In the corner of our bedroom sits a large black umbrella. Though now over twenty years old, it has never been used…and most assuredly will never be. In fact, it’s only been held once: on a clear and sunny Texas summer afternoon. Sadly, this umbrella will never serve the purpose for which it was manufactured.
It will, however, serve the purpose for which it was intended. Namely, reminding us what marriage should be.
You see, on that July afternoon – Saturday, July 31, 1993, to be exact – my dad walked me down the aisle of Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas. There was no umbrella. He was asked, Who gives this woman to be married to this man? And still, no umbrella . In a clear and unwavering voice, he responded with probably the most difficult five words he’d ever spoken, Her mother and I do. His hands, void of an umbrella, let go of mine so that Matt’s could take their rightful place.
And suddenly, there he was, onstage, with an umbrella.
Her mother and I do, he began. Five simple words, but with a depth of meaning – and here, for the first time, his voice faltered. Cracked. Wavered, just a bit. A slight pause while he regained his composure. - that I’d like to explain a bit. And if you’ll allow me the wisdom of over 30 years of marriage, I’ll share some advice with you. To do that, I thought of my trusty umbrella.
As he spoke, it became clear that for the first 2 1/2 decades of my life, my dad had been my umbrella-bearer: my shelter, my protector, my safe haven from the storms of life. He held that umbrella for me during times of blazing sun as well as pouring rain. He ensured that as long as I remained close to him, I was protected. I was safe.
One final thing about umbrellas is that they only come with one handle. As of today, my hand lets go of it so that yours, Matt, can take hold. I think an umbrella would be an awkward thing for you to take on your honeymoon, so I’ll just hold on to it for a bit longer, but it will be waiting for you when you return…
And in that instant, our world changed completely. My dad was, of course, right. About the umbrella, about the handle, about it being awkward to take on our honeymoon…but especially about it being here when we returned. When we arrived home, there it was. In our apartment, nestled against the wall in the living room. Waiting.
Since that day, you, Matt, have been my umbrella-bearer. You have been the one to offer protection, safety, and tender care during the storms of life. You have been the one I’ve run to when the clouds form and rain begins to fall. You have been the one to provide relief when life blazes with white-hot intensity, and my mind and my nerves are frazzled and weary.
Sometimes, the winds blow. Your strength to hold that umbrella steady strengthens me.
Sometimes, the lightning flashes and the thunder booms. Your fearlessness to hold that umbrella firmly gives me courage.
Sometimes, the snow and ice pelt and sting. Your faithfulness to hold that umbrella willingly inspires me.
Sometimes, the gentle rains fall. Your thoughtfulness to hold that umbrella gladly encourages me.
Sometimes, the sunshine blazes. Your forethought to hold that umbrella patiently comforts me.
May God bless you as you use this umbrella for the care and protection of this lovely woman. His final words to you. He shook your hand, you said, Thank you, and he sat down. It was over. His responsibility – as father of the bride, but also as my umbrella-bearer – was complete. Your responsibility – as my husband, my new umbrella-bearer – had just begun.
And if I’m honest, there have been times when perhaps you’ve raised that umbrella too hastily. There have been moments when – as cautioned – you’ve been tempted to rush to my aid when perhaps you shouldn’t. To be fair, there have been times when I’ve resisted your encouragement to come under the umbrella, defiantly asserting my own opinions and ideas rather than listening to reason and responding to your loving concern. But as time has passed, we’ve learned, through experience, how to get the best use out of the umbrella, when it’s needed and when it’s not, and how to raise and lower it carefully so as not to inflict harm or hurt.
So thank you, Matt, for being my umbrella-bearer these past two decades. It’s not always easy to share space under its canopy, but there’s no one I’d rather have holding the handle than you.
I went in. I listened eagerly. I knew I needed this message, based on a situation that had arisen the previous week. A situation where – in all honesty – though a decision has been made, God still has a hold on my heart and I am still struggling, wrestling, and earnestly seeking peace.
That’s when I heard the gentle promptings of my God. Do you do the same with Me? Do I sit at His feet, patiently, waiting for the good things He has promised? Do I sit, quietly but expectantly, knowing that He is good and believing His promises, His word? Because He is far more good than I am to CeCe, far more faithful, far more generous, far more loving. Our “BIG GOD” is not only the God of an uncertain future, but He is the BIG GOD of love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Bible says, “against such things there is no law”…but “against such things” there is also no limit.
