Wednesday, December 29, 2010

on blogging

I've been on this blog for two years now. Not too long ago, I scanned the archives and took a look at the journey over the past two years.

In tracing the fingerprints of God, it appears that He has been calling me and others into His work of creating a model of Christian Community Development in our area. This blog has served as a bit of a record of activity, as well as a journal of thoughts as I seek to give my life more fully over to Christ and His mission. Hopefully there has been a post or two that has informed, challenged, or encouraged someone else on the path.

I am going to unplug for the month of January and take some time for more personal journaling and some simplicity and quiet. I have great anticipation for the movement of God's Spirit in 2011, and I will be back in February, God willing, to blog through this next year!

See you in a month. God's best-

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

love is show and tell

My friend Heidi painted this shortly after our trip to Chicago in September where we listened to John Perkins over four mornings at the Christian Community Development Association conference. Lucky me that I received a print of it as a Christmas gift this year! It's a favorite, and is already on the wall by my desk.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the perfect storm of Christmas

This Christmas was like no other in my experience. After a morning with Sara at home, we set out for the rest of the day around our community. Ten stops included-

7 home visits
2 side of the road encounters
1 hospital visit
1 walk around the block with Gator, the dog of a friend who lives alone and is housebound in his wheelchair.
1 suspected drug deal in front of us
5 containers of hot chili dished up from a big roaster in the back of our van
lots of hugs and prayers

Heading out unannounced we found a man blowing snow in his driveway, a family with kids playing in their living room, a bachelor watching tv, a woman in tears who was alone at Christmas, a man walking to the cigar store for cigarettes, a quiet hospital room with an elderly woman, a couple of kids walking down the street, an exchange made at a car window, a married couple who struggles to care for one another due to their deteriorating health problems.

The images of families together laughing and feasting, of finely decorated homes and presents piled under the tree-these were not the realities of many we came upon Saturday.

More than any Christmas before I could taste the longing for something, for someone, to come and take away the sickness, the pain, the loneliness, the sadness, the brokenness. What a strange paradox it was. Christmas- a day when people experience their brokenness, their sadness, their loneliness, their longings in acute ways like no other day. And Christmas- the day to announce the actual arrival of that someone who has come to make things right in our hearts. The hope of the world. The water for our thirsty souls. The one who rescues and can fulfill all our longings has come!

The drama seemed at its heightened climax this Christmas. As if the world has set up Christmas to create this perfect storm of appetite and desire, and God uses it as the perfect moment to usher in the only one who will satisfy. Christ the Messiah. What an honor it is to be a bringer of this Good News. May His Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

classic Saturday

On Christian community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) from his writing Life Together:

"The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God's Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ which assures him salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to the Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word.

And it can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

But God has put this Word into the mouth of others in order that it may be communicated to us. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find his living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth."

Consider a time when a Christian brother or sister was used by God to speak His Word into your life.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

The hope, joy, love, and peace of Christ the King be yours this Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

same and different

I've heard friends tell me that their Christmas is a bit different now that they or their children are married and there are other families to add into the mix of scheduling gatherings and celebrations. Flexibility and some change to traditions of old have been needed. Our Christmas is a bit different this year, too, though our children are eleven years old and the thought of marriage is still a distant one. My husband, Mike, and our son, Nathan, are gone on a dog sledding adventure up near Ely, MN, this Christmas, so Sara and I are looking at a bit of a different Christmas. We've made up a list of that which we plan to do this week:

1. 11 p.m. Christmas Eve Service at church (this tops Sara's list...she's been talking about this for a year). We may also go to an earlier service with my parents.

2. We are going to a family friend's Christmas Eve evening and also playing games with my parents on Christmas evening.

3. We have several people we are going to visit with a hot dish or cookies over the next four days...a friend who recently adopted three children from Ethiopia, Sara's small group leader from church whose daughter has been really sick this fall. A few friends in the Walnut Neighborhood. Three friends who have been widowed this past year. A 12 year old girl who is pretty wounded from life. And we might look downtown on the streets and under the bridges for folks who could use a little hot soup and a hope-filled word that the very reason Christmas exists is because they matter so much to God.

4. Along with these Christmas plans, Sara also voiced a wish that we stay in our pajamas an entire day this next week, reading on the couch and only getting up to eat meals and go the bathroom. She didn't have to twist my arm very hard on that one.

Last night, Sara had a friend overnight. We made "puppy chow" snack mix, and I listened to the girls singing Christmas carols. I found myself thinking that no matter what changes are made in our lives, our celebrations, and our traditions, I am so grateful that God is unchanging and that the Christmas message stays the same. God's love and mercy in the flesh. His joy, peace, hope, and forgiveness available through this babe. God reconciling our lives and the world through Jesus Christ.

