Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More Details

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I want to share this email I received a few days ago:

“My wife and I were in the process of recycling books for our two and four year old and we came across your book, Why I Chose You. We both acknowledged the power of the pictures and quotes and how the book helped us through some rough times during their adoption processes. Both of our children were victims of poor pre-natal care before we adopted them.

Our youngest child also suffered from his mother’s drug abuse. We did not become aware of his mothers drug use until the morning we were called to go pick up the two day old child.

We were given the opportunity to back out of the adoption, but thankfully we didn't. I remember sitting in the family room as my wife was on the phone relaying our news to the pediatrician. I looked down to the coffee table only to find your book. I didn't even have to pick it up and a tear came to my eye, remembering some of the quotes, knowing we needed to bring this little infant home no matter what the consequences would be. My wife agreed and we picked him up just a few hours later.

I'm happy to say that today was his six month appointment and he is a very happy and healthy little fellow.

I just wanted to thank you for writing this book. In the beginning we felt isolated and rejected by people not understanding why we were parenting children of another race, but we always came back to the book for comfort. Lately, within the last year or so, we have seen more mixed race families than ever before. We like to believe your book may have had something to do with that.”

I love such mail. In the past I accepted it as evidence of my writing and storytelling skills. Today I readily accept it as evidence that God is doing His work through me. I rather like my new perspective. What better work is there than the good word of the Lord?

On a related note, a brief story: I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else who knows yet someone else. We’ve crossed paths in a random, disconnected fashion over the last year, never having reason to say anything more than hello to one another while passing in the proverbial hallway. But one day a “chance remark” resulted in a cascade of events that may (too soon to tell but why doubt the providence of God) result in a little boy being adopted and thus rescued from a really bad situation. I also received this email the other day:

“Thanks for letting us know about XXX. I was just reading in Acts this morning how ‘he determines the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:26-28).’

It is such a huge encouragement to me to know that in this crazy, mixed up world God is intricately involved in placing us just where we should be so that we will seek Him. May this precious little boy seek Him and find Him and walk with Him all the days of his life.”

So you see, as Paul Young said to a crowd of people last week when he shared his story of a thread woven between a number of lives during a fifty-plus year span, “God is in the details.” Indeed He is!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Compassion in Action

Just for fun, here's something I'm working on for the church newsletter about service opportunities. This is based on the Saturday morning a few weeks ago when churches pool together and tackled a number of needs in our commuity. For those who don't know, Cameron is the 12 year old I mentor:

7:30 Rolled out of bed, wished I were sleeping late. Slipped on yesterday’s jeans and new Compassion in Action tee shirt. Grabbed a cup of coffee on the way to pick up Cameron.

8:05 Picked up Cameron and tossed him a CIA tee shirt. He was still sleepy too. Made sure he hugged his mom before we left. Explained what CIA is all about.

8:20 Discussed our stops today as we ate breakfast. Saw a few friends at Chick-fil-a and introduced Cameron. Talked about high school football.

9:00 Arrived at Wellspring Living house. Pulled weeds, fought back kudzu and spread mulch. Introduced Cameron to some friends and got a hug or two.

9:50 Headed to Perimeter. Explained Wellspring Living’s ministry to Cameron.

10:00 Helped fill the basic necessity bags for the Norcross Cooperative Ministry. Sorted shoes for the homeless, admired the backpacks for the foster children, and loaded the truck with groceries. Cameron liked pushing the cart. Chatted with a guy in my discipleship group and introduced him to Cameron.

11:15 Unloaded the groceries at the Norcross Co-op. Cameron helped shelve food. Talked and then prayed with other volunteers. Lost Cameron. Found him in the basement helping a senior stack boxes. Explained how Co-ops work.

12:20 Had subs for lunch. Talked about how good it feels to help others. Discussed his grades and urged him to envision his future. Discussed options for what to do during our time together next weekend. Probably paintball.

12:45 Stopped by Rainbow Village. Laughed watching a boy beg the face painter to decorate his arms too. Tempted by a juicy hamburger but resisted. Cameron played with a few kids for a while and made a new friend.

1:35 Went to help clear the nature trail at an apartment complex but others had already finished the job. Cameron said he was tired, took him home. Talked about girls on the way there.

2:10 Back home. Walked inside rather dirty but with a big smile on my face.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Details and Small Packages

Jill and I attended a banquet last night for Street GRACE, an advocacy organization combatting the sexual exploitation of children. A dear frind of mine is the Executive Director and she invited us along; we sat at the table with the keynote speaker, Paul Young, author of The Shack. Wow, what great storties he told about God's divine plan unfolding in his life. A line I appropriated from him is "God is in the details." Indeed he is, isn't he?

Here's a true story I wrote for the church and wanted to share with you:

Sometimes great things come in small packages. Such as a diamond engagement ring in a little velvet box, a favorite family photograph captured in just a few bytes of digital memory, a song that describes a lifetime sung in less than three minutes.

