Maybe it's not the best theology to imagine wearing clothes in Heaven (and I do just hate weak theology). But in my mind's eye, I picture Grandma and myself in party dresses. Maybe with big bows that Grandpa can tie for us (he is really the best at tying bows). Or polka dots. I'm sorry; I just can't picture the Wedding Feast of the Lamb without party dresses--don't judge me!

And oh, will we party!

Kick off our pretty shoes...

dance the night away...

worship the King of Kings.

Party girl style.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Abide with Me

I'll be honest: I still don't have the heart to write about all things I love about my grandma. I'm feeling more joyful thinking about her dwelling in glory with her King, but I'm still so choked up thinking about my memories of her. While I continue to process, one thing has been especially sweet to me.

Over the past few months I've fallen in love with the Indelible Grace project, a musical effort initiated by Reformed University Fellowship at Belmont University in Nashville to resurrect old reformed hymns. At my churches in Richmond and in Nashville, these hymns became widely known, but in New England I'm finding they're still in need of resurrection. All of that just to say, I've been listening to these albums a lot the past few weeks. One of my favorites from the three albums on my iPod is "Abide with Me" because it always reminds me of my grandma Russell.

Once when Grandma was staying with us for a few days she was listening to me practice the piano. I loved hymns then, too, and was playing through a book of them for my lessons. I wasn't familiar with "Abide with Me," having never sang it at church. As I started to pluck out the notes, Grandma R. expressed that it was a hymn she really loved. It became instantly cooler in my eyes and I remember it as one of my favorites from that book.

While I was home this weekend, the fourth verse popped into my head and I realized how perfect it was for this season. We sang it at the funeral service in Champaign.

As I've been walking through this process of grief, the thing that's been most helpful to me is feeling connected to my grandma: knowing we shared common interests or a common personality trait, meeting her old friends, etc. This hymn is one of those "connection points" because I can just imagine her finding comfort in it as she slipped away...and now I am resting in its theology as I mourn. How like God to surface this hymn that we loved together while she was living to comfort me in her death.

Abide with me; falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers, fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, abide with me.

Thou on my head, in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious, and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, though I oft left Thee,
On to the close Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence, every passing hour.
What but Thy grace, can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, tears lose their bitterness
Where is thy sting death? Where grave thy victory?
I triumph still, abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross, before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven' morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, Lord, abide with me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mother: A Tribute from my Mom to Hers

My Grandma Russell passed away last week and I was at home this weekend for services. I've been so spoiled to have all four of my grandparents--and I think they are just about the coolest people in the universe--living and invested in my life. These days of mourning the loss of my sweet grandma have been so dark...I'm still struggling just to process it. I want to write something to honor her memory and to make her just a bit famous, if only to my six or so faithful readers. But for now, as I try to wrap my head around the emotion of it all, I'll let my mom say what she so eloquently did at both funeral services this past weekend. She will no doubt be embarrassed when she learns I've made her a "guest blogger," but she captured Grandma so beautifully that I just couldn't resist sharing this with you:

Mother had no credits or credentials, professional designations or degrees. The only list of accomplishments she had behind her name is us, her 2 daughters (Kathy and Jennifer), their husbands (Rob and Kevin) who Mother considered her true sons, her 5 granddaughters (Emily, Kelly, Lindsey, Chelsea, and Taylor) and their 3 husbands (Joe, Bob, and Dominic) who Mother also considered her true grandsons, and her two little great grandchildren (Jack and Mollie). She devoted herself to her husband and life-long friend, Bill and their family. She loved her family above everything else on this earth and gave her life serving us most of all. She wanted nothing more than to see each one of us happy and content.

