More Day in My Time

There are a lot of things I have to do each day. Lots of things. Sound familiar? Most days I actually have more on my plate than I can ever hope to get done…. and have any time left over to sleep, that is. Does that sound like your life, too? It crossed my mind to list everything I did today, but then the thought of it started to make me sweat and get all jittery. 

Sometimes when I have actually accomplished a lot of what I set out to do in a day, I sit back with a real sense of satisfaction. I can almost pull a muscle trying to reach around and pat myself on the back. How sick is it to list off the things I got done to find myself acceptable? To justify my very existence, even? Pretty sick, I think.

Sometimes it’s the only way I can allow myself the time to sit and read or watch a mindless television show like American Ninja Warriors. Have I accomplished enough of the things on my list for the day to deserve a mindless break? I may need professional help. 

But then there are the days when the guilt of un-accompishment can make me feel like a bigger dope. Sometimes the plans I have for the day, all the things on my list, just don’t seem to come together. Something I didn’t plan for sets my to-do list on it’s edge. And my stress level rises. My list just got fuller for tomorrow. Have you experienced that feeling, too? All those things I have to do left undone. Whatever will I do?

Here’s a bit of truth. All of the things on our list of things that we HAVE to do, were put there by… us. We took on a job, or a responsibility, or volunteered to handle that thing. We did. I agreed to take a job, have four children, be a good daughter, support my husband, have friends, buy a house, write a blog… The decisions I have made, the choices I have made for my life, have directly contributed to the things I “have” to do each day. My day. My list. 

Except that’s not all of it. The day I decided to become a follower of Christ, my days were no longer my own. Saying “yes” to Jesus meant saying “no” to myself. Every day. It means that I am supposed to set aside my list for His. Rather than directing my own path, I am to follow in His. All that I truly have to do is all He would have me to do. When I do this, sometimes I have to say no to things on the list. It’s not that those things are not important. It’s not that they don’t matter. Well, some of them don’t. Not really. Not as much as I make out that they do. 

As a Christ follower it is my job, my commission, to share the name of Jesus. Above all else, that is my job. To love Him with my whole heart, mind, and soul. To love others as I love myself (and my list). To set aside my full plate and take up His cross (cause, agenda) daily. Now on the rare occasion that I have actually been able to do this, now those are red letter days! I don’t have my own appointments, I have Divine appointments. I don’t get more time in my day, but I get more day in my time! I see things I would normally miss as I rush too and fro. I remember to see the world around me through mercy’s eyes. I take the time to love, share, laugh, and care. 

At the conclusion of those days, His days, I am still tired. But I am fulfilled. I know that I accomplished all He had in mind for my day. The guilt of things left undone or done poorly, is gone. The days we give back to Him, when strung together, are the days that make for a life that matters. That’s the life I really want, how about you?

Lost and Found

 

                    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45-46    

This was Daytona week for the Bensons. I’m not talking about Nascar here. It’s become a yearly tradition that we go to Daytona Beach, Florida to help serve at a youth camp/conference called Bigstuf. It’s a week of little sleep, late night Mafia games, junk food, getting reacquainted with other staff and volunteers, and hard work. It’s great fun! Students from all around the country (3200 this year) traveled in buses and minivans to the shores of the Atlantic for some fun in the sun and an encounter with Jesus. At least that’s the hope and prayer of all the staff and volunteers.

All kinds of kids come to Bigstuf. All kinds. Some are easy to love, and some have to grow on you. If I am honest, there was one or two I wanted to hold under the waves a little longer than would be acceptable. I didn’t, but I wanted to.

As volunteers, there’s lots to do at camp. Matthew and my two oldest are there to serve on the Production Team. For the rest of us, we rotate through different jobs and help out where we are needed.

One of the jobs I had this week was sitting at the Info Table. Now when I saw this on my assignment roster, I was a little bit nervous. I mean, I don’t know a lot of information. What if people came asking things I had no answers for? But Bigstuf staff thinks of most everything, and they had me on Lost and Found. THAT, I could do. I am good at both losing AND finding things.

I was amazed at the lost things in the Lost and Found box. In the box were phones, money (Lots of money. Where do they get all that money?), Bibles, sunglasses, journals, hair brushes, water bottles, and one flip flop. Just one. How does one lose just one shoe?

One kid stood out to me. He came up to the Info Table very distraught. He wanted to know if anyone had turned in his remote controlled car. He told me it had cost him $320. Now as a mother, I wondered why in the world the kid would bring something that valuable to camp.

