Friday, September 25, 2009

Knowing God's Will For Your Life and Pinball

Sometimes I treat God like He's a fortune teller. Of course not one of those old woman types with nasty gray hair and un-manicured nails holding a cheap glass ball. A more holy, shiny one - a Jesus figure holding a Bible and glowing as he gives step-by-step instructions for what I'm to do, and be, in life. I'm hoping for His instructions to be carved on a stone through some cool lightening trick so that I can place the stone in my landscaping garden (when I get one) and always be reminded of what God's called me to do. Can anyone else relate?

Yesterday he gently showed me that He works a little differently than how I've been approaching Him. And oddly enough, the visual He gave me is pinball.

Lessons From A Pinball Machine About How To Know God's Will for My Life

1. Sometimes a relationship with God does feel like you're a tiny metal ball that's depending on two annoying flippers to keep you afloat. New Christians especially need to know this. It's not a rose garden all of the time. The Holy Spirit is the spring that ushers you into the new world. It's his strength that gives you the speed and strengh to roll. As you go along, work with Him to stay in play. Expect the obstacles. Some will be starling and cause you to jolt, sound off, spin, or other crazy and uncomfortable things. But others will silently rack up points and take you to a new level and understanding.

2. To know God's will for your life, keep the ball in play. Sometimes you'll bump into something that will 'hide the ball' and then spit it back out. Other times, you'll bump into something and immediately be reflected to something else. Living life with God is what it takes to know His will for your life. Be in play - read His Word, talk to him, etc. Times will then come that you 'bump' into opportunities. Pray about them. Sometimes He'll immediately reflect them because it's not for you. Other times, the opportunity will be for you. Let it take you in and go through the experience. It might be for a long time or a short time. But always remember that it will 'spit you out' eventually not because of you personally, because the bigger picture here is you living a life with the Spirit - not 'bumping into' every experience or opportunity, or hanging out at just one for the rest of your life.

3. Sometimes you'll bump into an obstacle that launches the ball to a tall, metal slide that racks up many points, ups the speeds and puts you on a whole new level of gameplay. In my life, God has occaionally done this. He's had a plan for me that I wouldn't have bumped into otherwise, and I'm still wondering if I heard him audibly when He led me to that path it was so clear. This has happened to me two times out of 25 years though, and neither time involves some of the big plans he's brought me through already pertaining to full-time ministry or fighting cancer.

It's easy when we get nervous or discontent to expect this type of experience so we know His will for our lives. I've been sitting in that boat for many years. But God's yearning for us to start living out more day-to-day relationships with Him in order to know His will for us, His calling on our lives, and all of the other answers we desire from Him.

So that's what I learned yesterday. I've got to figure out how to day-to-day keep the ball in play with Him. I've got to pray about what I 'bump into.' And I've got to always be ready to go to that 'next powerful level' with Him - but not wait around and miss out on what He's already doing here and now because I'm expecting it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Props to a few groups who've made my life better lately...

I've had some great experiences with a few organizations/companies lately, and I thought I'd go ahead and give them props on my blog. As a marketing person, I understand how hard it is to effectively communicate the value of your brand to an already crowded marketplace. So, here's some free publicity for them, and hopefully some valuable tips to my readers who might be looking for an added bonus to their days. Here are a few groups I've been blessed by lately and why. Thanks for to the people behind these features who have boosted my days lately:

1. Barnes & Noble's in-store pickup feature on the website. I needed to buy a book by Friday and had a gift card to B&N. However, I didn't want to drive to Independence to look all over the store for the book and then potentially be disappointed if they didn't have it in stock. I hopped online, requested the book online, and then received an email 30 min. later when it was ready for pickup. Perfecto. I'm normally an Amazon girl, but this might have just knocked them out - especially when I need something the week-of!

2. Remember the Milk's FREE task list. I've made mention about this great website before, but I've got to give them props again. Without their free downloadable task list application, I would be out of my mind. This little thing has helped me not only in my work, but at home too. I can set up tasks that recur each week (yes, trash day is on there) and it helps me not lose my mind. Plus, it appears when I open up my gmail account, which I live by, so it's perfect. Their application can be added to your gmail account, phone, calendar, etc.

3. Sprint Store's staff at the LS Douglas location. Now I know some might differ, but I've always had a great experience with Sprint. Even when I didn't know the store rep helping me, I've always felt that I've been offered the best deal and my needs have been met. Whether it's fixing my bill, my phone - whatever, I've had a great experience. This past week I strangely found out that I was acquainted with my store representative (I put two and two together when I saw his last name and realized I knew his wife) who waved a fee to fix and later replace my non-warrantied, non-insured phone. Thank you to Sprint and to the store's great customer service reps who've made this support raiser's week so much easier and pleasant.

