Friday, October 17, 2008

Christina's Sweet 16 Letter

Shuffling through stuff on my office PC, I found this letter I wrote to Christina on her 16th birthday. This December, she will be 20 already, but still it is sweet to remember life when she was 16, so, here's the letter:
Christmas Morning 2003
Dear Christina,
Sixteen years ago this morning I woke up in strange surroundings all alone. I was in a hospital not far from here. And that morning the nurses brought me a large red Christmas stocking, with an infant inside. She had on a tiny red Santa cap with a white pomp-pomp on the top; she had a head full of silky black hair and perfect little lips. And she was the best Christmas present ever.

We called her Christina.

My life had never been the same since. Although there were sacrifices to stay home with you, I never regretted a thing. I count all the things I could have been, could have done, could have had, as rubbish compared to the joy of being able to be home and raise you, care for you, love you and enjoy you. You have been a treasure and it has been a great privilege, a gift from God Himself, to be your mom.

But now, you are a young woman and the time has come for you to fly away like the beautiful butterfly you have morphed into. I am impressed by your great wisdom, your tenderhearted love for your sister and your friends, your faith. I am awed by how you care for yourself; how you can do things I can't do, like your running in track, your life guarding, your sweet way with small children, your fashion sense, your maturity shown in counseling your friends. The freedom that I give you, I do with confidence that you want to do the right things and that you have the strength of character to influence your friends to do the right things, instead of going along with what they want to do. It is with confidence that I watch you walk into your future because I am certain of your commitment to Christ, and that He has great plans for your life.

One thing to remember is the two-sided truth revealed to us in God's word:
  • "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13) and
  • "...without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

When God is encouraging us to do something, we can trust Him to meet us at our point of weakness and help us overcome all the obstacles that come our way. As we obey Him, He is faithful to help us do what we cannot. Everyone is afraid at times, but no matter how you may feel on the inside; remember that courage is not about not feeling fear. It is about doing what you need to do in spite of the fear. Courage is not only important for men. Women need to be courageous too. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but take courage; be confident, certain and undaunted! For I have overcome the world! " (John 16:33)

On the other hand, we need to remember that all our strength comes from God, from "abiding in" Him through prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship and service. We need to love Him and follow Him in with boundless enthusiasm. As we need air and water and food, we need Him. As we need a map and directions when we are lost in the dark, we need Him. And the best part is, He is always there, just a prayer away. Jesus said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20). He has always kept that promise for me.

Because you have always wanted to do the right thing, since you were very small, I have not had to punish you very much. Unfortunately, I have found in my life, wanting to do the right thing is not enough. Because we are breathing, we will continue in this life to do the wrong thing. And when we do the wrong things, the Holy Spirit convicts us. But don't feel bad when God is convicting you; it means He loves you. "My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you and don’t be discouraged when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes those He accepts as His children." (Hebrews 12:5-6) I know the Holy Spirit continues to convict you in your heart when you are doing the wrong thing. Don't ignore Him, embrace Him and ask for forgiveness. "If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us of every wrong." (1 John 1:9) Our relationship with God, and with others, deepens as we practice the discipline of confession. It is a hard thing to do, but it is so worthwhile.

The other thing to remember is success in life cannot be measured by how much you have, own or do. "But godliness with contentment is great wealth. After all, we didn't bring anything with us when we came into this world, and we certainly can't carry anything with us when we die. So if you have enough food and clothing, let us be content." (1Timothy 6:6-7) Success is not about how many people know your name, or think you are great. Success is measured by making a difference in the lives of people. We cannot take any thing with us when we die, but we can take other people. Jesus said, "You know that in this world, kings are tyrants and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give My life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28) I expect you to have great success in life. Don't let anyone tell you that there is any other way to succeed but God's way.

Christina, I love you. These next few years will be difficult for our relationship as we navigate the waters of your new independence and my taking a step back in managing your life. It is a dance we will need to learn together and we will be stepping on each other’s toes. It is a happy and exciting time, and a sad and scary time for us. But please know that I have confidence in you and in God who loves and cares for you.

The change that results from whole hearted devotion to Christ

The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. 1 Peter 3:1-4 MSG

It has been two years now since Al committed his life to Christ, and a good time to reflect on that, from my point of view. People ask me, how has Al changed? Now would be a good time to share how life is different now that he has crossed the line of faith.