Contentment was a big thing for Mother. Always seeking it herself; having been impacted by Paul’s example in Phil 4:11-12 she strove to learn, “to be content whatever the circumstances.” It was her desire that each of us would know and love the Lord Jesus Christ and find our contentment in Him. I know she is rejoicing, and wants us to do the same, for she has finally found true contentment beyond anything we can know on this earth. And so for that we do rejoice!
Always interested in learning, Mother loved to be around interesting, funny, and happy people. She delighted in and was fiercely loyal to anyone she called “friend.” Always thinking of others and desiring to contribute to meeting their needs, she sought to love and serve God by loving and serving people. Well acquainted with pain and loss herself, she was especially sensitive to those who were sad, sick and suffering. How better to minister to someone than through a personal hand-written note or a heartwarming meal? Some women collect tea cups or figurines. My Mother collected greeting cards and recipes so she’d have a ready arsenal from which to choose when someone needed encouragement. All her grandchildren would agree, no one could pick out the perfect card like Grandma Russell! One of the ways we knew we were special is the painstaking efforts she took to get a card that, as she would say, “looks just like you!” And a card was never enough. There would always be a personal note written in perfect handwriting. (As I’ve been sorting and cleaning for Mother these last couple of years I’ve come upon notebook after notebook with personal notes to each of us which she then edited and put in the cards she wrote.)

She held herself to a high standard in this regard. She admired those who seemed to get cards and notes sent on time. Mother had a lot to give and desired to give it all. It upset her that she could never keep up with the need. And it grieved her especially in these later years as she gradually had to give it up altogether. The cards and notes that so many of you have sent to her over the years meant so much to her, too. She kept every one. I know because I’ve just been through them all and she wouldn’t let me throw even one away. She loved to go back and read them again and again. Through them she could feel your love.

And of course, there were many times when a note or card was not enough. Sometimes nothing says lovin’ like bakin’ from the oven! As I recall growing up, it seems there was scarcely a week went by that she wasn’t cooking a meal for someone. And of course she cooked for her family all the time. She really enjoyed fixing meals that we loved.

Mother was a self taught cook. Having lost her mother at age 16 she took up cooking for her “Daddy.” She never tried a recipe that she didn’t improve; always tweaking it to make it better; adding ingredients to make it tastier. Calories weren’t a consideration; fat content was not an issue. Taste! That’s all that mattered. How satisfying was it? To her cooking was both an art – an expression of herself – and a science. Our kitchen often looked like a lab, so many were the pans, dishes and utensils she’d use to create her masterpieces. As I write this I’m so hungry for her vegetable soup I’m sad to think I’ll never taste anything like it again. Always for my birthday she’d make me a batch. We used to tell her she should can and sell it. But, she said it’d be too expensive to market because of the time it took to prepare. We always asked her to write down her recipes and she would try, but since you have to go by taste, nothing Kathy or I make of Mother’s ever tastes as good.

Whether through cooking or writing cards, her aim was the same. She wanted the recipient to “feel the love”–her love for them, but more importantly the love of Christ.
To “feel the love” was her theme in life. I can see her holding her grandchildren. As she did you could see her absolute delight in them. She made each feel special, as though they were the only one. Chels always said, and I know all the granddaughters would agree, that Grandma Russell was her greatest cheerleader. She was absolutely captivated by every word they said. It is one of the things I will miss most about her; I could sit and talk with her for hours over every detail of my girls’ lives and she would never tire of hearing it. If it weren’t for Dad’s ability to do the same, and my children’s other grandparents, Cherry and Corwin, I don’t think I could stand it. She wanted no one or nothing to distract her from hearing every word.

Such is the love of a grandparent. But, I’d say Mother had a special gift in this area. She had the ability to get past information to hear your heart! I wouldn’t even have to finish my sentences or sometimes I just wouldn’t be able to find the right words to describe how I was feeling or what I was going through but I didn’t have to – Mother understood and could often articulate for me what I couldn’t articulate for myself. From that I learned something about God. Often I can’t praise Him as I’d like, I can’t articulate adequately what’s on my heart and mind. But, from my mother’s example I know, He understands. Mother “got me” in much the same way as God “gets me”. Very few people “get me” but my mother did just as she “got” all her loved ones. She understood and accepted each one of us just as we are and never sought to change one thing about us; she just loved us each unconditionally.

She loved her husband, my Dad, more than words can tell. Their story together began when they were both just 8 years old. My Grandpa Russell was the Pastor of my mother’s family church. One Sunday morning, unbeknownst to the other, both my mother Charlotte and my father Billy went forward to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. At age 16 they started dating and the rest is history. This past September 11 they celebrated their 61st anniversary.

