Thursday, February 24, 2011

James is a beautifully frustrating book.

James is one of my absolute favorite books in the bible. (It's okay to have favorites... right???) It's one that I've read so many times, but no matter how many times I read it, it's brand new. It's a very short book, but it's so full.

If you crack it open and begin reading, in just the first chapter you'll read verses like these:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father or lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 

I mean, is anyone else here blown away? That's all in the FIRST chapter. And it's a very short chapter! Those are nine very solid verses that could be nine sermons in themselves. Nine huge life lessons in themselves. It's almost too much to take in in just one chapter.

That's why it's frustrating to me. I begin to read it, but I can't even get past the second verse without having to stop and let it soak in, pray over it, and figure out its appropriate place in my own life. Every verse is convicting. And every verse is an individual revival in my heart. And every single verse I just want to cling to.

I assigned James 1 as our reading for the college-aged bible study I lead on Thursdays. I don't use any kind of book or video or other resources for our bible study. Just straight bible. We read a particular verse, passage, chapter, etc. and discuss it. I provide the basic facilitating of the discussion, but for the most part, it's just one big conversation. It's amazing to do that. The Word just straight-up comes alive to us as every girl shares what she gets out of it, what God has taught her through it, what her life has experienced in reference to it. It's so stinkin cool.

And now to think we're about to dive into this book with that same momentum... I just can't even begin to fathom it. It's going to be good stuff! And knowing us, we won't get past the first paragraph tonight. And there will be huge smiles. Some tears. Lots of praises. That's what happens when you come together and study His Word. It's powerful, y'all!

If you've never read it, I challenge you to go read it right now. It's super short. Won't take more than 10 minutes. In fact, if you don't feel like getting up, just click here.

Good stuff, right??


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Got Pruned.

Yall, it's been a while. I know.

I apologize.

Last week was just a crazy week mentally. I went home Sunday after church feeling very encouraged and carefree and just, you know, ready for spring. I was in one of those, "This is going to be a GREAT week!" mindsets.

Then Monday came. Oh, Monday. I don't really have the normal dislike for Mondays. I actually like them a lot. But that Monday was different. Because following a very encouraging Sunday came a very discouraging  Monday. It was like one thing after another. A complaint. A disapproval. A discouragement. A not-so-fun-to-read e-mail. A disrespectful text message. You know, that kind of day.

So that kind of set the stage for my week. The rest of the week was spent trying to overcome this enormous feeling of, "I stink. People hate me. Why am I doing this? I'm sick of people. I want to be at the beach. Lord, I'm trying to have a right attitude."

I was discouraged. I'd been hurt. I was ticked off. I was confused. I felt lonely at times.

The whole time I was tempted to blame this on Satan. He's trying to discourage me. He's tempting me. He's just trying to slow me down and trip me up.

Maybe he did have a part in it, and I have no doubt He enjoyed it.

But I think it was bigger than Satan.

I think the Lord was pruning me. In fact, I know the Lord was pruning me.

Because this week I feel stronger, healthier, more passionate, more fruitful, more focused than I have in very long time. My heart is a little more sensitive and my skin is a little thicker, both which are essential to a life of ministry. There is no doubt in my mind this was the Lord's work.

Pruning is a term you've probably heard a lot if you've lived in a church circle for much time at all. We throw it around like it's self-explanatory. But sometimes my simple mind has to stop and be reminded of what these "thrown-around" words really mean.

So here we go:

Pruning is a horticultural practice involving the selective removal of parts of a plant, such as branchesbuds, or roots. Reasons to prune plants include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining health, reducing risk from falling branches, preparing nursery specimens for transplanting, and both harvesting and increasing the yield or quality of flowers and fruits

That's exactly what God was doing in my heart and mind last week. He was removing the parts of me, like pride, arrogance, selfish ambition, insecurity, doubt, haughty attitudes, etc. that would, in the long run, diminish my spiritual health. He was shaping me in order to redirect my growth in a direction that would improve who I am and the fruit of my labor.

And I am so glad He did.

Pruning is never fun. Getting things removed can seem like torture. Sometimes it is. Getting reshaped can hurt. But the result afterward... is priceless. It's something so much greater, brighter, prettier, stronger than if you would have just left it to be.

God loves us too much to just "let us be." He loves us enough to prune us. To make us better.

Next time you're having one of those weeks, don't be so quick to blame Satan.
It just might be your loving Creator taking good care of His creation. 


