Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Year at a Glance...

2008…wow. This has been quite a year…for so many reasons. I have very likely changed more over the course of the last 365 days than I have in any year past. This has been a year of some major events, and has also been a year of some major moving of God in my life. I have been challenged/convicted in almost every area of my life. These were not easy challenges to face…but very necessary. So I’m just sitting here on the plane headed back to Nashville from Texas taking a look back at the year and decided to list out a few notable things from 2008. I’m breaking it up into two sections: 1. Things that I’ve done or that have happened and 2. Things I have learned (which could feasibly be a whole book’s-worth). So here we go…2008 at a glance:

Things I did or that have happened in 2008

  • I started a blog
  • I had a meal with a homeless person(s) for the first time in my life. (breakfast at Mickey D’s, baby! J ). 
  • My sweet 94-year old Grandaddy went home. I would not be who I am or where I am today without him. I can’t wait to see him again.
  • I had my first experience as a maid of honor. 7th time to be a bridesmaid…first time to be a maid of honor. I learned much about how to be a good one and what to do better next time! J
  • I ran in two marathons and LOVED it (which is quite noteworthy considering I hated running before…).
  • I went on my first-ever beach vacation. Yes, I had gone to the beach before …however, I had never actually gone on a straight-up, beach-only vacation. Wow…so great. Thanks again for that, JP and Jill!
  • I started playing basketball again after a year-long hiatus. Reason for the hiatus? This…
  • I helped build a house from the ground-up in Juarez, Mexico. Amazing trip.
  • Harpeth Community Church moved into our very own building!!!
  • I finally made the decision: I’m going to Africa. I’m initially going for only a month (probably in Nov of this next year) and then…we’ll see.
  • I finally got to visit D.C. My cousin, Haley, did a semester-long internship in congressman Sam Johnson’s office. Ross, Melissa and I got to visit her on Labor Day weekend…D.C. is super cool.
  • My best friend in the whole wide world got engaged. I’ve told her so many times throughout our lives: “I can’t wait to see who you marry one day”…and now I know. It’s a little surreal, to be honest. 
  • Texas Tech football KICKED TAIL! (I’ve never been more proud to be a Red Raider).
  • I got to witness the transformation of a youth group. I could talk about this for hours…and I have. But God has completely changed the heart and mentality of the HCC youth group from inward-focused and consumerist (is that a word?) to outward-focused and missional. I have witnessed CRAZY love happening in that group. And it’s only the beginning of what He’s going to do…I can just taste it.
  • I wrote a book. This actually started in the fall of '07, but I have been writing a book/Bible study (aimed at teenage girls) on falling in love with Jesus ( that can adequately be broken down into a book). It’s not 100% done, but it’s in its final stages…
  • I met my twin…no, not my biological one. This fall I met a girl named Jenna through a mutual friend of ours in Atlanta. I am not sure that I have met anyone quite so much exactly like me…it’s kinda freaky, actually.
  • I met Shane Claiborne (not my twin…I wish).
  • I was introduced to and got involved with Against the Grain ministry in Franklin. It’s a ministry that works with single moms and at-risk children in Williamson County. I am mentoring a couple of the teen moms in that program…they are becoming true sisters to me.
  • God turned my world upside-down…yeah…no big thing.

