Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Man Who Makes Me Look Good

Without my talented husband, this blog would continue to be bland, but he spoiled me by tinkering with it on his quiet Sunday afternoon so you all have something pretty to look at. Without my husband's pushing...ahem, I mean nudging, I wouldn't have even started a blog. Writing has been a part of my life since I was first learning to read but I've always kept my stories private and my journals hidden. I'm currently on journal #38 since my first one was given to me by my best friend in 8th grade. (They now consist of more than just the boys I have a crush on.) S. has strict instructions to burn them when I die.

In college I gave up writing (other than journaling) because I came across so many amazing, talented writers. I couldn't have a vocabulary that extensive even if I used a thesaurus on every word! I decided that there are enough words, books, and blogs out there. Nothing new can be said. I continued to journal what the Lord was teaching me, but I concluded that my written words didn't have anything to offer.

Then when I was a young bride I began transcribing for a ghostwriter. We began talking one day and she encouraged me to stretch myself in writing. I was put on the spot and shared my conclusions with her. She adamantly disagreed with me and told me that if God gives me a message, I should share it in writing. She encouraged me to stay in practice. I felt incompetent, had no formal training in writing, and wasn't sure if writing was something God gave for me and Him privately or if it was something to share.

Soon after, I discovered that maybe not everything had been written. As S. and I looked for curriculum or devotionals for our students in youth ministry, we found plenty of topical studies; dating, lying, your relationship with your parents. We couldn't find anything for our students who had recently committed to Christ that would teach them the basic story of Scripture, how to connect with God, and what God's character is like.

So I wrote one. Nothing fancy and not using many of my own words; just a quick introduction with questions that a leader can do while mentoring a new believer. A;life was born- an interactive study that includes video, devotional, and a year long reading plan. Much of BIG OAK is getting this study into the hands of people who might benefit from it. I felt insecure about throwing it out there to our group of students and leaders but then I had students talking about how it helped them understand God. Okay, I must still be insecure about it because I haven't picked it up to read it in 3 years.... it's so hard to have something in permanent print that I might see fifty mistakes in today! When S. decided this year that he wants to do more with a;life I decided to go back and re-write it. I have yet to get the courage to pick it up.

When S. created a blog for me, handed it over and said, "start writing" I again intended on it being a private thing. (Well, except for my mom. I knew she'd think it was great because she always thinks I'm smarter and funnier than I am. I love my mom.) Somehow people kept finding out about it. I am learning that maybe God has some messages and lessons for me that might also speak to other people.

All that being said, thank you friends for letting me know when something encourages and spurs you on. And thank you my husband for pushing me and making me look good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

More Than We Can Handle

Corrie ten Boom could not sit back and watch when the Nazis invaded Holland. She became part of the Dutch underground to hide and save the lives of Jews. Corrie was a committed Christian who trusted God and refused to be apathetic to suffering. Ultimately she was captured and put into a concentration camp. She endured unspeakable humiliation, torture, hunger, and fear. Her sister Betsie died in one of the camps and Corrie watched many others die, also. She was a "lucky" survivor who had to then deal with displacement, loss of her community and family, and reconcile her experiences when the war ended.

Acts 6 & 7 tells the story of Stephen. Stephen was committed to Christ and devoted to sharing the good news with others. When he did signs and wonders there were some people who secretly "induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God". And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. (Acts 6:11,12)
Ultimately Stephen was falsely charged, tried and then stoned to death for his faith in Christ.

Do you know what well-meaning Christians probably never said to Corrie or Stephen? They probably never said, "God won't give you more than you can handle."
I think it's safe to say that these people underwent circumstances that were more than they could handle. I'm pretty sure that this cute little saying (that has no Scriptural grounds) is a 'twist' on the verse:
"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." 2 Corinthians 10:13
Yes, God is faithful in giving us the power of the Holy Spirit to help us endure temptation. But I think it's safe to say if you die from a circumstance... it was probably more than you could handle. If you end up in an insane was probably more than you could handle. Yet I often hear people say "God won't give you more than you can handle" as though it's a verse or a universal truth.