Their love story has been an inspiration to all of us daughters and granddaughters. To think they have known, been infatuated with, and loved each other for 75 of their 83 years boggles the mind. No love story could be sweeter and the loss my Dad feels, the loss of his beloved, is beyond comprehension. He has been her companion and lover, and in recent years also her 24/7 caregiver. Such love and devotion reminds me of Christ who demonstrated His love by laying down His life for the church. Mother scarcely made a move Dad didn’t know about this last year or more. Only if he could have wheeled her into Heaven himself might he have found this separation bearable. I’m grateful for all the sweet memories he has of her which will carry him and all of us through the very difficult days ahead. Dad, we’re going to want to hear all the stories about Mother from the early days again and again. They will help us all to heal.

Mother was meticulous about everything except housekeeping. She was, at heart, a girl who just wanted to have fun. Housekeeping was not fun. But what a gift she had for making things feel special! She valued hard work and would exhaust herself to create a holiday, a party, a birthday—each gathering more spectacular than the last. As a result, Christmas at our house was absolutely magical. But whether it was the yearly Easter egg hunt or serving your favorite meal on your birthday, Mother MADE it special; she sweat over the details to make sure it was fun.

She loved numbers and details. Serving as church treasurer at Penn Ave, as Class administrator for BSF, and as head of Wednesday night dinners was a mix that suited her well. She served in these capacities for many years, all at the same time. One job would have been a lot. But, what she considered most fun was being out there doing and seeing; using her gifts and contributing as much as she could.

She was also meticulous about laundry. I don’t know what it was about doing laundry that was fun, but something about it was rewarding. I especially remember as a little girl the hours she would spend ironing. As I think about it now, perhaps it was fun because she could iron while watching As the World Turns, her favorite soap. But the result was crisp, starched dresses whose big bows in the back would stand straight up at attention all through the long Sunday mornings at church. It was Dad’s duty, in helping to get the family ready for church each Sunday morning, to tie those bows right before we left for church and he did it perfectly. Mother and Dad were such a great team, always working together; cooperating like that in little household and family matters.

Another thing about Mother that I will always remember was her determination. When she made up her mind about something, just try—I dare you—just try to change it! Oh, she might look like she was cooperating with you; she was so sweet!! But, soon you’d find she was not cooperating at all! While this meant there was some head butting at times, this steadfast determination served her very well. When she was in the hospital two years ago she developed pneumonia with complications that kept her in nursing care for 90 days. She never wavered in her determination to get well. She was sick to the point of death – we thought one night that we’d lost her. But, she fought like a tiger (Jack, Great Grandma was a superhero tiger grandma! Did you know that?) She fought with every ounce of strength she had not to succumb. And in the months of recovery at Carle Arbors she suffered every kind of indignity, yet she would say, “I can’t let myself get upset about it; I have to reserve my strength so that I can get well and go home.” She handled it all with such dignity and grace. Even in those circumstances she sought to be positive, kind, and gracious to her friends, family and those who served her so well at Carle Arbors. What a great example she was as she persevered to fight the good fight of faith.

It would be an injustice to my mother also not to mention that in all she did to love others, she loved Jesus most of all. Her greatest desire; her motivation was always to point people to the love of the Savior. She never got over what Jesus did for her that Sunday morning when she went forward to receive Christ in my grandfather’s church at 8 years of age. She wanted many things in her life; to travel, to have and enjoy friends, to use her gifts to serve God, to have fun, to learn, to improve herself; but her greatest desire in all that she did was to point others to Christ. In this way, too, she has been a wonderful example for me.

There are so many things about Mother’s life which warrant telling, remembering and treasuring. How can you in one short eulogy ever really capture what a person means to you, her church, or her community; her value, the depths to which she is loved, the grief we feel in loosing her? But, Mother would not want us to wallow in self pity – she hated that! Nor would she want us to stay stuck in our grief. She would want us to fly! She’d want us to remember her at her best, and she’d want us to find joy, peace and contentment in the fact that she is not suffering anymore; that we will see her again; that she is with her Savior and reunited with her firstborn, Caryl Deen, her beloved “Daddy,” Mother, her big sis, Mary, her nephew Chet, and Uncle Art. There is a whole company of believers who’ve gone before her with whom she is celebrating. How could we deny her that? We needed to release her. And we all know she would want us to LIVE and enjoy life NOW with the hope of seeing her again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bethel: The House of God

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you
Psalm 84:4

Tonight is my first night in Bethel, in my new apartment, in this home that God has provided. (Well, technically last night was my first night here, but I’m not counting that because it was due to a minor catastrophe involving a lock-out, no heat or blankets, and a pretty sleepless night.) Tonight is the first official night. Tonight is the night my home was filled with friends--new friends who feel like old ones--and with laughter and prayer and big dreams of how God might use this place. Tonight is the night I am rejoicing in God’s provision here in this land that still feels a bit foreign.