4. QuickTrip's fountain drinks and cookie. I'm a general QT fan. The store is kept clean, has many options and low prices. And when I walk out of there with a small coke and cookie in my hand that cost me less than a dollar - I consider that a blessing. QT knows what's up.

5. State Farm's Car Loans. Call it a shameless plug if you want, but I'm serious here. We just switched our car loan over to the State Farm Bank. Not only did they offer us a much lower rate from what we were paying - but the SF loans include GAP insurance for free. We would have had to pay extra for this on our previous loan. That means if someone hits my SUV tomorrow and I owe more on the car than what it's worth (thus creating a gap), SF will take care of the difference. It's a great added perk that I'm appreciative of. Plus, I've got a great agent to work with. :)

6. American Cancer Society's new birthday's campaign. This hasn't really added anything practical or money-saving to my life, but it's given me pride in being a cancer survivor and made me cherish birthdays. I think the new push for ACS to be the "official sponsor of birthdays" is a genius idea, and it's helped me see my cancer survivorship as something to be proud of rather than afflicted by. Thank you to ACS for the morale booster!

7. The Avenue Church. Call it another shameless plug, but I've been really blessed by our church lately. It feels like churches have a really bad rap in America right now. Generally, they're seen as too big, self-centered, judgmental, hypocritical, hurtful - the list can go on and on. Not that we don't struggle with some of the common fault's of churches, but I know it's not our leadership's heart, nor our peoples' hearts, to do so, and especially cause hurts or frustration. I'm blessed by the fact we're just striving to lift up Jesus. We hope to do this through our actions (Mission: Ignitions) and through our words (Sunday services). It's helping me, and hopefully others, see how to "do church" in a new way. It's given me encouragement to stick with it and find the hidden jewels that can come from a local body of believers.

So those are 7 organizations who've made my life better lately. What are some of yours?

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Very Timely Three Cups of Tea

I finally finished reading Three Cups of Tea this past week. The only reason I came across the book was that I was buying another book off Amazon and needed to add something to my order to get the free shipping discount. I clicked on a "Best Sellers" tab, saw the book at the top of the list and decided to give it a shot. I got lucky with this one, it's a FANTASTIC read.

The book tells the story about Greg Mortenson, an intense mountaineer/hiker guy who stumbles across a remote Pakistani village without anything that us Westerners are accustomed to - including a school for its children. The book tells Mortenson's tale about making promises to build schools all through Pakistan's villages, forming the Central Asia Institute, and how the importance of his mission became even more evident after 9/11. His efforts to build schools and improve communities to promote peace and fight terror is a refreshing take on how to solve the world's problems. Education, he argues, is what's needed to fight terror and provide viable career options for young men who otherwise feel they have no other choice than to join the Taliban. He is also a huge advocate for girl's education (going against some Muslum traditions), which he feels is the sustainability of the villages he serves. I loved that part.

The book had only a few downsides to me. I had a hard time diving into the story, mainly because I was so unfamiliar with the names of the countries, villages, and characters involved. It took me back to the days I was trying to read a 5th grade level book as a 2nd grader. But, after re-reading several pages toward the beginning, I started to get a groove. The book is also crammed full of details, which makes the story seem like it lingers on until the end when time speeds up and you feel the relevance of the book after the attacks on New York.

Despite the two downsides though, I've been challenged in several ways:

  1. Cheer on teachers. I know education is important - I've got a family full of teachers. But not until I read this book did I really understand the value of education on an individual and a community. I know that teachers struggle with feeling valued and respected under the piles of crap paperwork and stupid issues they deal with, but teachers and education are so important. It especially made me encourge Mike, who works in a low income district with some difficult situations. After reading this book, I am able to encourage him better and remind him of the huge impact he's making through teaching. Without education, his kids would be in situations not that different from the Pakistani kids, and have less than optimal futures.

  2. Care about Pakistan and Aghanistan. I admit I'm an ignornt American when it comes to most world issues. I don't read or watch the news, and it's easy to get into my little bubble. But the book's ending coinciding with this week being the Anniversary of 9/11 was perfect. It's become very relevant to me that the work Mortenson continues to do today is huge. It's convicted me to care about other parts of the world, to see citizens of Iraq, Aghanistan, Pakistan and other areas as people who are just as wise, worthy and important as we are. My eyes have been opened to issues happening outside of my suburb. It was refreshing, and I want more.

  3. Drop the "my way" attitude. I'm currently still working out how to take this book, apply it, and yet stick to what I'm called to as a Christian. Mortenson was raised by African missionaries and has a Christian background, yet he's made his life's work about promoting education rather than spreading the Chrisitan faith he grew up in, and personally struggles with. I admire him because he met these people with a clean slate and didn't immediatey try to change them. He instead got to know them and then worked alongside of them. He wore their clothes, learned how to pray like a Muslum, gained knowledge about the intricies and different sects of the faith, and came to understand the customs and beliefs of whomever he was with. He didn't try to convert, but to peacefully co-exist.