God does not promise in Scripture that He won't give me more than I can handle. In fact, He gives me plenty of opportunity to realize "It's more than I can handle!" so that I cling to Him instead of my own weak abilities. I am confident that there will be more than I can't handle in this life...if not now then surely whatever preludes my death.

I am confident of something else, also. Before Corrie Ten Boom's sister died she said, "Corrie, we must tell people how good God is. After the war we must go around the world telling people. No one will be able to say that they have suffered worse than us. We can tell them how wonderful God is, and how His love will fill our lives, if only we will give up our hatred and bitterness."
When I read this in high school I marveled. HOW can a person be strong enough to say this- sick, beaten, laying on a cot while bugs bite- right before death at the hands of Nazis? Now I know it is because Christ walks with us in what we can't handle. Betsie wasn't just a 'good person' who happened to be gifted in forgiving murderers. The power of the Holy Spirit gave Betsie tremendous ability to forgive and have an eternal perspective in her temporary pain.

As for Stephen, the masses "gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" Then they cried out with a aloud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him...and they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:54-58
Being stoned was more than Stephen could handle and clearly more than Stephen's body could handle. Yet even in the face of death, the face of impossible circumstances, God shows Himself victorious and present. He walked with Stephen. He let him glimpse that the best was yet to come. He again gives the power to forgive, which is impossible apart from Christ.

When we believe silly little sayings like "God won't give you more than you can handle" we come to a crisis of faith when we do encounter things out of our control. If we acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and trust God's sovereignty even in what is unmanageable, we can trust that what He offers is so much more than a smooth ride. My aim (instead of timidly crossing my fingers that nothing will be too hard) is to expect opportunity to depend on a Mighty God's strength and expect Him to walk with me there.

"He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:3,4

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cheek mashing

We are very aware that too soon these three won't think an ideal Friday night involves letting Dad and Mom kiss your cheeks, snuggle you on the couch, and wrestle you to the floor. Our time is short so we are soaking it up and sneaking in as much cheek mashing as possible!

**For the record...I still endure this from my parents and my not-so-little, little brothers. Not everyone outgrows it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Deserts & Canyons

Nearly a year and a half ago I took a trip that is still impacting my every day. I went a few hours away to a timeshare that my dad has for a weekend with my sister Jasmine and cousin Sommer. At the time we had 7 children 4 and under between us (and Sommer due with the 8th later that summer). Hoping for some uninterrupted conversation, time to pray for each other, coffee, and some sun, we trekked to Eastern WA.
Unintentionally, our weekend ended up having a theme. We talked about Moses and how he could have stayed in Egypt and been very comfortable with his life; he had wealth, royalty, and anything he could want materially. Moses could have also lived out his life in Midian; working for his father-in-law, cozy with family, a life of simplicity and rest.
Instead, Moses took a formerly enslaved group of whiners into the desert for 40 years. He dealt with pain, fear, loss of dreams and expectations, and unbearable people. He also saw miracles, he received the Law, and heard the voice of God. He watched God take a disjointed people and create a chosen nation.
“Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (Deut. 34:10)
Sommer, Jasmine and I talked about our desires for our own life. Have health, wealth and comfort in "Egypt"? Live peace, rest, hole up with family in "Midian"? Or be willing to experience the desert, walk the valleys and expect mountaintops- to see the face of God?

We walked away from the weekend with our own ideas of how God might take us through the valleys and mountaintops to truly experience Him. (Oh, the irony that the place we stayed is called "Desert Canyon"...I'm wishing it was called "Exhilarating Mountaintop".)
Now a year and a half later we might laugh about that conversation... but more likely we would all cry.
I could list all the wild things that have happened that are beyond coincidence but describing our outward circumstances can't capture what God has been establishing in the depths of our souls.