May the presence of Christ be your greatest gift this season.
Merry Christmas,

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Store remaining gifts and finances

With the remaining gifts left from the Christmas Store, we blessed:

Boys & Girls Club with 4 boxes of soccer balls, footballs, basketballs.

Four Head Start preschools with 2 boxes of toys each.

One in-home daycare for the children of Expo teen moms.

Seeds of Hope Domestic Abuse Center with two boxes of toys.

River Hills School received two boxes of toys.

“Moving On” program run by church member, Janis Wren. One box of purses and accessories.

Quakerdale received one box of gifts for teen girls.

Our Grundy campus received two boxes of gifts for teen boys that was distributed to boys in needs.

$3,840.75 was available to share with the following organizations:

A $50 check went to each of these schools' libraries. (Each of these schools was represented by a parent who shopped at the Christmas Store on December 11. Parents wrote the school their child attended on the back of their ticket when they checked in.)

Castle Hill

Kittrell Elementary

Edison Elementary

Lou Henry Elementary

Kingsley Elementary

Poyner Elementary

Highland Elementary

Irving Elementary

Lincoln Elementary

Lowell Elementary

Bunger Middle School

Central Middle School

Carver Middle School

Expo High School

West High School

East High School

Hudson Elementary


Holmes Junior High - Cedar Falls

Lincoln Elementary - Cedar Falls

North Cedar Elementary - Cedar Falls

The remaining money was gifted to three places: Cunningham Elementary (most of the families who shopped came from Cunningham), Boys & Girls Club, and Harvest Vineyard Church.

It was awesome to see the Christmas Store continue to bless others the week after the actual event itself.

Have a Blessed, joy-filled Christmas!

some Christmas Store volunteer feedback

"I was a cashier and had a blast. It was so heart warming to see the happy faces of parents who found toys their children would love. So many "God bless you's" back and forth. Smiles, Hearing "Merry Christmas" and "you are such a blessing" over and over again made my heart sing. To God be the glory. One man told me he was 72 years old, lived in Waterloo all his life, and had never seen such a wonderful blessing as the Christmas store. I about cried."

"A short conversation I had revealed part of the mission of the Christmas store - a woman told mentioned that she worked very hard to provide for her family and that her children would be able to see that : ) The Christmas Store definitely enables families to provide for their children and/or other family members and I think those shopping appreciate that."

"Today I served as a personal shopper on the floor. I really enjoyed being able to actually interact with the people. It was a neat experience and I think that we really made a difference for these people and their kids this Christmas.

The last lady that I shopped with had four young kids under 7 and one on the way. She had no idea what she really wanted to get for them all because for some reason she thought she could only buy one gift! She was very nice and polite to me and kept thanking me for carrying her things while she looked. She also said how nice it was that I knew where things were so I could help her. When I led her to the check out line she turned and gave me a hug and thanked me and said that I was doing a wonderful thing and my kindness would make her kids have a better Christmas. :)

That was one of the nicest things she could have said! I was reluctant to get out of bed this morning and was really tired. I just wanted to come get this over with and didn't think people would really want my help following them around. I was wrong. I think she made my Christmas season better by opening my eyes to the things that really matter!"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

classic Saturday

I found this week's bio. of the author even more fascinating than the selection. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was born in Italy and was 24 of 25 children in her family! By age 7, Catherine had vowed virginity to God. At age 15, she cut off her hair to defy her parents' efforts to arrange marriage. At 18, she became a Dominican nun and lived in solitude and silence for 3 years (only coming out of her room for mass). When Catherine was 21, she returned to her family and spent her life helping the poor by serving as a nurse in homes and hospitals. She was able to maintain a rich inner life of silence and devotion to God, and was even known to help settle political disputes and social unrest until she died at age 33.

The quote comes from one of her works entitled The Dialogue.

"When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. I made of that cross an anvil where this child of humankind could be hammered into an instrument to release humankind from death and restore it to the life of grace. In this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn by love. He could not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you (John 15:13). You can hardly resist being drawn by love, then, unless you foolishly refuse to be drawn."

I was struck by two things in this week's devotional. First, Catherine's significant wisdom, devotion, and contributions to the world at such a young age remind me of how God can and does powerfully work through young people sold out to Christ. Second, Catherine understood and lived the "inside-out" life. It was her rich inner life with God that spilled out into an active life of service to God.