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Real, honest thoughts on Ministry.

Sometimes ministry is just plain tough.

Sometimes parents beg you to teach about sex, then get upset when you "said too much." Other times, they wish you would have said more.

Sometimes girls get their feelings hurt when you don't text back, and that can get dramatic.

Sometimes kids call you when you're asleep and need to talk. For hours.

Sometimes parents are very quick to criticize and question you, but very slow to encourage.

Sometimes you go weeks without the smallest "Thank you."

Sometimes you get in really awkward situations that really have no "right" solution.

Sometimes you spend your entire weekend "working." And the next. And the next.

Sometimes you have to have really uncomfortable, confrontational conversations that no longer make you "cool" and "fun".

Sometimes you just say the wrong thing. And people get offended. And they remember it. And talk about it. And remind you about it. For months.

Sometimes you get bold-face lied to. Because kids don't want you to "know."

Sometimes people manipulate you because they know they can.

Sometimes you spend hours praying and preparing for a lesson only to start speaking to a group of students who really act like they DO NOT care.

Sometimes people hold you to an absolutely impossible standard. And sometimes you feel like they're impossible to please.

Sometimes you just can't take one more conversation about boy drama. Or mean girls. Or why I hate my parents. Or why she makes me mad. Or how I feel insecure. At least not without pulling your hair out and losing your mind.

Sometimes you can't help but look at your pay check and wonder where the rest of it is.

Sometimes you get judged for being too young, or being a female.

Sometimes people say you're too open with the students, while other people say you're too closed off. Sometimes they say you're too conservative, while others complain you're too liberal.

Sometimes you get hated for having to create a dress code. And sometimes the parents are the ones who hate you the most.

Sometimes you just get so overwhelmed with the burdens you carry with your students. Other times, you feel like you don't have anyone you can truly confide in with your own burdens.

...Sometimes, it's just plain tough. And sometimes you just get to the point where you wonder, "Why am I doing this? Why am I putting up with this? Why am I still here? Why am I trying so hard?"

It sounds awful, right? I mean after all, you're not working for those people... you're working for the Lord! Well, yeah. That's true. And good. But that doesn't change or erase the fact that you still have those times. You still have those thoughts. You can still go back and count the number of times quitting and moving on to a "better" job sounded so good. (And I promise you, ask anyone you know working in ministry. If they're honest enough, they'll admit the same.)

I have moved into my 5th year of ministry this year. It sounds crazy to me to even say that. FIVE YEARS??? Really? I'm pretty sure I was still in middle school five years ago.

It's been a journey. There have been great weeks, great months, great years, great days. And there have been weeks where I just knew I was ready to tell the Pastor why I just can't keep doing this job anymore. There have been months where I felt like I was doing nothing but messing up, ticking people off, and saying all the wrong things. There have been days where I've been so heavy-burdened and discouraged that I didn't know if I could even finish that night.

It's not always fun. And it's definitely not easy. There's so much more to it than people can see, and SO MUCH more to it than you can possibly know beforehand.

But I have learned not to quit. Not to give up. Not to bail. While I want to sometimes, I can't. Because sometimes... sometimes it's great.

Sometimes you get to be there as a kid turns to Jesus for the very first time and experiences what his grace and love feel like. And you get to smile with them, hug them, and just rejoice in your heart as they cry their eyes out at the overwhelming peace that comes over them.

Sometimes your not-so-fun conversation is just what a student needed to finally turn away from something that was literally ruining his or her life.

Sometimes you get to deliver a message or teach a lesson that you know truly changed a kid's life.

Sometimes you get to be the first person to know about some exciting news.

Sometimes you get to rejoice when a family makes it through a terribly situation.

And at just the right time, you get that encouraging email, Facebook message, card in the mail, phone call, or (my personal favorite) $10 Starbucks gift-card that just reminds you that what you're doing matters. And people notice. And they care. And they appreciate you.

And that you can't quit because you're not finished. These kids still need you, even if you do mess up and say wrong things and give wrong looks and forget to answer texts sometimes.

Sometimes it's tough. But all the time, it's worth it.

[Sometimes, I just have to write something like this to simply remind myself.]


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Stinkin Can't Wait!!

Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to be a mom. I never thought I'd be a good one and the idea of me actually becoming a real one freaked me out, but I have always had the longing to have, love, teach, play with, and mother my very own child.

