The Anatomy of an Ann Voskamp Book Signing (because this is what you need on election day)

8 11 2016

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Best-selling and much beloved author, Ann Voskamp, just completed a ten-day, seven-city book tour, during which she appeared at ten different bookstores to sign copies of her new book, The Broken Way. When she wasn’t being fully engaged with the hundreds who showed up for the signings, in her spare time (aka, the few remaining hours between catching flights or snagging a quick meal or squeezing in a brief sleep), she also sat for numerous interviews with every imaginable form of media, from major network TV to whatever is at the opposite end of the media spectrum.

This pace and publicity would exhaust even the most attention-starved extrovert. But Ann isn’t hungry for attention. And she’s an introvert. So, why does she do it?

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It’s hard to know what to say about Ann. Not because I can’t think of a hundred beautiful things I’d love to say, but because I know she would prefer people not focus on her at all. She knows we are created to be worshipers, not to be worshiped. To be givers, not takers. I’ve said this before, but she’s like the character Lucia in Max Lucado’s, You Are Special. While all the other Wemmicks are preoccupied with earning and assigning dots (criticism) and stars (praises), the stickers won’t stick to Lucia. Because her worth is fully realized in her Maker.

You won’t find dots or stars on Ann.

We caught up with Ann at signing number nine out of ten — her third and final event in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I knew she was exhausted. That she’d not only been pouring out for days, she’d also taken to heart the stories she’d been hearing all along the way — people who felt safe to share their brokenness because she’d trusted them with hers. People who wanted to say thank you for the life-changing ways God had met them in her words.

So, even in her bone-weariness, this is the anatomy of an Ann Voskamp book signing.

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I don’t have to tell Ann my story of brokenness. She already knows it. Before either of us say a single word, she pulls me into this hug. There’s nothing shy about Ann’s hug. It’s like a wordless expression of all the compassion in her wide-open heart.

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Then she recognizes Jacob. Look at her face. George and I look like the ones who’ve been wrung out for days. This is the face of un-self-conscious, genuine love.

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Then she begins to sign. I have eight copies, six with post-it notes explaining to whom they will be given and a few words about each person. I watch as, book after book, she writes to complete strangers personalized messages that are encouraging, specific, and at times stunning in their application. We may be standing on no-frills commercial carpet at Books-a-Million, but this is holy ground.

And, of course, I had her sign a book for us, too.

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Finally, because I was on the launch team for The Broken Way, Zondervan’s Tom Dean took our picture together. And then I moved on.

But Ann remained. Hugging, signing books, smiling for photos, being fully present. And listening.

Story after story, she listened. Story after story, she let her heart break. And this is her secret.

Ann doesn’t have a career plan. She has a Redeemer. And she wants everyone else to have Him, too. So, after counting her thousands of gifts, the next step became clear.

Become the gift. Live broken and given, like the bread at the Last Supper. Because Jesus gave thanks, and then He gave — not only the physical bread, but His own body. And from His brokenness, we all receive life.

Tonight, Ann will return home at last — back to the farm and the strong arms of her Farmer, to her seven children and the happy chaos of ordinary family life. Tonight, the USA will elect a new president. And I can’t help but think, with all that’s going on in the world, it’s no coincidence that this invitation to the church comes right now.

To whom much is given, much is required. And we have been given so much in Christ. We have peace in a world full of tribulation. We have light where darkness presses hard. We have hope where fear shouts the loudest.

So let’s be the gift. For such a time as this.

 

 





When God Answers With A Song

12 05 2016

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I can’t think of a better way to share this story with you than to simply copy and paste this conversation as it unfolded.

The first email arrived on January 11. The sender’s name was unfamiliar to me. The subject line simply said, “song.”

I opened it and read these words:

I just wanted to thank you for your insightful, convicting words that were featured on Ann Voskamp’s “Holy Experience” devotional last week. I was very touched and moved by what you wrote. It presented the familiar account of the “Good Samaritan” in a new light to me.

I’m a stay-at-home mom, but also a singer/songwriter, and, as so often happens when the Spirit stirs something within me, I went to the piano right after reading your article, and a song called “Mercy Calls” immediately came to me.  Most of it was written within an hour. I will share the lyrics here with you and hope to record it soon. I will send that to you as well, whenever I get it done.

So, much appreciation for your ministry, and for sharing what God put on your heart. I will continue sharing that message in this song.

Mercy Calls

Mercy calls, will I listen?
Mercy calls, will I hear?
Mercy calls, will I answer?
Will I serve or will I fear
When mercy calls?

There are so many needs
If I open up my eyes to see
Where should the light that’s in me shine
For it’s in the darkest place
That we need God’s gift of grace
To live the Truth and make it come alive

Like the Good Samaritan
Mercy had a cost for him
But he paid it anyway
What’s done for the least of men
We are doing unto Him
Is the price too high for us to pay?

If we would receive God’s mercy, mercy we must give
Blessed are the merciful, that’s how we’re called to live
Dying to ourselves and laying down our lives
Sharing the love of Jesus Christ

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God

© Cyndi Aarrestad, January 8, 2016
Immediately after reading devo about mercy by Jeanne Damoff

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I wrote back the same day:

Oh, Cyndi! Wow! This is absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to hear the recorded version.

I can’t begin to express how humbled and encouraged I am that God used those words to quicken this gift in you. I’m bowed low in awe and gratitude to Him, and THANK YOU so much for sharing it with me!

Really. I’m speechless. Just thank you again and again.

Cyndi: Thank YOU so much, Jeanne.  It always amazes, humbles and encourages ME how God uses the members of His body to minister to one another in a beautiful, ripple effect.  As we faithfully give what God pours into our hearts, He uses it to create an ever-widening circle of blessing.

I’m in the middle of having to upgrade some of my recording programs, so I’d appreciate your prayers that I can get past all the “technical difficulties” and on with sharing the songs!  Thanks!

Me: Amen! I too am amazed by God’s kind, beautiful, interwoven ways. Praying for you, Cyndi, that the Lord will bless your ministry through song and give you grace, patience, and insight as you navigate the “wonders” of technology. 🙂

I visited your website. You have a lovely voice and delightful style, and I’m more excited than ever to hear Mercy Calls once you’ve recorded it!

Thank you again for being His instrument and a gift to me.

Cyndi (mid-February): I FINALLY was able to get my system all working and have time to record “Mercy Calls.”  (I still have some glitches to work out, but I’m so thankful to the Lord for His help, wisdom and strength!)

So…I’ve attached the song here for you.  You’re the first one to hear the finished product!

I hope and pray it will be a blessing to all who listen to it, and encourage them to show mercy!

Thanks again for the inspiration!

(Friends, listen to this! Yes, I mean right now. You’re welcome.)

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Me: Oh, Cyndi. I have no words. And by “no words,” I mean I’ve started typing several sentences and then deleted them, because I honestly can’t express the wonder of hearing this beautiful gift God gave you, knowing He used my words to inspire you, and feeling this humbling sense of His kindness to His body, giving us to each other that we might speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, spurring each other on to love and good deeds and a holy urgency to love Him and all people well–especially the least of these.

Thank you for the honor of hearing this first. Please let me know if I have permission to share it. I would love to put it on my blog, tell this story, and direct people to you and your music, but I don’t want to run ahead of what you have in mind for the song.

I’m so grateful to our good, gracious God that He has crossed our paths in this way. You are a blessing to me, and I pray He takes this song and makes it a blessing to many.

Cyndi: Thank you for your beautiful reply!  It is so precious how God is working in and through each of His vessels for His purpose.

By all means, you can feel free to share this song. It would bless me to know it is reaching a new audience. I have been praying about what God wants me to do with it….and am thinking of somehow making it available as a download connected to some kind of outreach donation.  I’m just not sure exactly how to go about doing that. Maybe you have some ideas?

For now…rejoice with me in God’s goodness!  I too am grateful for the way He has orchestrated the meeting of two hearts seeking to do His will.

(Then in a separate email):

I almost a forgot about this….

Several days after writing “Mercy Calls,” I was looking at your site, and read the blog article on the clay pots.  This song came from that inspiration!  It’s just a little chorus, but it kind of sums up what I think you were expressing. I’ve been singing it quite often.

So…thank you twice over for your insightful writing!

Love,
Cyndi

Chorus

Humility, not I but Christ
Dying to self, Christ magnified
Humility, my pride dethroned
All glory given, to Christ alone
Let Him increase, let Him be seen
And let there be less and less of me
A servant’s heart, a willing mind
Till Christ in me, alone is glorified

© Cyndi Aarrestad, January 18, 2016
After reading Jeanne Damoff’s writing on her blog

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Me: I love this! What a blessing you are! Thank you for your beautiful and encouraging ministry. I’d love to hear this one, too! 🙂

Cyndi (mid-March): Hello again, dear sister!

Our God is so awesome and amazing! I just wanted to share what has happened with Mercy Calls lately.  As I mentioned to you, I have been thinking of perhaps using it as a download connected with donating to a charity.  Well, God had other plans first! I guess He was reminding me that charity/mercy are needed just as much close to home as across the globe! Very sadly, several weeks ago, our dear friends and neighbours (a family of 6), lost their home and belongings in a fire.  Thankfully no one was home and so they were all unharmed.  Our surrounding community has come together in amazing ways to support and help them, and God is already working the situation out to bring blessings.

They are a musically talented family, and Darryl, the husband, has been a huge part of the recordings I have done for many years.  It seemed only natural to have a benefit concert for them, which we are in the process of preparing for.  But then, the one day I just felt that familiar nudge of the Spirit, prompting me to compile some songs for a benefit CD for them.  Guess what the title is?!? Mercy Calls, of course!  All the songs center around the theme of helping/caring/serving others, and being instruments of God’s compassion.  I can already see how God is using this…many people whom I wouldn’t have expected (and who don’t usually listen to Gospel music)…are buying it (to support the family of course), but I am praying that God will really speak to their hearts through the messages of the songs.  It’s just created a really neat opportunity to minister!

Anyways…I just thought I’d let you know how the ripple effect from your writing has touched us here.

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Me: Oh my goodness! Cyndi, you are such a blessing and encouragement to me! THANK YOU for sharing these ripples, and thank you for listening to the Lord and for using your gifts to serve others and magnify Him. You inspire me.

I plan to post Mercy Calls and the story behind it on my blog, and I’d love to include a link to the benefit CD if that’s okay with you. Could you send that to me?

Cyndi (April): The “Mercy Calls” CD is now available on iTunes and here is the link:

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/mercy-calls/id1099291007

I appreciate your offer to share this, and I truly hope it blesses and inspires all who hear it.

Me (mid-May—not in an email to her, but right now to you):

Most of the time we never know what our small offerings stir in others — the kind, supportive word to the frazzled mom of three children wrestling her way through the grocery store aisle; the plate of fresh cookies to a neighbor; a handwritten note to a friend; a bold act of sacrificial faith that quietly emboldens others to do the same.

And maybe we think our voice doesn’t matter. What difference will it make if I add more words to the cacophony of noise clattering around in the cybersphere?

It makes a difference. Your offering matters. Share your words — your small, brave, healing, selfless words.

And don’t be surprised if God answers with a song.





The View From . . . There

12 02 2016

Hello, friends! I realize I’ve been largely absent from this little corner of the bloggerhood lately. Partly because I’m feeling increasingly called to physical, emotional, spiritual, and creative presence in real life relationships. And partly because I’ve had the delightful and solemn honor of sharing my heart on various other blogs hosted by people and ministries I deeply love and respect. In case you missed any of these and would like to read them, here are a few links:

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In January, the remarkably gracious and gifted Ann Voskamp invited me to speak to an issue that is heavy on both of our hearts: “In a World of Increasing Terrorism, What is the Biggest Threat to the Church?”

“Politicians may leverage fear for their own purposes, but the church doesn’t trade in that currency. If we claim to be a people of love, then we need to embrace Jesus’ definition of that word. Because our churches don’t belong to us in the first place and were never meant to be comfortable or tidy. If the gospel is anything, it’s messy.”

I know many of us are aching to understand and embrace God’s will for His church in the face of rising terrorism and the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Will you join me at A Holy Experience?

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“This is the kind of beauty that turns mourning to dancing and weeping to laughter.”

Last week I wrote a post for The Lulu Tree, a ministry very dear to my heart that was founded by my beautiful and compassionate friend, Emily Wierenga. This one is about two mamas — a Ugandan woman and me. It’s also about life, and death, and redemption. I will tell you up front, this is raw truth, but it’s also stunning beauty. We can’t fix the brokenness of the world, but we can enter it. And when we do, the words of Jesus come to life. I hope you’ll join me there as well.

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“And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

And finally, this week I wrote a piece for the fun and lovely Diane Bailey’s group blog, The Consilium. Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, what better to write about than Christmas gifts?

Actually, the post isn’t as much about what I got for Christmas as it is about marriage, the fickleness of passion apart from covenant (no matter what purveyors of flowers, candy, and jewelry want you to believe), and God’s redemptive power to soften even the stoniest of hearts.

Join me again?

Whether you click over to these posts or not, thank you for welcoming my words into your life. It’s such a humbling gift. I do have some stories burning on my heart to share here and plan to do that soon. Until then, God’s best blessings on your journey. Thank you for being a part of mine.

 





The Garden of the Lord

18 03 2013

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In the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus paints a word picture.

It’s a picture of a garden, and this garden has a Gardener, and this Gardener has a Vine. Jesus often spoke in parables, but this time He tells us right up front that He is the Vine, and His Father is the Gardener. And His disciples? Us?

“You are the branches.”

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I’ve been thinking about this passage a lot. Thinking about gardens and vines and how we all seem to want to be that gorgeous flower that grows right at eye level, or the grape that makes the best wine, or the sweet fruit that everyone craves.

I’ve been thinking about the way we Christians pray God will raise us up — or, if not us, our children — to be great leaders in His church, and we feel like that’s a good and holy request. But how many of us are asking God to make us and our children sacramental souls — broken bread and poured out wine, to be crushed and used up for the sake of His kingdom?

And, if we are asking God to make us servants to the least, do we really mean it? Or, deep down, do we hold onto hope that this humbling of ourselves will prove to God He can trust us to be exalted? “I’ll grow here in the shadows for now, Lord, trusting You to thrust me into the light in Your timing.”

What if that timing never comes?

In my mind I see a vine that has no tendrils anchoring it to the fence, no leaves soaking up chlorophyll, no symmetry giving it balance. It’s an empty stalk except for a crowded mass of flowers all competing for the lime light — each one pushing, shoving, grasping to be biggest, brightest, most glorious. And all this one-sided weight threatens to topple the whole thing. It’s an absurd, grotesque picture.

We aren’t all created to be the brightest flower. But the brightest flowers need the support of all the vine’s parts to accomplish God’s purposes. And, to expand the metaphor, the Gardener has planted a whole garden to feed this grace-starved world, but each plant must be willing to do its bit.

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And I wonder, am I content to be an unexceptional onion or a hidden herb — gladly giving my all to whatever purpose the Gardener chooses — desiring only to please Him, even if no one ever notices me, gives me any credit, or remembers my name?

Or am I jealous and frustrated when I see this one rising to glorious heights or that one admired far and wide?

Am I striving so hard to be “more” or “other” that I fail to flourish where He has planted me?

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. . . . If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” John 15:4,6

In all my ambition to bear impressive fruit, am I in danger of severing myself from the one source of life?

There’s only one place to find peace, joy, and fruitfulness. In the vine.

And the truth is, those center-stage flowers whose lives look so bright and exciting? It’s not as easy and glamorous for them as I might imagine. Eugene Peterson wisely observed, “Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” And then there’s another quote I really appreciate. I loved it when I first read it years ago in Reader’s Digest, and I came across it again recently. Jim Carrey (who is probably not on most people’s short list of deep theologians) said this:

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Amen, Ace Ventura. Amen. The lime light has its own set of temptations and trials, and the saints God places there don’t need my envy or even my starstruck admiration. They need my prayers. They need me to be a strong tendril that holds them securely to the fence, or a broad leaf that offers them a bit of shade. They — like the rest of the church and the world — need me to abide in the vine.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:8-11

Do I want to bear fruit that glorifies my Lord? I need to keep His commandments.

Do I want fullness of joy? I need to abide in Him, right here, where He has planted me.

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“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Francis Chan said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” True success is simple. It’s abiding in the Vine and bearing fruit. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. Nothing that lasts. And every other appearance of success?

Our greatest fear should be finding our contentment in mere appearances.

“For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” Isaiah 51:3

The world is a parched and comfortless wilderness, wasting away in the midst of empty pursuits, and we are the garden of the Lord. He plants us with purpose, with wisdom, and with love.

Prune us, good and loving Gardener, that we may flourish for You with fullness of joy, right here, in the place where we’ve been planted.

* * *

{Speaking of fruitfulness, please pray, friends! Our daughter-in-law, Sarah, is in early labor. By God’s grace, she, Luke, and Naomi should welcome baby Eliot into their family sometime tomorrow! Thank you so much for your prayers!}

Giving thanks in community (#727 – 744)

new life
every day ordained before there is one of them
friendship
the living Word of God
plans formed long ago
the armor of God
the privilege of intercession
sacramental souls
faith
laughter
sprouting seeds
warm afternoons
Naomi’s, “Hey you!”
dark-chocolate covered butter biscuits
chai with cream and sugar
hospitality
dancing

 





March Forth

4 03 2013

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Sometimes God speaks.

And sometimes what He says is so matter-of-fact that you almost forget Who is speaking, and then you remember, and you experience what Jonathan Edwards described as “so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God . . . majesty and meekness joined together . . . sweet and gentle and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness,” and, like Edwards, you realize there aren’t enough words for this wonder.

The God of the universe bows so very low, and He speaks. Even to you.

And you know it’s not because you prepared your heart better than most days (you didn’t), or you’ve attained a generally exalted state of spirituality (you haven’t). You know it’s only because this God who is enthroned above the heavens and is also nearer than your breath — the One who has promised that you’ll hear a word behind you, this is the way, walk in it, whenever you turn to the right or left — knows how to make Himself heard, even if you are as dull as a brick.

So this morning, I gather my usual devotional materials and settle myself on the den sofa, and like most mornings, before I open Streams in the Desert, I have to remind myself of the day’s date. “March 4th,” I mutter aloud.

Nothing extraordinary there, except that in the next instant, the date presents itself quite emphatically as March Forth. And it isn’t a suggestion. It’s an order.

At once I’m certain that this divine bit of creativity (got to love it when God makes a pun) has something to do with what I’m about to read, so I sit up a bit straighter and decide I best pay attention.

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I open Streams in the Desert, and right out of the blocks, Hebrews 6:12 urges me to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what is promised. “The biblical heroes of faith call to us from the heights they have won, encouraging us that what man once did, man can do again.” March forth.

Then Daily Light reminds me to set my affection on things above, not on things on the earth. Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth, but lay up treasures in heaven . . . and one might think that this clear sense of God’s speaking would keep my mind resolutely focused, but right about now my thoughts wander to our not-yet-filed taxes and some hurdles associated with that task, and before I realize what’s happening, the things of earth have snagged my attention (if not my affection — taxes aren’t my favorite). So I regroup and read the entry again, concentrating on the words.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. We walk by faith, not by sight. March forth.

I think about how foolish we look to the world when we walk by faith. They can’t understand it. They have “no more notion of [delight in things of religion] than one born blind has of pleasant and beautiful colours.” Jonathan Edwards again. Because, as God would have it (there’s no such thing as “chance” in walk-by-faith land), I started reading Iain H. Murray’s biography of Edwards this weekend, and now lingering impressions intrude into my morning meditations. In particular, three of his seventy personal resolutions goad my conscience.

  • Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.
  • Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.
  • Resolved, Never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump.

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Conviction pricks. How much time do I waste on meaningless, lazy, or selfish pursuits? It’s not like I’m lacking opportunity or godly examples. In every century, God raises up people like Jonathan Edwards — men and women who persevere as though seeing what is unseen, eyes set on the finish line.

“Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what is promised.” March forth.

And then I turn to my old friend, Oswald, and the beloved and battered copy of My Utmost for His Highest that my sister-in-law gave me when my kids were two, four, and six. We’ve been through a lot together, Oswald and I. What would he add to the conversation?

“None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself” . . . Acts 20:24. It is easier to serve or work for God without a vision and without a call, because then you are not bothered by what He requires. Common sense, covered with a layer of Christian emotion, becomes your guide. You may be more prosperous and successful from the world’s perspective, and will have more leisure time, if you never acknowledge the call of God. But once you receive a commission from Jesus Christ, the memory of what God asks of you will always be there to prod you on to do His will.

He might as well have inserted, “March forth,” right there. At this point I’m almost laughing. And then?

I open the Word to our reading for the day. It’s 2 Kings 8 (God sovereign over the panorama of history; God intimately concerned with the needs of the one) and Isaiah 18 (God looking quietly from His dwelling, seeing, knowing, ordering all) and then this in Luke 6:20-22:

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Jesus issues the same call: to march forth in pursuit of the One Prize, no matter how hard the road may get. To know you are blessed, blessed, blessed when you run hard after Him — when you desire the kingdom of God over worldly riches, and when you crave true spiritual meat over temporary satisfaction, and when you mourn the brokenness of this wayward world without losing your joy.

And when people turn on you?

You remember that they’ve never tasted His “awful sweetness,” and you steady every weight against “the glorious majesty and grace of God,” and you forgive them, for they know not what they do.

You march forth, and God rejoices with you, because you heard and followed. You were faithful in little, and your reward in heaven is great.

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Sometimes God speaks. He doesn’t ask for much. Only that you trade your brokenness for His beauty, your rags for His righteousness, and your death for His life. And — as my old friend Oswald points out — that you “never consider whether you’re of use; but ever consider that you are not your own but His.”

He’s given you everything you need for life and godliness, and He asks only that you present your body as a living sacrifice, that He might fill you and use you to offer the same abundance to others.

He asks only that you daily come to Him and trust Him to make His plans and purposes known.

And after the God of the universe has drawn closer than your breath, bandaged your wounds, fed your soul with daily bread, and armed you with spiritual weapons? What do you do then?

Well, that’s easy. March forth.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#715 – 726)

restful days to recover from sickness
George’s servant heart
a holy, almighty God who speaks
daily bread
sunlight through branches and dancing shadows
time alone at the piano
carrots from the garden
shared laughter
the secret place of the Most High
hot tea with honey
community





The Justice Conference (an emzee’s eye view)

25 02 2013

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If you read my last post, you already know I attended the Justice Conference in Philadelphia this past weekend. Here’s my official conference bag that contained schedules, maps, bios of speakers, and other important items, including my personal badge which alerted the gate keepers to my level of access. Check it out:

IMG_0179Yes. That says All-Access VIP. Sounds very ooh-la-la, doesn’t it? Of course it had nothing whatsoever to do with me. As part of Arts Aftercare and Jubilee’s entourage, I received the same badge and access they gave Curtis and Grace and the rest of their band. All the same, I felt pretty cool wearing it. And I did have a very important job to do. In addition to all the ordinary care-giving responsibilities of an Emzee (that’s my grandma name), I was the official escort of the Bee for Justice.