Several years ago, I was given a book entitled 212: The Extra Degree. The basic premise is the following:
At 211º water is hot. At 212º, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive. The one extra degree makes the difference. This simple analogy reflects the ultimate definition of excellence. Because it’s the one extra degree of effort, in business and life, that can separate the good from the great.
This week, our church has been focusing on that one degree of change, that one single degree that makes a world of difference. Whether it’s the pinpoint accuracy of an arrow shooting from an archer’s bow or the meticulous charting of a navigator on a ship, one degree can mean the difference between reaching your goal or straying far from it…and ultimately between life and death. Spiritually speaking, that one degree of change have a tremendous impact on not only our daily lives but also on eternity. And this morning, the question was asked: will you be the one God uses?
That question – those 7 simple words – challenge me deeply. Because I can never fully know God’s plan this side of eternity, I must constantly follow, obey, and submit my wants and desires to His will and His plan. Because I can never fully see the far-reaching effects of my words and actions, I must continually be on guard against unkindness, favoritism, or hypocrisy. Because I can never completely anticipate God’s timing or comprehend the scope of His knowledge, I must actively take advantage of opportunities that He brings my way.
Often, that’s hard. I get tired. I get overwhelmed, emotionally and spiritually. I’m afraid of what the commitment will cost. I don’t have time. But in the grand scheme of eternity, those are sorry excuses. And quite honestly, God doesn’t ask of me what He’s not willing to provide. I’ve got the resources of the King of the Universe at my disposal. All I have to do is ask.
And so that questions stirs my heart again: will I be the one God uses?
As I ponder this question, I’m reminded of a song that was released shortly after I graduated from college. Despite the mullets, big hair, shoulderpads and pegged jeans depicted in the video, the message still challenges me even after all these years…will I be the one God uses?
The answer is, simply, yes. May my heart remain yielded, willing, and ready. Ready to help. Ready to serve. Ready to do the work. Ready to be the one degree of change that can make a difference in the world.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who wasn’t a runner. She decided one day to start not running and she didn’t like it so much, she kept not doing it. After awhile, another friend started not running with her, and eventually – in January, 2012 - they didn’t run a 5K together: The American Cancer Society’s inaugural Relay for Life Fight Back 5K.
The next year, the two of them decided not to run this same 5K again, but this time with their families. On this chilly, grey winter morning, they didn’t get up early and meet at Stonebridge United Methodist Church for the American Cancer Society’s 2nd annual Relay for Life Fight Back 5K.
The girl who doesn’t run didn’t stand in line to pick up her son’s registration packet, and she didn’t help him get his bib number attached to the front of his sweatshirt.
Her friends and family didn’t stand in the cold, impatiently waiting for the starting gun’s signal.
When the gun sounded, the girl who doesn’t run started out first. Knowing that she *really* hadn’t run in over a month, her main concern was simply finishing. She *really* wasn’t trying for a personal record, and since last year’s event ended with plantar fasciitis in both feet, she knew she would easily beat her previous time. But also recognizing the significance of this cause – fighting back against cancer – and having a personal connection to it, she also wanted to push herself…to “fight back” in her own way. The course was hilly and challenging, every step reminding her why she doesn’t run. But as she found herself surrounded by other non-runners, she discovered that strength, that desire, that thirst for victory, for personal achievement, for making it count.
So she didn’t push herself to run hard, and she didn’t keep running when she felt like walking, and she certainly didn’t dig deep running up those steep hills.
And when she didn’t cross the finish line at exactly 32:00, it wasn’t a mere 30 seconds off her official PR from last year. She certainly wasn’t proud of herself.
Her husband wasn’t pumped about the chance to participate in his very first 5K.
And he definitely wasn’t excited to do his victory dance over cancer.
Her family didn’t enjoy the chance to walk/run with friends along the course.
And when they didn’t cross the finish line, they certainly weren’t proud of their accomplishments…or ready for the breakfast of champions at McDonald’s.
In fact, it wasn’t so much fun, they can’t wait to not do it again next year, when perhaps they’ll all be a little better at not running.
Ah, January 1. That glorious day when we say “good bye” to the old and “hello” to the new. That day – that singular day – on the calendar when the blank space of 365 unknowns spreads out before us like a book waiting to be written. That day, much like the first day of summer vacation, when the mere possibility of what could be brings forth hope, optimism, and the belief that one year from now we can be so much more, so much better, so very different from what are – and where we are – today.
