Saturday, July 27, 2013

What's my mission?

Have you ever gotten confused about what you were really trying to accomplish? Gotten distracted from what you started out to do? I have. But maybe after today I'll remember something that will help keep me on task.

I had boarded a plane for Ohio, where tonight I was to see a friend perform in a summer production of Les Miserables. Just in case you're wondering, it was an awesome night and my friend did an amazing job portraying Marius. But...there, I'm doing it again. Back to the point.

After the door had closed we sat there without moving far too long. Finally, the flight attendant announced, "We were supposed to have already pushed back, but we realized that all our catering supplies had not been loaded. We're waiting for them now."

Excuse me?! It is about a 90 minute minute flight from Atlanta to Canton. Or less. Oh yeah...if we didn't get the catering on board, I'm sure we all would have starved.

Frankly, it was just funny to me. I wasn't in a hurry. But I did blurt out to my seat partner, "Is this an airlne or a restaurant?" Yep, I got my cheap laugh.

But seriously - in my opinion, this was a clear case of a company forgetting its mission. Getting passengers safely to their destination on time is the mission of an airline. Food should never get in the way of that; it's an extra.

So what about my life? What is my mission? Like the airline and other companies, I claim to have one. It's right here on this page: love God and love people. Everything else is built around that. Sure, there's work, hobbies, and such. But every day I need to remember what my mission is and make sure that when there's a choice to make, I base the choice on my mission.

Otherwise, I'm holding up the flight for a few cans of Coke and peanuts. And that's never good.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Counting down...

Sometimes, you've just gotta have a little fun. And the most fun time of year is coming in a little over five weeks:

Yeah, it's gonna be a whole lotta fun...roll tide.

Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Visiting Orphans - so what's it about anyway?

So, if you know me...or read this know that my personal journey took a major turn three years ago. My awesome niece Brooke challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and go on a trip with her to Africa. I never imagined that would happen, and now I can't imagine life if it had not.

There is amazing organization that has made it all possible, and you've heard - or read - a lot from me about it since then. It's Visiting Orphans. But up until now, you have mostly had to follow my feeble attempts to explain what it's all about. No more.

At this very moment, 12:00 CDT on July 24, they are releasing a new video that explains it a hundred times better than I ever could. So I ask you to take a few minutes and watch it. If nothing else, my rambling will make more sense. Here it is...

So there you have it. Their story...and mine. Maybe it will be part of your story too.

Go. Be. Love.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Reflections on a season

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
- Ecclesiastes 2:1 (NIV) 

I love lazy weekend days. I spent probably two hours this afternoon, sitting on my sister's back porch. A little conversation, a little napping, and a little thinking. And I thought back some 30 a time when I could not see the path.

I spent most of my time in college thinking that God was calling me to YoungLife staff. I don't think I was wrong, I just think the calling was for a short time so he could teach me some things about myself.

What I learned was that I could serve the Lord without ministry being the source of my paycheck. That God was mostly concerned about developing my character and drawing me close to him, regardless of how I would make a living. I just needed to love him and stay close to him. Thus began a six-year period that you could call drifting.

You could...but you would be wrong. It was a season where God was teaching me exactly what I needed to know to live the life he had for me.

I spent some time on YoungLife student staff, helping the ministry through some difficult times. I felt the pull in another direction, toward teaching. So I spent almost two years going back to school for another degree. This was when I shared a trailer with the person who would become my lifelong friend - really more like a brother. I learned to be content with very little. I then went to teach middle school, and spent three years learning so much about myself - including the fact that I do have a temper that I need God to control.

And then the biggest lesson of all. I know God wanted me there for those three years, but I also was learning that it was not for me long term. So I resigned my position in February, effective at the end of the school year. My mom thought I was crazy. My friends thought I was crazy. Everybody asked, "What are you going to do? Do you have a plan? How can you just quit your job without a plan?"