Or a baby born in a manger who would become the Savior for all mankind.

Emily Stone and Caroline Mock are small packages, both not yet in their teen years, but both already doing great things.

Tagging along with an older sister to a Gold Rush event, the two friends happened to visit the Huntington Creek Apartment complex in Doraville, home of some fifty low income families living just off the runway of the Peachtree DeKalb Airport. While there Emily and Caroline began to play with the smaller children who lived in the complex, darting around on the pine bark covered playground adjacent to the parking lot, ducking under and around an old and battered swing set.

It didn’t take Emily and Caroline long to realize that the swing set was really an accident waiting to happen. Rickety and made of wood, it was older than most of the children. Dry rotted and splintered with nail heads protruding and rungs missing from the ladder, the set would best be repurposed for firewood. Only one of the original four swing seats still hung above the ground, and its chains were rusted and groaned whenever someone took a seat. Kids stood in line waiting their turn, and now and then disagreements broke out as those waiting grew impatient with the one who rode a little too long on the sole swing.

Emily and Caroline talked about their new friends on their way home and wondered out loud if they could do anything to make the playground safer and more fun for them.

They also talked about the upcoming Compassion in Action weekend and somewhere in that conversation an idea was born: the girls would organize a carwash and lemonade sale in their neighborhood to raise money for the purchase of new playground equipment. The young entrepreneurs went door to door explaining their fundraiser, and did indeed wash a few cars and sell a few cups of lemonade.

Yet in the end Emily and Caroline were only able to raise $100, far from enough to purchase the $1800 gift they had in mind for the youngsters living at the Huntington Creek Apartments.
But word of the girls’ ambitious CIA project began to spread, and before long enough money was donated to the cause to cover the cost of the new playground equipment.

On the Saturday of the CIA weekend the girls, their dads and other volunteers gathered at the apartment complex to assemble the structure. Soon the parts, wood beams and platforms, green rubber swing seats, a fireman’s pole, a climbing rope and sliding board lay on the ground, and the excited young residents danced around wanting to know when they could use the new swings.

A few of the older boys offered to help and soon were holding pieces in place while volunteers tightened bolts and screws. The younger children, too small to help and too impatient to wait, did their best to play with the pieces that were not yet ready to be assembled. One boy held the sliding board above his head with his hands while the smallest of his neighbors climbed up his back and then slid down the slide.

Emily and Caroline did their best to keep the children away from the power tools, and eventually additional and welcomed help arrived. Other volunteers came with snacks and crafts and quickly a small group formed on the perimeter of the playground. Children laughed as they colored pictures of Jesus performing miracles and pasted together symbols of faith to use as decorations in their homes. Hot dogs, sodas and chips were served, and no one seemed to care when a light rain began to drizzle on their heads.

No one cared because just a few yards away the playground set was slowly taking shape, rising above the pine bark, strong, safe, large enough for everyone, and promising loads of fun for years to come.

It took six hours and many hands to assemble the new playground equipment, serve the food and supervise the craft activities, but it only took the hearts and imaginations of two young girls – Emily and Caroline – to inspire others to join them in demonstrating the love of Christ and bringing Glory to God.

Sometimes great things come in small packages. Your seemingly small gesture of service or charity may be a priceless treasure to its recipient. What are you willing to give? What dreams could you help come true?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What a difference 9.5 months makes...

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

If you’ve had the occasion to read this blog you might know that early in the year I confessed to a high degree of public prayer anxiety. I kept my head hung low, arrived to meetings late, hid in the corners, even faked seizures and visual hallucinations to ward off anyone asking me to say a prayer.

But slowly my anxiety began to fade and I started to tip-toe into the water, beginning with saying a prayer at a church board meeting (being a member of a church board is a story in itself) that began with “God please forgive me if I mess this up.”

As time went by I prayed out loud in front of others more and more often, sometimes without the benefit of advance warning and at home preparation. I found the exercise easier and easier, and increasingly satisfying.

So it is against that background that I tell you as soon as I finish this post I’m turning to a little homework. I’ve been asked to lead a devotional for a group of thirty people this evening. To my surprise, I’m looking forward to it.

I plan to read two passages, Isaiah 55:9 and John 8:31, and use them to weave a parable about pursuing God’s will even if we may not know what it is or recognize it when it materializes, and to do this because He has promised that if we abide in His word we will come to know the Truth. I want to know the Truth; I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that His Truth is far superior to mine.