After 4 decades of new years, you’d think I’d develop some cynicism. You’d think I’d have learned from all my past efforts. You’d think that after living the repetitive cycle of trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing innumerable times that I’d be “over it”, that I’d chuck all those good intentions into the trash bin along with last night’s noisemakers and confetti poppers. And yet, I find myself here, sitting at my computer, dusting off the old blog, somehow believing that it is possible – and even probable – that THIS year becomes the year I finally achieve.
I confess. Last year, I didn’t even make resolutions. My philosophy for the year was summed up in one word: “REAL”. My reasons were personal. The meaning was private. My goals were simply between me and God, and I can honestly say He brought me to that place of “REAL.” Through experiences that were painful, humbling, exhilarating and beautiful, God allowed me to become more “REAL” in my relationships with Him and others, in my work and ministry, and in my personal pursuits.
The simplicity of a single word appeals to me. Amidst all the clutter and busy-ness of my daily life, I like the focus of one word to direct my energies and efforts throughout the year. One word to hold me accountable. One word to gauge my progress. One word to challenge me to step out, yet reign me in. One word to inspire. This year’s word is simply: COMMIT.
Commit your activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved. (Proverbs 16:3, HCSB)
In the year 2013, I commit the following activities to the Lord, trusting Him to achieve these plans:
This year I was deeply inspired by the book Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. This book describes the kind of Christ-follower I want to be: free to follow where God leads without being caged by fear or responsibility or guilt or failure, or anything else that Satan uses to try to discourage me. This year, with God’s help, I commit to reading through the Bible (again), to being part of a Bible study community, to being active in a life group where we can learn and grow and serve as a family, and to downloading and reading the weekly sermon study guides. I also commit to helping my children establish regular quiet times and exploring how we as a family can incorporate prayer and Bible study into our busy and varied schedules. And of course, I reaffirm my commitment to leading Moms in Prayer, strengthening the ministry of Promiseland through my role as Worship Director, and supporting the mission of Village of Hope, CASA, and other outreach efforts in the community.
2012 was a year where I saw many physical goals set and achieved. In 2013, I reaffirm my commitment to overall health and physical fitness, through developing a workable exercise plan that balances cardio, flexibility and strength training in both group and individual settings. This year, with God’s help, I will work to finally achieve my goal of running a sub-30′ 5K, a sub-60′ 10K and a half marathon in 2:20 or less. Through a commitment to healthy eating, I will reach my goal weight and help my children make healthier food choices.
With the incorporation of my studio, God has certainly affirmed His plan for me professionally. This year, I commit to honoring His leading and direction by working to improve not only my studio, but also myself as a teacher and pianist. The first step will be to join a local piano teachers’ association and become an active member in their meetings and activities. In addition, I commit to studying and interacting with other professionals online, organizing my studio, and creating games and activities to strengthen my students’ technique and theory.
Perhaps my biggest – and most ambitious – goal for this year is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. This year, I commit to producing a manuscript for publication. Not on my blog, but on real paper. Not self-published, but produced through an actual publishing house. And to anyone who is still reading this blog, I promise a free, autographed first-edition copy.
Some people think 13 is an unlucky number. But in this “unlucky” year, it’s nice to know I have a sure guarantee. If I commit these ways to the Lord, and allow Him to accomplish His plan through me, I am assured success.
Those are pretty good odds.
No, no, I’m not referring to the premise of this book. I’m referring to the nightmare of losing yourself in a book like this, finding yourself swallowed up by the intrigue and heartbreak to the point where you can hardly put the book down and as a result end up staying up late into the night to finish…and then have to be on your “A” game as mom the next day.
But this book truly is about every parent’s worst nightmare…or at least one of them. Beth Cappadora, a thirty-something mother of three, solidly – if not happily – married, takes her children with her for the weekend of her 15th high school reunion…and her three-year-0ld son vanishes. Kidnapped. Gone without a trace, save for the one red shoe that fell off his small foot in the parking lot.
For nearly ten years the search goes on. Leads grow cold. Public interest, which was once sky-high, wanes. Beth finds herself trapped between the mother she needs to be and the mother she can’t be. We see her relationships fray as friends, family, and even the police detective assigned to her case can’t help her re-engage in life. Beth simply exists.