To make a very long story short, a series of circumstances led me to an interview with Alfa about a profession that I had never heard of. And voila, a few months later I was an actuary-in-training. The rest is history. I cannot imagine another path for my life that would have been more fulfilling and more glorifying to God than where I ended up. I have the friends I have, I live where I live, I have served God where I have served him, all because of that one path.

Here's the thing: it took a long time to feel settled. I spent the years between 21 and 27 with no idea of a clear path for my life. I had not even heard the word actuary (that I remember) and yet it was God's plan for me. I was confused and frustrated more times than you can imagine. And I think my parents were even more so.

As I read Scripture, I see that my path is not so unusual:

  • Moses was a young man with a promising future in Egypt until he killed a man who was threatening his kinsman. He waited another 50 years or so before God appeared to him in the burning bush and revealed his purpose.
  • God chose David to be king as a boy, but he labored through years of serving under a paranoid king who would try to kill him before ultimately becoming what God intended.
  • Joseph was destined to be the second-in-command of Egypt and save his family from famine. But before he got there, he was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of sexual assault, and thrown into prison. Years and years before he ended up in the spot God was preparing him for.
I could go on and on. Peter. Paul. Jacob. Even Jesus - God in the flesh - was living at home working with his father as a carpenter until he was 30.

God is a patient God. I am so glad he knows better than us.

And so I look back. And I know that while I was wandering in my own personal wilderness, God had something great for me. Friends. Family. Career. Ministry. All in front of me if I would just trust him.

I know it's not over. I know as I'm writing this that I might sound like some old man on his deathbed. I don't know, but I'm not planning on it. What I do know is that God leads us day by day, not by showing us a roadmap. And I'm grateful.

I can't wait for tomorrow!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Just a quick thought

I was reading from the gospels tonight and I came across a statement from Jesus. One I've known pretty much all my life.
I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. (Luke 12:50-52, NIV)
How easy it is to turn Jesus into a meek, mild advocate for the Rodney King philosophy ("Can't we all just get along?").

But that was not his intent at all. He stirred up the authorities. He made the religious leaders furious. He told his followers that if they stuck with him, they would be hated and abused, and should rejoice about it.

No. If peace refers to the absence of conflict and blind acceptance of everybody's beliefs because "all that matters is love," he did not come to bring peace. He came to bring a sword. He came to bring a radical way of living that would make the darkness tremble. He came to bring a Kingdom that would overthrow the kingdoms of men.

Yes, God is love. We are to love our neighbors, and even our enemies. But love is not synonymous with capitulation. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to stand for truth, share the truth, and confront those who need to be confronted.

That is the sword Jesus brought. The sword of truth. How we answer the question, "Who is Jesus?" will divide people. It just will. Those who insist that he is the one and only King of the universe and the only way to the Father will be accused of being insensitive, intolerant, and maybe even bigoted.

And that's okay - it's what he intended.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, NIV)

Saturday, July 13, 2013


I was sitting on the plane, still looking at a long day of travel ahead. We were on our way back from Africa, where we had gone for the purpose of pouring out the love of Jesus to children in a materially poor area of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The flight from Addis Ababa to Washington, DC is a very long one, and it requires a stop for refueling. (My friend Clark discovered that it's necessary because when you take off from a high elevation the tank can't be full because there would be too much weight to take off in thin air. But I digress.) So we were sitting on the runway in Rome at 3 am. And I was wide awake.

I looked through my Kindle menu and decided I didn't want to dig back into the fairly intense book I was reading. So I noticed a book I had downloaded a couple of months ago: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller.

Turns out it is only a 48-page book and I was able to finish it before getting sleepy again. Only 48 pages, but packing a major punch.

Basically, Keller talks about the human ego and how messed up it is. It gets hurt easily because there is something wrong with it. He points out that a healthy toe doesn't hurt when we walk, only an injured one. The same is true with our ego.

He goes on to explain that there are two basic attitudes toward ego that the world promotes, both related to self-esteem: 1) An inflated ego - thinking much of yourself, or 2) a deflated ego - thinking little of yourself. But both of these are wrong! No wonder we are so messed up.