I can tell when I am out of whack; when my outer life activity begins to compete or crowd out the inner sanctuary. Even if some disciplines are in place, they can become hurried or stay pretty close to the surface in a busy season. Often for me, the only thing that cuts deep through to the center are some pretty lengthy doses of silence and solitude.. I'm due for some retreating into the rest of such "unspeakable love" here at the end of this year. You?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

God orders our steps

Sometimes we talk about leadings from God. We call them "hearing God's whisper" or "promptings" or "nudgings". Sometimes God speaks to our hearts and nudges us to do or say something. And other times He just does it without any notification to our conscience at all. Today was just such a day.

At my daughter's violin concert last night, my parents shared with me how they had gone to the hospital to see my Uncle Chuck yesterday, and how he was not doing well. I had learned that my uncle had been increasingly having difficulty breathing and eating, and my Aunt Delores took him to the hospital on Sunday evening. The doctors found a massive tumor completely taking over one lung and part of his esophagus. They were to learn this morning what kind of tumor it was.

So, as I made plans for my day today, I thought I'd go to the hospital first thing after the kids got on the bus, then run some errands, then work at church. After the bus pulled away, I found myself at the recycling center, and just decided to flip flop my day with a trip to the hospital last on my list instead of first. No reason. No nudging. Just made a new plan.

At twelve o'clock, after dropping off a gift to someone in the neighborhood, I pulled into Allen Hospital and found my aunt and cousins/spouses all in the room. My aunt and three cousins had spent the night with Uncle Chuck in the room, and I took about 5-10 minutes looking at Chuck resting peacefully and hearing the others tell me how he had struggled so to breathe yesterday and how the morphine had been keeping him comfortable and sleeping today. The reports had come back this morning that a very aggressive lung cancer was taking over. It had to be, as a scan last spring hadn't shown anything.

My aunt turned the conversation by asking me if our kids were excited for Christmas. We began to talk for about five minutes about Christmas plans and topics other than Chuck. In those few minutes, we had turned our attention away from him and on to one another. Suddenly, my cousin's daughter (who is a nurse) walked up to Chuck and called for her grandma. Chuck had stopped breathing and had slipped away in an instant. There were no indications that he had been about to take his last breath on earth. It was sudden and surprising. It was surreal. The family, who was on their third day with their husband/father/grandfather, instantly surrounded his bed and began to weep. My cousin, Diane, asked if I would pray. As we circled up and held hands, I was just overcome with God's power and sovereignty and care. God cared enough to orchestrate that moment so that I could be there to offer that prayer. It was a tender and holy time, and I was so grateful to have been there with the family.

How could it be that all of the desk work, errands, phone calls, and stop lights of the day would land me in that room in the exact moments that it did? I was reminded of this Scripture as I asked that question:

Proverbs 20:24
A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


One of the great things about the Christmas Store is that it empowered parents to choose gifts for their own children. To offer some payment for them. To put their own tags on the gifts and place them under their Christmas trees for their family.

Orchard Hill friends gave gifts, and parents received the gifts. Parents gave cash, and Orchard Hill volunteers received the payment. The value in that exchange goes far beyond the actual dollar amount of cash given. Because everyone was a participant, a stronger sense of dignity and community was experienced, and there was a sense of capacity-building and mutuality in the exchange.

Now, can the Christmas Store of the future work toward the next two levels of empowerment?

1. Could more friends from the community be serving as planners and volunteers at the Christmas Store and the Christmas Craft Fair? We talk of raising up indigenous leaders. About the community having the solutions to their problems. About this CCDA philosophy:

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have:
But of the best leaders, when their task is done
The people will remark "We have done it ourselves."

If this is to be a value for us, then the Christmas Store and Craft Fair will increasingly involve the community we served. That would be empowerment at a next level, and we need to work toward such development as we build relationships.

2. The other level of empowerment that I've been considering is to coach and empower other city partnerships to consider a similar type of Christmas Store model. I heard from a support worker at another school who loved the Christmas Store idea for their schools' families who are in need. What if other partners in education...churches, businesses, etc... would consider hosting a Christmas Store in their partner schools? That would be just one more level of empowerment and development across the broader community.

Monday, December 13, 2010

more Christmas Craft photos

Christian community

On Saturday, 235 volunteers dressed in red provided a great experience in the Walnut Neighborhood at the Christmas Store and the Christmas Craft Fair.

For me personally, very little of the day was about the material goods on the tables but rather all about the experience. The experience was relational in so many ways. At the Christmas Craft Fair, I watched people sitting down together at tables making crafts and visiting with one another. I watched people work together to accomplish the task of that particular craft. There was a buzz of conversation and laughter when I walked through mid-way into the event. Yesterday I attended church at Orchard Hill and at Harvest, and I listened to people at both churches talk about all the new people they had met.