All of a sudden, one day, a miracle. A miracle that would appear to bring a happy ending. A miracle that would – in theory – make Beth and her family whole once again, emotionally, physically, relationally.
And it is this journey – the journey after the miracle – that makes this book worth reading. Real life is not often simple. Relationships are complex and complicated. Families are never perfect and rarely even functional. Happy endings, while satisfying in the movies, are far from realistic.
Jacquelyn Mitchard tackles these difficult issues with keen insight. We ache with Beth over the loss of her son…both the one kidnapped and the one she abandoned. We champion her marriage and our desire to see it survive, knowing it’s an against-all-odds proposition. We find ourselves lost with her, vacillating between wanting to slap her across the face and shout “snap out of it!” to wrapping her in a blanket and gently suggesting “take it easy…you’ve been through so much.”
The language is rough, but then so is the subject matter. There is no solid bedrock of faith, only the hint of anger at a God that would allow such tragedy to occur. But we are carried through the story as if we are a part of it, and we can understand, even empathize with such reactions. And in the end, there is no Cinderella story. Just like life, there is no easy solution, no quick fix, no cure-all. We’re left – much like the Cappadora family – to find our own solution, to come to our own conclusions, and to find an uneasy peace in the waning storm.
No more homework,
No more books,
No more teacher’s dirty looks!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned andreceived and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:6-9, ESV)
There’s a meme that often floats around Facebook that goes something like “post one word about your day, then copy and paste and I’ll do the same for you.” I don’t usually participate in memes, but if I did, I could certainly give one word about this day, minus the whole cut-and-paste thing.
All of that in a span of 24 hours. I assure you, it’s s a day worth reading about.
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20
What He says we will do…
Where He sends we will go…
NEVER FEAR, only trust and obey!
The boys left fairly early this morning for a “guys road trip” of sorts. Mike, having just returned from 6 weeks in the States, is still catching up on the state of the village and had some miscellaneous errands to run in Gulu Town. He thought the guys might enjoy joining him on his adventure, as well as having the opportunity to visit the Bobi property, site of Village #2. Because of the drive time – 3 or 4 hours each way – and the need for an early start, breakfast was light: bread with butter and sugar, and tea or coffee. Knowing I’d need more than that to make it through until lunchtime, I supplemented with some raisins in the hut. Unfortunately, Winnie beat me to washing the dinner dishes from last night (they don’t wash dishes in the dark), and by the time I finished breakfast she was nearly done with the rest, so I decided to be sure to be early to wash the lunch dishes.
Lindsey brought the morning devotional for just us girls. She simply shared part of her faith journey from the last couple of years. The lesson that resonated with me was this: I have already told you what to do. Just obey.
Two simple words, but with a depth of meaning that is almost impossible to comprehend. Two simple words, but with a cost of completion that is almost impossible to measure. Two simple words to say, but not so simple to do.
For the past 6 years, that has been the call over my life and the cry of my heart. My God, I *want* to obey. I don’t want to live my life *my* way. I want to follow YOUR way. I want to walk in YOUR path. I want to experience YOUR blessing and YOUR favor. But it’s hard. And I’m scared…scared of what it will cost me…what it will cost my family. Lindsey’s devotional this morning struck a chord deep within me, a powerful reminder to obey God regardless of whether or not I understand, of whether or not I can make sense of what He is asking me to do.
All He wants is for me to trust…and obey.
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, NLT
When I awoke this morning – to the exuberant sounds of Mr. Alpha Rooster at 3AM and the mournful howls of lovesick Tiger dog – I wouldn’t have considered this to be a special day. In fact, it felt very much like a typical Monday. You mean I gotta get up?? NOW??!? C’mon, just let me sleep until SEVEN! Ten more minutes!!
Sure enough, I finally crawled down from my upper-bunk perch at around 7, quickly threw on some only-somewhat-dirty clothes, grabbed my Bible and my journal, and headed out to our dining area. I always enjoy these few minutes I have to myself before breakfast. Though there may be others out there, no one is expected to say much more than i buto maber (good morning, literally “how was your night?”) or respond with atye maber (“I am ok”). We sit in silence with only the incessant buzzing of the swarms of flies to disturb our peace. This is my solitude: watching the sun rise over the trees, the morning mist hovering just above the grass, the cool air a refreshing change from the staleness of our hut and the stifling mosquito netting. Each morning feels like a miracle, the dawning of new possibilities that excites a new awakening inside to the adventures ahead.