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Running right out of comfort…

Often times I can’t believe I am here. A few months ago, I stood behind the very pulpit my grandfather preached for over 25 years to the same church, living out his calling. Although, he didn’t get to see or know that I became a pastor, he would probably be the most shocked and proud.

In 15 days, I will be stepping way out of my comfort zone and going to a place I have being dreaming of going for a few years now, Sierra Leone Africa. I am grateful for the opportunity that has been granted to me and I can’t wait to see how God is going to use this trip to expand my vision and ministry.

And even though my excitement is mixed with some fear (anxiety!) I know that God is ordaining my steps. In the next few weeks I can’t wait to share all that God is doing and showing me for the future of the ministry he is calling me too.

If you think about it, pray for me as I go and all the last minute details will be worked out.

The biggest thing is not simply leaving my comfort zone but preparing my heart for what God is going to do in me and through me. I understand that when I return I won’t be the same. My vision will be changed, the lens in which I look at life will have a new perspective. 

Let’s face it, we all have lens in which we look at life and it is easy to get stuck in believing that our vision is the only one. But the reality is, our vision needs to be checked regularly. And the older I get I realize that my vision is connected to the condition of my heart. 

So here I go… October 31 I will board a plane, fly clear around the world (or at least half way) and for 10 days, I will experience and see things I have never seen or heard. 

In the words of Toto- I bless the rains down in Africa! 

Didn’t Go As Planned Life…

Here I am in the dark of my living room, when I should be in bed, sleeping. My first meeting is at 6:45 in the morning. I should be doing what normal people do at this time of night…sleeping.

But here I am, awake. And my mind is racing with thoughts. I downloaded a new worship album Abiding Worship, by my good friends The Mark Dubbled Family. Its simply on repeat right now on Spodify. You should check it out.

Its been a really rough couple of weeks. Technically speaking I have been on vacation but the reality is often life doesn’t go as planned and real life takes place in the middle of our plans.

My father-in-law, Ben Colburn, finished his fight with cancer. I don’t know that I can adequately put all that down today. Its still fresh and in processing mode right now. What I know is God’s grace is good and holy. Death is not pretty but can be filled with peace when we know where we are going and it is our Heavenly Father we will see when we wake up on the other side.

What I know is that in my #didntgoasplanned life is God is still present, He’s still faithful and still working in me and around me. I can plan but God’s plans are better, even if I don’t always see it right away. We have been prayed for and over. I am eternally grateful for the ones who have walked this with us.

What I am learning in this season, is how to be Gina. Just as God created her to be. Leading well, even when its hard and not popular. Loving my family well in the places that each one is currently in and allowing them to learn who Jesus is in the middle of their #didntgoasplannedlife.

I think I must be a slow learner, because some lessons I have to keep repeating. Which brings me to my knees and humbled before the Lord. My messes, my questions, my doubts.

To sum it up, in the last 2 weeks we have driven 3,663 miles, we have gone to a wedding, a funeral, a family reunion, visited the Emergency Room, cancelled a family vacation for 8 people to Florida and have landed back home. Home… maybe just a building made of stone and wood, but so much more than the physical matter that makes it up. Home the place where we find the comfort of our bed, our favorite blanket, the smell of our favorite candle. The last 2 weeks, memories have been made, goodbyes and see you laters have been spoken and the promise of another meeting in a different time zone, and place… where this life will end and the next one begins with Jesus face to face.

This Is Our City

I am in a sermon series right now called “This is our City” I have been thinking about it and dreaming about it for months. Praying about how God could use me and the church he has ask me to shepherd to make greater impact for His Kingdom.

In the meantime, I have been reading books, studying scripture and keeping a close eye on my city and my interactions with it. For some they maybe wouldn’t call my City an actual city compared to other large cities in the US. But Allentown is the fastest growing City in PA and is experiencing growth all around.

This series has been eye opening, gut wrenching and thought provoking. But honestly shouldn’t all series be that way? I started with the scripture found in Deut. 14 27 And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you. 28 “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. 29 Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.

