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Present over Perfect…

This book, these words, have undone me. Three books that I have completed this year have been a combination of conviction, grace and celebration. (Present over Perfect, Breaking Busy, and Ordering Your Private World)  I am undone by what God is teaching me in this season. I am at a place where I am vulnerable before the Lord, seeking him with a new passion and letting go of somethings I have been holding on to so tightly.

I am learning to look for the tangible expressions of grace that are on display all around me each day. I am learning to breathe deeply. I am learning to create the margin that God has been asking me to create for so long. The new thing, like I said before, is  both big and small. It is a thousands of choices some  yes, some no. It is about rediscovering who I am in Christ and who he created me to be.

Maybe all of this is in part because my role is changing. The role that I longed for, to be a mom, is changing. Three of the four have left home for college. I am learning how to cook for half the people, and laundry that can be done in 3 loads. (Yes 3 loads! This is cause for celebration!)  I am redefining my role in their life, while still mom, I don’t have control of their schedules or their choices.  I pray more, I wrestle with what has been done and what was left undone. And I mourn the time I wished away, while celebrating the memories we have and those yet to be made.

My role is changing at the church I pastor… yes still lead pastor… but the church is growing and expanding quickly. And how I lead is different than when I came. I have to make tough decisions and lead people authentically and with integrity. The decisions I make daily effect eternity. And that might sound dramatic but yet the weight of that is real.  The next few months are going to be pivotal for our church and how I lead is important. If I have ever needed Jesus… it is now.

So with all the  changes and pieces of me waiting to be put back together I find a lot of peace in the quiet of my home, my favorite candle burning and the hum of life around me. I don’t need to rush to do something or be someone I just need to be. I need to find the gentle rhythms of grace all around me. I will practice what I preach… I will not sacrifice my family on the altar of ministry or busy one more minute. I will rest, find a new normal and I will find that God is there and working.

This season of change is going to require a little more of Gina dying to herself and coming more alive in Christ. Its going to require a sorting of what is important in this season and what can be let go of. This season will also require sacrifice. Again, so much I can’t share about this new thing but it will require sacrifice. And there are moments when I wonder if I am strong enough for it, if I will really be able to do it.  And then I am reminded that His strength is perfect…

My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9 MSG

I am a wife, a mom, daughter, sister, friend, pastor and most importantly daughter of the King. He knows my heart, the good, the bad and the ugly. He sees me…just as I am. He knows who I want to be and he points me to a better version of myself. He gives grace, he forgives, he offers to hold me when it all seems to big and he goes before me. You see this I know, that as the new becomes a reality he is already there.

One of the things that Shauna Niequiest ask in the book is “if given a blank calendar, and full bank account what would you do?” I ask the question of myself before I even read her response… and it was almost the same. I would just be. (she says stop) and I get it. Yes! If my calendar was empty and my bank account full I would just stop. I would just be. I would not keeping running to try to achieve whatever… I would sleep. I mean sleep and rest and read. Read books that I love. I would have a porch swing and watch the birds, and soak up the sunsets (and sometimes the sunrise).  I would rediscover all the things I have forgotten that I love and  that breathe life into me.

In 3 years there has been so many things to process and go through. There have been many, many God moments and answered prayers but there has also been hurts, stresses and things that were so big and crushing at times I was sure we would not make it through… and yet here 3 years later  we did survive.  But not without cost… So now I am working on letting God sort through those places I have buried, Those places that I have not properly dealt with, Those lessons that I didn’t fully learn. Its time…

So what is this new thing… this is part of it… Margin…finally! I have spent most of the last 6 evenings at home, unscheduled. Not running, not filling every second with something. I realize that something might suffer… I get that. But I don’t think it will be the important things. Because I think what is happening I am focusing more on what is important. Becoming crystal clear in my purpose and mission. I am seeing God in a new way.