    Mortenson would not have had the success he did had he reached out with a Christian message or Christian funds. Granted, I realize he had no intent to do so, but it's hard to take such great work like his and not want to imitate it. I'm not sure how to mimic his actions though and leave out the purpose of telling about Jesus. I love his approach of showing love and compassion first, but am challenged by how it just stopped there. It's made me really contemplate how to show Christ's love in situations like his. Ultimately, Christians are here to tell about Jesus. Finding the right way and the right time is what is important, and being patient for God to kick open that door to make Himself known is what we must do. I guess it's truely a matter of faith that God will provide the right opportunity and words, but having a heart like Mortenson's is a great first step in the right direction. He didn't plow through with the "my way" attitude, but instead wanted to serve them. That sounds like someone else I know, and something we're all called to do.
All in all, Three Cups of Tea is a fantastic read. I'm glad to have it on my bookshelf.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why do newly washed cars attract the rain?

Yesterday I decided it was time. I washed my car. After a summer of several road trips to Springfield, MO, Lincoln, NE and Des Moines, IA, the car had accumulated a nice assortment of bugs, dirt and some strange sticky brown substance in the cup holders. I've never been great at keeping my cars washed, much less cleaned out. But I'd had enough yesterday, so I dished out a whole $8 for the best car wash in town that includes the use of a powerful vacuum at the end.

When I came home it was sunny and warm, so I left my car parked out in front so it could shine in the sun and be more easily accessible to me. But everyone knows what a nice, new shiny car sitting outside attracts - RAIN. Yep, I go to leave last night for my friend's jewelry party and realize the rain has come. I stop myself from saying a bunch of cuss words in my head (being honest here) and grudgingly drive my now dirty car. I got over it after I realized that my car would have gotten wet even if I would have parked it in the garage because it started raining on me as I drove around town. Oh well, at least the big bugs were off and the inside spotless. It wasn't a total waste and was actually still a good thing for me to do yesterday. I was a steward of my car, and that's all I can ask for.

(our car with "pigtails")

Today is my three month anniversary of having surgery and the "Big C's" return. I've learned a lot this past month as I've continued to heal physically and emotionally. I feel I've made some big steps and started to trust God again. I realized that I've felt like my newly washed car for several months - I was on the right path, started up a church, poured into people's lives, watched my health and worked out - and then BAM - I got cancer again. It's almost as if the "very clean life" attracted the "downpour." I've been mad, angry and somewhat bitter about the whole situation, and have a hard time trusting that God is good and knows what He's doing. It's been tempting to hold out in enjoying things, or pouring into things, from the fear that the good will be taken away again.

Although it's tempting to say "just my luck," and buy into the lie that that's just how life, and God works, - it's just not true. God ultimately is a giver, and through Abraham/Issac's story and the Jesus story, we see God gives back what he takes away - twofold. There was a bigger plan for why it rained yesterday that goes beyond my car getting dirty, and there's a bigger plan for me getting cancer again. While it's an inconvenience to me at the time, God does have a grandiose purpose for it all and I've just got to trust that.

It has been hard, probably the hardest time I've gone through in my life. It has made me question everything - from Jesus loves me to God chose me and wants good for me. But although he questions keep coming, I'm to a place that believing God is ultimately good brings me more peace than when I'm questioning it. And I've got to go with that.

(My brother's wedding day was beautiful! We had a blast!
And no rain!)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Showdown

I've been on a recent quest to discover the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. Since surgery, I've been eating these things like vitamins. I guess to distract me from what could be emotional meltdowns each time I look at the long list of "no-nos" for my new short colon, I turn to the sugar-coated goodies that help cheer me up. Bring on the regular pop, king sized Snickers and cookies. Scarfing down these treats makes skipping on the baked beans and potato salad no big deal these days.

So, here are the recipes I've tried so far:
"I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" baking sticks - chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the box.
Hy-Vee's semi-sweet chocolate chips - cookie recipe on the back of the bag
Kitchen Aid Mixer Cookbook's Chocolate Chip cookies
Missional Cookie recipe- came from Kristin Hammett
Ditty Cook's recommendation for Martha's Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

So far, the winner is .... Ditty Cook's recommendation. Although I think that I got the butter a little too warm and compromised my fluffiness, these by far had the best tasting cookies ... and dough. Check out her critique and step-by-step guide here.

A close second would be the missional cookie recipe. These are made with shortening rather than butter and give a unique and different flavor. Email me if you want this recipe!