I Quit

Sometimes, the most frustrating thing is knowing that you can’t quit.

Last Friday, I really wanted to quit – quit being a grown-up, quit being a mom, quit being a wife, quit being a pastor, quit being a friend, a sister, a daughter, a leader, just quit. It was too much. And then I got mad because I knew I had lots of options, but quitting, the only option I wanted, was not an option. And then I cried, tears of frustration and self-pity, and tears of pure mad-ness.

And then I sent my husband the following text:

“I quit.”

He knew I couldn’t quit. I knew I couldn’t quit. But somehow it helped saying it, and just for a split-second, believing it.

And then I called an end to my pity party. It wasn’t fun while it lasted, so I figured I might as well stop.

And then I remembered to be grateful…grateful that I couldn’t quit. Because if I could quit, I would quit, and I would most certainly regret it forever. Because the only things worth doing in this life – like marriage and parenthood and friendship and community and faith and all of those things all at the same time – are hard. And if you quit, you miss the good stuff, the stuff that comes after the hard when the hard doesn’t win because you didn’t quit.

Sometimes it’s good to remember that there’s always an “And then” and while we can’t always see it coming, we know that eventually the “and then’s” make it to a place called hope, which doesn’t ever disappoint (Romans 5).

What’s the “And then” on the other side of wherever you are right now? Can I pray for you to get there?

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“Forgiveness Wins”

Yesterday marked 20 years from the start of the Rwandan genocide that killed almost one million people in a span of about 30 days. Twenty years ago yesterday neighbors turned on neighbors, teachers turned on students, and pastors turned on their villages. That last one hit me the hardest when I was in Rwanda three years ago. When the killings started, people fled to churches for sanctuary and the pastors told the Hutus to come. We walked in one church that is now a memorial where the clothing is still piled on top of wooden benches – some clothing that would be much too big for even my 2 and 5 year old – and in the church yard there is a mass grave where you can walk down a set of stairs and see shelves of skulls and bones of the people who were killed that day in that place. I didn’t make it the whole way down the steps before I started shaking and turned around so that the bile rising in my throat didn’t escape. The horror. The nightmare. The worst humanity had to offer. And unlike the Holocaust, it wasn’t an army responsible for escorting people into gas chambers, it was neighbors, kids and elders with machetes.

Today there is a saying in Rwanda that is plastered on street signs and buildings in the heart of their cities, it says, “Never again.” As a country they’ve made a pledge to never again destroy each other, never again set out to eliminate future generations, never again to lose themselves to a senseless rage based on a difference that many still cannot even define or explain.

Today perpetrators of the genocide and victims whose families were lost work side-by-side to farm and rebuild and teach new generations a better way. Many have said the Rwanda of today is the greatest success story of the 21st century, which is still in its early years. On my visit, I met pastors and teachers, mothers and fathers who are deeply committed to the path of forgiveness. I watched a mom nurse her child and then hand him to the man who had filled her parents to help calm him as we sat on the dirt in their village and heard their story.

We have so much to learn from Rwanda – their destruction and their success, their hatred and their hope. But to continue to learn from them, to continue to strengthen them in their resolve to show the world a new way, we also have an opportunity to partner with them. We have an opportunity to make sure kids living on the streets can go to the schools to learn from these phenomenal teachers. We have an opportunity to help the Church in Rwanda feed their communities, physically and spiritually so people can focus on learning and living instead of fighting for their daily bread.

Every year, our church does a Run for Rwanda, and this year it’s all about kids helping kids. On April 27th, our kids will be running laps at the high school and all of the money they raise will go to the work of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. If your child would like to participate or if you would like to sponsor a child who is running, please check out the information here.

 

A Time to Hustle

No, not the dance. Although, that’s cool too.

I’m more referring to the fact that there must not have been a Hebrew word for “hustle” or I think the writer of Ecclesiastes would have included it when he was talking about the different times, i.e. a time to laugh and a time to weep, a time to tear down and a time to build, etc.

