Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Moments in the Manger

     Swoosh! 2011 has to be one of the fastest years I can remember. In the countdown to Christmas, weeks flew by like days.  Oh no, its here.  No money to buy the presents you want to for those you love and those who have been so important in past year.  You feel any present you can afford will pale to the real gratitude and the desire to express it.  Some of  the joy of Christmas gets lost in the lack of Christmas, but there seems to be nothing you can do about it.  You receive good gifts and give crummy ones.  You are embarrassed to open presents with friends because you know you will win the receiving stats.  You almost can't wait until it is all over (but would never admit it).  You don't want bah hum bug to be your Christmas carol.
     The truth is, many feel exactly as I describe above.  As a matter of fact the above paragraph is a compilation of tid bits I heard this year from different people and some personal thoughts.  There is a silver lining to this seemingly dark Christmas cloud.  In order to find the joy, IT FORCES YOU TO TAKE THE FOCUS OFF THE PRESENTS AND FOCUS ON THE PRESENT!  You know, "the reason for the season".  Strip away the pressure of giving "great" gifts and concentrate on the "great" gift.  Not only does the birthday "Boy" get lost at his own birthday party, but we are so quick to forget it in a sigh of relief.
     Lets not do that this year.  Lets spend a few "moments in the manger".  If a book were written recording the stories of  those who had a really rough Christmas, you would have to lead off with Joseph and Mary.  We paint a beautiful picture of the "manger" as the center piece of our Christmas celebration and often time fail to remember what a tough journey it was for Mary and Joseph to get to the "manger moment". 
     We celebrate that single snapshot because that is where the MIRACLE occurred.  This "miracle" was preceded by some pretty strong labor pains.  They had to flee to Bethlehem.  Any pregnant ladies out there that want to go on a donkey ride?  I didn't think so!  Any teenage girls out there eager to tell your boyfriends and parents your pregnant, but the boyfriend is not to blame? Any boyfriends ready to pop the question to the pregnant girlfriend that you've never slept with?   How bout telling your buds what you are fixing to do.  I got it girls!  Tell them the Holy Spirit got you pregnant.  "That's my story and I'm sticking to it!"  I think I would run for the hills next time I saw an angel.
     The physical and emotional strain for both Mary and Joseph would have been enough for most  anyone to throw in the towel and say I don't want to have anything to do with it.  COUNT ME OUT!
     Joseph was going to be a gentleman and quietly divorce himself from the story.  He loved Mary and did not want to embarrass her, but a good Jewish boy did not marry a pregnant girl.  A visit from an angel helped Joseph see that it was not about "his moment" but about "HIS MOMENT".  It wasn't about "messed up marriage plans" but rather a "miracle in a manger".  Thank God for Joseph 's willingness to travel the selfless journey to the manger with  a fearful young girl willing to bear the shame as she bore the CHILD that would forever change her world, THE WORLD. 
     Just maybe it is through the tough journeys, if we stay the course, die to self and deliver Jesus to the world, that we might find our "miracle in the manger".  In 2012, I hope you find your "moment in the manger".  You just might if  you CHOOSE THE JOURNEY!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stephanie Bailey, Catelyn Griffin, Daniel Griffin, You're Awesome!

     Special thanks to Stephanie Baily for sharing her Europe experience with us.  The blogs were incredible.  Every single one was "out of the park", "over the fence" home runs.  To hear her share how God showed up in a fresh and new way was refreshing and encouraging.
     Most Christians measure the Christian experience within the context of their church and activities within the Christian community.  We seldom measure it by God's involvement in the context of our interaction with people in a non-Christian environment. 
     Not only did Step have an influence on some new friends, but she discovered the daily interaction God so wants to have with us.  He wants to use us, teach us, change us, enjoy us simply by being with us every day.
     How about you?  Being placed in a secular society, are you seeing God at work every day?  Do you have a sense of His using you?  He doesn't just watch from a distance, but He is in the trenches with us.  He delights in partnering with us to accomplish His purpose, of which He chooses to depend on our cooperation to get it done.  The thought of God depending on us for anything is a stretch for my mind.  It is not because He can't do it without us; it is because He doesn't want to do it without us. 
     God has designed us to interact with each other.  In that interaction, God triggers things in people's hearts that would not be triggered without our participation.  THAT IS COOL!  A God who could do it all without us, chooses to little without us.  That is His plan!  You and I are His plan to move the world toward redemption territory.  It simply is magnificent how He does it.  It is exciting to be used.  Every time He uses us, it is a testimony to His creative genius.  He are His masterpieces!    JOIN THE JOURNEY and be used and enjoyed by God!  That is His intent!
     That is exactly what Catelyn Griffin did for a month this summer.  She will be sharing her trip to the Jungles of Ecuador.  Tune in tomorrow and Friday as she shares her experience and what she learned.  Daniel Griffin will be doing the same upon his return.  I am very proud of the these young people serving God in these unique trips.

