Saturday, December 31, 2011

Highs & Lows of 2011

I was challenged this year at our staff retreat to reflect on the “highs and lows” of 2011. I’m usually pretty reflective, but not over a 12 month period. It was such a good discipline to think about your year in that way, and see God’s hand in it all.

Interestingly, we realized that out of all of our “lows”, came a “high”. It reminded me of Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

So in all the pain, all the heartbreak, all the change, all the confusion, all of the mess of 2011; we looked closely and we were able to see all the good, all of God, in it too.

I’m sure there was much more that I could record, but these were the few highs/lows we came up with for 2011.

-Low: Santino’s Grandpa Frank was like a second father to him. He grew up 5 houses down from him, taught him how to shave, how to cook, and how to pee in the backyard. Grandpa Frank’s health took a turn for the worse. He grew weak and sick and eventually, just couldn’t fight anymore. He passed away in the spring. It was devastating.

+High: Out of this, grandpa knew his time on earth was coming to an end. Over the past year he started asking questions about God, religion, heaven. He wanted to be close with God all of his life, and just never was. Santino got to lead His grandpa to Christ and teach him many things about God. Such a sweet time.

-Low: The state’s budget was cut drastically, which meant FUSD had to make major cuts like never before. I received a pink slip after teaching for 5 years. I was struggling in this profession and the pink slip felt like confirmation that teaching in a public school just wasn’t for me. It was very hard realizing a dream I had all my life, may have just been that . . . my dream.

+High: Because I was “getting fired” anyway, I started praying and asking God what HE would want me to do with the last 3 months with my students. His answer was simple “Love them. Share me.” So I did. I started preaching the gospel, kids starting putting their faith in Christ. 11 of them even went to church with me! We gave out bibles, prayed together, read the word together. Truly one of the best experiences of my life (I can share more of the story about who sponsored the bibles and God’s hand in all of it, but another time.)

+High: Another high that came out of my pink slip was getting to work at The Well. I jokingly prayed a long time ago that I wish I could find a job where I get to lead bible studies, meet people for coffee, and pray for the church. Well guess what? That’s pretty much what I do there! It is a dream to work with such wonderful people who are all like minded, in pursuit of God and His kingdom.

-Low: We’ve been trying to get pregnant for over a year. We thought that in getting my pink slip, this was the LORD opening a door for me to be a stay at home mom. Well what a great plan, minus the one little detail . . . a baby! So we’re still trying but decided since we aren’t pregnant yet, we’ll fulfill another life dream that probably won’t happen once we have kids . . .

+High: We’re going to Israel! We decided life won’t slow down after we start a family and we both would love to walk in the land the LORD chose, so why not now? That’s a huge journey of faith for me because of the cost, I hate flying, I hate traveling, I hate eating weird food, and I hate not sleeping in my own bed but . . . I love Jesus and I want to be near to Him more than anything, so what better place to experience my Redeemer’s nearness than Israel?

So that wraps up 2011. Highs and lows, and everything in between. In the midst of highs and lows, ups and downs; is a God who never changes, who is consistent, who is stable, and who is near.

Happy New Year! Bring it on 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas 2011

{Christmas Eve}
We spend Christmas Eve with Santino's side of the family. It is so much fun! Did you know Italians have a tradition of eating and enormous amount of seafood the night before Christmas? It's insane! Seriously, his grandma cooks for days before. Crab soup, mussels, shrimp, squid, homemade pizza, everything! I of course, contribute the salad. It's so fun spending time with his wonderful family.

That's us. Santino is probably on his 3rd plate of shrimp ;-)

We may have regifted this gingerbread cookie to his cousin Jessie.

Cousins Chris & Laurel opening our annual family Christmas calendar. They're 3 months pregnant, next Christmas we'll celebrate with a little baby!

{Christmas Day}
We travel to Stockton to spend the day with my family.

Nephew Jackson, Sister Jenny, Cousin Michelle, Aunt Vicki, Me, Sister Teri, and Nephew James

Grandma & Aunt Vicki


My sister Teri & nephew James laughing at Uncle Tino. Seriously, James is all about Uncle Tino. He was the only one that could get him to smile for pictures.

Mom & Jenny (She doesn't want us to call her Jenny anymore because she's a grown-up, but that's Jenny.)

James playing with his new Leap Frog iPad thing. He's pretty much a genius.

Auntie Jenn & Baby Jackson

Our pictures are kind of random (and blurry). We're not the best at capturing moments, but perhaps due to a new year's resolution, 2012 will be much better!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

His Promise. My Hope.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

We love to think of this verse as the promise of fulfilled dreams, desires, or answered prayer. As I've been pondering this verse, thinking of what it truly means, I see that it is much more than the hope of "things" we want.

The HOPE we have is not that God is going to give us stuff, answer our prayer, or bless us with riches. The HOPE we have is that His word is true, His death was sufficient, the Cross is real and we will stand before Him, cleansed, new, and in fullness of joy.