Beth’el (pronounced with the accent on el) is the Hebrew word for “house of God.” In the ancient Near East, the word El was a generic word for “god” that the Hebrews used to refer to the one True God, Yahweh (see my post titled HaShem for more on ancient Hebrew names for God). Beth is the Hebrew word for house. Maybe it’s sentimental, but when I started thinking about moving up here to take the job at Walnut Hill, I couldn’t help but want to live in Bethel (rather than Danbury or Newtown or Brookfield) because of the name. I know—nerd city.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe firmly that God’s house, that sacred place where He resides, is no longer a temple made of stone and adorned with blue curtains and bronze and goat hair (Exodus 36). No—the temple is human hearts infiltrated with the Father’s grace, handed over to Christ Jesus, and moved by the Spirit. The church is people, as my friend Eliza likes to say. You and I are Beth’el (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)! Still, God has always used names to emphasize truth. And this name, Bethel, is significant.

Bethel is mentioned 13 times in the book of Genesis. It seems that it was a significant place for both Abraham and his grandson Jacob. Both built altars there to praise God for His provision (Genesis 12 and Genesis 35). Bethel was the place where you could be sure of God's presence.

Fittingly, Bethel was the site of Amos' brief prophetic ministry. There pleaded with the people of Israel-Judah to purify their worship of Yahweh by laying aside cultist ritual and seeking justice. In this way, the transfer of the temple from an external structure to the hearts of believers was foreshadowed.

As I settle into this new home, I'm rejoicing with Jacob, "Come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God...who has been with me wherever I have gone" (Genesis 35:3). Lo, this is the God who is ever-present--in Nashville and in New England--my great Pillar of Cloud who is faithful to lead.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Go Greek!

It's September...and that means football, changing leaves, and of course, at schools across the nation, RUSH! You can read my latest story on Greek life here.

And for more on Greek ministry, take a minute to check out Greek IV's new video "Joe and Jane Greek!"


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Cloud Has Settled!

Now that I've been here in Connecticut for nearly a week, I thought I'd post a little update on life in New England:

I arrived on Wednesday after a 15 hour drive from Bloomington, and I began work the very next morning. On Thursday, it appeared that the cloud had indeed settled...along with 50 or so of it's closest friends. Thankfully, the overcast skies have since cleared off and we've been having the first bit of true summer Connecticut has seen yet this year. I still chuckle every time someone complains about how hot the lovely 83 degree days are...these folks sure couldn't hack it in the south! (I'm sure they'll be saying that I'm a wimp come winter...)

This week has been a myriad of random errands (bank account, cell phone, etc.) and just digging into the new job. I'm living with a dear colleague these first few weeks while I get settled and hunt for an apartment. Everyone at the church office has been amazing--I've felt very loved and cared for already! And I've had the opportunity to hang out with lots of people from the church: students, 20s-and-30 somethings, parents, etc. I've located the mall--of course :)--and I've talked with the manager at Williams-Sonoma about transferring my part-time employment from Pottery Barn Kids. Whew! It's been quite a week.

If you think of it, please pray for the following:
-That I will speedily find an apartment and be able to negotiate a more affordable rent. Everything's expensive here! I especially want to be sensitive to where the Lord might want to place me in regards to location and whether or not I have a roommate.

-That I will continue to acclimate quickly to my job. We have two youth retreats coming up a month from now, so I'm already a little behind! Additionally, the new high school youth pastor starts this week, so the Emerging Generations team is in a season of transition right now. Pray that our personalities would mesh for the glory of God.

-That I will develop meaningful community here. I've met lots of wonderful people and I'm so excited to form new relationships! I'm also wanting to connect with sorority sisters from Richmond in the area, so pray that I would be able to balance work, church, and other relationships in a way that honors the Lord and sharpens me.