This process is painful. Its peeling away and allowing what is good and holy to be front and center. It enjoying every minute with my last child at home. It is realizing that I can’t wish time to slow down so I am enjoying the ride.  But even though it is a little painful, its absolutely freeing! At almost 40 years old I realize I don’t care about somethings like I used too. And at this phase of life, I want to love God more and be all that he has called me to be and it doesn’t matter if I ever achieve the status that I once thought I had to have.

There are so many more things that I am learning, and slowing I will share those ( for those few readers- HI Mom! Hi my sisters).  And perhaps for the first time in a long time I will experience all that God has intended for me. Its trusting him a little more and resting in him… I will walk boldly into this new thing ,step by step…

 

New things take time to bloom…

New things in life do not happen overnight. There is a process, there is peeling away the old and finding what things lie beneath the surface that need attention.  And that is the process I am in…peeling away what is so that I can make room for the new.

Since my last blog there have been so many of you who reached out and  made guesses what it is… Anywhere from going back to school, leaving my current church, to writing a book. I can tell you with great certainty that I am not leaving my current church. God is doing great things here and that is part of the new thing I am making room for. In just 4 short weeks we will launch a NEW Service! I am so excited about this. I can’t wait to see what impact this will have on God’s kingdom.  This is not about filling up a church with people, this is about leading people to Jesus. Making a difference to those who are desperately searching for something.

I am peeling away layers of living a life without margin for far too long. And yes I have made progress but not enough and I am convicted in this area. Peeling away layers of things that have to be dealt with if I am to be the leader, wife, mother, pastor, friend that God has called me to be. Soul searching and being still in His presence are all good things. I think in our world today we have lost the art of silence and solitude. So I am bringing those things back into my life slowly and intentionally.  I must if I am to move forward.

The new thing is coming in so many great an unexpected ways. And even though I am not ready to share all of those yet I know that through this journey God is doing something far greater than anything I could do on my own. I know that this process is to strengthen my own faith, to grow deeper in my walk, and to come out on the other side a little less stressed, tired and worn out.

The new thing will require sacrifice and that is a little scary at times. There are things in our lives that we have grown so attached to that are unhealthy for us and when we go to lay them down we feel safer picking them up again. But then we can’t see our real selves because we have hidden it behind the clutter.  When our lives are cluttered we can’t fully engage in all the things that Lord has called us too. When he says “taste and see that I am good” we have to slow down enough to do that.  If we truly want to worship him in his temple then we have to declutter our lives.

So something new is coming…Its big and its small. It is a thousand decisions to make between here and there. It is finding the new normal in which God is asking me to find. And my prayer is simply this..

 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Ps. 27:4

At the end of my life, I want nothing more than to be spent for Jesus. Spent for His kingdom’s sake. So in the mean time I have to make sure that all of my energy, time and resources reflect that.

Today, I challenge you to start a new thing that brings you closer to your truest self, the person God called you to be. I am reading Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I highly recommend this book. My next blog is going to be about some insights I am learning from her wisdom. The insights are opening my heart and eyes to the new thing that God is showing me.

Obviously so much is new for me these days. My nest is emptying out. BIG GULP! I have one child left at home. How I have and do define myself has shifted. My location has changed from Midwest to East Coast. And that is just to name a few. I made a list of events that has happened in the last 3 years and let’s just say wow! What roller coaster ride! And now I am ready to find my footing. Find the sweetness of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. Finding the calm in the middle of all the changes (some good, some not so good) and rest in his promises, to TRUST him more! Which takes me back to my word for the year…and my inspiration board that reminds me of the things that are important. And it is there that I find Jesus, his rest, his blessing and his hand reaching out to mine…

Something new is coming…

I have talked about it…

I have wrestled with it…

I have prayed about it…

I have denied it…

I have thought about it…

I have avoided it…

I have loathed others who had it…

I have sought after it halfheartedly…

But today I am committed to it…

I want to share but not yet. And I know that is vague, and leaves you wondering then why even write about it at all if you aren’t going to share. Because I need to write. Writing is part of it. Being open and honest in this space is a glimpse of the new thing.

