Forgotten people: The Call of the Gospel

Sunday morning looked about like the usual, rushing and more rushing, throwing a bagel or a baggie of cereal to my children, and doing a fair amount of hollering to get out the door, always five minutes behind.

It is, and probably always will be, controlled chaos trying to get to church. I walked through the church doors and grimaced at the louder than necessary slam as it latches behind our family. Strains of the first song play and my kiddos form what might be considered a train of sorts behind me as we slip into a row. We make it through the children’s message without incident, we raise our voices in praise, and then we begin the weekly wrestling match that is the sermon. I have three small people in my house that can (mostly) listen to the sermon or entertain themselves quietly. I have one that requires a great deal of patience, multiple bathroom trips, a bundle of threats involving dessert, and sometimes more than a little heartache.

The tears begin to roll down my cheeks. I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and in so much of it, very alone. The last song comes and I wipe my eyes quickly. I paste a smile on my face and cheerily greet my fellow believers in the narthex. Do you know who I am? Am I a single mom, the parent of a special needs child, a stranger, the pastor’s wife?

I could be anyone. 

The question is… do you know me?

The church is full of people silently struggling beside one another. Most of us at any given moment are struggling with something. It could be the health of a loved one, our own health, our marriage, finances, job stress, whatever. We all have stuff. The reality is, though, that it’s easier for some struggles to go by unnoticed, some people to feel isolated and alone. Maybe it’s because they’re quiet people, introverted. Maybe it’s because they’re newer to walking in faith, or just newer to the geographical area. It’s easy to shout out an expectation that they should just share their burden.  Just let us in! Let us help with the load! But there may be reasons we cannot even begin to understand that are holding them back from getting the care and fellowship they need.

What if it wasn’t just their responsibility, “the other’s” responsibility to share?

Look around you. Who is sitting in the pews and the chairs with you that you do not know?

There are hidden shames and struggles that leave people in the margins. Imagine the margins of a book, or this magazine. They are blank, yes, but more importantly they are the place where the words don’t go. It is hard for us to find, much less accept, what we do not know, where we do not go.  

God calls us to go there, to reach across the aisle to someone.

There are many people that the world has forgotten. The list is endless, but may include:

Widows

Single parents

Those recovering from abuse

Those caught in domestic violence

The poor

Women trapped in the shame of a past abortion

Those battling addiction

Parents of children with special needs

Children and adults with special needs

I could go on and on, but I’m wondering who you see that I do not? Your story may help you identify the forgotten ones to be on the look out for.

The world’s response to trouble is the leave it bottled up. To keep it tucked away and unrevealed. It’s too painful, too much work, just plain too much. God’s response is to reach out, to heal together, to let it unite us. We, God’s people, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, are the bridge between the two. Christ reached down to us from Heaven. The Prodigal Father runs to us on the road. That love and acceptance in us, a Father, a Son, a Spirit, willing to come down and seek us out, spurs us on to reach a little further than we ever thought possible.

So how do we start?

#1 -Be aware.

Whose smile doesn’t quite go to their eyes when you’re talking? Who looks tired and world weary and in need of a bit of care? Who is crying silently during the Gospel reading?

 

#2 – Sit a little closer.

Introduce yourself by being honest, “I don’t know you, but I’d like to. My name is __________.” We can worship all our lives with people that we don’t even really know. Let’s change that.

 

#3 – Foster intimacy.

It’s ok to ask questions in a gentle and loving manner. People are allowed to have boundaries, but we’re also allowed to reach out. “Can I help in some way?” Be persistent in your love. Relationships don’t form overnight, even though we’d like them too. People who have been hurt or are hurting may have a difficult time letting people in and trusting, but God reaches down to us, time and again when we say “no thank you.”

 

#4 – Walk alongside.

Life is wonderful and hard. Life together means inviting in someone else’s wonderful and hard stuff. There are times you will feel overwhelmed. Times you will be tired and weary. But…you’ll be tired and worn and carrying the load together, with a Savior who is completely ready to bear the weight.