We often talk about the need to slow down and the need to exercise prudence, and those are important conversations. But sometimes, it’s time to hustle. Sometimes we need to get a good night’s sleep and hit the ground running. Sometimes life needs a swift kick in the pants, often our pants.

What task has God given you this week? What situations are you sitting on, scared to make a move. Maybe this week it’s time to hustle, bring some energy to the table and live like you mean it.

To all of the fellow hustlers out there this week, I lift my first cup of coffee this morning to you. Let’s go!

On Being in Over Your Head…and Realizing It’s Better that Way

If you’re like me in any way, first, I’m sorry. Second, chances are you expend a lot of time, energy and previously non-gray hairs on keeping your head above water, managing chaos, keeping things within your grasp. How’s that working out for you?

It’s not going so well on my end. At the end of most days, I’m still under water and extremely tired from my failed efforts. To say nothing of the fruity Cheerios still littering the hallways from my toddler’s mobile breakfast – 15.hours.earlier.

On good days, I laugh about it. The other 99% of the time I think about how there are a lot of other people more qualified for my life than I am – better pastors, better wives, better moms, better friends. I think of how the awesome people would handle the current quandaries I can’t figure out – the people they would hire, the big decisions they would make with ease and confidence, the effective way they would communicate with a 2-yr old boy about the necessity of using the potty. Those people aren’t just awesome, they’re genuises with perfect hair and really white teeth! I hope I get to meet them someday.

Meanwhile, my life is stuck with me, and I have two choices every day – fight to get to the top or enjoy the swim with all of the other fishes. (If you’re thinking Godfather and “He swims with the fishes,” this is a bad analogy, but hopefully you get what I’m saying.) It’s with the other fishes that I’m reminded I’m part of a team – the human team. With the fishes, I’m fully aware there are things beyond my control but, as Dori would have it, I can do what I do, which is “just keep swimming.”

Fish smell out of water, but under water, they are beautiful and swift, and get this, it’s under water that they’re actually able to breathe. The air is thin and unmanageable on the topside when you’re on your own.

I think it’s good God made fish before He made people – He was able to gather some good data for building the prototype – better together than we are alone, not super-powered, but super-surrounded.

So, for what it’s worth, today I’m giving up the fight. I’m refusing to spend my best energy getting ahead and spending it instead on being where I am and knowing that I can’t do it on my own – and it’s better that way.

Getting Ready to Receive, Day 18

Today’s post comes from my colleague and good friend, Troy Forrester. Troy is a pastor at First United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge, TN. In addition to his zeal for church softball and making it to every baseball stadium in the U.S., Troy is deeply passionate about leading people into an ongoing walk with Jesus Christ. He speaks with great wisdom on the practicality of our faith, especially in regard to money. Enjoy!

Matthew 6:19-21

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustconsume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Think for a moment about how many advertisements you see within the course of a day.  The internet, magazines, television, radio, and other media outlets are filled with advertisements attempting to convince consumers that they cannot go one more moment without purchasing the item of the day.  This continuous media onslaught often prevails and convinces their audience that they must think, believe, and buy a certain way.  Our thoughts and behaviors are being formed and molded often without our acknowledgement.

We as Christians we must be careful of this because our hearts are formed by what we worship.  Excitement, anticipation, hope – each of these emotions swells around the object of our dearest affection.  We spend our time, energy, and money on what matters most to us.

Author Rick McKinley poses the question, “What do we worship during this season of Advent?  “Jesus” is the right answer, of course, but is it the truthful answer?  Does the way we spend our time, money, and energy testify that we worship God incarnate?  Season after season, many churchgoers have learned to say the right things without allowing their words to reach their hearts.  Simply saying that Jesus is the desire of our hearts doesn’t make it truthful.  In fact, saying the right things when they aren’t BELIEVED THINGS hinders true worship.” (Advent Conspiracy,  p.32)

An excellent way for Christians to remember their object of their worship, would be to heed the words of Mike Slaughter, the pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, as he presses his congregation on the issue of Christmas by asking the question, “Whose birthday is it?”  He reminds individuals that it is not their birthday, but Jesus’ birthday and their gifts should reflect this understanding.  In this vein he challenges each individual to give equally to a mission opportunity in the church as they spend on their families.  This bold initiative has transformed their church and significantly impacted those in need.

