Friday, June 29, 2012

It's finally here...Ethiopia

Well, it's almost time. As soon as I've written this and finished with some last minute packing, I will crawl into my bed for the last time 'til a week from Sunday. Tomorrow night, with a drive to Atlanta, I begin this year's trek to a place that has captured a huge piece of my heart - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It began two years ago on a trip to this place as well as Uganda. I went back last year and confirmed my feeling that it was a place to invest in.

And now we return. I will be traveling with an amazing team of six other people. I can tell from our communications and conference calls that they are going to be a fantastic group. Their enthusiasm bubbles through every time I get an email or see a Facebook post from any of them. I can't wait to get started working with them.

In addition, there's a bonus for me personally. I already knew that a member of my 2010 team would be there. Denae has returned to Korah twice for longer terms since then, and has been there since January. But I found out last night that two more members of my old team, Laura and Jennifer, will be there for part of the time as part of another VO team. So it will be a reunion of sorts - not a party but something better. Serving the Lord together in the same venue that we first did.

I will try to blog as the week progresses. Internet access there can be spotty, so the posts I write may be published after I get back. But I will try to post as we go along.

So as we begin, can I ask you to pray for us? Pray for our team to get their last minute packing done efficiently. Pray for smooth and safe travel as we prepare to all meet up in Washington, DC, and as we go on from there to Addis. Then for a great day of worship and travel recuperation Sunday as we prepare to hit the ground running Monday. But most of all, be praying for the children we will be visiting, that God would prepare their hearts to blessed by his love through us.

Thank you so much. I can't wait to share the amazing things that happen.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

LIfe goes on, part 2

In my life, I have been blessed with the best friends any one could have. Some of them are from my school days. Others I met at work. As I talked about in my last post, the ones that have endured are the ones I invest time in.

But in the last few days, I have noticed the most common source of friends. I tend to get close to people with whom I share the most important thing in my life. Not surprising really. After all, it's hard to be close to someone when you're not even walking on the same path.

I thought of this because I have been writing and talking a lot with friends I've met in the last two years. People that were on my previous Visiting Orphans teams. People who are currently on or preparing to go on various trips with VO. And the new friends who are about to embark to Ethiopia with me.

And so I look back, and I see that many of my most important relationships (besides family) come from similar places. Friends I made in the early years of being involved in youth ministry at my church. Fellow YoungLife leaders over the years. And more recently, friends I've made through VO.

Yes, there are other relationships that are very important to me and have lasted. But it has been hard not to notice the number of emails, Facebook posts, tweets, and text messages I've shared in the last few weeks with my fellow Kingdom workers. I don't think it's a coincidence.

So invest time in people. And find those who are walking the same life path as you. If you do, I think you'll find the same thing I have: people who make your life far richer than you could have imagined.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Life goes on

This weekend I attended my 35th class reunion. It was fun. It was great to see alot of old friends. We caught up on each other, laughed about old times, and generally got reacquainted. It

So much fun! There were a few of my closest high school friends there, and of course I spent the most time with them. That was awesome! There were others whom I've stayed in touch with through Facebook, even some of those who I didn't know that well back in the era of disco. I hung with them some too, and loved it!

With some of the rest, there was the typical cocktail party mode of drifting from conversation to conversation. And I wondered, why?

Yes, I enjoyed it and I will go back again in five years. But more than ever, I faced the fact that life goes on. And being a friend takes work, and time.

I have friends that I've met over time since then, friends who I know stand with me through thick and thin. Yes, a few from that class. From church. From work. From YoungLife. From my Visiting Orphans mission trips. Friends I've made over the years who I cannot imagine drifting away from. And when I invest time in those friendships, they flourish.

So I got a little reflective tonight. I thought about the people I love. Family and friends. And I thought, what makes them different? Why have they lasted for so many years? How do I show them they are important to me? How do I avoid drifting away? I think the answer is easy...I spend time with them. Talking to them. Playing with them. Praying for them. Praying with them. Just loving them - because for us humans, time is love.

Past expériences and old songs are not enough to keep people close. It's something to talk about and reminisce, but it doesn't keep you close. As Ricky Nelson sang in Garden Party (a song about a reunion),
If memories are all I sing, I'd rather drive a truck.
Friendships, even old ones, are based on more than memories. I thank God for mine.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Train: Maybe this'll be my year

I love good songwriting. That's why I love the music of Train. So when I downloaded their new album California 37, I didn't just listen while doing other stuff; I sat down and really listened. And I can't say I was surprised when the very first song grabbed me. Here it is with a lyric video:

It goes pretty fast, so you may want to listen again, as I did. I can't imagine getting tired of it.

Yes, it goes pretty fast - like many other songs where the artist tells his story against the backdrop of his lifetime's news events. Think of Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire. Or, in the case of a movie, how about Forrest Gump? Like those (and others I can't think of at the moment), the writer gives his personal story life by sharing the surrounding events. Love. It.

So what is the story interwoven through modern history by Pat Monahan? Well, as with so much music, it's centered around a girl. But not just a girl - the girl. In every verse, a year is summarized by events both well known (such as Clinton winning the Presidency in '92) and personal to the writer (such as his father's heart attack). And as it progresses, he reveals that there was a longing. A longing for something he didn't know yet, his destiny. His destiny to meet the girl. '85? Didn't know her yet. '89? He feels the hole in his life. '92 and '97 pass - nothing.

And the chorus of the song rings out through his personal history. He was counting down the hours, but he doesn't have to anymore. At times, his faith wavered (he stopped believing although Journey told him not to - love that!). But to him was all leading up to that moment - the moment when the thing he wanted most would happen.