What if instead of using this verse to “claim” His promises, we’d hope for God?
What if what we hoped for was not stuff, or wealth, or blessings, but Him?
What if the conviction of things unseen, meant beholding Christ?
What if we believe more than earthly happiness, our God desires to give us eternal bliss?
What if we wanted that more than anything else?

The things unseen are not the fulfillment of dreams on earth, but the promise of salvation! What we hope for is the presence of God.

That all this belief, trust, faith would excite us because in the end, the promise we get to claim, the blessing we receive, the thing we’d get . . . was God?

I fully ask that question as someone who has been asking the LORD for an earthly blessing for 14 months. Broken hearted, eagerly waiting, hoping, longing . . . knowing He can bless me at anytime.

In conviction I ask “Do I want God more than I want ________?”
What if I asked for Him to be near, more than I asked for Him to open my womb?
What if I longed for Him, the way I long to hold a baby in my arms?

What if HE was enough?
My all in all.

What if He is what I hope for? And my faith, my trust, my confidence, was in knowing someday . . . I will see Him.

“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: 
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, 
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Celebrating with a Broken Heart

So much to be thankful for this time of year.
So much reason to have JOY and PEACE because we are in Christ.

Yet . . . the reality is this season can be so hard for people. Thinking of many who will celebrate the holidays with a feeling of loneliness, emptiness, and a broken heart.

Joyful, yet longing for those we’ve lost.
Those we miss.
Broken relationships to be healed.
Dreams of what could be.

Mothers whose children are in heaven.
Wives whose husbands have passed away.
Daughters missing their fathers.
Mothers missing their sons.
Brothers feeling distant.
Friends longing for a spouse.
Couples longing for children.

For those feeling that way, you are not forgotten. This whole season represents a God who loves you so much, HE came to you. He left Heaven on high, to dwell among you, to call you to Himself, and offer you a hope and a future.

While our hearts long for what was, or what could be, that we would remember this kind of love . . . and long for Christ.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26

Friday, December 23, 2011

Called Out & Invited In

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Peter 2:9-10)

I have been thinking about this verse all month. It's where my identity is found. I am called out and invited in . . . to proclaim HIM.. Telling all that HE has done in my life, what He has brought me out OF and what He has grafted me INTO. From nothing to something.

I decided to reread 1 Peter 2 from the Message this morning and felt like blogging. But HIS words are better than my words, so would you join me today in reading, meditating, and delighting in what is found in 1 Peter 2?

"So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You've had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God's pure kindness. Then you'll grow up mature and whole in God. (1-3)

The Stone
Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you'll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God. The Scriptures provide precedent:

Look! I'm setting a stone in Zion,
a cornerstone in the place of honor.
Whoever trusts in this stone as a foundation
will never have cause to regret it.
To you who trust him, he's a Stone to be proud of, but to those who refuse to trust him,

The stone the workmen threw out
is now the chief foundation stone.
For the untrusting it's
.. . a stone to trip over,
a boulder blocking the way.
They trip and fall because they refuse to obey, just as predicted. (4-8)

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. (9-10)

Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they'll be won over to God's side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. (11-12)

Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God's emissaries for keeping order. It is God's will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you're a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government. (13-17)

The Kind of Life He Lived

You who are servants, be good servants to your masters—not just to good masters, but also to bad ones. What counts is that you put up with it for God's sake when you're treated badly for no good reason. There's no particular virtue in accepting punishment that you well deserve. But if you're treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God. (18-20)

This is the kind of life you've been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.

He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.

They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you're named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls (21-25

We have been called out of darkness, and invited into Christ and His kind of life.

We exchange chains of sin, to be bound to Righteousness.

We are called out to proclaim Him.

In our abundance . . . and in our suffering.
In our blessing . . . and in our pain.

Our lives should shout Christ and what HE has done for us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

JOY. Unspeakable JOY!

{Finding Joy in the True Reason for the Season}

JOY: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

I’m reading through Luke 1-2 this month, meditating ON and rejoicing IN what we TRULY celebrate this season. The Savior of the world has come.

The King of kings came to earth to dwell among us, to call people from darkness to light, to adopt them into His kingdom, to clothe them with all the riches of Heaven, and invite them to dine at the Master’s table. Though we were once far off, we’ve been brought near!

The JOY of the world has come . . . JOY. Unspeakable JOY!

After all, shouldn’t we (the ones who have been grafted in) be the most JOYFUL of all this time of year?

Shouldn’t our hearts sing with gladness, just like Mary’s in Luke 1?

Shouldn’t we shine so brightly because our hearts overflow with His glow?

We can easily let errands, lists, gifts, busyness, late nights, and long lines consume us during this season. What if we let the words below consume our hearts and minds instead? What if we we truly celebrated the Reason for the season and found JOY in Him!

He loved.
He came.
He reconciled.
He adopted.
He delighted.
He is enthroned.

He is the Reason.
He is our Gift.
He is our JOY.
Let us REJOICE in Him!

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47)

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. (Psalm 138:1-2)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:11)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly (Psalm 138:6