-That I will make a smooth transition from missing life in Nashville to loving life in New England. I hate the feeling of missing people and missing out on fun times and community in Tennessee, but I continue to sense that this place is going to bless me greatly over the next few years. I've already seen God's graciousness to me as I move from one season into another.

If you want to learn more about Walnut Hill Community Church, visit You can listen to Senior Pastor Clive Calver's sermons, find out more about the vision of the church, and even browse staff profiles to "meet" my co-workers.

God is on the move at Walnut Hill and in New England! Stay tuned for my musings on Christianity in this corner of the world.

Thanks for waiting on this cloud with me!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Urge Congress to End Child Slavery: A Message from IJM

I received this e-mail from IJM and thought I'd post it here to let you know another way you can be involved in advocating for millions of children enslaved around the world. This month, I will be meeting with a Member of Congress in my new district in Connecticut to promote the Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA). You, too, can effect change by writing to your Representative in support of the CPCA. See IJM's e-mail below:

UNICEF estimates that there are nearly 2 million children in the commercial sex trade worldwide.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Cambodian law enforcement rescued Veata* (pictured at left with her IJM social worker) from a brothel at the age of 13 with the help of International Justice Mission. She’s healthy and happy today, living in a small aftercare home with caring staff who love her.

The traffickers who exploited her are serving 16-year sentences for their abuse.

You can help stop these crimes — Share your passion with your Member of Congress.

This month, hundreds of IJM supporters will meet with their Members of Congress to urge them to support the Child Protection Compact Act of 2009. This bill supports poor countries’ efforts to stand up to criminals that traffic children by investing in effective law enforcement that puts traffickers and slave owners out of business and behind bars.

Please help us make the abolition of child trafficking a priority for Congress by urging your Representative to cosponsor the Child Protection Compact Act today.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Eyes Have It: A Tribute to My Last Days in Optometry

I've loved working here at the Spectacle Shoppe. It's been a fun opportunity to learn a new industry and a whole new set of skills, and I have loved watching this practice grow the past year! In order to commemorate my last couple of days here, I thought I'd share a comedy routine recommended by a patient and also by my dear ol' dad. Check it out!

So there you have it. A peak into my life this past year :) Also, I thought I'd mention that Real Simple did a great feature last month (proudly displayed in our magazine collection here at the office--yes, I realize I'm a huge nerd) about eye health. You can read it here.

Keep Your Eyes Healthy
7 Ways to Protect Your Vision

I'm passing the torch to my sweet friend Robin--a Tri Delta sister from U of R! So come see her if you're in the market for a great pair of glasses! And schedule an appointment here if you need a new eye doctor!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Following the Cloud: An Update


It is with much excitement (and also a twinge of sadness) that I write to tell you I have taken a job at a church in Fairfield County, Connecticut just outside of NYC! This e-mail is mostly to make you aware of my change in location, but I also want to take the opportunity to brag on my big God :)

As most of you know, I have been looking for a ministry job for more than a year. I've been super blessed here in Nashville to be near so many dear friends, and God has lavishly provided work, freelance writing gigs, the opportunity to begin my Masters of Divinity at SBTS, and two amazing living situations. Even so, I think I've learned a little something about desert wandering! I've clung to the image of the pillar of cloud leading the Israelites through the desert: when it settled, the Israelites encamped. When it moved, they moved (Numbers 9:15-18). And so I've encamped here in Nashville, a place that I love for so many reasons, but where I have been unable to find the kind of job I'm after. It's been a fruitful season because, after all, the "cloud" is the very presence of God.

In December I applied on a whim for a high school youth pastor position at Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel, Connecticut. As you've probably noticed, I am a lover of warm weather and Southern culture, so living in New England seemed like a stretch. But the job description read: "if you're looking for a place where it's safe and easy to be a Christian, this isn't the job for you." I was hooked. I sent my resume that day and promptly received a reply from Craig, the pastor emerging generations (children, youth, and young adults), saying that they were looking for someone more qualified. I wrote back and, expressing my confidence that I could do the job well, asked him to please pass my resume on to the search committee. He wrote back within the half hour and said that he was impressed with my response and would pass my resume along. I heard from Craig a few days later, and he told me that unbeknown to me, some dear friends of my parents, the Shockleys (some of you Vale-ers will remember them!), were church members. Scott and Denise were on the search committee, and although my family hasn't been in touch with them since I was eight, they recognized my name in the stack of resumes! (It has been so much fun for my family to reconnect with these sweet friends!)