A correct view of myself, the one taught by Jesus and through the rest of the Bible, is to stop thinking of myself at all. Life is not about me, it's about the glory of God. God is my only judge, so not only should I not care what others think of me, but I should not even care what I think of me.

So your opinion is not important, my opinion is not important - only God's opinion. And he has already let me know his opinion, by sending his Son to rescue me by his death and resurrection! So I can live free, not worrying what others think (or even what I think) of me.

Wow. I have documented several places in this blog that I tend to be a people-pleaser (e.g., here). So I sat on the plane thinking about my life. I looked back over the previous 10 days, traveling with great friends - new and old - and how we had served together. Two things hit me:

  • How I saw this principle lived out by so many of them in very difficult situations. My admiration for them grew, but also the realization that they would take no credit for it - it's all Jesus.
  • How many times I failed to have a correct view. Allowing myself to get puffed up when something went well, or letting myself get down when something didn't. I have so far to go.
I am so thankful for God's timing. This was the right message at the right time. And one I hope not to forget. It's a short book so I'm thinking I need to read it periodically. Because if I'm going to forget myself, I can't forget this lesson.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ethiopia 2013 - our amazing team

It's hard to believe our time in Ethiopia is almost over. We just spent our last day in Korah and we have seen God moving in the lives of the children there.

A little over a week ago I asked you to pray for the members of our team by name. I want you to know that your prayers were answered big time.

First, the team had such a tremendous servant attitude. It is hard spending a week with 15 people 24 hours a day. And there are so many moving parts to what we have been doing. So many opportunities to grumble and complain. Nope - didn't happen.

Then, it was amazing to see the way that everyone was loving kids. It's hard to describe what it's like when you arrive in the morning. Kids are covering you up - younger ones wanting to be held and older ones craving someone to talk to them. That's what we were there for, and that's what our team did. With joy.

Everyone really had fun together as well. People from Alabama, New York, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida - all coming together and enjoying each other's differences. Differences that are microscopic compared to what we have in common, the presence of Jesus in our lives. I am going to miss being with them.

It's kind of strange, but I am going to miss them as a community, not just as individuals. Some of them I will continue to see regularly (Macy, Clark, and Steve for sure), and many I won't. I hope to see them all again, either through visits when we travel near to each other or maybe future missions (hint, hint, guys). But regardless, this team - this community, this body - will cease to exist tomorrow. And that's kind of sad for me. But the joy of having done this together will linger on.

And this team was special in its determination to do things that mattered while realizing that the greatest work is that which supports the ones here 24/7/365. They prayed and talked and worked, with the result being a specific plan to meet the needs we were seeing. This was no cookie-cutter mission where we followed a script. This was a living, breathing work and I was amazed to see how it all worked out.


Thank you, Mike, for following God's call to prepare for leadership by being a co-leader. You were invaluable with your servant attitude.

Thank you, Rhamsie and Trisha, for being willing to step out on faith and go on a trip where you literally knew nobody going in. You are now loved by 14 new friends who I think would do anything for you.

Thank you, Macy, Sarah, Mark, and Melissa for following the fire that God put in your heart from previous Visiting Orphans trips to Ethiopia. It has been fun going with you again, and I hope it's not the last time.

Thank you, Emily, for trusting the word of your friend Sarah that this is something you really would want to do. I am so glad you were with us - it would not have been the same without you.

Thank you, Steve and Clark, for following God's call and thus allowing me to have long term friends to support, encourage, and gently correct me when needed.

Thank you, Campbell and Lexie, for together having such a heart for God and the world that  you led your families to be part of this. I am amazed to see such maturity in young ladies your age. And you were fun too.

And thank you Tommy, Kendra, and Melissa for giving them that chance, but even more for giving us the chance to get to know all of you. And I know that God did great works because of needs you saw that we addressed.

Yep, it's almost over. But not really. I believe there will be ripples in Ethiopia for years because you were here, and that there will be ripples in your lives as well. God is an awesome God.