Things I learned in 2008

  • The more I know about God, the more I realize I don’t know…which is awesome.
  • I am actually capable of standing and moving on a skateboard. A ton of kids in the youth group skateboard. I have fought it for a couple of years, but I finally gave in a few weeks ago. I’m still in the early stages of learning…but I have to admit - I’m actually enjoying it.
  • I am far too materially rich. This is something I’m still wrestling with. And the more I give away or donate, the more I wrestle with it. So I don’t know if God is calling me to do something else about it, or if this is always a tension that I will live with as long as I live in the U.S.? Hmmm…
  • I love backpacking. I’ve been camping before and I’ve been hiking before, but I went on my first actual “backpacking” trip this fall. And I had a stinkin’ blast. I’m so ready for the spring so I can go again.
  • Christian persecution is greater now than ever in the history of the world. I taught a lesson to our youth a few weeks ago on this. Preparing for that lesson was truly eye-opening. I want to know Jesus the way those martyrs knew Him. I want to love Him the way they did.
  • I so desire to live more simply (see 8/4 post - )
  • “Family” is not simply biological. I live 15 hours away from my biological family…not always an easy thing. However, God has blessed me with an incredible “Jesus-family” in Nashville. They mean the world to me…
  • There is no one else for me but Jesus. A question that hit me hard this year was: “Am I more in love with the things of God than God Himself?” It was a hard one…but what a shame it would be to miss out on the greatest gain! (see 11/17 post for more - )
  • The “system” is ugly (much to say about that one)
  • I LOVE PHOTGRAPHY. I had my first-ever official photography gig this year (my friend Mollie’s wedding) and had SO MUCH FUN! These were a couple of my favorites…
  • I need Africa more than Africa needs me (see 12/3 post)
  • God doesn’t always remove that “thorn in your side”…but it is what keeps you dependent upon Him and pressing into Him. And for that, I am thankful.
  • What my ministry needs most from me is not cool new programs or methods of teaching…but someone who has an angst to sit at the feet of Christ. (Thanks for that, Matt Chandler).
  • I am so in need of His grace. I have far to go…
  • I am not that cool…thank goodness.
  • I am blessed beyond words. 
(If you've actually made it to the end of this entry, I applaud you...and encourage you to do a 2008 re-cap as well!! :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

my favorite gift...

So earlier today, I finished the first of three "Christmases" (AKA - time of opening gifts) of which I will be partaking while I'm in Texas. This was actually the one that I look forward to the most every year - the one with just my parents and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins (not that I don't love them all, by the way). But I love when it's just the four of us getting to spend time together.

I opened what will undoubtedly be my favorite gift of the year (and I know I have more to come...but nothing will beat this one). But after we had opened gifts, my dad said "Okay we have one more gift for you girls to open and they're in those two little boxes on the fireplace". So Melissa and I each pick up a box and open it to find a computer-generated Xmas card (I love when my dad makes those...they're so endearing...) and in the card was a $100 check from my parents made out one. And the card read:

A few weeks ago, Mom and I attended a Feast or Famine meal at LCU. There we learned about how many people in the world are starving to death and how someone like the Breedlove Dehydration Plant could make major inroads to helping alleviate starvation by their dehydration process. Breedlove works in all parts of the world helping get food to starving people. We were very impressed with the presentation and coupled with your interest in this problem, we decided that we would each give $100 of our Christmas money to an agency such as Breedlove to help fight the loss of life through starvation. Mom and I will be giving our checks to Breedlove.

However, we left the "to" part of "your" check blank so that you can make your own personal decistion to where the money would do the "most" good. Just fill out the "to" protion of the check and make sure that the people get it before the end of the year.

We admire your charitable hearts, and so we honor you by making this Christmas a little more special. Thank you for setting such a good example of caring.

We love you,

Dad and Mom

Yeah, there's not going to be any gift this Christmas that tops that. By the time Melissa and I had finished reading our cards, we were both crying, which of course made my mom cry and I promise you that I saw a tear in my dad's eye...or at least some redness (which is probably like the third time in my life that I've ever seen that).

I don't know why it was so emotional for us...I mean, even saying it now sounds a little cheesy, but it wasn't so much that it was just a sweet gift or sweet words on a card. I think it was because it was like this moment where the the four of us were totally of one spirit and one heart...all believing and agreeing on what is the most important thing. Melissa and I have sometimes felt like a few of our friends/family members have given us that "oh-you're-so-naive", "pat-you-on-the-head" reaction to our ideas and our dreams of helping those in need around the world. But it was such an amazing thing for our parents to love and support our heart's desires and all four of us stand together for what God is calling us to. I'll never forget that moment.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Attempting a "Buy Nothing Christmas"

key word in the title: "ATTEMPT".

Okay so Christmas is "the season for giving". Well...if it's the season for giving then it's also the season for "getting", right? Because whatever you give, someone else is going to get. I know...this is deep stuff. ha. But herein lies the problem for me. (I may step on some toes here, so I apologize in advance...but I'm not really sorry about it:) 

If you've followed previous blogs, you've likely noticed that I have been experiencing some deep conviction over the past few months about the way I spend my money. So when Christmastime rolled around, I was feeling some major battling happening within. There's definitely plenty of Scriptures that call us to show restraint and not hoard goods. If we truly care about the poor and the needy, it's really hard to justify over-indulgence as our neighbors - our family - starve. 

