Friday, November 28, 2014

I'm Full of It!

Romans 15:13 New International Version (NIV)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I'm full of it and you should be too! Perhaps by now you've guessed that I'm not talking about the turkey. Or shopping. Or Christmas movies. I'm talking about joy. Or JOY as I like to type it.

What am I so JOYFUL about? Advent. Preparing the way for Christmas. So what does that mean?

Watching Elf 25 times? Going on a sugar binge? Buying Bey Blades for the second time (who knew my daughter would want one?)? Decorating? Carols?

No. Even though some of those things bring me joy, there is so much more to this season than changing the radio station each time "The Christmas Shoes"comes on the air. 

I'm not limited to JOY during this time of year but it is helpful as I reflect on this season to list my JOYS. My list is of JOYS is exhaustive but here are my top three at this moment.

1) Abundant Life: I have life with a purpose. I love my family and love what I do. I'm blessed to be able to serve God the way that I do and I enjoy how much I constantly learn each day.
2) The Presence of God: I have been focusing on the presence of God this year and have been amazed at the ways in which God makes Himself known to me. 
3) Growth: You would think at some point you'd move beyond growth spurts but when you think of growth in spiritual and intellectual terms then growth spurts are a wonderful thing. I know that I have so much more to experience in terms of my faith and so much more to learn along the way and I'm thrilled at the possibilities.

So I'm full of JOY! If you are too, let someone know that you are full of it too!

Until Everyone Hears,

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Apart (but not really)

Philippians 1:3 - I thank my God every time I remember you.

This is our first Thanksgiving away from many people that we love. I've known all year that this would be my first Thanksgiving away from my step-mom. She passed away on Dec 1 last year. At this point last year she was in hospice care and was incoherent. I don't really count that holiday as my last with her. I prefer to remember the other holidays where she laughed at everything, cooked way too much, and made us all remember how abundant life can be. This whole year I've missed her presence in ways that surprised me. I knew that birthdays and holidays would be tough but other times would catch me off guard.  I would eat something with coconut and remember her extreme hatred of this wonderful misnomer of a fruit.  I know she'd be thrilled to see how tall both my sons are. And I hate that she will miss so many things that my kids are doing. So as I list the things for which I'm thankful, I'm thankful that I'm missing Debbie. Because her presence in my life made life more vibrant and for that I am thankful.

This is also our first Thanksgiving without my Father-in-law. He passed away on Wednesday, November 19. I remember my first Thanksgiving after getting married. It was an amazing experience. Mr. Karafanda commanded the kitchen as he and a few others cooked for around 30 people. Since I came from a small family this was overwhelming in a good way. As dinner started we were upgraded from the children's table to the head table as it was our first Thanksgiving together. As each of our children were born, Gigi (as he was known to the children) showed his true colors as a baby whisperer. He would walk our babies around and sing "You Are My Sunshine"to each of them. I'm not sure where he learned this amazing gift, but I am still amazed at this nurturing side of him that gave us all a bit of sanity from crying babies. So as I list the things for which I am thankful, I'm thankful for John (Gigi) Karafanda. There maybe one less John Karafanda in this world but I am thankful for my-big-fat-Ukrainian-family and for the love he showed to me and my children.

Finally this is my first Thanksgiving since being married away from He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Tagged. He is with his mom and sisters in New York. It is just days after his father's funeral. The kids and I couldn't get up there for the funeral for a reasonable cost. So we have been apart for a few days and will be for a few more. In many ways its only a few more days but in other ways this separation feels more empty than the others. But in all things we are thankful. I am thankful that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Tagged made it up to his father's side before he passed away. I'm thankful that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Tagged is able to be there with his mother for a bit longer.

And I am thankful that my Thanksgiving won't be one apart from all of these people. They are all a part of me. I believe in the communion of saints. I believe that we will meet again and I believe that because of their place in my heart, they are never far away.

May God be with us and know that we are thankful.

Until Everyone Hears,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Are We Thankful?

Philippians 1:3 - I thank my God every time I remember you.

Its been about a week and a half since Cokes Chapel, Cornerstone, Senoia and Newnan UMCs came together for a weekend River of Life mission trip.

Its hard to explain what happens on a mission trip. There are so many different variables involved that just trying to come up with a description is overwhelming.

But here are a few highlights. First the numbers:

  • The event was 17 months in the making. 
  • There were 288 hours of planning. 
  • 72 hours of a prayer vigil that included 4 states. 
  • 427 work hours (just in one day!). 
  • 63 facility hours. 
  • 92 kitchen hours. 
  • The kitchen prepared 52 lbs of meat. 
  • 180 pancakes. 
  • 112 gallons of beverages. 
  • 20 lbs of fruit. 12 were actually consumed. 2 were juggled. 
  • There were 40 students.
  • 6 worksites. (5 non-profits and 1 private home)
  • Infinite number of lives changed.
Of course it isn't about the numbers. What was most impressive were the stories that the students told as they came back. When we started planning the event, we thought we would be working on houses but as we got closer we discovered that the biggest need at the time was at non-profit locations. We were helping places that were helping others.We were working in our county so all of our mission sites served others in the local area. As the work teams came back, we discovered that their experience helped them learn about the community in which they lived. Many students didn't realize how much it cost to go to the doctor. Others were shocked at the number of homeless children in our county. Some discovered the importance of a safe place for those who experience abuse in their home.

One story in particular hit me right in the heart. One of our students came into my office and looked troubled. He really enjoyed his work site at Bridging the Gap, a non-profit that distributes food, toiletries, and household items each Saturday. He was so convicted by their work that he wanted to know why we weren't doing the same thing out of our church. He kept asking, "Why can't we do that here?" As we began to talk further, we felt the Holy Spirit moving in our conversation and convicting us to move forward in weekly mission out of our facility.

There's no telling what you'll discover when you become the hands and feet of Jesus. Each time you step out on faith is a journey that can take you on an adventure beyond what we can fathom.

The theme for our weekend was "Thankful." Words can't express how thankful we are for:
  • our students
  • their leaders
  • the experience of churches working together as one
  • the mission sites we served
  • the people we met
  • the stories we heard
  • the experience of mission
  • the messages during worship (from Chris Mucha at Fayetteville FUMC)
  • the music that spoke to us (from Newnan UMC's praise band)
  • the food that nourished us
  • the warm floors that we slept on
  • the families and homes we returned to
As we continue to hear stories from these students, we know that God is with us and is continuing to call us to work with Him to make disciples and transform the world.

Until Everyone Hears,

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