For far too long I have wanted this and have avoided the hard work it takes to achieve it but now (knocking on 40 and empty nest) I must get it. But to get it I must let go of every expectations and to do list and be silent. (Silence is not easy for this “life of the party”, extrovert, I need people person) But silence is what it is going to take.

Psalm 46:10 “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Do you know what Be still means?  Let go. I am letting go of some things. I have to in order to make room for this new thing.

I am learning to let go and peel away my hands that so desperately want to control and there I find trust, or lack there of.

So today the only thing I am holding on to is Jesus. I have thrown everything else up in the air and ask Jesus to guide me, prepare me for this next chapter of my journey with Him. I am excited, I am terrified, I am vulnerable, I am waiting and I am for the first time in a long time confident of this step. No more just talking about it… the time is now.

So for the sake of my family, my walk with Christ, my sanity and the calling he has placed on my life… I submit to this new thing. And at the end of this process I believe I will be a better wife, mom, pastor but more importantly Daughter of the King.

Because the heart is torn…

Fredrick Beuchner writes “The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I read this quote in a book I  read Kisses from Katie. This book spoke directly to my heart and left me open, raw and convicted. This book outlines the true story of Katie Davis who had 18 years old leaves the comfort of her middle class family in Tennessee and heads to Uganda. Where Jesus calls her to love and live her life.  Being his hands and feet.

 

She promised her parents it was for just a year then she would return and go back to college. As she talks about leaving Uganda for the states her heart was torn in the comfort of what she had always known and the people she loved and the love and calling she felt for Uganda.  Home was no longer where she had been but home was where God was calling her.

Now enter my own story… I have had this book on my reading list for literally two to three years. I took it with me last week for a quick trip back to “Home” Kansas City. The place I have lived most of my life. The place I got married, had 4 amazing children and my extended family lives. The place I first heard God’s calling on my life, the place where so many memories are and friends reside.

I started the book in the airport on the way and I finished it in the airport on the way home. I am sure that everyone around me as I finished that book and big tears streamed down my face thought I was emotionally disturbed. (there might be some truth in that statement but that is blog for a different day!)

My heart was torn. You know torn with all the good things I have and the reality of millions of children are dying from treatable disease and hunger every day. Torn because as much as I love Kansas City and the comfort I find there it is not my home now, I was a visitor in my home town, just passing through. Home is the place that God has called me. He didn’t call me to Uganda like he did Katie Davis, which seems more like Christ work, feeding, clothing, healing and educating orphaned sick children. He called me to the Lehigh Valley to be his hands and feet. It really is the place where my deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.

The mission has never been more clear. Our Lehigh Valley might not look like Uganda where she serves but there are thousands of people who do not know my Jesus. Time is crucial. We have to be intentional. I have to be intentional. I have to be bold and courageous. I have to put my will down and pick up HIS WILL! I have to be crystal clear on what it is he is asking me to pick up and what he is asking me to lay down.

You see my heart might be torn at times at where exactly home is but that is just temporary. My citizenship is not here on this Earth, it is in Heaven. And there are people who need Jesus who are in my circle of influence and my one and only job is to Go and make disciples. Jesus left us with the great commission. There is no Plan B! We are the plan.

And I let my comfort and my own will keep me from doing and being all that he has called me too.  And as I finished the book, and tears streamed down my face. A story begin to play out in front me.  A lady from what I am guessing an African country, speaking broken English trying to board her plane. She had a carry on bag, but this carry on was bigger than what they allowed you to carry on for free, so she was going to have to pay $45, they did not accept cash. She opened the suitcase showed them there was nothing but clothes, nothing dangerous she said. The gate agent said She could not travel with that suitcase unless she could pay. She begin to cry while everyone just stood there watching her.  Finally, I stepped up and paid the $45. She turned to me and bowed thanking me and saying Bless you. And I was reminded again of how often there are needs all around us and we just stand watching or worse yet turn away, when we have the means to help the need. Jesus didn’t meet needs because he investigated them thoroughly to see if they really were needy or scamming the system. He simply met the need.