So at Christmas, we're celebrating the birth of a man who had much to say against materialism and hoarding riches...and ironically we celebrate his birth by - and this may be strong - but basically over-indulging in materialism. Seems a little off, right? And interestingly, it's pretty easy to excuse it away by saying it's all about "giving". By the way, I'm not trying to point fingers here...I'm pointing this finger right at myself!!!

So this year, I started looking into this concept of a "Buy Nothing Christmas". There were some interesting devos and such on the website...this was on one of the devos:

We have enough, and to keep adding to our pile not only takes up resources that could go to the poor but also has a devastating impact on the environment. If everyone consumed according to North American standards, the Earth would be completely stripped of its resources in short order. We cannot love God if we do not love and treat with reverence the world that God created.

Ultimately, we must remember that with his life and teachings, Jesus contracted dramatically with his surrounding culture. Christians are called to live in similar opposition to the norms and assumptions of their society. Thus, in a culture marked so heavily by acquisition and consumption, following Christ's example means living simply and aspiring for attitude of “enough.”

Dang. Ouch.

So this "Buy Nothing Christmas" concept sounds like such an awesome idea, but it definitely proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. Because here's the deal: it's super hard (if not, impossible) to convince your friends/family to not spend money on you. Or just to give donations in lieu of gifts. Because apparently that takes the "joy" out of their giving something. Then on the flip side, if I were to not buy actual gifts for friends and family, I'm just the cheap friend/family member or the one who didn't want to make an effort to go find a cool gift. So I had to come up with some alternatives and here are a few that I found:
  • Making gifts! I have loved getting to do this. Yes, it did require the purchasing of some materials, but I have enjoyed getting to make quite a few of the gifts I'm giving this year. Of course, I didn't think about the potential stress/time factor of making said gifts, but it's so much more fun than dealing with that horrific mall in December.
  • Ten Thousand Villages - There's a store in Green Hills that sells items from third world countries. They work with artisan groups in more than 38 countries to bring fair trade jewelry, home items, etc. here to sell. Awesome stuff!! And so much more fun to tell someone that their gift was hand-made in Kenya or Guatemala and the money is going straight back to those who made it!
So this was my attempt to be a little more conscious this Christmas...I definitely didn't succeed at "buying nothing", but it proved to be so much more fun! 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

good stuff...

Music and books. "These are a few of my favorite things" (that's right...sing it). I have a slight addiction to both, actually. (see 10/6 blog entitled "I have a Problem :) 
Anyway, I always get excited when I discover a new song/artist/album or book/author that inspires and encourages me. So I want to share a couple that I've recently discovered (actually, I can't take credit for "discovering" them, because both were given to me). 
Anyway, the first is the newest Jeremy Camp album, Speaking Louder Than Before. 

I was a huge fan of Jeremy Camp when he first started out, but kinda lost touch with his music for a season. So a friend of mine recently gave me his newest album and I'm loving it. I was reading up on it and what he had to say about it...and that's when I realized why I love's directed toward youth! :) He says,

“I see the hurt, the lack of direction, in this new generation...I always had a passion for youth, but this album is really aimed at them...Some people might think I’m being preachy. I’m not angry; I’m not pointing a finger. Really, my heart is breaking. I’m talking about loving people and serving people...I’m telling my story. I’m pointing that finger at me. If my heart’s not breaking for the lost, I won’t come across the way I need to."

DANG Jeremy...I love it. Check out these lyrics to the title song:

Hear now this Declaration from out across the nation, 
we need to wake up and understand. 
Many hurting hearts are crying, 
but our voices seem to be dying, 
can you see this battle raging on? 

We are the light to reach this world, 
we are the salt preserving these souls. 
lets show them all the love that we've received. 
We are, we are in desperation. 
we need to reach this generation, 
we are speaking louder than before. 
we are the hope that's been forgotten, 
we have a love that has been brought 
& we are speaking louder than before. 