So, during this Christmas season I encourage you to avoid getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of consumerism.  Rather, think about who and what we as Christians are celebrating during this time.  May we follow the teachings of Jesus and strive to think first of our neighbors in need before we think of friends and family that likely already have more than enough.  Providing clean water, donating to an area food bank, and numerous other faithful opportunities are available to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  This Christmas may we remember Christ’s birth not only with our words, but with our actions!

Getting Ready to Receive, Day 17

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” ~I John 1:5-7

Recently, my 4-year old son decided he needs more light to sleep at night. It started with him sneaking his camping lantern into his bed after we would leave his room, but now he insists on the hall light being left on all night. Seriously, I’ve woken up at 2am to the sound of him yelling from his bed, “Why is the light off? Somebody fix this situation.” It’s as if he can sense the light even when he’s fast asleep, which is even stranger than his need to use full sentences and words like “situation” at 2am.

Aside from the electricity bill, you wouldn’t think this was a big deal. It’s just a little light. But that little light, while helping him sleep peacefully, keeps me wide awake. It’s like that little light is all it takes to overwhelm the darkness that is helping me shut down my brain and rest. Anyone else know what I’m talking about?

It’s funny how as kids we can be afraid of the dark, but as adults we sometimes seek it out as a hiding place, a chance to get away and escape from the more stressful realities of our world. But that darkness is only an illusion. Our worries and concerns follow us into the darkness, and often take advantage of the darkness to build a deeper stronghold. The darkness might conceal what is there for a short time, but it never takes it away.

Light does just the opposite. It forces us to face what is in front of us, and with that opportunity comes a chance to heal and restore and move forward. Take for example the red crayon markings on the wall outside of my 4-year old’s room. In the dark, I would never see his “artwork” and it would go right on staining the walls. In the light, I can’t miss it and the magic eraser gets pulled out yet again to work its charm.

It only takes a little light to invade the darkness. Jesus is the light that overwhelms the darkness of the whole world, and with Him comes the opportunity to live in newness. Yes, it means facing the truth, but it also means doing it with a Savior who has already forgiven.

He’s coming – are we ready to come out of the dark?

Getting Ready to Receive, Day 16

Today’s post comes from my dad, Bradley Brown. My dad is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hershey, PA, aka “the sweetest place on earth.” While I never thought I would grow up to be a pastor like my dad, I could not be prouder to say that I have, and I am still, following in his footsteps. Enjoy!

Giving What We Receive

They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in a manger. The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angels had said.  (Luke 2:16-20)

 

You can’t give that which you’ve never received or have in your possession to give. It’s a basic life principle, and it’s the story of the shepherds.

They were working the third shift the night Jesus was born; out in the fields; in the darkness. That alone says a lot about who these shepherds were and what was happening in their lives. That’s when it happened—an angel, an announcement, and then an awesome display by a host of Heaven’s best. I’ve often wondered what happened to the sheep. Did all the shepherds run to Bethlehem? Were there doubters among them who stayed behind? We’ll talk about that some other time. For now, let’s focus on the shepherds who Luke says responded to the angels’ unbelievable news of the birth of a Savior.

Luke tells us having received this angel’s news, the shepherds “ran to the village.” They gave it their all to find Mary and Joseph, but especially the baby—the Light of the World that shined in their darkness! Seeing Jesus, they weren’t silent. They gave their witness; that is they told their story to everyone who would listen— not only what they received from the angel but also what they discovered and believed for themselves about Jesus. Their lives were changed forever.  And when they returned to their everyday life and work, they gave God their worship and praise. They gave what they received!

What about us? Where are we going and what are we doing because of what we’ve heard about Jesus and because of what we’ve received by grace through faith in him? Are we telling anyone our story—what we know and have experienced of God? Is the hope, peace and joy found only in Jesus the reason for our worship and praise?