Love y'all! :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ethiopia 2013 - Days 4 & 5

Well, we're back!

It is amazing how much being connected means to us in 2013. Just a few years ago, I went to Russia with my church and we literally went days without any contact with home whatsoever. It felt like a different planet. Even last year in Ethiopia, the connectivity was slow and I really inly used it for this blog.

But this year it had been real easy for our team to give their families updates - loading pictures, sending emails, and even talking with FaceTime. And then it was gone for about 24 hours.

So we're back, and here's what has been going on:

We spent Tuesday as we did Monday, loving on kids as the flocked around us. There are so many kids in Korah of so many different ages. We played games, shared the Gospel, and just hung out with them. That is awesome in itself - it's what God calls us to do.

On Wednesday (today, except not really because it's after midnight), we divided the kids up into two groups and it was an incredible day. Some of our team shared a Bible lesson with some of the older teens, trying to help them catch a vision of how they can be everything God wants them to be and make a difference in the community. Others focused on the younger children with games, songs, and other activities that they loved - sharing the love of Jesus in an amazing way.

I don't often get emotional while I'm in the middle of working on something no matter how I feel - it's like my left brain turns off my right brain.  But twice today, I felt chill bumps and once was on the edge of years. I attribute that to the way you could see God moving.

It was an AWESOME day!

Well, it is very late and even I need sleep. I just couldn't let another day pass without sharing the awesome things that are happening here with this amazing team.

And so I'll close with a few pictures:

Good night!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ethiopia 2013 - Day 3 (or is it 2)?

You know how something awesome can fade from memory a little bit until you experience it again? And then the awesomeness hits you all over again?

That's what it's like to spend time with the children in Korah. Our van rolled into the community today, and it was like the last 51 weeks had never happened. The love of these children and the Lord's presence is overwhelming. And on top of that, I got to work with 15 brothers and sisters who totally get it. It was so much fun to see the love oozing out of them.

Fun. It's a strange word to use when there is so much need. But I truly believe that when we are in the center of God's will, we can find joy in everything we do. Even when we see things that do - and should make us sad, angry, or both.

There is so much I could tell about today. And in doing so I would fail miserably as painting an accurate picture. It's would be like trying to show the magnificence of the Northern Lights with a black and white camera. Some images come to mind: The joy on kids' faces as they line up to take a swing at whiffleball. Our young team members Campbell and Lexie playing with the other children. Praying with families during home visits. The unbelievable hospitality from those families, including making a serving coffee for us. (The Ethiopian way of making coffee is a lot of work, but it is delicious.) Sitting around a room lit only by a candle (yes, the power went out for a while) unpacking what God was teaching us about himself and us.

But there was one moment that struck me. Struck me hard. We were at the Embracing Hope day care center, having our last visit of the day. Apparently it is close to the edge of the village, because we looked up over the wall and saw a tall building. It was mentioned that the building looked like a beach condo. And indeed it did. My first reaction was, how can those people look out their window every day, see what's so close, and do nothing?

And then it hit me - as I was pointing my finger, three were pointing back at me. We live in a smaller world than ever. Heck, I'm typing a blog post from Africa and seconds later it will be read in America. Yes, we all have that window and we can look out any time we choose.Not only that, but it's all around us in our own towns. People are dying. We know the need is there, and yet most of the time I'm afraid I just keep the blinds shut.

So it is my prayer that God will keep the window open for me. That's I won't open it, look down, decide to go help a little for a week, and then go back to my comfortable world. Change me...and change others through me. For the glory of your name.

A few pictures from today...

Psalm 113:

Praise the Lord!
Praise, you servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
May the Lord’s name be praised
now and forevermore!
From east to west
the Lord’s name is deserving of praise.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations;
his splendor reaches beyond the sky.
Who can compare to the Lord our God,
who sits on a high throne?
He bends down to look
at the sky and the earth.
He raises the poor from the dirt,
and lifts up the needy from the garbage pile,
that he might seat him with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He makes the barren woman of the family
a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord!