Sunday, September 21, 2008

Disciple's Heart

The Disciple's Heart class started this past week. I was excited about it and nervous at the same time. I've been looking forward to being in this class since before I moved here... and it's already stretched me quite a bit, after just one session!

We were given a devotional workbook on our first day of class. Bro Buddy wrote it. It's called Gems for Jesus. OK... I have to be perfectly honest... the title *does* make me cringe, especially in light of all the gemstone nonsense that's been popular in some charismatic circles. But it's just a word association thing... the book itself has nothing to do with all that & predates it by a couple of decades.

Basically, it gives some guidelines for having a morning devotional time and provides space to record what you're reading and what you're learning.

No big deal, right?


The guidelines were a little intimidating to me. I'm used to reading the Bible every day and checking off a few chapters in my Bible reading plan... but the Gems thing is a little more involved than that.

First, you're supposed to get quiet for a moment and focus on God.

Quiet doesn't come easy for me! My mind wants to go in about a million directions! It's been taking me about 15-20 minutes just to get to where I can stay completely focused for about a minute.

Then, you're supposed to spend some time in praise and worship. I still find my mind wandering...

Then, you're supposed to "sense God's timing" to open your Bible. That was also a challenge. I mean, isn't pretty much ANY time a good time to open your Bible? I understand what we're trying to accomplish -- to actually spend time with God rather than rush through some assigned Bible reading -- but this has proven more difficult than I had anticipated.

Then, when you're reading the Bible, you're supposed to watch for something to jump out at you or grab your attention -- then focus on that, because that's probably what God is trying to show you in that passage. So... what do you do if you're reading and reading and nothing "jumps out"? I've read the Bible and had something "jump out" at me before, but honestly it hasn't been an every day thing. Maybe that's just because I wasn't looking?

Part of my problem, tho, was just fear. I still don't fully trust my ability to know what's God and what's not when there isn't a black-and-white directive from the Bible. So this devotional excercise -- looking for one particular thing that "jumps out" at you and focusing on it as something that God is saying to you right then -- that's a little scary to me. I've been involved in some churches in the past where a lot of things were based on what God supposedly told the leadership to do... so I'm still a little gun-shy about saying that God showed me something, even if it was in the Bible. After all, how would I know if it really was God showing me that, or just me wanting to see it?

My first morning of doing these devotions was pretty discouraging. My mind was constantly wandering and nothing "jumped out" when I was reading the Bible. The second morning, I was a little less nervous so it didn't take quite as long to get focused. Something caught my attention in the Bible, but I wasn't really sure if it was "jumping out" or if it just resonated because it's something that my pastor has been teaching on lately. But the third morning, something definitely *did* jump out at me, and it was completely relevant to where I was and what I've been struggling with. (Maybe I'll share some specifics in a future blog.)

I'm looking forward to my next class tomorrow... can't wait to see where all of this goes!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Déjà vu all over again

We're feeling the effects of hurricane Ike here... not nearly to the extent that Houston is feeling it, but this storm is massive. We had some pretty good rains last night, and this morning there's more wind than rain... but judging from the projected track, we'll be back into the rain soon enough.

I woke up again at around 5:00 am to a rather loud "crack." I'm sure a tree limb went down somewhere close by, but it doesn't appear to be in my yard. It's just now getting light enough outside to see things clearly. All in all, it doesn't look bad here, but judging from the latest radar it looks like we'll be dealing with some degree of wind and rain all day. The primary concern here is that more trees will come down. The ground was still quite wet from Gustav, and we have a lot of oak trees around here that simply came up roots and all during that storm.

I slept with my cell phone next to me. Several times throughout the night I received tornado warnings for my parish (county), but for the most part they were off the south of me.

I had the option of spending the night with friends, but decided to stay at my place. My cable went out briefly a couple of times, and the power blinked, but so far so good... One of the fringe benefits of having power is that you can drown out some of the other storm noises with your AC and TV!