We could all see he was very upset. He begged us to have someone announce from the stage that if the car had been found, that it be returned to him. Initially, we told him we just couldn’t to that. EVERYONE who lost something asked us to do that. We told him to keep checking back with us, and that maybe someone would find it and turn it in. He did. Again, and again. Each time he came back, he was a bit more distraught. Finally, he was crying. I was suspicious that he had brought the car without his parent’s knowledge, or against their wishes. He was so consumed with finding his lost treasure, I seriously doubted he heard anything going on in the session that night.

In the end, we decided to announce from the stage the news of the lost RC car. This kid was desperate. He was begging us to help him. He was relentlessly pursuing that car. Its value to him was immeasurable. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it was ever returned to him. I prayed that it would be. Either way, I knew the Lord would use it for his good.

The whole thing got me to thinking. The determination this child had in finding what was lost was really pretty parable-like. For this kid, that RC car was his “pearl of great price”. His “lost sheep”.

Our Heavenly Father is relentlessly pursuing His lost children. They are His pearls of great price. The Bible tells us that like the Good Sheppard who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go find that lost one; God is desperately seeking to find those who are lost to Him. They are more important even than those of us who have been found.

It’s my prayer that the kids who attended camp this week found the God who so desperately seeks to be in relationship with Him, and accepted the gift of His love for them through Jesus. Even the provoking one or two… hey, especially them.

To Write Love on Her Arms

What can save a life? I’m blogging today from a session of Bigstuf Camp in Daytona Beach, Florida. Three thousand students hearing the story behind “To Write Love on Her Arms”.

If you’ve not heard about this… Where have you been? Let me catch you up.

The founder, a young man named Jamie Tworkowski, shared with the students about his friend, Renee. It was for this friend that the movement got started six years ago. Renee, even then a follower of Christ, was struggling with depression and self doubt. He saw carved into her arm a word evidence of her struggles. He wanted to instead, write love on her arm…

Friends, this is an example of the church being the church. This guy and his friends did more for this troubled girl than offer shallow platitudes and judgmental stares.

Because Renee had a fresh wound on her arm, she was denied admittance into a drug treatment facility. To be admitted, Renee had to stay clean from drugs and self injury for five days. So Jamie and his friends stayed with Renee twenty-four hours a day for those five days so she could begin to get the help she needed. In those five days they were the hands and feet of Jesus to Renee.

Today Renee is no longer in treatment. Today, Renee has the added pressure of being the poster child for this movement. As an unexpected surprise, our host, Lanny Donoho, welcomed Renee to the Bigstuf stage.

Today, Renee is not what you might expect. She has bright red hair, one side shaved close. Both arms are heavily tattooed. Her makeup a bit on the heavy side. As she came out on stage, I could tell the students were a bit taken aback. Sometimes its hard to look beyond adornments and see the person. Most of these kids are on the clean cut side of couture, and likely expected her to be more visually like them.

But then she spoke.

Her words went straight to the hearts of those students. She spoke of acceptance and real love. She spoke of her struggles and the amazing love shown to her in her darkest days…Even when she didn’t want it. And she spoke of hope being found not in your circumstances, but in the process of growth and change.

And then Renee Yohe sang

And she had us all. Because wrapped up in her song (called Crazy Fishes) we forgot her outward appearance and saw the person. We saw her as God sees her. And she is beautiful.

Fear Not

It’s been a traveling day today. Matthew, the kids plus one, and I have just arrived in Daytona Beach, Florida. Tomorrow starts the 2012 edition of Bigstuf Camp- Daytona Beach. It’s become a yearly opportunity for our family to serve all together as kids from all over come to the beach for an exciting youth conference experience.