This scripture I have read many times, but new insight popped out at me. God loved community so much from beginning to now, he put a structure in place to care for it. He loved is to much he put “churches” in community to protect it, to care for it. He puts a whole tribe in place to guard community. And if the church operates like it is supposed to then we would need a whole lot less government involvement. And yet, the church hasn’t done a stellar job at times in history of protecting the community and meeting its needs.

The directions are clear on how we are to care for the community and the people in it. First, I should say, I do not have an answer for the crisis on the border. I am not smart enough or educated enough to know how to handle massive amounts of people seeking a fresh start, safety and basic needs of life. And I am in no way making any kind of political statement here, laws and the ability to support this must be in place or people fall through the cracks, children get lost in the shuffle and lives are damaged not helped.

What I do know is that as a Christ Follower, I better be taking care of them, showing them kindness, helping them in any way I can when they show up in my community. That is the church’s job. Maybe it is helping them navigate a broken process or helping them with basic needs or simply being a friend with open heart and open home.

Taking care of the marginalized, the widows, the orphans, I wish it was easy and clean. But it isn’t, it is difficult and messy. Looking at the state of PA alone, over 15,000 children in our foster care system, and over 15,000 churches… what if just one family from each church stepped in… we would take care of every child needing a home in the state of PA.

I love Jesus with all that I am, and sometimes I get it right but often I get it wrong. I love the church, the body of believers called to live out the great commission of Jesus Christ. My eyes have been open of late to things I have never picked up on before. My heart has been broken in fresh ways for the way the world is broken. But if I throw stones at the church, who does that help? No one. It just shows the world that we can’t even get along so why should they be part of it.

A year ago, March, something significant happened in my life. I became a Gigi. Michel’le our beautiful bonus daughter gave birth to our adorable little Nora. Her life was prayed over and for long before she took her first breath. My days with Nora are filled with snuggles, giggles and playing.  Maybe you wonder how this has to do with love our city… Let me explain.

Nora looks a little different than me, I tell everyone she has my eyes and smile. I don’t see her different than me, but that isn’t the reality of the world we interact with. Recently we went to the store together, she had her Starbucks Tea, I had mine (Shhh… don’t tell her mommy!) and I noticed with fresh eyes how people begin to look at us. Some ladies gave me the bless your heart for caring for “that” child look. Others looked away. But then there was a young couple with their little boy, who waved, smiled and interacted with Nora and we stopped and talked. Then as we were leaving a beautiful African American couple stopped and talked to me about my beautiful granddaughter. We exchanged names, information and where we went to church.

I left sad that racism on all sides exist.  I left reflective on how I can be a voice of change. The church I shepherd is 84% white and although it reflects our immediate neighborhood it doesn’t reflect our city. We strive to honor God in our worship not just reflecting just one style or ethic groups. Finding worship music that transcends all races and styles. Looking at the global church and seeing what can be done in multicultural, multi-generational settings. And yet even then, those would still stay, we are just not doing it right or effective or reaching other groups.

I just don’t have the answer, other than my heart is that we find ways to close gaps, heals hearts and be a true representation of the global church of Jesus.

As I continue this Series “This is Our City” my prayer is that it just won’t be four weeks in the year we look at how to make in roads into making a bigger impact on our city. My prayer is that we take seriously how to be the pastors of our neighborhoods, missionaries in our communities and the people that carry the Hope of the world. That one day we will look back and see that walls have been broken down, and God’s kingdom came here as is it in heaven.

I leave you with this quote from the book that I am reading and rereading by Alan Briggs, Staying is the New Going, For God’s work to become tangible, it must become local, invading our everyday thinking and the places we inhabit.

His kingdom comes here…in our city through us!