I could share that Jasmine and Lance adopted from Ethiopia (they began that journey within a week of our girl's weekend) and that they have had a wild ride as Lance has been in school for firefighting while working full-time. You would commiserate in hearing about arriving home from Ethiopia to have 5 sick children (ages 6 and under) with vomiting, diarrhea, parasites, and fungus. But none of that can capture the way that God is using an abandoned, broken little boy to expose things to Jasmine about her own weaknesses. It wouldn't tell you how specifically God has spoken to her and how hard she's had to wrestle.

I could tell you about Jordan and Sommer's journey that ultimately brought them to the end of their rope to pack a suburban and relocate to Arizona. Jordan leaves in a few weeks to train across the country for the U.S. Marshals. It's been a year of depending fully on Christ, of uncertainty and waiting on her knees. But the circumstances are small compared to the internal surrender, the transformation in who Sommer is. She has been brought to the end of herself in more ways than she could have fathomed when we were sitting in the sun a year and a half ago.

Then there's me. I struggle even writing because there is no way to articulate the yielding, the exhaustion, the loss of dreams, the cost, and then the voice of God. It is much deeper than not having a salary, moving back to Lynden, having our own adoption continually postponed, starting over in everything from our finances to our marriage.
When I chose obedience and surrender over comfort or quiet, I admitted to Sommer and Jasmine, "I know I don't know what I'm asking for. I know I should be cringing at what might be to come."
Yes and yes.

I told my dad recently that being in the valley makes me think, "I wouldn't wish this on anyone" while simultaneously thinking, "I am so sad for anyone that hasn't had to abandon themselves and hear the voice of God so clearly."

Would I change my circumstances? Absolutely. I'd put in my order right now! However, I would not change what God has exposed in me. Some days I wish I could go back to being the girl who cried every few years or so...instead of every few hours. (It is astounding how when God allows your heart to break in one area, it begins to break for everything...even areas I was apathetic about previously.) Never have I understood so clearly what Christ did on the cross. Never have I understood that it is under his mercy that I wade through the mud so that I can know Him more. Never have I craved heaven so much.

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by your generous Spirit. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart- these O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:12, 16,17

One of the biggest graces in my year has been having a sister and cousin journeying with me. To call and say, "Can you believe my crazy life!?" To spontaneously break down in tears and need no explanation, or to drop everything to help with another move. In the midst of it all we have been blessed- we now have 10 children 6 and under, after all!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Growing that Acorn

As we have been trying to get Big Oak Ministries off the ground, there have been moments that I think, "I don't think this thing can really happen" (usually when attempting to pay bills, to imagine anything beyond the strange place we've been this year). Then there are moments, like at the first Big Oak board meeting last night, where I think, "This is really going to happen!"

For any of you unclear on what Big Oak is, check out To catch the passion you really need to buy my husband an americano and let him tell you. Even though I'm obviously living and breathing the vision for it every day, watching his presentation at the board meeting made me excited all over again. Big Oak encompasses preaching and teaching (camps, classes for students, filling pulpits), developing a;life (a devotional/video/interactive study for a leader and student to go through together, specifically when a student commits their life to Christ), and mentoring/equipping youth pastors and leadership.

S. has already been doing all of these things in the past few months and we have seen some amazing things; he's adapted and taught curriculum on spiritual gifts to students, preached to over 1000 students, seen over 130 first time commitments to Christ, worked on a;life, mentored a handful of pastors who are getting youth ministries off the ground, and on and on.

We were extremely encouraged at the board meeting. After a lot of prayer and conversations, S. sought out six board members. They are stellar. Most are financial minded, ministry minded, and from all different churches and areas. Most are older and much more experienced so we left breathing easier- thank you God for a safety net. They won't tell us what we want to hear, they will tell us what we need to hear.