We spent the night last night in Jacksonville, Florida and had the opportunity to worship at a sister ARC church called Celebration Church this Father’s Day morning. It just happens to be the church that planted the church in Northern Ireland that my oldest two boys visited on their mission trip a couple of weeks ago. There are no coincidences.
The speaker for today was a pastor from Louisiana. His message was on fear. I’m totally borrowing a lot of this blog from his message. For example, did you know that scripture tells us 366 times to “fear not”? That’s one time for every day, including leap year. Why is that? I think it’s because so many of us live under the grip of fear. God knew it would be a constant issue for us.
So often we make decisions based on the notion that something we fear might actually come to pass. More often than not, much more often, the things we fear happening never do. Fear can paralyze us, cause us to act irrationally, and send us running wild.
Living in the grip of fear is an unpleasant place to reside. As children of the Most High God, we can escape the grip of fear, and live in the grip of grace. Our example is Christ. (Matthew 8) When His disciples where shaking in their sandals aboard a boat in a storm, Jesus lay sleeping… unafraid. When they woke Him in fear for their lives, Jesus was disappointed in their apparent lack of faith… Are we really that different?
In another example, Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble. (John 16) Sometimes those things we fear do happen, and then Jesus said, “but I have overcome the world.” Even in the midst of our trouble, Jesus tells us He has already overcome it. Fear not.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, (2 Timothy 1:7) he tells the younger man that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear and of timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline. So, because of Jesus, we can replace our fear with the power to overcome those things that threaten us. We can reside in a place of love and peace despite our circumstances. And we get a sound mind. Fear makes us act crazy. That doesn’t bode well for anyone.
When fear begins to creep into our minds and grip our thoughts, we have the power to stand on the truth of God’s word. 366 times it tells us to fear not. No matter what. Things may look bad. We may fear the worst. But the good news is, we have the ability to live in the grip of grace despite our circumstances. I like that address so much better.

Beauty Instead of Ashes

This has already been a whirlwind summer for our family. My two oldest have been to Ireland on a mission trip to a town called Craigavon. It’s in Northern Ireland. It’s a town that has been written off as a failure. It’s the town that Celebration Church in Florida decided to impact with the love of Christ by planting a church there. The people of Craigavon need hope. My daughter spent a week in New York City working with the ministers at the Dream Center to spread the love of Christ to those who so despirately need Him there. Our whole family will leave this Saturday to help pull off a youth conference in Daytona, Florida, called Bigstuf, where thousands of kids from all over our nation will come to worship, hear great ministers lead them into deeper relationships with Christ and each other, and have fun in the sun. This conference is one of the highlights of our year.

It’s been a crazy few days since our kids all got back home from their mission trips. We haven’t yet really had time to sit down and hear everything that happened in them and through them on their journeys. We will. These are stories I don’t want to miss out on.

They have already shared one story from Ireland that I found really compelling. There’s not a lot for the young people of Craigavon to do there so they tend to congregate beneath bridges. I guess all teenagers everywhere like to “hang out”. Apparently nothing much happens in Craigavon. The kids on the mission trip soon discovered a couple of these hangouts and were saddened to see what had been written on the walls by the usual inhabitants. On the walls were written words of futility, desperation, anger, and apathy. These are the byproducts of a life without hope.

Our kids brought sidewalk chalk and Sharpie markers and began to write over the words the Craigavon kids had written. They began to cover anger with love. apathy with enthusiasm, futility with hope. They brought their Bibles and began to write scripture on the walls, replacing lies from the enemy with truth.

Then one day they were able to hang out underneath one of the bridges with the very kids who so despirately needed to know that even in Craigavon, there is hope. That God loves them and that they matter. Some of these kids have since connected with ours on Facebook, so the ministry will continue. If you want to join in on showing Craigavon some love, you can send them messages on Twitter using the hashtag #LoveCraigavon.

“  …and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:3

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’m going to share some with you taken by my son, Landon.

Learning to Live in the Blessing

I will not lie to you. This week was a challenge for me in a number of ways. Why is it that so often when the Lord is teaching me something that I am such a slow learner? I know fairly well that if I learn the lesson quickly, I can move on from it, but still sometimes I learn slowly.

This week I hugged three of my kids goodbye and sent them out into the world to go change it, to allow the Lord to change them and grow them, and to further His kingdom here on the Earth through them. Two I put on a plane to Ireland… you know Ireland… across the big pond? Where riots break out on a regular basis. That Ireland. The other I sent off to New York City. My fourteen year old daugher off to Harlem. You go girl.

I sent them knowing that the Lord had called them and that He would accomplish His will through them regardless of the outcome. Still, the burden to worry a bit was strong.

There were other challenges this week as well. Burdens. You have those. Those challenges that rest on your shoulders and make you carry them around? Those things that whisper constant negativity in your ear? During a quiet moment with the Lord this week, He began to show me how challenges I am given can be both burdens and blessings at the same time. My lesson is to learn how to live in the blessing and hand over the burden to Him.