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I guess I should explain that the whole Bee for Justice thing wasn’t premeditated. I gave Harper the bee costume as a late Valentine’s present, and the rest happened spontaneously. When you walk around a huge exhibition hall with an adorable little bee, conversations stop, and people point and smile, and the thought pops into your head, why not call her “Bee for Justice,” snap her photo with various justice-doing folk, and post on instagram and twitter? (At least that thought pops into the head of a self-amusing grandmother.) So that’s what we did.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Bee for Justice with . . .

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Food for the Hungry. I stopped by this booth originally to meet Lindsey Nobles (at the suggestion of my good friend, Mary DeMuth). I did meet Lindsey, and it turns out she’s awesome just like Mary said.  We enjoyed several nice chats throughout the weekend, but she wasn’t at the booth when I snapped this shot. One of her lucky colleagues gladly accepted the honor.

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Anna Del Vecchio, a young woman I met online years ago through Anna Carson’s photo-blogging community, and met in person for the first time in Philly. Such a fun, unexpected treat! She and the bee hit it off right away.

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Mike Hogan, Director of Church Mobilization, Northwest, for International Justice Mission (IJM). Mike was so excited about this photo, he whipped out his cell phone to alert IJM’s social media person, “I just had my picture taken with the Justice Bee!” No doubt said SMP shared Mike’s enthusiasm. I mean, sure, you can always tweet an endless stream of inspiring quotes from phenomenal speakers, but a photo op like this doesn’t happen every day. (I should probably divulge that Mike and the bee do have a history. Curtis and Grace are IJM Justice Advocates in his jurisdiction, personal friends of his, and also played at his wedding.)

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Sidney of YWAM San Jose, Costa Rica. She and her husband are missionaries working with YWAM’s Freedom Street Ministries, reaching out to victims of human trafficking and others involved in prostitution. Her husband is a music therapist. After this photo op with the Bee for Justice, I told her about Arts Aftercare, and she was excited about the possibility of their bringing the Healing Arts Toolkit to Costa Rica. She later came by the Arts Aftercare booth to talk with Curtis and Grace. This kind of networking is one of the best things about the Justice Conference.

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Kristin, wife of Jubilee lead guitarist, Jonny, music therapy intern at Arts Aftercare, and tireless booth host throughout the conference. She’s also way too much fun. What a precious little family, this band!

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Wendy Sale, a lovely friend who hosted a church home group we attended years ago, when our kids were teens and hers were tiny. Their family moved to Michigan (maybe ten years ago?), and though we’ve been in touch off and on since, I hadn’t seen her again until this happy reunion. (It was so great hanging with you, Wendy! Thanks for all your help with Bee control!)

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Curtis and Grace Romjue of Jubilee (aka, mommy and daddy) and an official conference photographer. This was right before Jubilee’s first performance in the cavernous main hall.

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Jubilee on stage. They were so good!

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Jumbo-tron shot mid-fade. (Grace is playing keyboard on Curtis’s face. hee hee. Good place to mention that the camera work and sound mixing for this conference were super impressive.) Before their second song, Curtis spoke briefly and, among other things, shared their band’s motto: “Do what you love to undo what you hate.” After the conference I checked the #justice2013 feed on twitter and found these:

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How fun is that? Made my heart swell with joy! Other happy Emzee moments:

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Curtis and Grace in a side hallway warming up their voices. (I don’t think they realized their gorgeous harmonies echoed out into the exhibition hall. Our gain.)

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Band members chatting with attendees at the Arts Aftercare booth.

Oh, and Friday night?

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A screening of Arts Aftercare’s documentary, Do What You Love to End What You Hate, kicked off the Film Festival. Then Curtis spoke briefly about their work, right before Gungor took the stage. (Yes, that Gungor.) Grace, the kids, and I left early, though. The Bee for Justice and her baby sister needed to go night-night. (You may or may not have noticed that babies are generally unimpressed by how many hits your song has on YouTube. But a hotel swimming pool on the seventh floor? Now that’s cool.)

As official conference Emzee, I heard only a few snippets of the amazing conference speakers’ sessions, but I did get to connect with some wonderful people, spend precious time with beloveds, color with an adorable bee . . .

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and snuggle a cuddly little bear . . .