And then, in May 2004, it happened. He met her. And nothing was ever the same again:
And all I know
Is everybody comes and goes
Everybody sings and cries,
Makes the grade and takes the prize
In somethin', nothin', I don't care,
Because I always know that you'll be here with me
All that history, all those "current events", the thrill and the tragedy....they're just noise. He doesn't care. Because all he knows is that his life has meaning, because she's with him.

What a great expression of the fact that life has to have meaning. We have to have a purpose. God made us that way. If we think we can just drift from day to day, task to task, weekend to weekend, vacation to vacation, and just function...well, we're kidding ourselves. Ultimately, we find ourselves dry and empty, with nothing but a list of things that have happened to us. And we will stop believing.

Fortunately (especially for me), that kind of purpose doesn't require romantic love. Yes, for most of us that will be part of God's plan - a mate to share our story with every day and night. But it doesn't have to be, and therefore it can't bring the real, deep purpose we all long for. We were created to be something more than that. We were made to love our Creator and each other. And when we find that purpose, well, like the last verse of this song would tell us, everything else is just noise.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

Sunday, June 17, 2012


 This morning at church something hit me. Something I already knew. But something that is different from the way I usually think. And it took my breath away.

Remember the last verse of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace? The one where we sing about how 10,000 years is just a drop in the bucket compared to eternity?
When we've been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
How awesome, right? I get to spend eternity in the presence of God, and I will be unbelievably happy. No more sorrow. No more tears. Eternity with my loved ones who have gone before me. How fantastic! For me.

And that's what hit me. Like a ton of bricks.

It hit me as we were singing this verse of the hymn Crown Him with Many Crowns:
Crown Him the Lord of heav’n!
One with the Father known,
One with the Spirit through Him giv’n
From yonder glorious throne,
To Thee be endless praise,
For Thou for us hast died;
Be Thou, O Lord, through endless days
Adored and magnified.
Yes, even when it comes to heaven, even when it comes to eternity, I want to make it all about me and my happiness. But it isn't. It's about the One who came to glorify the Father and whose Kingdom knows no end. It's all about Jesus. He came to die so that he could receive "endless praise", and so that he can be "adored and magnified" forever. I just have the amazing privilege of being a small part of making that happen. not for me. For his glory.

This thought did not really come to me all at once; this morning just brought it crashing down on my head. It has been growing since I read a blog post a couple of weeks ago. A young person from our church made the point first in her blog about her current mission. She is in Africa for a month, and because I am going back at the end of this month I am following her blog with extreme interest. Well, in her post Mzunga Down, she said this:
 Last night one thing we talked about was the answer we give when answering the question Why did Jesus come to earth?  When answering this we tend to make the answer all about us.  We say "Jesus came to die on the cross to save us from our sin" which is true but Jesus actually came to glorify his Father.  He came to do the will of his father. It is not really about us.  Absolutely EVERYTHING is about glorifying God and making his name known, that is it.
And there you go. From a young lady less than half my age but full of wisdom. I don't think I have to add anything to that!

And so I look forward to my trip to Ethiopia. Not so that I can get something out of serving, but so that God can be glorified throughout the earth. And so I look forward to eternity. The day when I will have the tremendous privilege of joining with saints from all over the world in proclaiming:
You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased men for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation. 
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10)
Forever. Amen!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Now I understand

See the hat to the left? It was free. Well, sorta. 'Cause it cost me a little bit of face.

Thursday I was playing in the Nick's Kids Golf Classic - a tournament for a group of core supporters for Nick's Kids Foundation. It's an awesome organization created by Nick and Terry Saban, giving money to dozens of charities that support young people. Most recently, it has given about $2 million to help with tornado relief in Alabama. It's a side of Coach Saban that most people don't see.

Anyway, the hat. I was playing hole #17, which is the 3-par that Coach Saban plays with every group in the tournament. When you get to the hole, you get to take a picture with the coach:

So after the picture, we all teed off. Needless to say, Coach Saban hit his ball within about 10 feet of the hole. (Is there nothing this man is bad at?) Well, when it came my turn, I took a couple of practice swings, stood over the ball....and choked. Big time. I had been hitting tee shots well all day, but this time I shanked the ball off to the left and only about 40 yards. Skimming the ground as it went. Yep, big time choke.

Well, when I went to get my ball, there was no point walking back to the tee box to get in my cart. So I just walked up the fairway to meet everyone else at the green.

As I approached the green, I looked to my right and saw Nick Saban walking toward me. Carrying the above hat in his hand. What?? So, with every bit of dry humor you can imagine, Coach walked up to me, handed me the hat, and said, "This hat is for the best shot...or the worst shot. It's yours."

Well. I guess it's kind of cool that he gave me a personal gift. But kind of embarrassing to realize the reason.


Now I understand. I understand the pressure Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley are under when they kick. Kicking and swinging a golf club are somewhat alike. A slight change in the motion can create a big error. And the ability to tune out nervousness is key. Cade did not choke against LSU - those were long kicks and he just barely missed hitting them straight. But if being nervous had any effect at all, now I understand. I've had a slight taste.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

2012 National Champs

Best. Softball. Game. Ever.

Drama, adversity, coming from behind, controversy....and another Alabama 2011-12 national championship. Their 4th!

Roll Tide!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Two more wins

Alabama softball lost Game 1 of the National Championship series tonight. They didn't look like their usually loose selves - that happens sometimes. Nobody plays their best game every time out. but twice this year, in critical series', they lost the first game and came back to take the next two. I believe this team will do the same, because they are resilient, and they know how to have fun. They will relax, and they will show that they're the better team - I believe in them.

So, in honor of the coming championship, here's one more viewing of their music video. This video shows the spirit of this team - the spirit that I believe will carry them on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Roll Tide! Beat OU!