Maybe you are the forgotten one. Maybe you feel a little bit lost in a sea of people, wishing someone would reach in. The good news is, someone does. Jesus comes to us in our hurt and pain. He wraps Himself around us with His Word and fills us with His Spirit. Then He gives us a church. He gives us a people who are fully capable of sharing the joys and the burdens of life, commissioned by Him in their baptism and ready to go.

Praise be to Him, who remembers each and every one of us. Let us spur one another on in remembering the forgotten. His people are always worth it.

Three Things I Can Learn from My 8-Year-Old

This is Jyeva. (Pronounced Yay-Vuh.)

If you look up the definition of “free spirit” in the dictionary, you will likely find her picture.

Jyeva has a fresh way about her, a caring and affectionate nature, and can offer up intercessory prayer with the best of them.

Jyeva teaches me something new every day, but there are three lessons that God weaves continually in my heart as I parent this precious girl.

Be yourself.

Jyeva has her own sense of fashion and style. You say rainbow butterfly leggings, lacy shirts, athletic socks, and Converse do not go together? Jyeva says, “Why yes they do, kind sir.” The year that Jyeva was 3-years-old we called her Boca because she insisted on wearing only bedazzled velour track suits everywhere she went. She had no taste for dresses, especially for church. She believed then and still does today that Jesus was meant to be honored in converse with purple stars.

Another year, I battled that girl to try on an Easter Sunday dress to match her sister’s. All three of us huddled into a dressing room, the light bulb finally went off, when Jyeva looked at me, eyes wide open, “Why would I want to wear a dress to match Macee’s? I’m not Macee, am I?” She intended no disrespect, her tender tone cut right to my heart, “Nope, you’re not Macee and I love you just the way you are.”

How often have I needed to set aside the expectations around me and embrace who God made me to be? Who am I trying to be most days anyway? Someone who could pass for having it all together? I’d rather be the broken but beautiful me, a living masterpiece declaring a Savior who has fully redeemed me, and continues to put all my pieces together into His masterpiece, each and every day.

Embrace life.

Jyeva runs at life on full throttle. You ask her to give you two laps, she does four. You ask her to give it her all, she gives it 150%. But the lesson she teaches me isn’t about giving it my all and being bold. Jyeva’s lesson is simpler.

When Jyeva was 5-years-old, we almost lost her sweet self. I remember very clearly rushing her down the side of a mountain in Haiti to get her to the medical care she needed in America. Seven days later, lying in a hospital bed, the nurse tentatively took all of the needles and tubes out of her little body. Jyeva looked a me, smiled, and said, “Look, Mom, it’s Jyeva… Unplugged!”

She knows full well that life is short and your time here is like a blink, a half second, the length of a dandelion flower in a strong breeze. Jyeva’s passion is to end homelessness. To have a passion, at age 8? She’s my hero.

I want to be Jyeva when I grow up.

How often are we uncomfortable diving into something passionately? How often do we take for granted the day that God has given us today to do His work and love His people?

Allow others the same – to be themselves, to embrace life.

As is also evident from Jyeva’s outfits, she highly values creativity. But more than her outfits, Jyeva thinks outside the box. The best way she expresses this is in the way she regards other people. Jyeva honors each and every person as a full unique individual in the Body of Christ, in the world around us. She expects no one to look like her, speak like her, think like her. In this, she is always willing to give someone else the benefit of the doubt. She’s always willing to ask a question, instead of jump to an assumption. God created each of us unique, with a unique path to walk. We are all on the same Emmaus road, trying to understand the Word and the work of Christ in our lives, but we may all do that in very different ways.

So often I am quick to judge, quick to assume. Praise God for a Savior who is quick to forgive. Quick to love.