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and I’m already making plans to join Jubilee and Arts Aftercare in L.A. for Justice Conference 2014. Maybe I’ll even set up a Bee for Justice photo booth? Anything for the cause.

Hope to see you there!

Giving thanks in community for (#695 – 714)

safe travels
doers of the Word
meeting God’s people everywhere
Curtis
Grace
Steven
Peter
Jonny
Kristin
Harper Sparrow
Malia Eden
music
art
healing
enduring friendship
warm welcome home from George
Mom not recognizing me, and yet . . .
grace to embrace the hard, hard gift of Alzheimer’s
a new heart, an eternal hope





what is good

18 02 2013

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Lately it seems I’ve been running up against the same truth over and over again. Basically, it’s this:

God really is working out plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness, but if we want to see and enter into what He’s doing, we’re going to have to flip a lot of our worldly values on their heads.

The world says climb the ladder to success.
God says the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

The world celebrates intellect, beauty, and talent.
God looks for a heart after Him.

The world applauds power and wealth.
God says become as a little child.

The world wears a mask of painted-on perfection.
God says knowing you’re broken is the first step on the path to redemption and wholeness.

The world idolizes celebrity, but God never lurks at backstage doors, hoping the haughty will toss a bit of their coveted attention His way. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

In God’s upside-down kingdom, the weak confound the mighty, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.
And the best gifts? They’re the ones that bow us the lowest, because God draws near to the humble.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man. Yes, you (ahem, me) — pulled in a thousand directions by your dreams and ambitions, your envy and competitiveness, your insatiable appetite for self-actualization. You’re looking for life and meaning in all the wrong places. He has told you what is good.

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.

Sounds so simple. But, oh, how desperately I fail. And that’s one reason I’m looking forward to this weekend.

Thursday evening I’m heading to Philadelphia for The Justice Conference. Thousands of people will gather in the spirit of Micah 6:8, to listen to front-line pioneers and battle-scarred warriors in the fight against human trafficking, and I actually have an official role. I suppose I could pretend I’m going because I’m a mover and shaker in this worthy cause, but that would be false representation.

My job is to take care of these two:

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Not to brag or anything (because that would totally defeat the tone of this post), but I’m the official “conference nanny” for JUBILEE and Arts Aftercare, which, in layman’s terms, means I get to play with my grandchildren and enjoy the company of their justice-doing, kindness-loving, humbly-walking-with-God parents.

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Curtis and Grace’s band, JUBILEE, will perform during the conference, and Arts Aftercare will host an exhibitor’s booth, sharing their vision for the healing power of the arts and how attendees can partner with them to “do what they love to undo what they hate.”

As Curtis recently wrote on JUBILEE’s blog:

“We are thrilled to be performing at The Justice Conference again this year, this time in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center FEB 22 & 23. In addition to sharing the stage with heroes like Gary Haugen (IJM) and John Perkins, we’ll be joining Gungor for a VIP premiere event where Arts Aftercare and our documentary “Do What You Love to End What You Hate” will be featured.”

I am thrilled, too. Thrilled to come alongside this beautiful army in a small way. Thrilled to learn kingdom ways from speakers, artists, and other passionate souls who are living Micah 6:8, standing up for the widow and the orphan, rescuing the prisoner and the oppressed, pouring their gifts and resources into serving the least.

These folks are heroes in the upside-down kingdom, but the last thing they want is for people to put them on a pedestal. They want comrades-in-arms, not compliments. Fellow soldiers, not fans.

He has told you, O man, what is good. Am I listening?

Are you?

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#678 – 694)

a God who shows up
the women of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas
brokenness redeemed
Naomi’s “Hey, you!”
traveling mercies
moment-by-moment grace with Mom
conversations with Dad
Sarah and Eliot at 36 weeks
the delightful chaos of skyping with Harper, Grace, and Malia
color, texture, pattern: visual happiness
daffodils and sage in a blue vase
The Village Church
confession of sin
the body of Christ
glimpses into the realer Real
a big God who uses small people








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