Friday, August 12, 2011

God's Big Surprises

Overall my favorite thing about the Europe trip might be the Sagrada Familia, but a very close second is Assisi, Italy. I loved Italy in general; relaxed, yet exciting. Beautiful, yet simple. Happy, yet tranquil. Italy was just generally a great blend of everything, and Assisi was especially wonderful.

The city is small and built into a mountain {as were most of the cities we visited}. The city has a village feel; all the buildings were old and stone and arranged around winding cobblestone streets. While in Assisi, we actually got the opportunity to visit a real monastery. {It was, in fact, THE monastery where St. Francis of Assisi lived.} We even got to meet a real monk.

But the thing is, I'm not Catholic, as I'm assuming you know, so I was a little skeptical about the whole thing. Was the monk going to go off on tangents about saints and mass and Hail Mary?

My first impression of Brother Alesandro was what I expected. He was an average-sized, unassuming guy with a special air about him that comes from being close to God. But then he surprised me.

He told us the history of the church first. Inside the beautifully grand monastery is tiny chapel, a church within the church. Hundreds of years ago, the tiny chapel was in the middle of the woods, and St. Francis lived there. Eventually the bigger church was built around the chapel to preserve and expand it, but the little chapel is the very same one where St. Francis once stood.

Then Brother Alesandro explained to us what St. Francis was searching for: the ultimate life. St. Francis realized that to find complete joy and fulfillment, man has to look outside of himself. St. Francis looked to God, and found THE truth, THE life, THE joy in Him.

"There is only THE truth," Brother Alesandro told us, squeezing his eyes shut. "Truth must always have 'the' in front of it, because if it is 'a' truth, then it is not Truth. If there is more than one truth, you may have a truth and I may have a truth, and if they are different, neither of them is the real. Truth must always be 'the truth,' and the only way to find it is through God."

Next Brother Alesandro led us down the aisle of the sanctuary into the tiny chapel that sat at the front. "I would encourage you to pray," he said. "Even if you do not believe in God, pray anyway. And I will tell you how: prayer is to go inside your heart, to open up your heart, and find the deepest, greatest questions and to give them to God. Find the biggest questions in your heart and offer them up to God. That is prayer."

I thought that was the most beautiful explanation of prayer I'd ever heard.

Next we went into a room downstairs and sat down. Brother Alesandro told us that he preferred not to talk anymore, but to let us ask him any questions we wanted and he would answer them as best he could.

Now, the group I was with was not a Christian group. Oh BOY were they not a Christian group. I just knew that if I didn't ask a question, no one would at all and we'd sit there forever in the most awkward silence the monastery had probably ever seen. So I asked God to give me something to say.

He didn't.

I sat there, without a single good question coming to mind. Come ON, God! I thought. Give me SOMETHING! But he just didn't. I sat there panicking quietly, hoping Brother Alesandro wouldn't hate us for being so completely silent as the grave--

Someone raised their hand. Who was that? It couldn't--no...

It was one of trouble-makers, probably the worst guy of all.

Then after Brother A answered his question, the trouble-maker's main partner in crime raised HER hand.

And then the girl I'd vote Least Likely to Speak Up asked something.

And then something amazing happened: this girl, quite possibly the most morally bankrupt individual I had ever met in my life, started crying. Huge tears and quiet sobs and hopeless shoulder shaking wracked her tiny little body.

I think my jaw actually dropped.