The work I do, the work I get paid to do, is both a burden and a blessing. It both takes my time, energy and focus away from those I love most (burden)… and yet it brings me joy, professional challenge, and satisfaction. Not to mention the paycheck (blessing). There are times when I feel like my job will swallow me up. I fight hard against that. I had a particularly challenging couple of days at work this week. The burden was heavy. I had not learned my lesson well.

And then I walked into his room. He was an elderly patient who shares a name with a famous country singer. To ensure his privacy, I’ll call him Willie Nelson. As I walked in, I said, “I’m looking for Willie Nelson.” The older gentleman was sitting up in the chair and said, “You found him.” I said, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to sing me a song, then.” And he did. And it was… just what I needed. He didn’t sing a Willie Nelson song, as I expected, but rather an original song he made up and sang to his wife when she was still alive in a nursing home.

He sang of heaven, and Jesus. He sang about how this world is not my home and that in times of trouble, Jesus is my closest friend, and that I must give my burdens to Him. I felt Jesus right there in the room, pressing in and offering to take my burden, to share His yoke with me.

Yes. I cried. Right there in his room. Right in front of Willie Nelson as he sang in his sweet baritone voice. I cried and knew that I have not yet learned to live in the blessing and turn over the burden to Jesus.

There are many challenges in this life that also bless us. Jesus wants to take the burdens of this life from us. He will exchange those for his burden which is light. Jesus tells us,

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.”                  Matthew 11:28-30

How about you? Are you carrying burdens that if you gave them over to Jesus would allow you to live in the blessing that some challenges bring? This week, I learned to let my children go out into the world and bring the light of Christ to desolate lands… AND to turn my worries for their safety over to the Lord.

I’m still working on mastering this lesson in other areas of my life, but I am making some progress, I think. I want to walk in blessing and hand over burdens. I want to yoke myself with Jesus and let Him lead me into living in the blessing. It’s more than seeing the glass half full, or seeing life through rose colored glasses. It’s embracing the relationship He’s offering us to the fullest.

 

Communication is Key

Communication is key.

That’s sort of a running joke we have where I work, among our team. We find that if we don’t stay in contact with each other throughout the day, then things get missed, or things get done… twice. But if we update each other from time to time, then our day runs more smoothly and the work all gets done… once.

Of course, the idiom that communication is key is no joke at all. Communication is key in marriages, friendships, parent/child relationships, and… well… in every single relationship there is. It’s even key in our relationship with our heavenly Father. God knew this to be true and came up with the Bible as His best, and most reliable form of communication with us. Sharing of information keeps us connected in relationships.

Last week, in “Eighteen is No Magic Number”, I talked about how as our kids grow up and out, we can’t cut the apron strings too soon. While they will need more and more freedoms as they grow up, our kids will still need to communicate with us.

Not too long ago, one of my teenagers was sulking around the house like his dog had died. Since we don’t have a dog, I knew it had to be something else. I poked, prodded, and begged my kid to tell me what was going on. This was not their normal behavior. I even enlisted another of their siblings to help me figure out what was going on. In the end, it was just a short season of the doldrums, and soon my teenager was back to normal.

Apparently they told a friend about my diligence in trying to find out what had been troubling them. I was sad to hear that their friend said, “My parents never ask me how I’m doing.” That one made me sad. Really? Never? That’s just a regular question around our house.

I was talking with a friend once and mentioned something that one of my other teens had shared with me. She stopped me and said, “They really tell you everything, don’t they?” She went on to tell me that she had no idea what was going on with hers, they never told her anything

We have a culture of communication in our home. It’s just always been there. We do not value secrets. There is nothing I have that Matthew does not have access to and vise versa. There is no subject in our lives that is taboo. Nothing our kids cannot approach us about.

Do our kids really tell us EVERYTHING? Likely not. But they CAN. And they do tell us most things. Sometimes what they tell us is hard to hear. Sometimes I want to put my hands over my ears and start singing to block it out. But I don’t. They need a safe place to fall, and I want to be that place. Our kids know that we will walk through whatever we need to walk through with them.

Is your home a place of secrets or a place of openness and clear communication? Are there subjects that are off limits? Or can your kids come to you with anything? If you haven’t fostered an environment of openness all along, it may take some doing to turn that ship around, but you can. You can start by just being available when they want to talk. Just beware, that for teens, that could mean some late night conversations… And prepare yourself to hear whatever it is they need to tell you. And then walk with them through it. Pretty soon, you’ll find that communication with your kids changes everything. It really is key.