I am confident I will never see this lady again here on this Earth, but her face and her eyes are embedded on my mind. I hope that someday when I see my Jesus, I find her face among those who are there.

So today I wrestle with what is My will and what Is God’s will. I wrestle with what the best next step is for me, my family and the church I lead. I wrestle with what is my American Dream and what is God’s dream for us.  I wrestle with expectations. I wrestle with my own sins. I wrestle with my own failures. I wrestle with the hurts of those I left behind. I wrestle with schemes of Satan to destroy families, mine included. I wrestle…

And I rest. I rest in Jesus “the author and perfector of my faith”. I rest that he who has called me will not leave me. I rest in his faithfulness. I rest in that one day I will see Jesus face to face and my prayer is that on that day I hear his words “well done my good and faithful servant!

 

One more chapter…

Thirty Two weeks… Twenty Two hours of labor… Colton Thomas made his appearance. 5 Pounds 3 ounces 17 inches long. I remember the long night awaiting his arrival. Praying that the steroids that they gave me would be enough to help his little lungs. Hours after he arrived, the doctors and nurses found themselves working with a baby that was dying. 6 times he coded, 6 times they shocked his little heart. Finally stabilize enough to transport to the Children’s Mercy Hospital. The Doctor following the ambulance because he was sure by the time they arrived the baby would be gone…

Days turned into weeks as little Colton lay lifeless on life support. The NICU has labeled little white boys as “wimpy white males” they have the lowest survival rate of any preemies. There were days we just didn’t know if he would ever wake up. I remember vividly one day standing over his bed with my hand beside his and crying out to God to heal my baby. Tears ran down my face and one by one they would hit his naked little back. He didn’t even flinch. In that moment I remember asking the Lord for his will to be done in Colton’s life. If  it  was his will that he live that he would… and if it wasn’t that he would hold me. I prayed life into him and ask God to grow him up into a Man of God that would change the world someday.

Colton a few days later decided he would wake up and fight. His little body begin to grow and heal. And within a couple of months he would join us as home.

Here we are 18 years later, preparing to send him away to college. I thought by the third one it got easier. That somehow your heart is prepared for the fact that your precious littles are grown and ready to fly, all the while you pray they remember their roots. 3 children in 3 years.  Colton is preparing to join his siblings at IWU next year… and I am preparing for a few more tears and a lot more praying.

Chapters are being written so fast it seems that we don’t always get time to enjoy the story. I can’t go back and hold him but I can hold on to the many memories I have. I can look forward to see what God will continue to do in his life. I believe that God did save Colton for a purpose. And today my prayer is that he finds it and walks boldly in it. To say I am going to miss him, is an understatement. His laugh, his sense of humor and his hugs.

In Deuteronomy it says The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” I know that the Lord himself has gone before Colton. He knew exactly how his little life would begin and he knows every step there after.  Colton I pray that you will be a Kingdom Builder and Culture Changer. Use your gift and talents for His Kingdom to bring Glory to God your father who saved you for such a time as this.

Life is messy…

Its been a little crazy the last few weeks. However, I feel like I now substitute the word “crazy” for “busy” these days.  In just a few short weeks, my third child will graduate from high school. That means for the past 3 years I have hugged my grown children and threw a party to celebrate their accomplishments and send them on their way to college, to adult decision making, to the freedom of being.

Life spins on… Summer is coming… family decisions to make, and life to live.  The thing about time spinning on, is that some days the spinning seems to fast and the moments go to quickly. This week, I was with a family, and unless a miracle occurs, one of them will lose the battle to cancer. There were tears, hugs, laughter, questions, prayers, more tears. Life has a way of catching us off guard.  We can’t control the number of breathes we take, but we can control how we handle the moments we have. We can enjoy each day, no matter what it brings.