We have had some amazing surprises of people sending checks to Big Oak this week. Perhaps the most overwhelming was from a former student, a young man fresh out of high school. I am including a couple excerpts from a letter he included,

"I believe in what Big Oak is. I believe that God is in the process of redemption, the process of healing and mending and fixing what is broken, even that which we think if unfixable...For the times you feel overwhelmed, and for the times you feel like you don't know what you've gotten yourself into, I tell you this: God knows what He has gotten you into...
I whole-heartedly believe that God's promises are kept through other people, by His hand and His providence. Life is not meant to be lived alone, and the Church is proof of that. Enclosed is a isn't much but God does indeed do big things with small amounts (bread and fish, anyone?). After putting aside my own desires and trusting in God's will, it became clear to me that this life is not my own and everything I have belongs to God. So here, take what belongs to God and do His work with it."

In the envelope was $500.
S. cried.
There is nothing I can say to articulate what it is to have our own students pray for us, support us, stand behind us, and even teach us a thing or two.

For the next couple months we are doing a (gulp) fundraising push. I'm learning not to cringe at the idea. It's taken some faithful friends and former students to show me that it isn't about feeling sorry for us or obligated, it's about each person being individually obedient to what God speaks to their heart.

For those of you who are interested in any type of financial giving; once, monthly, or have any services or products that you think would be beneficial to donate, we would love to hear from you.

Our big fundraiser (Big Jokes for Big Oak!) is November 5, 7pm at Bellingham Christ the King. The Panic Squad (which is an amazing, clean, and entertaining improv group) is donating a show to Big Oak. In another fun twist, my little brother Elijah is part of the Panic Squad and will be performing in the show. Tickets are $12 ($10 for kids) and there will be a chance to give at the event, also. All proceeds go to Big Oak. There are great deals for youth groups. (Youth pastors and their families get in free!)

Thank you all for accompanying us in this journey and providing support and encouragement that is propelling us forward...
S & S

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sour Grapes

"My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out the stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes." Isaiah 5:1,2.
God chose some people (The Israelites) to be His. Not because they were particularly lovely, not because they had their act together, but simply because He chose them to be His. Isaiah's song is about how God did everything right in growing them. The vineyard that He prepared should have brought forth an incredible harvest. He had set His people apart, rescued them repeatedly, given them instruction to help them succeed. He loved them. He disciplined them. He gave them the Promised Land. Their thanks? Their "thanks" fills up the previous chapters of Isaiah in the form of rebellion, oppression, self-indulgence, pride, and immorality; wild, nasty, sour grapes.

As S. and I talked about this verse I realized; how often do I expect that if I do the right thing it will always produce favorable results? And if God Himself does everything right with the people He made and still there are wild grapes (not because God is weak but because He gave the Israelites a choice) then how can I expect that my good efforts will without fail produce good grapes?

That thought was immediately followed by repenting of every time I have wondered, "Why is her son so rebellious? She must have been too permissive, too authoritative, too absent, too....something." Certainly she is flawed (we mothers know we are not a perfect God!) but perhaps she prepared a beautiful vineyard only to have her son turn his back. Who am I to judge what she must have done to cause it?
Or when I have shaken my head at a pastor who can't seem to grow his church beyond thirty people. What's his problem? That's a tiny cluster of grapes... he must not be putting in the work to have a healthy vineyard. Tsk. Tsk.

Then I thought of my own life. How many of my pity parties result from thinking I should have received good grapes...and instead have to call it a wash and start over? If I prepare the land, clear the stones, do the planting, prepare a tower... shouldn't that end up looking like a mega-church? Super fruitful! It should look like obedient, wonderful children for sure. I should be well-liked. It should mean a thriving, secure spouse. Heck, it should probably mean an easier life and certainly if I'm doing everything right there won't be conflict in my personal relationships.

Why do I expect in my frail humanity to get better results with people and situations than my perfect Lord? I'm embarrassed at my level of pride!