At the Christmas Store, greeters welcomed folks, the hospitality room was full of cider, cookies, smiles, and love. Personal shopping assistants came alongside those shopping to help hold coats and toys and to help guide them through the process smoothly. Even through the cashier line and gift wrap, I watched people smiling and visiting with one another. And, before the exit, I watched several shoppers stop to pray with folks available at a prayer area. There were tears and hugs on more than one occasion when I looked around the gym.

What a beautiful picture of Christian community. The people of God bound together on a particular mission, shining light and drawing others in to be a part of such goodness. I had a friend volunteer at the Christmas Store who has been away from church and fellowship over the past year or more. Even after she just came together for the volunteer orientation meeting, she said, "When I was at church tonight, I felt so alive." Oh, how good it is when the Holy Spirit works through the Christian community of faith-filled, joy-filled friends!

I used to think Christian Community Development meant Christians developing the community (as in location). I think it really means that God wants to develop Christian community (as in relationships). When those reconciling relationships and friendships begin to happen, all sorts of transformation can begin to happen in the physical location of community.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

in the news

The Christmas Store made the Cedar Valley Section of today's Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. You can read it by clicking here.

Christmas Store Celebrations

I praise you, God, for the blessings of yesterday's Christmas Store. Here's just a few-

1. The generous hearts of all those who donated gifts and/or money for the Store. In all, cash received was $5,727. A total estimated $45, 000 was spent to stock the store with gifts and toys.

2. The volunteers. Unbelievably great servant hearts. Warm, friendly, hard working, team players.

3. The Boys n' Girls Club for opening their doors to this idea. The space was great for the store, but even greater were Chuck and Nisha who worked alongside of us so enthusiastically.

4. Great minds and hearts worked together to organize this first-time effort.

5. CCDA (Christian Community Development Association). It is through this association that we got connected with FCS in Atlanta, GA, and Community 412 in Aurora, IL. These ministries spurred the idea and the foundation for the Christmas Store effort.

6. Tianne's opening prayer before the Store opened yesterday. Honestly, in the busy details of the morning, she led me like nothing else into the presence of God and helped me get rightly centered for the day.

7. The weather! The elements held off! I woke up to 37 degree wetness but no ice and snow! It began to snow right toward the end of the Store, but the hazardous temps and winds didn't kick up til much later.

8. The 223 families that shopped the Store. They were lovely. And it was so beautiful to see volunteers and shoppers interacting throughout the morning.

9. The shopping experience. Shoppers loved getting to choose for their children and they LOVED getting such a bargain! Don't you?! I love it when I find something really great and it's 80% off!

10. The Christmas Craft Fair next door with our partner, Harvest Vineyard. I only had a few minutes to go check it out, but it was such a great combination experience. Lots of love being felt as Orchard, Harvest, and community friends all sat down together to make handcrafted gifts for Christmas.

11. The post-Store blessings yet to be distributed. We have toys and gifts left. Of the 365 tickets actually given, 223 families came. We could have served another 100 families..especially families of young kiddos (we had a plethera of younger kids' toys vs. teen gifts). However, we are excited to be able to bless some schools or non-profits with the remaining gifts. And, I guesstimate that we took in about $4,000 yesterday. That too will be distributed in financial gifts to schools and the Boys n' Girls Club. Awesome!

classic Saturday (on Sunday)

John Wesley (1703-1791) is our featured devotional author this week. I got stuck on the opening bio. line for him. "John Wesley was one of nineteen children born to Samuel and Susanna..." How is that even possible...19 children! You may recognize Wesley as the "father of the Methodist tradition." While he was in college at Oxford University, he and a band of friends practiced a methodical approach to holiness, gaining them the name "Methodists". Though religion and piety were high values for Wesley, it wasn't until he was 35 years old when he deeply experienced the love of God for him and the Gospel became rooted in his heart. From then on, he embarked on an evangelism tour, ministering to the common folk throughout the countryside of England.

The excerpt below comes from his writing entitled Christian Perfection. It's not so much advice to Christians to be sinless as it is advice to nurture our desire to be wholly devoted in love with God. Pretty easy to tell from this passage if Wesley was an activist or a contemplative.

The Danger of Sins of Omission

"Sins of omission are avoiding to do good of any kind when we have the opportunity. We must beware of these sins and, instead, be zealous of good works. Do all the good you possibly can to the bodies and souls of your neighbors. Be active. Give no place to laziness. Be always busy, losing no shred of time. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.

Also be slow to speak. It is said, "In a multitude of words sin abounds." Try not to talk too much, or for a long period of time. Not many people can converse profitably beyond an hour's time. Especially avoid pious "chit-chat" or religious gossip."

I could use a little practice on the reduction of words from my days....anybody else?