I was just telling a couple of my kids that we have a choice to make. We can be vulture or a humming bird. One flies around all day looking for the dead, the decay, the bad laying around, while the other flies around all day looking or the beauty and the sweet.  We can choose to see the good around us. That doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge that there are bad things going on, we just choose how we want to live and what our focus will be.

And some days I am the hummingbird. I can see the good, smell the sweet… and other days the vulture… the dead and decay seem to be all around me. And I want to give up. I want to retreat. But something brings me back…

I ask Jason this week why is it with all that has happened to us in our 21 years of marriage, why do we cling to each other instead of leave like so many others. What made us…us? It was a rough day, followed by several rough days in a row. Our hearts were broken for situations we have no control over.  Life is messy and spinning and I found myself asking questions and writing it out. ( Jason gets all the blogs that never make it to public view)

 

On that day my feelings were stuck in my throat. I kept choking back the big tears that threaten to spill down my cheeks. And yet there were a  few that  escaped and cascaded down my face.

Failure seems so terminal. You know? Its like it has a death sentence. And yet I know that isn’t true. I look around and I see failures, my own, those of people I love, those the media makes news… Failures happen. It is the lessons learned in them. My own failures are still teaching me lessons, sometimes I wonder why I haven’t learned the lesson yet, and other times I see that I am learning and growing because of them.

I listen to a man for cry out this week, that he didn’t want to die, I still hear his cries. I see his face. I feel his hand grasping mine.

 I do believe in grace and grace that is never ending. I believe that God forgives…always. And I believe that he loves us. I believe that he is faithful to forgive us and welcome us when we breathe our last if we confess our sins and honor him. My faith has questions just like everyone else. I don’t always understand His yes’s , His no’s and His wait… But I don’t have to understand… I just have to trust. (which goes back to my word for the year!)
Then there are days that I fear if most people could see inside I would be exposed as a fraud. That inside is messy, fearful, doubtful, a little girl looking for the safety of her Abba Father.
I seek God, and I know he isn’t hiding, and yet some days it feels like he is. Friends are not a few minutes away to go and vent, cry and seek together. What is familiar is gone, and vacations seem like a dream.
And 20 years of ministry with all of its stories, the good, the bad, the heartbreaking, the hurtful adds up in my heart and I wonder why would anyone sign up for this? Its heavy and overwhelming.
And here in the midst of it all, I feel like I am drowning… slowing at first and faster sinking deeper and deeper, not being able to catch my breathe. I see brighter days but only through the lens of my failure and will I ever be able to overcome. So here I am… at desk…filled with more questions and doubts than I have had in a long time and I surrender… again!
And maybe that is where it is at… the surrender over and over. The laying it all down when I pick it up. When I try to fix when I should just be trusting. Maybe its in the tears that trickle and some time stream down my face that shows God is still working on me, and that my heart isn’t hard towards him, and he is still molding me.
Maybe its in the worship song, that brings me to my knees with no spoken prayer…just tears being collected by the heavenly father who promised to never leave us or forsake us.
Maybe its in the clinging to my husband, when everyone else leaves. Maybe that is it, I conclude to Jason… that  we know that deep down God has us… and we cling to us out of our desperation for more. More of Him, less of us! More of what he can do, less of what we can do. More of his grace…because we need it! More of his wisdom…
SO maybe at the end of the day that’s it… its the good the bad the ugly and the beautiful that makes us equipped to do this thing…
In the middle of our mess….

