Thursday, September 18, 2008

Say Cheese!

A few weeks ago, our oldest child, Boo, donned her Disney Princess backpack and lunchbox and walked hand-in-hand with her dad down the sparkling-clean, creatively decorated halls of our new community school to start first grade. She bounced right into her classroom, sat at her desk, and immediately started catching up with her friends, many of whom she already knows from church and other neighborhood gatherings. After snapping several pictures, Brett went to the back of the room and chatted with a handful of other camera-laden parents, until he realized that all the parents—himself included—were actually hanging around the classroom for themselves, not for their children. The kids were all perfectly fine, thank you very much. (What a difference a year makes!) So he finally waved good-bye and headed home.

From day one, Boo has absolutely loved her class. It helps that the new school is Western-themed, so for our horse-loving daughter, it’s a dream come true. (Horses, horses, everywhere!)

At the end of the first week, Boo came home with a note from the teacher saying she had been selected as “Ranch Hand of the Week” and could bring a few pictures to share with the class. Not surprisingly, she made a beeline for my closet, in search of the dozens of photos we took during our summer trek to Aunt Jude’s horse farm in North Carolina.

As she was sorting through the pile of pictures and deciding which ones to bring to school (the one of her riding gentle Tessie... the one where she’s grooming the more rambunctious Bill… one of her helping walk the feisty foal Jake back to the stable…), she said to me, rather offhandedly, “You know what, Mom? If Ms. F’s class was like a body, then Ms. F would be the brain. Right, Mom?”

You'd think I'd be used to these totally off-the-wall questions by now.

Um, where on earth did THAT come from? Did Brett preach about the Bible’s analogy of the church being a body recently? Deciding to just wait and see where this was headed, I commented, “Sure, honey. That sounds about right. Your teacher would be the brain of the class.”

Boo was quiet for the next minute or so as she continued to sort through her pictures. Then she looked up at me and said, “Well, if Ms. F is the brain, I know what I would be.”

“What’s that, honey?” Since we were looking at pictures of the horse farm, I was thinking, Maybe the cowboy hat? The spurs?

Instead, I was completely surprised at her answer:

“If my class were a body,” she continued, “I’d be the smile.”

I thought my heart would simply burst with pride.

Yes, honey, that’s exactly what you’d be.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What's Gonna Happen?

“Mama, what’s gonna happen to me?”

Keeping my eyes on the road while trying to keep the frustration out of my voice, I assured JJ for the umpteenth time, “The doctor is just going to check you out and make sure you’re strong and healthy. Everything’s going to be just fine, honey.”

We were on our way to JJ’s five-year and Buddy’s two-year well visit at the pediatrician this afternoon. Since their birthdays are only one day apart, and since I had already confirmed that they wouldn’t need any immunizations, I decided to combine their appointments this year to save some time.

Buddy was nestled in his car seat behind me, contentedly watching an Elmo movie. He’s perfectly fine with doctor’s visits. Come to think of it, he’s perfectly fine with pretty much everything.

But JJ is a completely different story. We’re very grateful that, unlike our other children, JJ has no ongoing medical issues. But that blessing presents a small problem: because she hasn’t been around doctors and hospitals much, JJ is very apprehensive about them.

Okay, let’s be honest here: she’s flat-out terrified of going to the doctor.

As we pulled up to the doctor’s office, JJ had worked herself into we Texas gals call “a walleyed fit,” insisting with much weeping and gnashing of teeth that no way was she going to see the doctor today, thank you very much!

It took a little bribery and a lot of patience, but I finally coaxed JJ out of the car.

As the three of us walked into the doctor’s office, she gripped my left hand tightly and peered up at me, her blue eyes wet with worry. “Mama, what’s gonna happen to me?”

“Everything’s going to be just fine, honey,” I assured her, trying not to look as aggravated as I felt at having to answer that question yet again. JJ nodded, clinging desperately to my hand.

Somewhere between balancing my purse and diaper bag on my shoulder, one-handedly pulling out my driver's license and insurance card from my wallet, signing in the kids, and using my leg to block Buddy, who had let go of my right hand and was ready to bolt across the waiting room, it hit me:

How many times have I asked God that same question the past few years?

What’s gonna happen to Boo? Will her eyes ever be okay, or will she lose her vision entirely?
What’s gonna happen to our family when we move out here to start a church with no income?
What’s gonna happen to our kids when they go to school and I’m not there to protect them?
What’s gonna happen when we have our kickoff service this Sunday?

And on and on and on.

Like a worried five-year-old, anxious about a doctor’s visit she doesn’t understand, how many times do we face the unknown future with fear, rather than trust?

And when God takes us through something we don't want to do, how many times do we throw a walleyed fit? Oh, I don’t mean an actual kicking-and-screaming kind of tantrum, like JJ’s (although that might happen!). I mean that dig-in-your-heels kind of attitude that says, No way am I going to do that thing You’re asking me to do, God, thank you very much!

Yet every time we protest, and every time we ask God again, for the umpteenth time, “What’s gonna happen . . .?”—our loving heavenly Father patiently assures us, I’ve got it under control, honey. Trust Me.

I'd like to be able to say that I no longer worry about the future. But the truth is, I do. Especially when it comes to my family. So the next time I’m anxious and afraid, I hope that—like my sweet, worried little JJ—I will reach out and cling desperately to my Father’s hand.

And you know what?

No matter what the future holds, everything’s going to be just fine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans . . .

In May 1995, with my newly framed (and, as my husband would point out, oddly enormous) Texas A&M diploma adorning the wall in my tiny apartment, I began my first day as the public relations coordinator for Word Publishing. One of the perks of my new job was when my boss handed me a Franklin Covey catalog and told me to pick whatever I wanted. Anything!

To an organized, detail-driven gal like me, it was a dream come true.

I chose a classic leather binder in—what else?—Aggie maroon, with two-page monthly calendar inserts and all the accessories a girl could want, even the combo ruler/page trimmer/calculator! My day planner was absolutely indispensible during my years in-house at Word.

Fast-forward thirteen years. I still use the same Franklin Covey planner and two-page monthly calendar inserts. I’ve pared down most of the accessories over the years, but one thing hasn’t changed. Each time I open my planner, I see the words I wrote all those years ago on the very front page:

The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
—Proverbs 16:9

It’s an ongoing reminder for me that no matter how much I plan and organize and take care of the details, ultimately God is in charge of what happens.

That lesson has hit home for us the past few weeks. Here are just a few snapshots of how God has rearranged our plans:

  • In the middle of writing his sermon, Brett’s hard drive on his laptop unexpectedly crashes—losing not only his sermon, but also files and promotional materials that will need to be recreated for our church.
  • As I’m preparing the kids’ lunches for a church picnic, I hear a smack! and a scream, followed by JJ holding her head, drenched in blood. A close encounter with a plastic golf club resulted in a gash on her forehead that will have to be glued in the ER.
  • One afternoon, Brett suddenly doubles over in excruciating pain, so I hurriedly load the kids in the minivan and rush him to the hospital. The next few days are filled with doctor’s appointments and tests and blood work to diagnose and treat the problem.

Whew! Everything I had neatly penned into my trusty planner’s calendar spaces suddenly changed. Apparently, God had something else in mind for our family.

And the same is true for The Church at Sendera Ranch. It’s been a week of prayerfully thinking on our feet:

  • When the designer for our door hangers fell through at the last minute, we scrambled to create the piece and get it to the printer lightning-fast to be ready to distribute on Saturday morning.
  • When our expanding children’s ministry outgrew their current meeting space, we arranged another location for kids to meet this Sunday—with room to grow.
  • When we found out that the worship leader we’ve been waiting for isn’t able to come after all, God blessed us with another, very gifted person to lead worship for our kickoff service this Sunday.

(In a recent e-mail, an author described church planting as “dancing on a moving floor.” Yes, my friend, that’s exactly what it’s like!)

So what do you do when your best laid plans, as the poet said, go awry? Like we did this past week, you close your day planner and prayerfully search out what God is up to. And then, as Blackaby and King suggest in Experiencing God, you join Him where He is already at work.

The past few weeks, God has been directing our steps in ways we hadn’t even considered. And He wants us to trust Him to provide what is necessary to reach our community with the great news that He is changing lives for good.

I'm finally starting to accept the reality that things here, on the front lines of God's work in our family and our community, may not always fit neatly in my daily planner. So keeping Proverbs 16:19 in mind--and writing in pencil now--we are making lots of exciting plans, and the Lord is clearly directing our steps.

I can't wait to see what God has in store for The Church at Sendera Ranch as we officially kick off on September 7, and during the weeks and months and years ahead as He continues to grow and develop His church!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Living with All My Might

One of my random personal traditions is that each year, on my birthday, I reread the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, most of which he penned at age nineteen and read once a week for the rest of his life.

Each year, at least one of Edwards’s resolutions stands out as something I’d like to include in my own life. (In fairness, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the resolutions; for example, I have been known to crack a joke or two on Sundays, unlike #38!) Some years, I’ve been inspired by Edwards’s resolutions on Bible study, faithfulness, and living for God’s glory. Other years, I’ve been impressed with his resolutions on time management and temperance. One year in particular, I took to heart his resolution not to speak evil about anyone or “suffer anger toward irrational beings.” (Suffice it to say that pastoral ministry can be really hard sometimes, which is probably why Edwards included these statements!)

This year, I paused at resolution #6:

Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

I’ve read right past that one before. After all, it’s early on the list, and there are more than sixty others to get to. But this time, I stopped right here, at resolution #6, and said a hearty amen.

That’s exactly what I’m going to do this year—live with all my might.

As I reflected on the past year, I realized that my thoughts all too often began with the word someday. As in, Someday, when our medical bills aren’t so high, we’ll be able to take a fun family vacation. Someday, when the demands of church planting aren’t quite as life-consuming, we’ll finally get on a “normal” schedule. Someday, when the kids are all in school, I’ll start writing again. And on and on.

But this year, I’ve resolved to live with all my might. I'll stop talking about someday and start figuring out ways to make things happen today, right now, in the context of our life and family and current circumstances.

So I’m going to find inexpensive ways to have fun with the kids, from catching perch in our neighborhood pond to going to free Fridays at the museum. And though pastoring The Church at Sendera Ranch will always be a major life commitment, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of God's amazing work here in our community. Plus, I'm finally writing for fun again—I've started this blog!

From on outsider’s perspective, not much has changed from last year. Our kids are still very young, our finances are still very tight, and our time is still very limited. And yet here is my resolution:

Every day of my thirty-fifth year, I am resolved to live with all my might, so that God can use me to emblazon His glory on my family and friends and neighbors, while I do live.