Craig and the Shockleys were kind enough to let me interview for the position, even though it's a big enough ministry that they really do need someone with more experience than I have. But as we continued to talk, they asked me how I would feel about taking a different role at the church. It's taken several months for the pieces to come together, but they have tailored an existing job to fit my gifts/interests. As the "Emerging Generations Team Coordinator," I'll be planning events and executing communication for the whole team (youth, children, and college students), plus developing curriculum and doing some teaching and discipleship specific to youth ministry. It's really a dream job for me; I'll get to use my degree, develop my writing, and best of all, spend time with students! How good of God to make me wait all these months so that I couldn't boast in my own chutzpah, but only in His perfect timing and plan for this next season of life :)

I'm so excited about this move, even though I know it is going to be a big adjustment. Walnut Hill is one of only two churches in all of New England that has surpassed 2,000 members. Its size and resources have uniquely positioned the church to equip smaller churches in the area that desire to be a beacon of light in the Northeast. I'm going to miss living in the South, and the sweet fellowship that this place has yielded, but I'm truly thrilled to be joining a ministry that desires to proclaim the gospel in the Northeast!!

I leave Nashville today and will be at home in Bloomington until Wednesday, when I drive to CT. I'm hoping to see lots of you B-towners while I'm home!

Thanks for walking with me in this new adventure! If you're ever in NYC or New England, please holler at me--I'd love to see you.

With love!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pray for Japan

Here's a quick little morning plug for my homepage, Operation World. I've recommended the "Pray Today" feature before; it highlights a different country of the world each day and gives specific direction in how to pray for missionaries, native Christians, and the lost. Last week Japan was highlighted, and it's been helpful in reminding me of specific ways to pray for Japan.

Check it out here. (And if you want some motivation to pray for the need that's in the world, make it your homepage!)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pls txt me l8er

My most recent article for, an opinion/how-to piece on texting, has been posted to the website. Read it here. This one won't go down in history as my favorite assignment, but I love the concept Mary and the other editors had for this issue: How can we use the technologies available to us to further the Kingdom?

Texting, Facebook, and the blog sphere all require a certain thoughtfulness on the part of Christians, and I love that myMISSIONfulfilled has taken on the role of prompting young women to consider the impact of these everday things.

What about you? How do texting and other technologies affect your everyday life? Your ministry?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Real Sex

I got to spend the holiday weekend in Richmond for my sweet friend Goodie's wedding. Y'all know how I love Richmond. I feel blessed to the sky each time I get to go back and visit my alma mater, spend time with dear friends, and dwell in rich community at Third Pres (and Tikvat Yisrael, though, sadly, not this weekend). I love it, love it, love it!

On Sunday night I got to fellowship with a wonderful couple from church (and their four sweet kids--my cup runneth over!). They mentioned a sermon given several weeks ago by Corey Widmer, a pastor at Third and truly the best teacher I've ever had the privilege of learning from on a weekly basis. (Serioulsy, y'all--he rivals some of my favorite famous Christian teachers, and he teaches at my little church in Richmond!) The sermon is titled Real Sex: Biblical Wisdom for Sex and Sexuality, and you can listen to it here. It's part of a sermon series on the book of Proverbs, and each of the messages in the series are outstanding.

I wondered throughout the sermon if perhaps the message was named with Lauren Winner's book Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity in mind, and Corey did mention the book toward the end of the sermon. What a concept for our Christian culture--where sex is often diminished in Christian circles as something to be avoided and even despised! That we could "get naked" (read: honest) about the topic of chastity (sexual purity by the standards of a given culture, ours being dictated by the gospel of Christ) is pretty revolutionary. And it's needed.

Lest you listen to the message and say I didn't tell you...this sermon is not for the faint of heart! It is actually a little graphic, but it's a holy sort of graphic, fitting for those who desire to be chaste. And what I love is that Corey not only addressed married people and single adults, he seized the opportunity to speak to teenagers very candidly about their bodies and sexual desires. Winner's book is much the same. It addresses the sexual issues of single and married people and offers a Christian ethic to glorify God in and through sexuality.