Confession of the Girl Pastor Next Door…

This is a hard  to write, but heartfelt, prayerful and hopefully helpful. To bring glory to my Jesus who is at work in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Over the last few months, there has been some pretty significant things take place that have laid heavy on my heart and mind. In the middle of each one, I have had to ask the Lord, where do you want me to move, go and do in this season.
Often times during these times of prayer it was met with silence. Those silent moments were scary, a little angry filled and doubtful. I needed God to show up and I felt like he had turned his back. Now, I know that isn’t the case but my heart was just in turmoil.
Over the next few days and weeks, One thing after another kept piling on the stack. You know how it is when you ignore the mail pile on your dining room table for awhile- its starts to be an eyesore and overwhelming. That is how this was. One thing after another piling on the heaviness of my heart.
I found myself faced with the very real realities of being woman in man’s world. The rules are different for us, no matter how much “they” say they aren’t. I found myself once again questioning and wondering is this worth it? I can love people and share Jesus without this title, and often times I think it would be better and easier too. I sincerely wonder how loyalty to anything, anyone, or organization is worth it. And realizing my loyalty to Jesus is all that matters these days. No matter what others say or do.
The contrast of the shiny title and worn reality of wearing the title. One Bible is the Bible I received when I was ordained, while the other is the one  is in my hands everyday. Written in, highlighted, it bears the marks and the tears.
 
People you love and you have invested in walk out of your life and out of your church. You not only  do you get deleted but you get blocked- to try to be erased from the lives of people.
It has been said that I need to celebrate the victories more, so I have been trying to celebrate what is good and awesome in this season. Spending more time reflecting on the pieces of what I need to be thankful for. And there is a lot. I have an amazing husband and marriage. 4 great children, and a growing church. I am thankful.
But there is also the challenges layered between all of it.  Changes, burdens, unanswered questions and prayers. So once again, I found myself in the dark place that I had visited 8 years ago. Depression and  anxiety have a way of creeping up on you when you aren’t looking.
So to admit that, brings with it fear. Fear that yes Female leaders are weak and this is what happens. That I will now be seen as a weak leader/pastor who can’t handle it all. That I will be seen as a quitter. That somehow in the middle of all of this- all things will fall apart.
This has led to some serious health concerns and a night stand filled with medicine bottles- a nightly reminder that something is broken, and unhealthy right now. And all though the hope is that it is all stressed related and once we get that figured out the rest will be better, there are still test to run, pills to swallow and details to work out.
What do you do when the last hard five years come crashing down on you? How do you take your mind down the path of healing, reconciling and freedom when for five years you have just kept going pushing hard just to prove,
  1.  that you could
  2.  that you were worthy.

 

What happens when you look back and you admit that people and organizations let you down and elevated people who hid sins of others and dealt with the sins of others behind closed doors, while their victims lay in the ruin and the mess. What do you do when you see leadership lie, change their story, and bully others around, while others know and see and just respond with, well hopefully in the future it won’t be like this anymore. What happens when you think people are your friends but you realize it is one sided? Or you just aren’t needed in their life?

Lessons that I am learning in this season are hard, fought for and challenging to say the least. A scripture kept coming up…
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Normally the part of this scripture that sticks out to us is the first part, Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid. And normally I cling to that… but lately its the last part of the scripture that has been speaking to me. God is with you wherever you go… But what happens when God calls us to Go and it doesn’t quite make sense. Because honestly right now, I don’t want to be strong and courageous.
The past  5 years God has called me to Go in a lot of ways I didn’t quite understand and if I would have been scripting my story, well I would have scripted it differently. I would have had less go in the story and more stay. Maybe you can relate?
Over the past few months, God has been stirring in me what I will respectfully call a holy discomfort in my heart. There is a lot of changes going on around me. But I am finding that God is moving me from where I am now to something deeper. If I am honest, he has been pointing out the parched places of my soul. He has been stirring in me a need to regain some spiritual footing, and work toward health and wholeness. He has been pointing out the places that I need to surrender, the things (or people) I need to forgive and confess my lack of trust.
I just thought by now, at 41 I would have my life a little more figure out and a little more settled. But maybe it is 41 that brings that. As I dig, climb and search my way out of this darkness back into God’s light, I don’t have to do it alone. I am reminded of Paul’s words found in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 MSG.
It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.
These battles I am facing our ones that will only be won on my knees. These battles are fought with tools that clear the ground of every obstruction to build lives of obedience.
What I also can say with confidence is that I love Jesus more than I ever have. I am broken, messy and so far from perfect I can’t even see perfection on the dial. But in the midst of that, I am his daughter and that is enough.

