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
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
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
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. 16 Rejoice 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)
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 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…
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.