God loved the world—including you and me—so much that HE gave us HIS only Son, so that whoever believes in might have life now and always.

God is generous in HIS giving.  Made in God’s image, we are most like God when we give.

So what have you received? We can only give that which we have received.

Run to the manger. Share your faith’s story with someone today. Worship and give thanks to God for all you have received—a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Getting Ready to Receive, Day 13

Okay, y’all, this post is from my mom, Jane Brown. To say she’s amazing doesn’t cut it, but we can start there. This is the woman who taught me (and showed me) that it’s never okay to simply say you’ll pray for someone – you do it. And you don’t do it later, you do it right in the moment, you do it out loud, and you do it with the absolute conviction that God is listening. Whenever I am scared or stressed, I take comfort in the fact that my mom is praying, which is usually what I need to remember that I ought to pray as well. My mom is an all-star encourager and I’m thrilled to share with you today her thoughts and wisdom on the encouragement we need and the encouragement we give to each other. Enjoy!

CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No dear, brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing. Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” ~Philippians 3:12-14

This year I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon. I did not do it alone. In fact it started last Christmas.  Our daughter Jenn gave a gift to her sister, Laura. It was an opportunity to meet in Nashville on her birthday and run the race together.  In time the gift included me. Our training schedule was posted on the refrigerator and the training began. We trained individually and at times together like at the beach on vacation.  I would jog, Laura could walk faster than my jogging and Jenn would just run around us as we talked and laughed together. Often they would take off and move more quickly which was fine with me.  My goal was to finish and it didn’t matter if they got there first.

The gift was being in Nashville with my daughters for the weekend but the joy was crossing the line and seeing both daughters waiting and cheering me on. But as is often the case, the time spent on the journey, the preparation made the gift more meaningful. Months of jogging through the neighborhood where neighbors began to encourage me and cheer me on.  Each day I trained I would have the satisfaction of crossing another day off the chart and see myself getting closer to the goal. My husband Bradley would help me plan new and longer routes and then meet me with water and encouragement along the way. The day of the race I will never forget one particular lady along the way.  She was not running but stood along the way to cheer us all on.  I was struggling a bit when I caught her eye.  She looked at me directly and reading the name on my bib said,” Jane, you can do it.” I needed her personal encouragement at that point and was blessed to have an angel on the way.

Maybe it’s the story of Advent or even life. We prepare and wait. What joy when we cross the finish line and receive the gift of Jesus. I wonder who I am encouraging along this journey with Christ.  How am I preparing other hearts to receive this most special gift? The finish line is not the end but the beginning. I pray that as I get ready to receive the gift once again this Christmas I might also share the gift to someone else in need of a Savior.

Getting Ready to Receive, Day 12

Today’s post comes from my brother-in-law, John. John is a buckeye, a serious and talented trail runner, and an incredible father to three small children. Right now, he’s experiencing the waiting of Advent as he recovers from knee surgery that is forcing him into a place of slowness and quiet. John provides a great deal of ongoing wisdom to our family and to everyone he encounters. Enjoy!

The Remaker of All Things

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1-3 (NIV)

 

            Everywhere you look this time of year you can spot a Christmas tradition. Trees in every house, stockings hung by the chimney with care – I’m sure you could think of a sleigh full yourself. Some of these are dusted off and celebrated like old friends, and some we would rather leave in the basement. I can’t say I’m thrilled to watch Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas” for the two hundredth time, nor do I jump from my chair to string Christmas lights in the bitter cold. At the same time, watching my kids find the perfect spot to place my old Nutcrackers made me smile, as did my grandmother’s ceramic Santa house winding up in my youngest daughter’s room.

I have a habit of seeing Christmas like the same old song and dance movies that replay constantly through December. Our traditions seem like going through the motions  while I get another year older, like Christmas will be a repeat performance of things that we’ve been doing since we were kids.

But there is no dust on the Truth of Christmas. Jesus came into a world that He created and that He came to save. The first time He touched the earth He was making it; the second time He touched the earth, He was remaking it. All of the old things that were broken down and decaying, Jesus transformed into something greater. The Son of God, Who makes all things new, wasn’t just repairing our broken world: He was rebuilding it so that we could be what He intended in the first place.