Now, I knew all things were possible with God, but I did NOT see that coming at all. This girl, just the night before had been in one of the guy's rooms for a just a LITTLE {okay, a LOT} longer than appropriate. The night that before she'd snuck out and gotten just a LITTLE {or a lot} more alcohol than she could handle. And not two hours before she'd been cussing like an absolute sailor.

And somehow, God had her right where he wanted her.

Our hotel that night was close to the monastery, and the girl went back. She talked to Brother Alesandro that night. And the next night, she went back again.

Two days later, she was almost back to her old antics, but I know something special happened to her in Assisi. God is seeking her out, and I know he's not giving up. He works in the strangest, most mysterious ways.

Just think, if I had spoken up and saved the day with my wonderfully spiritual questions, none of that might have happened. It just goes to show you that sometimes when it FEELS like God's left you hanging, it's because he has something even better in the making. Believe it or not, God knows better than I do XD {Shocking, I know.}

So if you ever think about the crying girl in Assisi, say a quick prayer for her. God hasn't forgotten her, and I hope I never will either.

Matthew 19:26 "Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Was Your Favorite Thing?

It's the question I get asked most about my Europe trip, and people usually expect me to say something like, "Oh my gosh, it was all so amazing, I just couldn't choose!"

But they're wrong. I have a very clear "favorite thing:"

The Sagrada Familia {Barcelona, Spain}.

{It's weird, too, because my favorite country was actually Italy. Spain was too claustrophobic and France was too stiff. I feel like Goldilocks XD Italy was juuuuust right. But back to the Sagrada Familia. *closes parenthesis*}

I had heard of the Sagrada Familia before {thanks, Cheetah Girls 2}, but I didn't know much about it. I didn't even have a clear picture of what it looked like. To be perfectly honest, I had no picture at all. I had no clue what it looked like. I knew it was old, I knew it was a church, and I knew...no, that's pretty much it.

Luckily our tour guide for Barcelona was great and I learned a lot. I can now tell you that the Sagrada Familia was designed by Antoni Gaudi, a ridiculously talented Christian architect. He liked to model his designs after nature, incorporating natural shapes and ideas. He also designed the the Parc de Guelle, which contains the longest bench in the world--200 meters!

The Parc and its Plaza and marketplace are incredible, but the Sagrada Familia surpasses it all. Gaudi worked 43 years on that church, putting all his creative energy into building a house to glorify God. After learning about the work Gaudi put in, I knew the Sagrada Familia would be pretty cool. However I was COMPLETELY unprepared for the absolute magnificence of the church.

It rises up from the ground in detailed towers that drive the eye crazy. Every inch of the church is busy with delicate carvings and statues gasping for breath. You could literally stand in front of the church for HOURS and never see it all. I cannot even begin to fathom having a vision for something that incredible, much less trying to build it!

At first glance, the Sagrada Familia actually looks like a dink castle. You probably don't know what that is, and that's NOT because you haven't traveled to Spain. The term "dink" is entirely American, created by my mother to describe the castles you make at the beach by dripping wet sand. Like THIS {<--click}. Of course, when you look closer you can see the story of Jesus, scene by scene, across the church.

Inside the Sagrada Familia is EVERY BIT as breath-taking as the outside, but in a different way. Where the outside is humbling and ornate, the inside is all cool and clean and calm. From the outside, the church felt like the greatest building I'd ever seen. From the inside, it felt like the greatest building the world will ever see.

Gaudi modeled the inside after of a forest. Huge, marble "trees" grow up from the floor before spreading into branches that hold up the mighty ceiling. Stained glass windows cry out with colors brighter and bolder and more beautiful than colors anywhere else. Smooth, winding stairs and glorious altars quietly proclaim God in very real ways. The Sagrada Familia felt like God.

It FELT like God.

Gaudi must have had a tremendously strong, real, beautiful relationship with the Lord because it flowed into his work. Every stone sings God's praises, the very air in the church feels charged with the Holy Spirit.

As I stood in the church, trying to breath it all in and knowing it was impossible, the tour guide told us about the religion in modern-day Spain. Spain used to be a very religious country, he said, but it isn't so much anymore. When the Sagrada Familia is finally completed {which won't be for another fifteen to twenty years!}, it will probably be used more as a museum than a church.