For the One Percent…

Let me tell you a little bit about a place located in Allentown, PA. It actually sits in Upper Macungie Township. One of the fastest growing townships in PA. Allentown is the fastest growing city in PA. This place has been doing ministry for 102 years in Allentown. (more…)

It’s Just Not Fair…

I was reading this morning the parable of the Vineyard worker found in Matthew 20: 1-16. Jesus is telling the story of a man who owned a vineyard who needed workers. So he went to the marketplace to find workers. He hired them through out the day and promised them all a days wage. (more…)

You see it’s election time…

Its election time… election time is where people cast votes for the person they like the best and sometimes for the one they think is the lesser of two evils.  Its election time here for me too.  People will get to cast a ballot, they will vote yes or no. They will look at me under a microscope of what they want and cast a vote… the ballots will be counted and a decision will be made. It’s election time.

 

Its election time…  one of the biggest group of people in the United States of America are called Christians. By definition that means one of these things (taken from dictionary.com)

adjective
1. of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings.
“the Christian Church”
noun
1. a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.

It’s election time…and this group of people in which I count myself are more divided than perhaps any other group. We don’t have a  united voice. We throw rocks with our words and actions. We write blogs, facebook post, twitter and make a statements about who and who isn’t a Christian in this election.

You see it’s election time…The “American Christian” community will be divided and it is not the USA of we hurt because of our division…it’s God kingdom. You see we probably won’t agree on who is the best candidate but I am afraid we don’t even agree on what we are voting for or why? One man runs and the “conservatives” rally behind him because he is a good moral person and calls himself a Mormon. Another man runs calls himself a Christian and the “conservatives” are outraged because his actions don’t scream Christian.

You see it’s election time…Some will vote for social justice, other will vote for constitutional rights, others will vote because one’s gender.  We will be widely divided when we should be holy united.

Abraham Lincoln said this in a speech in 1858 quoting from the words of Jesus found in the Gospels Mark and Matthew. “A house divided cannot stand”  Sadly, we are a house divided.  Our voice grows weaker and weaker as we lose sight of who we are representing…. Jesus!

We can’t even disagree with each other and still be friends. We block, unfriend, and shun because of differences of opinions. I just wonder if we posted as much about what Jesus is doing and what He can do in people’s lives if we would see more lives transformed by His grace and love.  If we would see marriages saved, addicts freed from addictions, children cared for, the hungry fed, and the need for government intervention decreased. I just wonder if we started focusing more on “being the church” if it wouldn’t matter who was in the Oval Office as much.  I just wonder if we took our concerns for these men and women running for office to our prayer closets instead of our social media if things would change quicker.

 

You see its election time…

to trust means less than ideal circumstances….

to trust means less than ideal circumstances….

My word for the year is trust. I should expect circumstances that help me grow in my ability to trust.

And really even though the plans aren’t going like I thought, I still do trust Him. I believe that He has the best in mind for all of us. I don’t doubt Him or His plan.

So I spent a lot of time thinking about my plans vs His plans. And really I believe that the plan that I had laid out was His plan, He just wanted to shake it up a little bit (or a BIG bit.) See my plan did include construction and prayer, just not now.  It did include a makeover for the youth room, just not today. My plan did include prayer, just not on this level.

This is how life goes though. We have hopes, dreams and plans.  God honoring dreams and plans. I know because my life has been filled with such things. And because we are human and only see the right now we make the best plans we can with what information we have. Sometimes we see the death of dreams take place so that better dreams can happen.  But only hindsight shows us those things. In the moment we feel the sting, we mourn the loss, or we question the why?

Here is the key and a question only you can answer… Do you believe God has your best in mind? Do you believe that God really wants what is best for you, your family, your community, your church? And if I am honest, sometimes I just think I know what is best. Only to realize I don’t know what He does.  And then….trust comes in the door. Faith takes root a little deeper… I read a quote by Nancy Willard…

” Live in your roots, not your branches”

I love that. If we live in the roots of our faith, we won’t be blown away when the plans change. Because we are safely secure in the roots of the One who created us, who loves us and has our best in mind.

So the journey of trust continues…