So here's my little plug for my very favorite pastor/teacher and my very favorite writer on a subject that is taboo in many Evangelical circles. Check them out--and don't be surprised if they make you blush :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Help IJM Abolish Child Trafficking

Recording artist Sara Groves and husband Troy Groves meet with their Member
of Congress to Advocate for the Child Protection Compact Act.

I received an interesting e-mail yesterday afternoon from International Justice Mission. It's an organization that I'm passionate about, so I try to keep my readers (all 10 of you, haha) abreast of current IJM happenings and specifically, to let you know how you can be involved with this amazing ministry.

IJM's Justice Campaigns Department is currently coordinating an effort to pass a bill called the Child Protection Compact Act of 2009. According to the IJM website, the legislation is "designed to increase U.S. support to eradicate child trafficking in countries that have the will to end the crime but lack resources." (You can read the bill summary here.) Those of you who are familiar with IJM's work abroad know that this is one of the primary ways IJM seeks to bring the Biblical concept of justice to the two-thirds world. By providing foreign government and police officials with the necessary training and support, IJM has successfully begun a revolution of justice in Asia, Africa, and Central/South America. Additionally, equipping foreign nationals to lead the efforts maximizes IJM's influence and resources.

But the point of yesterday's e-mail wasn't just to inform supporters about the bill or to ask for their prayer support. Rather, it was to mobilize action on the part of the Western Church. IJM is asking Christians to be willing to speak personally with members of Congress. Boldness is called for. Sometimes being part of the justice revolution can feel so painfully out of reach, but IJM is taking the steps to make this small act of courage accessible to the average-Joe Christian. They'll schedule the appointment. They'll even train you (over the phone unless you happen to live in D.C.) how to speak candidly with your Member of Congress about the modern day slave trade and how this bill can help eradicate it in our generation. Sign me up!!

If you are moved by the plight of thousands of young women and girls sold into brothels every year, or by the widow and her starving children whose land has been seized by someone more powerful, or by Indian children in bondage at a brick factory, then I urge you to join with IJM (and with me!) in this endeavor. You can sign up for a meeting here. To read IJM stories of liberation, check out the casework bulletin. (A note of forewarning: these stories are not for the faint of heart! They will leave you moved and deeply convicted to get involved.)

"I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade."
William Wilberforce, British Parliamentarian, slave trade abolitionist, and Christian hero

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lenny Kravitz and Celibacy

As I was listening to the radio on my way to work this morning, I heard a plug for an article about Lenny Kravitz. The DJ mentioned that Kratvitz's father, an agnostic Jew, came to know Christ toward the end of his life (y'all know I love a story that includes a Jewish family loving Jesus). What's amazing about the article, written for a UK based paper, is that the reporter was able to talk candidly with Kravitz about a decision he made in 2005 to abstain from sex until he remarries. Obviously, this is a radical choice for anyone, celebrity or not, but especially for this rock icon known for plenty of drug use (he's resolved to quit that, too...).

Here's the hook:

"No one nailed the rock idol act like Lenny Kravitz. Love god, guitar hero, wild thing, he lived the life – multiple women, homes and Grammys. Then he revealed last year that he had been celibate since 2005. The Telegraph visits him at his Bahamian retreat and discovers the roots of his newfound purity."

You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

myMISSIONfulfilled Bible Studies, Part II

The second part of my two-part Bible study for myMISSIONfulfilled has just aired. You can read it here. (Read Part I of the study here.) Writing Part II was a convicting adventure for me--I hope the passage challenges you as well!

Thanks for reading and for supporting the site!

With love,

Friday, June 12, 2009

Food for the Hungry in Myanmar

Since I've often mentioned Food for the Hungry here, I thought I'd point you to a post Matt shared with me on John Piper's blog about FH's involvement in Myanmar. Desiring God ministries is helping to mobilize FH support in the area devastated by last year's cyclone, and you can be involved by contributing financially (and by praying!). Read the post.