Now I am a mom and I'm so close (yet still SO far away) from having this kid in my arms. I'm so stinkin excited. I can't hardly stand it!!

Before we got married, Marty and I used to have long conversations about what we can't wait for in marriage. We'd say things like, "I can't wait to wake up and eat a bowl of cereal together." (It's the little things... ha) Well, now that this kid is on the way, there have been SO MANY "can't wait for's" in our conversations. Today my heart is longing, even more than normal, to just hold my kid. All day I've been thinking about the future and what I can't wait for.

I can't wait...
  • To smell him after a bath, covered in baby lotion.
  • To sneak pictures of him sleeping on daddy's chest.
  • To watch my Granddaddy's face light up the first time he holds him.
  • To teach Marty how to change a dirty diaper. 
  • To take him to his first Wampus Cat game, decked out in that Conway Blue!
  • To teach him how to say, "I love you."
  • To spend an entire Saturday eating popsicles, building forts, taking naps, and having a picnic outside.
  • To have the first family Christmas pics made!
  • To get to tell him about Jesus and watch him learn to pray and read his bible.
  • To tease him about his first crush and try to hook him up with the cutest 4-year-old in the nursery. 
  • To go to the pumpkin patch and pull him in the wagon.
  • To teach him how to swim and watch his little eyes blink really fast when water gets in there.
  • To catch him at the end of the slide at the park.
  • To dress him in the coolest little kid clothes ever.
  • To help him hunt for Easter Eggs.
  • To teach him that crab legs are NOT scary bugs, then watch him try to figure out how in the world to eat them.
  • To take him to the beach. Every year. 
  • To see how many hats his daddy buys him.
  • To hear him yell, "Mommy" from his room at night.
  • To play hide and seek.
  • To gang up on daddy when he's being grumpy. (Okay, that will probably be the other way around.)
  • To spray him with the water hose when we're outside washing the car.
  • To fix him cinnamon rolls for breakfast just because.
  • To race him in the back yard and let him win.
  • To play catch.
  • To cringe as he plays with the loud toys his aunts buy him.
  • To see him look at my mom like she is Cuh-RAZY. But then laugh and hug her.
  • To hear him sing, "Jesus Loves Me" for the first time.
  • To go out in public and have people look and say, "That's the cutest kid I've ever seen."
  • To watch him try to walk.
  • To go to Toad Suck with him riding on daddy's shoulders, eating some cotton candy.
  • To be Mary, Joseph & Baby Jesus at Bethlehem!
  • To see him be in his first wedding.
  • To pick him up from the nursery at church and have him smile so big and run to my arms when he sees me.
  • To watch him sing in the church programs and wave to him from the audience so he can see where we're sitting.
  • To teach him how to see himself in the mirror and watch him smile and laugh every time he does.
  • To sneak him some extra cookies when he's being really good.
  • To take him outside when it snows and build a big snowman, throw snowballs, then run back inside to get warm and dry and drink some hot chocolate.
  • To take him to the zoo and practice all the animal sounds.
  • To let him sit in my lap and help me drive.
  • To let him stay up until midnight each new year and give him lots of kisses at midnight.
  • To host his first birthday party!
  • To take about 40 pictures of him a day because I don't want to miss anything.
  • To take him on mommy dates.
  • To teach him "Woo Pig Sooie!"
  • To have him wrap his arms around my neck and kiss me on the cheek.

There are so many more things I can't wait for! Oh, and notice I used "him" this time?? Well, every day I go back and forth. One day I think it's a boy, the next I'm sure it's a girl. Today, it's a boy. So that's why he is called him. Come back next week and you'll probably see a bunch of "she" and "her". 

Not too long before we'll know for sure though!


Monday, February 7, 2011

10 1/2 Weeks

Today I am 10.5 weeks pregnant. On one hand I can't believe it's already been five weeks since we announced it, but at the same time I feel like I've been pregnant for months already! This whole waiting 9 months thing is definitely going to strengthen my patience. I am NOT good at waiting. But wait I must...

This week's progress:

Baby Summers...
  • Has doubled in size since week 8. S/He is now a little over an inch long and weighs just under a quarter of an ounce.
  • Is now considered a full-out fetus.
  • Is swallowing fluid.
  • Is kicking up a storm! Although I can't feel it, it's cool to know it's happening!
  • Has fully formed fingers and toes (no more webbing!) with nails growing on them! That's so cool to think about!
  • Is beginning to grow peach fuzz hair on his/her skin.
  • Can now bend his/her limbs!
Momma Summers...