First, I now urge, even more strongly, women who are yet unmarried to only commit to a man who is whole-heartedly devoted to Christ. I am amazed at the difference this has made in our life together.

I did not have to instruct or encourage Al to change. It happened by the exclusive and mighty power of the Spirit of Christ. He reads his Bible daily, listens to praise music, reads Christian books---his current interest is in the marriage relationship. He desires to be a godly husband and is pursuing that goal in a passionate way.

He prays with me. He cries with me. He gives me Godly counsel, he is much more patient to hear about my issues and shares his with me. He pursues me, makes sure we have enough quality time together. He leaves me notes, he reads to me, he calls me at work, he has given me gifts unlike before this time. He has become my best friend. He has become an even sweeter lover.

He will accept my rebuke of his sins (of course, I need to be gentle and respectful), and he thoughtfully considers my words. Even if sometimes emotions are too hot for an immediate positive response, he always comes back to me later. He says he’s SORRY and admits when he is wrong.

Two years later, I still am amazed at this blessing from God. I am awed by the power of the Spirit to transform and this has given me hope to pray for the most difficult issues.

I would also like to share, from my current perspective, what to do if you are still waiting for this transformation to happen in your husband. If I would give a word of advice, it would be this…

While you wait, pursue a holy life, devoted to Jesus.

It is not easy to do this as a woman married to a man who is uncommitted to God. But doing this will accomplish two things.

First, we can not impart what we do not have. As we are changed by the power of the Spirit, that change effects others, especially those in our household. The beauty of inner holiness is very attractive.

Second, as we wait, Jesus longs to strengthen us, console us, fulfill our every need, and be the husband to us we do not yet have. Do not allow the busy-ness of the world to pull you away from this. Draw near to Jesus by reading His Word, worship, prayer and fellowship with other believers. Cry out to Him when you are weary, let others lift you up in prayer, praise Him when you are impatient, go to His Word when you are confused. Jesus never disappoints.

Jesus is even more desirous of a commitment from your husband than you are. As you allow Jesus to change you, He can use you to draw your husband to Himself.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Job in the Field

Psalm 37:3-5

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in Him and He will do this:

One of my oldest fears about being "called" by God was thinking He would ask me to be a nun, or worse yet, to be a missionary in Africa or something like that. I was so relieved when I heard Pastor Ed’s teaching on this subject, saying that God does not work that way. He works on our hearts over a period of time until His desire for us becomes our desire.

God has been working on me for quite a while, from several different directions. He had given me a passion to be more active in the community and outside of the church. He had allowed concerns about finances to arise in our family. This past spring, as our youngest daughter, Debbie, graduated high school and was accepted into Kean University, the concern over tuition began to overwhelm me and I sought God in prayer for a full-time position. My position at MCC has been part-time.

At the Leadership Summit in August of this year, I was so torn up by Bill Hybels last talk. "Relentless" was the title, about Mother Theresa and the passion God put in her heart to help the poor and sick in Calcutta. I remember feeling so sad because I wanted to continue to serve Christ, but knew I needed to find full time employment. I didn't want to join a secular company and was concerned on how I would adjust to that after being secluded in the church for so long.

However, when I was first offered an interview with Urban Renewal Corp, a non-profit homeless shelter in Newark, I didn't even want to go. As God and I discussed the matter in the car on the way there, He told me, "I am not going to make you do anything. You will have to WANT this."

When I met the man behind the place, he so impressed me as someone who was doing Christ's work, although he is a not a committed Christ-follower. He was a businessman who fell into this because of his big heart. He is serious about serving the homeless, his program is impressive and comprehensive.

On Wednesday of this week, I was offered a position as Executive Assistant to the CEO of Urban Renewal, and because they needed to fill the position immediately, I began work on Thursday. I will be working also at MCC next week, and then off hours with the MCC staff as long as it takes to assure a smooth transition.

How fitting that God is sending me also to the mission field, even if it is only a few miles south of my home! I will still be able to make it home for dinner. God is indeed merciful!

This is something that I have been prayerful and patient about and I am confident that I am following God. I am sure that He will also provide what is needed at MCC to fill the gap I am leaving, because He loves us and always provides for His people.

It has been an honor and a privilege and a joy to serve Christ at MCC and I expect to continue to do so, just no longer 9-5.