For some reason, that hit me really hard. For a shocking moment, my heart felt broken. How sad! How terribly, deeply sad. Gaudi must be rolling over in his grave, I thought. Something so beautiful, so purposeful, can only be meant for God.

I know that's just a simple sentence, but it's the one that played over and over in my head as we explored the church. Something so beautiful, so purposeful, can only be meant for God. It kept hitting me over and over and I finally began to understand something my teachers have told me for years:

The very best artists were always Christians. It's almost like artists who have a special relationship with the Creator get a special peek into His mind. When you make something beautiful for God, you reach a level that can never be reached when you create for anyone else.

Even thought Italy was my favorite country, I think my biggest takeaway from my trip was the Sagrada Familia in Spain. It literally took my breath away; it literally made me speechless. I have never, EVER seen anything like it before. It's greater than anything I could ever imagine. I think it's greater than anything ANYONE could ever imagine--without God.

Gaudi no doubt had something special, and that something was God. I think we as Christians should strive to be like Gaudi in that respect: he took his talent, gave it to God, and got it back a thousand times over, creating something that should exceed human ability in every respect.

Exodus 35:31-32: "and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze..."

Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..."


Tuesday, August 9, 2011


     Just wanted to get your attention.  I know you are busy, and normally my blog is not high on your "to do list", but you don't want to miss this week.  Stephanie Bailey (aka Kendra Logan) is sharing about her "non-mission" "mission trip" to Europe.  Yesterday blog was tremendous.  Take time to read yesterdays.  You will be glad you did.  She will also do tomorrow's and Friday's blog.   TAKE THE TIME TO COMMENT!
     George Strait recorded a song a couple years ago, I Saw God Today, that pointed out how we can see God in the most seemingly common occurrences of everyday.  If he read Steph's blog yesterday, he would add another verse to the song.  #1 hit by the way.
     Steph, thanks for the God sightings.   GREAT job.  He is honored!  Can't wait til tomorrow.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Prayer: It's More Than Just Warm-Fuzzies

Hello all! Sorry this post is a little bit later than I'd hoped. I'm here now, though, and ready to put into words my amazing trip to Europe. Well, TRY to, that is.

Seeing other countries for the first time opened my eyes more than I ever expected. I saw breath-taking sights, both natural and man-made, and met people that changed my life in all different ways. But my journey really started before I got on the plane. My journey started right here at home as I prepared to take the biggest leap of my life. My journey started with prayer, and it remained a theme that followed me throughout the 19 day trip.

Now, I've been a Christian virtually all my life, and I've seen God do great things through prayer, but there's something completely different and special about having people pray for YOU specifically. Two days before I got on my VERY FIRST PLANE, some people from church came and prayed over me.

I'll be honest: usually when I'm involved in a prayer meeting like this, I get a tiny bit bored. I mean, I love hearing all the sincere prayers and sweet thoughts, but sometimes the prayers can get really long...and my mind tends to wander.

But WOW! I know this sounds really selfish, but it's different when the people are praying for you! I felt God's presence through my church family. Every prayer was PERFECT. Every prayer strengthened a different piece of my heart and opened my eyes to the amazing love that has always surrounds me, both from God and my friends. Their prayers made me feel ready to face the mind-blowingly long amount of time I would be away.

Of course, two days later when I realized I wouldn't see US soil for a good SEVENTEEN DAYS, I started to unravel a bit. I've always been kind of...um, extreme in my emotions. When I'm happy, I'm the happiest person in the world. When I'm sad, the deepest, darkest pit of despair does not touch the depth my sorrow.

On Day 2, I was sad.

So I prayed. I prayed a LOT. Prayer became my default, which I think is how it's supposed to be. I'm not saying that I became this amazing Christian person, but when God is the ONLY familiar face you have access to, where else are you gonna turn? I prayed when I got up, I prayed getting ready in the morning, I prayed walking down the stairs, I prayed on the bus, I prayed on the street, I prayed in the bathroom, I'm tellin' ya. I was never far from yakking in God's ear.