Take every chance that you can, 
move together, taking a stand, 
never losing heart, we'll speak as one. 
We need to be the image of christ, 
to show love and serve at all times.
we can make a difference in this land

Everything's surreal, but this urgency I feel, 
we should be reaching out to all these desperate pleas, 
the need is real, can't you feel this call to revolution? 
My beating heart is breaking for them. 
that's why I am speaking up, that's why I am speaking now.


My second "discovery" is the book that I'm reading with my small group called "Walking With God" by John Eldredge. 

I'll undoubtedly be posting lots of thoughts on this book over the next few weeks. It is challenging me in many ways. It's basically John Eldredge's journal as he walks with God over the course of a year. It's stretching and growing the way I see my relationship with my Father. It's challenging me and encouraging me to walk with God not just in the "big" moments of life and not just in the crises of life, but in the dailyness of life. That's where intimacy happens. 
I mean, how small is God if He's just the God of the big moments? I want to walk with Him. More thoughts to come...

Check these babies out...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I Need Africa More Than Africa Needs Me

So I'm involved with this organization called Mocha Club, that basically is all about connecting communities in the US with communities in Africa.  You start out by giving $7 a month (the approximate price of two mochas) and this money goes to the Mocha Club project of your choice. They have many projects going at any given time including HIV, child mothers, orphan care, job creation and education. Mocha Club is kicking off a new campaign called "I Need Africa More Than Africa Needs Me".
I need Africa more than Africa needs me. Do you?

So I've been thinking about it a lot. It's something that I was already coming to believe way before this campaign started. For so long, those of us in the west have simply looked at Africa as a place of charity. A place where there is only death and starvation and darkness. The media portrays Africans as victims and as statistics. As numbers and not humans.  A people to be pitied. You rarely see their laughter or their smiles.

But there's so much that we don't understand about them. And while there is SOME truth in those previous statements, I have been coming to see and believe that there very well may be more to be pitied about us who live in the west. And there is so much more than just pain and darkness in Africa right now. There is beauty and there is hope and there is redemption. No, I haven't seen it face-to-face (yet), but I have been reading their stories and listening to their conversations. A people who are staring death and suffering in the face but are doing it with strength and courage and faith - a faith that I don't know if I understand or have. But I want it. I want the faith that they have. I want to see and know the God that they see and know.  

My best friend, Ashley, lived in Uganda for a year. When she came back I remember her telling me, "Melanie, they believe in a God that is so much bigger than the One we believe in. Their prayers are so big. Their faith is so amazing." I recently got this book called "Hope in the Dark" (amazing book...please buy it). In it, Jena Lee (the executive director of Blood:Water Mission) writes about a conversation she had with a man in Africa:

"We know that Americans pity Africans," he told me. "But sometimes I think Africans pity Americans."
"How so?" I asked him. 
"Americans seem to expect that everything will be provided for them. For us," he said, "this ear of corn is a gift from God. This evening's rain is a shower of mercy upon us. This healthy breath is life-giving. And maybe tomorrow we will not have such things, but our hearts are so full from God's provision." 

I need Africa. I need to see hope in a dark world. I need to see people in communities that love and care for one another's needs. I need to see people who aren't living under the weight and idolatry of materialism. I need to see people who have TRUE joy and peace, not the counterfeits that many of us in the west have settled for. 

I have come to learn in the past few weeks that I have a distorted view of what I "need" as opposed to what I desire. God has been revealing to me that in reality, there is absolutely nothing outside of Him that I need. Seriously, in the end, what else is there? This is not a new concept to me. But He is actually making this real to me for possibly the first time in my life. And it's not that I want there to be nothing I desire that compares to Him; I don't want to desire anything besides Him. I want to be able to say with David, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you." (Psalm 73:25). Ah, I wanna be there. I'm not there...but I want to be. And Africa shows me a people who are aware of their deepest need. They love God for God...not because of what He gives, but because of who He is. Their love for Him is pure and their faith in Him is huge. They may not own much, but what they do have is what I want more than anything. 

This is why I need Africa more than Africa needs me. 

I want to go so badly...I want to connect with them as my brothers and sisters.  hmmm....November '09