One thing I am learning in the brutal year of 2010 is that trusting and obeying the Lord is enough...even if it never brings about the earthly rewards I'm banking on. Even if the ones I love rebel, even if my ministries fail when no one will hear Truth, it is enough to listen to the Lord and let Him keep record of results.

This verse was brought back on another level this week. I was asking S., "What else could we be doing wrong? We're out of money. We're still sitting in the same place of waiting and no clear answers. Should we really move ahead with Big Oak?"

Here I was again in my assumptions, "IF it's from God it wouldn't be this hard. IF it's of God it wouldn't mean having to rely on other people's checkbooks. IF it's from God then everyone will agree that we should move ahead. IF it's of God I should at least have the energy to complete His will!"
S. reminded me that I am measuring results by the world's standards.

When I am reminded of the fruit of the Spirit I measure the success of this year differently. We might be in quite a predicament but I can't even articulate the way God has established long-suffering, faithfulness, love, and self-control in us. I have been like a big raw steak, beaten with a mallet in the name of "tenderizing". And it is happening. Truly, when I stop looking at my idea of results, I believe we are where the Lord wants us. Those are good grapes.

The hope, as God surveys His failed vineyard, is that He doesn't abandon the wild grapes. His discipline is brutal and His justice is real, but even that has purpose. The ugliness of disobedience can't rob the story. In fact, God uses it to tell a bigger, beautiful story of redemption. He continues His work...and will until the end.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Best Girl

We're in the swing of things now; homeschooling, ballet, bible study. I expected it to be quite a transition for my kindergartener, Darla. I did not anticipate that the Taylor to have the hardest time would be Hudson.

Darla and Hudson are the epitome of the phrase "two peas in a pod". Aside from the 17 months of Darla's life before he was born, they have been joined at the hip. They've shared a room. She has been his words when he's fumbled for a way to express himself. He's protected her when she's scared of dogs.

Now tender hearted Hudson feels like he's without his head. I've noticed ballet days are hard for him. She's busy with school, then off giggling with all the girls to go practice pirouettes and plies. He pouts. He's listless. He asks repeatedly when she'll be home.

To add to his distress, we decided to put the boys in a room with the bunk beds and give Darla her own room. It makes sense: a place for all the polly pockets and all things pink, and a place for tractors and all things blue. Hudson gets a chance to be the leader for Everett while Darla gets the alone time she needs. Hudson likes the idea of being the big kid and he loves the promotion to top bunk. He just misses his sister.

Last weekend Darla had her first slumber party. Her cousin Pearl has 2 girl cousins her age on the other side of the family. They were all having a slumber party at Pearl's Aunt Leah's house. Even though Darla is not technically their cousin, they all have ballet together and are becoming friends. When she was invited to the night of nail painting, movies, and treats I imagined myself at age five and thought, "She'll be so homesick at an unfamiliar house with a slightly familiar host. She'll surely need me to pick her up at bedtime."
Apparently I forgot that I'm not the only one contributing genes to this girl. My party animal husband is the other half and that's the half that said, "I'm going and I'm not scared!"

Eagerly she bounced off to a room of giggling girls; sleeping bag and backpack in tow.
We took the boys out for ice cream so they would have a fun night, too. Hudson could hardly enjoy anything. In the car, "Where is Darla?"
"Hudson, we've talked about it 5 times. Where is she?"
"Slumber party."
"How long will she be there?"
"Until morning."
"When in the morning?"
We ordered ice cream and sat down. It continued. "What is Darla doing now? Does she want to come home? Does she go to sleep when I do?"
The first thing the next morning, "Is Darla still sleeping? What will she eat for breakfast? Do you think she got scared?"

When we picked her up I asked her if she got homesick. She said, "Oh, I missed you Mom. I wanted you but I didn't want to miss out on all the fun!"

Hudson responded to her the way he always does when his affection for her bubbles up. He hugged her tight and said, "Darla... you my best girl."