{But it's cool 'cause he likes it :)}

I felt the prayers of everyone back home, too. I never really understood that phrase before. I've heard people say it for years {"I really felt your prayers this week!"}, but I never GOT it. It feels...wonderful. Feeling peoples' prayers is unexpected peace. It's the strength to look on the bright side. It's a warm, close, safe feeling in the middle of unsettling chaos.

But prayers helped me in WAY more concrete ways than just warm fuzzies, let me tell you that. Personally, I'm not a warm-fuzzy person, so if I were you I might be rolling my eyes right now. So allow me to share with you some of the most amazing God-moments I had on the trip.

I have some kind of nerve problem in my left shoulder, and when I do lots of walking or standing up, my shoulder starts to throb. On the Europe trip, I did 19 days of walking and standing. And I never had to take a single ibuprofen for my shoulder. I honestly have no idea how God did that, but I know, I KNOW it was him.

I have TMJ, which basically means that my jaw pops out of socket when I eat really chewy stuff. Like Spanish, French and Italian bread, which I had three times a day for 19 days. My jaw? It felt the best it had in about a year. I had no problems with it whatsoever.

One night after we all sat down to dinner, I got the overwhelming urge to pour my water. {The waiters would leave several pitchers on the tables and we'd serve ourselves.} That was a random feeling because I never poured my water right away, and I wasn't even thirsty. But I followed the urge and poured my own glass, as well as the two girls beside me. My friend Hayley got her water from another pitcher.

For a couple of minutes, everything was normal. Then Hayley took a sip of her water and her eyes got huge. "This is alcohol," she said, getting up. She took her glass to the leaders and they sorted things out:

Apparently the pitchers were usually used for storing wine, and there must have been wine left in the pitchers--except the one I got my water from. Thanks to God's random nudge for me to fill my glass RIGHT AWAY, I was one of three people who got non-contaminated water. Crazy, huh?

I get easily dehydrated, and I never had bad symptoms, even after forgetting to drink at lunch.

I always had my rain jacket when it rained {Thanks, Momma and Mrs. Martha!}.

I slept well every night, despite rooming with the loudest people more than once.

A girl shattered a wine glass on my flip-flopped foot and somehow I didn't get so much as a scratch.

I never got a headache {not even when I CLOCKED myself on the bus TV}, a stomachache {not even on the hairpin-turn bus ride up a mountain}, a bug bite {not even when everyone else was eaten alive}, or a scrape the entire trip. I'm pretty sure I've never even gone 19 days at HOME doing that well. The difference? Prayer. Please don't underestimate it.

Matthew 18:19: "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in Heaven. For when two or three gather in my name, there I am with them."


Friday, August 5, 2011

Attention: Guest Blogger Stephanie Bailey "On Mission"

     One of the greatest thrills in life is watching young people develop into leaders.  Seeing them make decisions that you know honor God and stretch them.  All of us need to try to do things that are just above our abilities,  just beyond our reach and outside our comfort zone.  We often miss great opportunities because of fear of failure or fear to get out of our comfort zone.  I have failed at so many things that you would think I would quit trying.  I know I'm a little weird, but failure, somehow, fuels me.  Who wants to be known as a failure?  Sooooo, each time I fail at something, I am motivated to try something else, until I succeed.  I will not be called out at the plate watching the ball go by.  I will go down swinging.  Keep watching:  I will succeed!
     That brings me to Stephanie.  Here is a girl that chose to step waaaaaay outside her comfort zone, and experience a tremendous trip this summer.  Next week she will get Choosethejourney back into the blogosphere with three days of sharing that experience. 
     This was not a "mission" trip, unless you are a young girl that sees everyday life as a "mission".  Steph went with a "non-Christian" group of students to Europe, Spain, Italy (I'm already lost).  She is going to share her perspective of her "mission trip" that was not a "mission trip". 
     I know her blogs will entertaining, informative and I'm gonna guess, challenging.  Take the time to tune in.  Young people get all your friends to read and COMMENT!  If you can't figure out how to comment on the blog, then comment on her facebook.
The following week, I am going to bribe Catelyn Griffin to try her hand at blogging.   She just got back from the jungles of Ecuador.  She has some great stories to share.  STAY TUNED IN!