  • Is finally feeling a little better! Still having the hot flashes and the episodes of "I'm gonna puke" but not near as often or as long.
  • Is still eating a ton! Pizza, chocolate ice cream, tons of fruit (except for bananas now... I got sick of those), and of course some healthy stuff thrown in there.
  • Is SLEEEEEPY. Even more than before. 
  • Is beginning to have shortness of breath. At first I thought something was wrong, but then I found out it's just another normal symptom. I notice it most when I'm speaking on Wed. nights... I never ever lose my breath speaking but the last couple of weeks I've really had to pause and take drinks. Weird.
  • The little pooch is becoming slightly more visible. One of the girls noticed it Wed. night. I wasn't sure how I felt about that... but I just keep remembering it's not chub, it's my kid!
  • Has started getting headaches. Doc said to expect it because of so many hormone changes. But it's no fun.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Love is...

Every Thursday night I lead the college girls bible study.

(Here we are back in September when we just got rolling for the new year. Love all these girls!)

This semester I'm taking very familiar passages that we all grew up reading, hearing, and quoting... the ones that have become someone cliche or overlooked because of their popularity. And we're diving deep into these passages and looking at them in a whole new light, hopefully allowing them to become something brand new to our hearts.

I started last week with Ecclesiastes 3 (There is a time and season for everything) and this week we looked at 1 Corinthians 13... the love chapter.

After going over the study of what that passage is really talking about, we had a little activity. I asked all the girls to think of someone in their life who has just been a great example of that kind of real, Godly love. Then we got out the cricut machines and made Valentine's Day cards for those people. (Lots of these girls are the anti Vday type girls who want to wear all black that day and boycott... so I tried to make it about more than romantic love.)

I always forget to take pics at bible study, so I grabbed my phone and snapped a few!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Maybe There's Hope.

We pass him on the street and we're left with a question... 
What do we do?

Do we avoid eye contact, walk by, ignore him... assume he's 
just like the rest of them?

Or do we look him in the eye, stop for a second, say hello, and 
dare to hear his story?

Do we hate him? Or do we love him?

Maybe he's like the majority of them. He had opportunities, he had help, he had other options and he blew them. Wasted them. Chose alcohol & drugs over stability. Maybe he had his 20 chances and chose to ignore them. Maybe he wouldn't even accept help to get clean and get right today. Maybe he does, in fact, deserve where he's at.

But maybe not.

Maybe he had a stable life and something happened. Maybe he lost someone in his life and had no idea how to cope with it, how to continue living a stable life. Maybe a medical emergency occurred that left him in debt for the rest of his life. Maybe he lost a job in our crazy economy and his house foreclosed on him. Maybe he's dealing with a mental illness that costs WAY too much to get treatment for... you know, an illness you and I could pay for. But he couldn't. Maybe he was abused and neglected his entire life and nobody ever told him he could do better, he deserved better.

Maybe he's desperate for hope. 
Maybe he wants help. 
Maybe he would change if someone could show him how. 

Do the people in the second scenario exist? Yes. Of course. Are they the majority among who we deem "the homeless?" No, probably not. But do they exist? Yes.

I know people scam. I know people are untruthful. I know some people "deserve" where they are. (Although I would argue that point entirely.) But not all of them. Some small percentage, I believe, really would and could get out of there if they had SOMEONE show them some kind of hope.

That small percentage is reason enough for me to stop. Make eye contact. Smile. Start a conversation. Listen to the story. Maybe take a chance.

Maybe I just gave $10 to buy a dude's next six pack. Maybe I will only feed his problem and make him keep begging. Maybe.

Or maybe I just gave $10 to buy a guy's next meal and pair of socks. And maybe I will only feed his hope that there is good, there is love, and there is another option.

I have been called naive concerning this topic a number of times. People tell me all the time that homeless people are just trying to make a fool out of me. And you know what? I'm okay with that.
I'd rather be naive than cynical.
The world has enough cynical people.
I think the world needs a few more who will take a chance to made a fool.

Maybe in every 10 people I stop, talk to, give a little money to... maybe only one is actually grateful, will actually use it for food, will actually gain hope from it. Maybe only one in ten.

But isn't that one worth it? 

He is to me.
I'll be made a fool 10 times if it means I can give hope once.  

"If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, 'The seventh year, the year of release is near,' and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'
Deuteronomy 15:7-11