More later...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Looking up - Remembering 9/11

Like many of you, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on this day 7 years ago. In the days following the attack, I wrote this on my website... and I wanted to share it again today:

I don't remember exactly how old I was the first time my dad took me to see the World Trade Center "up close." I couldn't have been more than six or seven. My parents tell me I was only 3 or 4... I certainly look young in these pictures that they found. New York City was so big and so strange--fascinating and frightening at the same time--but my father's firm grip on my tiny hand gave me the confidence to keep moving forward in this intimidating new world.

When we emerged from the subway station beneath the Twin Towers, my dad led me out to the plaza and turned to face one of the outside walls. "Look up," he said. I looked, and the vertical lines of the buildings' outer structure drew my gaze upwards, mouth gaping and head tilted back, until I nearly fell over backwards! It was so big, and I was so small, and somehow in that moment my perspective was forever changed.

Over the next 20+ years I visited the World Trade Center many times. Often, I had the privilege of bringing other first time visitors to that same spot where my father had first told me to "Look up." It was an experience that never lost its power for me, even as an adult.

I was living in New York City during the 1993 Trade Center bombing, but never imagined that I'd live to see the horrific scene that unfolded on September 11th of 2001. I found my way to a television set just in time to watch the second tower collapse. Once again, I felt so very small and helpless... and in that moment I realized that my perspective and the perspective of an entire nation was forever changed.

Like many others, I've been struggling to grasp the reality and magnitude of these tragic events. I don't have any profound answers... nor am I expecting any. I don't understand it... I may never understand it. But as overwhelming and frightening as it is, I am still confident that my Heavenly Father has not loosened His grasp--and when I put myself in His hands, I can face anything in this intimidating new world.

We no longer have the striking architecture of the World Trade Center to draw our gaze upwards, but now more than ever we must "look up." The pain and the loss are beyond description... but the strength of this nation is beyond estimation. So look up... and encourage others to do the same.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Returning to normal -- Quick update

Saturday morning, a bunch of us got together at Christian Challenge to clean up a bit after the storm. There were some branches down on the property, and the contents of the kitchen fridges and freezers had to be thrown away. As we were eating our lunch Saturday afternoon, the power came back on! Our phone lines and Internet connection were still out, but at least we could have
services in our own building Sunday morning.

The Sunday service was great. Pastor Nathan gave folks a chance to (briefly) share some of their storm stories and how folks had reached out to eachother in the midst of it all. It was neat to hear those testimonies!

Monday, we had partial phone service restored... and yesterday, we got the Internet back. So slowly but surely, life is returning to some sort of "normal."

And... it looks like hurricane Ike won't be hitting us. That's a huge relief.

After a week's delay, I finally spent my first night in my new place on Saturday. I still have a lot of work to do here, but it felt really really good to be back in my own bed, getting settled in after such an unsettling week!

BTW, I just wanted to say a big "Thank you" to everyone out there who has been praying for me & for the folks at my church!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gustav Update

I'm back in Pineville!

I was very grateful for the chance to get away from power outage, heat, humidity, and lack of water for a few days, but it felt so good to get back!

There is still a lot of damage, lots of trees down, and many folks without power... but there are electric company trucks out everywhere, and it has been neat looking at where they are all from. There are folks here from hundreds of miles away to help us put our power system back together. I've read in some news articles that the people of Louisiana have been rude to these guys, yelling at them and pitching fits because the power has been out for so long. That's really sad... but I believe it. Unfortunately, for every vocal rude person out there, there are probably dozens of grateful folks. I wish there was a way to express my gratitude to these guys... it's a shame that they would come so far to do such good work and have to leave feeling abused by Louisiana's lunatic fringe.

I usually don't stop to talk to workers on the road... I feel like it interrupts them. Perhaps I should make a point of stopping and saying "thanks" as I go about my business today.

I spent last night with friends again. I didn't have a chance to really clean my house before the storm hit, so between the "stink" of a house that had been sitting empty and needed cleaning and the "stink" of generator fumes, it just wasn't going to be a pleasant evening at my place! But today I start to tackle that head-on.

As of late last night, the church still didn't have any power. It was kinda eerie driving past with everything dark. Our sign is always lit up out front, and there are plenty of lights on the outside of the building as well. Seeing the church like that... it's just kinda sad.