Is your trust without borders?

Recently I had the opportunity to do something I have never done, and that was visit the Bahamas. First of all, let me start by saying that the ocean in the Bahamas does not even come close to comparing to the Ocean in my normal spots ( Florida and New Jersey). It was breathtaking.  However, I didn’t expect some of the things I encountered. Some seem silly now that I look back and think about them.

I found that as Jason and I started to walk out into the ocean, we encountered the coral reef, which is not comfortable to walk on.  I kept thinking, “wow I wish I had some kind of shoe on so this wouldn’t hurt so bad.” And as we walked Jason kept leading me deeper and deeper into the water. Before too long, I was standing on my tip toes just to keep my head above water. My heart begins to pound, and fear begins to take over. I said to Jason, “Hey maybe we should go back to the beach.” He assured me we were fine, and I quote “Gina, Just relax!”

Let me pause right there, relax seems like a far-fetched idea that I like to think about and say that one day I will do but in practice, relax isn’t something I do well. Just ask the Chiropractor and the people who have tried to give me a massage. Where they tell me over and over “relax”.

 

So here we are in the most beautiful place I have been in my life, the water is clear I can see the fish swimming around me. I am with my favorite person and I am filled with fear! Then Jason has a brilliant idea. He thinks we should just lay on our backs and float. So… he attempts to help me with this. This becomes a comical scene in which I am sure everyone around us thinks I am crazy. (which we know already!) Jason finally lets go, and there I am floating in the Ocean looking up at the beautiful blue sky with traces of white clouds. It was then I heard His Voice (at first it sounded a lot like Jason- when he said “Gina’s that is what God wants to do for you!) As my heart begin to settle, God in his love for me- spoke.

In His still small voice, spoke my name. He began to break down some things that I had been struggling with and he ask me again- “Gina do you trust me? Do you trust me with your future? Your children? Your ministry? Do you really trust me to lead you and hold you when you feel like you will sink?”

The song Oceans came to my mind…

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

 

Before too long the laughter turned to tears as my tears rolled into the deep ocean. I floated for a few more minutes. And we began to make our way back to the beach. I wish I could tell you that I was relaxed and filled with a renew trust. Instead I knew that this was the beginning of some work I needed to do. Or maybe perhaps a better way to say it would be work that God needed to do in me.

In Philippians 1:6 it says this promise to us…  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. God is faithful to complete his work in us.

And as we were walking back to the beach, we encountered that reef again. God reminded me- Gina you can swim. You don’t have to walk over this painful part- you can swim. It was such a profound moment for me. I started to swim. Something I hadn’t done in years. Something that I hadn’t found the time for, or thought I was good at. And instead of walking over the pain, I swam through it. Its funny the things we walk through that if we would just relax we could swim over.

This time in the Ocean- is still working in me. I believe God was preparing me for what was to come. Since I have come home, two people I loved have passed away. I have had to deal with family situations that were hard and continue to need wisdom, grace and courage. Professionally and in my ministry, there are things that have come up that I wasn’t prepared for and have sent me to my knees desperately seeking the One who calls me my name in the middle of the Ocean and sees me in the turmoil of my realities.

I came across a scripture again that I have read many times found in 1 Thessalonians 5. 1Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Some great truths to remember there. But then verse 24- the One who calls you (me) is faithful- and HE WILL DO IT!

He has called me- and he made no mistake by calling me by name. And he is faithful. He will do it. I must rejoice always, pray, give thanks accept his will for me. I am who he says I am not who any one in this world says I am… and as he has confirmed so many times in my life. I am his masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)

And so are you!