I wonder if these lessons are useful at all in your family, in your life, or even in your church. The more I look around me, I wonder if we fully accept the Jyeva’s of the world in our spheres. Do we greet those who dress a little different from us at church with the same comfort we offer those who look like us? Do we invite people to share their joy and passion and ideas openly and wholeheartedly in our families and our churches? Are we careful enough with people’s testimonies, honoring their walk as valuable and interesting, worthy of sharing, even when it doesn’t look like ours?

Matthew 16:18 has one of my favorite nuggets of Scripture that can easily be skipped over because of the depth of the rest of the passage (emphasis added below):

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…

You are Jyeva.

You are you.

God gives each of us personalities and ideas. I’m so thankful for the unique journey God gives us. I’m so thankful when these journeys cross and our lives are made better by one another. Let us honor who he made us to be today, by being ourselves, embracing the life that He’s given us, and allowing that same precious gift for one another.

40 Date Night Ideas to Spice It Up

Recently I wrote a blog for the Everyday Faith blog, over at Concordia Publishing House – 

Spicing Up Date Night (check it out here!)

Here I’d like to offer the list of fun and spicy date nights contributed by young and old alike at our friend’s Sammi and Craig’s wedding. Here they are… #seriouslyadorable*

So, are you ready to Spice Up your date nights this summer? Dave and I are planning on using at least one of these ideas a month for the coming months. Which ones would you choose? What ideas would you add? 

                  40 DATE NIGHT IDEAS
  1. Rent a limo or car just for fun
  2. Paintball or laser tag
  3. Dance at a country hoedown & eat BBQ
  4. Take a mime class together
  5. Date night at home
    1. Grill pizzas, it tastes like wood oven pizza
    2. Have a bottle of wine
    3. A good movie or a card game
  6. Make homemade ice cream & watch a Disney movie
  7. Go to the farmer’s market & cook with your finds
  8. Go back to high school
    1. Go out for ice cream
    2. Go putt putting
    3. Go to a PG13 movie
  9. Drive In
  10. Take a sleigh ride & drink hot cocoa
  11. Roll in the hay #literally
  12. Muddin with an awesome off-road vehicle
  13. Make a dish from a cooking show together
  14. Zip line together
  15. Do a factory tour, especially any place with samples
  16. Try new candy bars and walk them off together
  17. Create your own cheese of the month club – buy 3 new and creative cheeses to share together each month…enjoy with wine! 
  18. Board games & local microbrews
  19. Go to a coffee shop one morning & get a beverage to share
  20. Ride a tandem bike & eat ethnic foods
  21. Go camping & eat s’mores
  22. Explore hiking areas or metroparks
  23. Recreate the first date you had together
  24. Go to a museum
  25. Pottery/painting or stained glass class- create something together!
  26. Sushi rolling class, followed by dessert at a restaraunt
  27. Breakfast Date
  28. Beach day on Lake Huron (or your nearest body of water)
  29. Taco Night with homemade sangria
  30. Shop for ingredients and build your own creative martini bar
  31. Build a birdhouse together
  32. Do a progressive dinner, try a few new restaurants
    1. Do one restaurant for appetizers
    2. Another restaurant for a meal
    3. Another restaurant for dessert
    4. Lastly a different restaurant for drinks
  33. Go fishing
  34. Go for a moonlight (or daytime!) canoe ride
  35. Go to the theater & watch a movie with popcorn, candy, and a giant pop! Try doing a double feature.
  36. Go to a concert & don’t leave until your feet hurt from dancing
  37. Find a magazine with the best restaurant list, see how many you can visit in a year
  38. Get some pillows, blankets and snacks for a midnight picnic & watch the stars
  39. Get a green screen & take pictures of yourselves in front of it. Then Photoshop really cool stuff in behind you. Like the Eiffel Tower, the sinking of the Titanic, a car crash, or prehistoric dinosaurs
  40. Create a Chopped basket for each other and get creative in the kitchen
 *photo credit to Melissa Sue Photo and Design