Every year Christmas is something new, and each Season brings its own new joy  just like the arrival of a baby. When I think of Jesus’ arrival as a human infant, it reminds me of how we should see this time of year. The awesome thing about our God is that He allows us the warmth and familiarity of our favorite traditions to blend into the unique joy that comes every December. We don’t just dust off the plastic bins in the basement to bring Christmas out of storage – the Lord creates Christmas new again, just as He brings us new mercies every morning.

As the sun rises on Christmas morning, let’s look forward to enjoying the traditions that we love so much, the things that we’ve loved since we were little, but let’s remember the One who gives us each day as a gift. Jesus makes hearts new, He makes us whole, and I can’t wait to see what amazing new things He will create for us this Christmas.

            Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to save us as a baby, and thank you for coming  to dwell in our hearts to make them new. We look at the wonders of Your creation and are amazed at the work of Your hands. Help us this Christmas Season to see the Truth of Your gift to us. We praise you for all that You have done for us and all that You are doing in this world. We look forward to seeing all things be made new through You. Amen.

Getting Ready to Receive, Day 11

Today I get to share another piece of wisdom from my sister, Laura, on what it means to follow the angel’s instructions.

Behold

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10 (ESV)

Behold! Or, to utilize more modern vernacular: Check it out! Listen up!

I’ve never had an angel stand before me and utter “behold”. Have you? It seems so dramatic and awe inspiring! While it hasn’t happened to me, I certainly have a very specific opinion of what it was like for those shepherds: A crisp, clear night. A blue sky sparkling with stars. The gentle sounds of sheep around them. No odor of any kind because, let’s be serious, I have idealized this moment in time. They had Febreeze, right? Jim and his buddy Jethro hanging out in the field, leaning against a rock with an arm tucked behind their head. “Hey, Jim, you think you can take the first watch? There’s nothing happening and I’m beat.” Such a simple night that suddenly became one of the most talked about, amazing moments in recorded history.

So often I envy those shepherds. They were given such a gift. They were in that field. That night. With that angel. And that message. Can you see it? If only God were to offer me such an opportunity to behold.

Oh, but He has! The problem is, I may have missed it.

This past week has been unique for my simple life. First, my husband underwent a knee surgery that has him quite limited in activity. This man keeps our crazy lives in motion and under control. So you can imagine, things have been… let’s go with interesting. Second, our lovely hamlet of Chillicothe, Ohio had a gorgeous snow. 6 inches of the wet, big flakes that somehow make your Christmas lights sparkle even more. And finally, my father in law drove two hours on Saturday morning, before dawn, to clear our driveway given my hubby’s recovery. This after my sister in law taking care of the “please Lord, just let me live until 8:30 am” process of getting my three young kids off to school while John underwent surgery, and friends bringing us meals as we regrouped on the homefront.

Did I behold in those moments? I live in a land where we have hospitals that can correct ailments that some persons cannot even have diagnosed, let alone have repaired. My family was warm and safe, able to look out at a world made gorgeous by falling, frozen water that makes unique, wonderous flakes. I have people in my life — friends, family, a small group and more, that have given of themselves to help care for my family in our time of need. What wonderous things stand before me!

No, an angel in a robe was not standing there. And no, I did not audibly hear the word “behold”. But, in a moment, driving down the road, with my kids fighting in the back of the van, God placed that word on my heart. Behold, my child.

Listen up, Laura: you have been blessed beyond measure! Check it out and see what the Lord has done for you. Behold! I am standing right here. Jesus came for you, to save you, to give you the opportunity for a life filled with joy and wonder beyond anything you can fathom.

Today, my friends, take a moment to reflect and behold all the good in your life. Behold, a savior has come for each of us!

Lord Jesus, thank you for all the moments and people you have placed in my life.  Teach me to behold. I want to listen and to see all that you are doing in my life and the lives of those around me. Your love is amazing. Behold. I bring you praise!