So if you happen to be reading this today, please say a little prayer for me and ask God to guide me as I deliver the devotional. Thanks a bunch, and bless you!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, October 12, 2009

News flashes

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Good golly, where does the time go? I’ve been so busy with freelance assignments (Thank you God for your provision) and ministry activities I haven’t had time to write for this blog, let alone for my own writing projects. For the moment, then, little snippets are going to have to do as far as updates go:

My first distinctively Christian book was rejected by the publisher I sent it to; they said it was too much like another title they are releasing this fall. That’s actually good news – it means my idea has merit but I was simply too late getting it to this particular publisher for it to be considered. I’m encouraged and will move on to another publisher. Where once I prayed for a book to be published, now I just confess that I’d like it to be so but then submit to God’s will on that matter. Either way, I’ve gotten something out of the writing exercise.

Last weekend Cameron and I worked in the Compassion in Action (CIA) events for seven hours. I enjoyed meeting all the people who until then I had only spoken with on the phone. It was nice to meet the good folks, as well as it felt good doing the good work. What Cameron enjoyed most was operating the freight elevator at the co-op. He’s such a boy. Today for lunch (it’s a school holiday) he ate a basket of cheese fries, garlic toast and chicken wings. I had a salad (not so sure he’s getting the picture).

The surprise event of the CIA weekend for me was when I interviewed two twelve year old girls who spearheaded a fundraiser to raise money to acquire a playground set for an apartment complex in a poor section of town. They went door to door in their neighborhood asking to wash cars. They raised $100; they needed $1800. Soon word spread of what they were trying to do, and out of the blue the church contributed the remaining balance. It took the girls and about five men six hours to erect the playground. The kids at the apartment complex were so excited they couldn’t wait: they rode the slide propped on a ladder until it was properly installed. I’ll have the story of this act of compassion written soon and posted to share with you.

Yesterday our pastor said God permits us to endure experiences of hardship and pressure. Coincidentally, I woke up at 3AM this morning to find that a chunk of the ceiling had come loose in the den and the rain was leaking onto the rug and hardwood floor. I’m not sure what the connection is between Good, bad shingles and the endurance of hardships, but I will say that where once I would have been enraged by the damage resulting from poor craftsmanship, this time I was grateful it wasn’t worse. I’m still trying to pray rather than curse the man who built this house, though.

A friend and I have been praying that he be given a new job. He’s been unemployed a while now and is really beginning to feel the pressure of reduced income. Not long ago we waxed philosophical about how one knows if and when God answers prayers. The other day as we were having coffee his phone rang. As I sat there and watched he received a job offer! I love God’s timing!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Answered Prayers

Another ministry profile I've written for the Kingdom Investments (Perimeter Church's grant fund) annual report to Elders:

When you enter the lobby of the Mary Hall Freedom House the first thing you notice is a sign on the wall: Love is Spoken Here. Soon you notice many of the staff wear t-shirts which promise “We will love you until you learn to love yourself.” As you eyes rove about the room, you see three open Bibles placed in conspicuous places. Unexpectedly, your ears detect children’s laughter coming from another room.

Founded in 1996, the Mary Hall Freedom House (MHFH) serves homeless women struggling with addiction. Its many programs are geared toward promoting recovery and self-sufficiency; it has seen over 2,500 women graduate into sober living, completive employment and stable housing.

A distinctively Christian program, the staff begins every Monday morning in prayer. Every meeting is called to order with prayer. One year ago, all at MHFH prayed passionately for God’s provision; Georgia’s Department of Human Resources, caught in a budget crisis, had cut their funding by $1.5 million.

The budget shortfall meant MHFH had to reduce staff and services, but they refused to reduce the number of women they served. This decision meant the new satellite campus in Gwinnett known as Open Arms (twenty-seven apartment units) would operate as an unsupervised program. There simply weren’t enough resources to place a staff member on the premises.

Enter Kingdom Investments. Its grant made possible the hiring of a full-time case manager, an on-site professional to teach essential life skills to the women who would live at Open Arms. Women like Myrna.

A victim of domestic violence and living in her car, Myrna moved from temporary job to temporary job hoping one would become a permanent position, but no such opportunity materialized. She was the first client to turn to MHFH/Open Arms for help, and was soon placed in an apartment. With the help of the on-site case manager, she learned the lifestyle management and budgeting skills that made it possible for her to make ends meet when she finally found stable employment. Today, Myrna, the first graduate of the Open Arms program, works in a law office and the apartment lease has been transferred to her name.

But Myrna has accomplished more than becoming self-sufficient. She has also discovered her worth and her gifts. Today she serves as an example to the other women at Open Arms in her capacity as a volunteer. She is both the evidence the program works and the beneficiary of answered prayers.

I tell you, these reporting assignments I do really touch me; more to come on the MHFH, especially on the sweet woman who gave me the tour. It never ceases to amaze me what happens when you say to someone, "Tell me your story."

Speaking of stories, Cameron and I are visiting ten volunteer locations this weekend. The one I'm looking forward to the most is the low-income apartment complex with no playground equipment. Until Sunday that is. A group of teens washed enough cars and sold enough lemonade to buy a swingset for the complex. Wow.

You know the drill - go hug somebody and thank the Lord for all that you have (it is indeed so much more than you realize).