As a side note, I thought it was interesting that Piper mentions the rat population in Asia as one of the contributing factors to hunger and poverty. I have just finished reading founder of Gospel for Asia K.P. Yohannan's book Revolution in World Missions. (I kept remarking to myself in the margins that "Brother K.P." and Piper would be bff...) Yohannan explains that the problem of hunger in Asia is, above all, a spiritual one. He writes:

"Most people know of the 'sacred cows' that roam free, eating tons of grain while nearby people starve. But a lesser-known and more sinister culprit is another animal protected by religious belief--the rat. According to those who believe in reincarnation, the rat must be protected as a likely recipient for a reincarnated soul on its way up the ladder of spiritual Nirvana. Although many Asians reject this and seek to poison rats, large-scale efforts of extermination have been thwarted by religious outcry. Rats eat or spoil 20 percent of India's food grain every year...Clearly, the agony we see in the faces of those starving children and beggars is actually caused by centuries of religious slavery."

(A tangent to my tangent: I remember having a similar thought about Japan when I wandered through a temple with my host family four years ago. Suddenly I realized that for a nation that claims it is not religious, Japan is actually steeped in idolatry. The presence of Shinto and Bhuddist temples and household shrines prove it. But in Japan, this bondage has brought a harvest of materialism and nationalism rather than poverty...)

I'll be writing more about Yohannan and Gospel for Asia in a coming post...but I thought I'd leave you with that lovely vision of Asian rats today. It has made me, for one, prayerful about how I can contribute to the spiritual and physical needs in Asia. And I'm so thankful for men like Piper and Yohannan who expose the needs to our materially and spiritually saturated American culture...and cause my heart to be a little heavy over my addiction to the saturation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An RV and Unwasted Lives

I met the most amazing couple today at the office. While Mr. J. was seeing the doctor, his wife chatted with me about their life here in Franklin--and everywhere else. They retired from a small town in northern Indiana a few years ago. A desire for increased mobility prompted them to sell their house and buy a motor home in its stead. Now that they've lightened their load, they travel all over the U.S. volunteering for various ministries. This year they helped their Alma Mater refinish its cross country course, made several trips to Louisiana to help with hurricane relief, and traveled internationally to serve with a ministry called TCM in Vienna, Austria.

Talking with them reminded me of John Piper's commentary on the American dream of retirement. In Don't Waste Your Life (one of my all-time favorite Piper books) he writes: "I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader's Digest: A couple 'took early retirement from their jobs in the northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Guda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells...' Picture them before Christ on the great day of judgment. 'Look, Lord. See my shells.' That is a tragedy."

What a stark contrast between the tragic picture Piper paints and the beautiful one lived out by Mr. and Mrs. J! In a few months they will be heading back to Vienna for a three month stint with Taking Christ to the Millions Institute International (TCM), a seminary that trains Eastern Europeans for ministry in their home countries. Pastors and missionaries of all ages come for two weeks at a time to take intensive ministry and theology courses. Because the students come from closed countries where boldly proclaiming the gospel means real hardship, TCM wants Haus Edelweiss, the chalet that houses the school (see picture above), to be a place of rest and retreat. The 500 volunteers who come throughout each school year clean their rooms and cook their meals so that the students can focus on their classes. You can learn more about the program (and find out how you can help!) here.

I loved listening to Mrs. J. talk about her experience serving with TCM last year and how thrilled she and her husband are to be going back. She told me about one man in his 20s. When she was cleaning his room on the day he left, she noticed that he had left behind all of his study materials--notebooks, pens, class handouts. When Mrs. J. rushed to the bus to give him his things, he shook his head and explained that he was not allowed to bring any of them back into his country. He had done his best to memorize the material presented in each lecture over the two week period.

When Mrs. J. finished the story, I was in tears right there at the office. This nameless man from Eastern Europe, a devoted disciple and seminary student, had absolutely shamed me. How often do I take for granted the privelage that it is to be able to read God's word so openly? How lightly do I take my own seminary classes, often skimming the reading or listening half-heartedly to lectures? I am laid low by the plight of these Eastern Europeans who labor for the Gospel in their countries. And I've fallen in love with the mission of TCM. (It helps of course, that the ministry is located in a city I dearly love! Anyone want to organzie a volunteer trip?!)

Most of all, I'm challenged by the example of this dear retired couple who have refused to be slowed down by their age or conquered by the lures of retirement. They live as vagabons, leveraging their possessions, time, and resources for the good of the Kingdom. They make themselves available to go wherever God might send them.

"Whatever you do, find the God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated passion of your life and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will not waste your life."
--John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life