We've made arrangements to have services in another building downtown if the power doesn't get restored today, but I'm really hoping that the power will be back by then. I'll be grateful to be with my Christian Challenge family no matter where we meet, but having the services in our own building would be so much better!!

Pastor Nathan has been doing an amazing job. He has been checking up on folks from the church and helping them with cleanup, minor repairs, food, ice, water... even temporarily hooking them up with generators. And that's all on top of his responsibilities for the city! When I left town Tuesday morning, I gave him my keys. I figured if the power was still out after a couple of days, he could raid my freezer and maybe a few folks could eat it rather than let it all go to waste. I also wanted to know that while I was out of town, someone could get into the house in case anything else happened.

In the grand scheme of things, my little freezer was such a minor thing. I didn't have any leaks in my roof, no trees down, no flooding... I wasn't facing many of the things that other families in the church were dealing with. I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to bring a generator to my house to keep my freezer frozen... but that's what Pastor Nathan did! I've also received several phone calls from folks at Christian Challenge over the last few days -- just calling to check up on me! And many of those folks were dealing with situations far worse than mine.

You know, it's one thing for folks to check up on you and express their concern for you when nothing is happening in their lives... But when their lives are impacted, and they are still reaching out to others... that's something special. It's really neat to have a church family like this! I've been in Pineville for a little less than four months now. I'm still very "new" to this church. I've struggled a bit with some aspects of southern culture... some things still make me a little uncomfortable... but after what I've experienced in the last week, I cannot question the fact that these folks love eachother, love God... and even love me.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gusty Gustav

Sorry for the delay in posting an update, but this is my first opportunity to get online since Gustav hit.

I'm doing fine, although I have temporarily relocated to a place with power and water that doesn't have to be boiled!

The rain from Gustav's outer bands began early Monday morning. I tried to secure things as best I could around the house: bringing small things in from the yard, making sure doors and windows were secure, making sure I had adequate water and food, making sure my gas tank was full before the city shut down... And WOW things shut down fast! By around noon, it was like a ghost town. Even Wal-Mart was closed!

By about 1:30 the winds were starting to kick up and the heavier rain bands were beginning to arrive. I made it to my pastor's house at around 2. The power went out early in the evening -- I think it was around 5 or 6 pm -- so for a while we sat around looking out the window as things flew past. We could hear the wind and the sound of tree limbs breaking.

It was kinda weird, just sitting there listening to the wind and rain and low hum of other peoples' generators. The scariest part was not knowing what was going on... no TV reports, and even the radio signals were often interruped. I woke up early Tuesday morning and everything was pitch black. No one else in the house was awake yet. My cell phone had no signal.

I guess that's when it really hit me: that feeling of isolation, the dread of not knowing, the helplessness of being completely cut off from communication with "the outside." I sat at the window for about an hour, until it got bright enough outside for me to feel safe venturing out on the roads.

Eventually, I got a weak cell signal and was able to receive my text messages and alerts. Even then, I couldn't complete many calls... I got the "network is busy" error. By morning, many landline phones were down too and the radio stations had very little outside news or even "official" news from the local authorities. They simply opened their phone lines for folks to call in damage reports, road blockages, and let others know if a business in their area (especially a gas station) was open.

It was a really weird feeling -- I'm so used to being so connected to the world, and for a couple of hours at least, I felt extremely disconnected. Even though I spent the night with friends, I felt vulnerable without my high-tech safety line(s)...

During my morning drive, I saw lots of trees down, a lot of broken power poles dangling precariously from their wires, and plenty of debris on the roads. But on the positive side, there was no damage to my house or to any of my friends houses (at least nothing I'm aware of at present).

More than 24 hours after it began, the rain was still falling... and so were the trees, weakened by the storm and no longer able to hang on to the saturated ground. Since it didn't seem likely that we'd have power back any time soon, and there wasn't much that we could do to help the situation, I accepted an invitation to wait out the power outage with folks who weren't impacted by the storm.

I haven't gotten a lot of rest over the last few days... so I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep, even if I am getting a late start on it! I'll post more later.