Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Conversation on the Beach

DISCLAIMER: Please take this blog for what it's worth as a glimpse into my life and not as a theological treatise. As always, I recommend that we root our theology on truth revealed in God's Word and not on personal impressions. That being said, I was reading my journal today and found this entry from three years ago that encouraged me, so I thought I would share parts of it here.
* * *
I can't wait for the day when I will finally be free from the uncertainty of God's voice. I so often can't decide whether I speak to myself (in a somewhat schitzophrenic manner) or whether it is God speaking to my heart through the Holy Spirit. But today I was so certain of his voice.

I was walking on the beach--thinking and praying. I was so confused with all the uncertainty of my life and God's will for it, and I began to dialogue with him. I asked if he had big plans for my life--because that's something I long for. And this was the response I heard in my heart:

"Kristi, look at the sky: the clouds, the color, the atmosphere. So much went into tonight's sunset. See the grand, vast ocean? I orchestrate its tide. Do you see that seagull over there? It's a mere bird, but I made it. I know it and I care for it. All these things I made point to my glory. As do you--but much more so! You were created to relate to me, to be in relationship with me. To know me. Only you can know me exactly as you do because you are the only one exactly like you.

"You worry about playing a 'big part' in my plan and doing 'great things' for me. But don't you see? My plan for you is for you to know me. And to play your small part. You play a small part, as did the seagull, and the clouds and the setting sun. But small isn't unvaluable or insignificant. Your role is small, but it is yours. I give it to you. I made it for you to fill and I made you for it. And that is enough."

I walked back to where I had left this journal and wrote down those precious words and then asked God if there was anything else that I had forgotten or just needed to know, and he silently told me, "I love you. I love you and I made you and I will bring you to the purpose I have for you."
* * *
And that is a promise that I continue to treasure. Despite the tulmult of life and all the questions and worries that plague my mind, I can rest in the fact that the all-knowing God will be faithful to bring about his purpose for me--a truth that is confirmed in Scripture as well as evidenced in my life. Several weeks after that journal entry I received an almost-miraculous job offer from a very unexpected source! Looking back, I can definitely see how God was leading me to a place where he would continue to grow me. So, now I'm just looking forward to what's next.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

At Home With the Smarts

At last! Thursday night I lived alone in a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment (pictured below). I had furniture and clutter enough to fill every room and closet in the house.

Yesterday I started packing at 10:00 AM, and I packed and packed and packed some more. My mom came over and helped for a few hours, but went back home after midnight. I packed all through the long night. I was horrified at how much STUFF I had accumulated over the past three years. At 10:00 AM this morning a group of wonderful, generous people came to help me move! My awesome parents and brother came, and so did my wonderful friends Nikki, Megumi, Ibrahim, Stacy and Mi. Eric & Ibrahim packed that U-Haul expertly and we were able to make it in one trip!

Which leads me to my new home! I am temporarily living with my dear friends the Smarts who have not only so generously opened their home up to me, but ALSO cleaned out an entire room for me, AND cleaned out half of their garage and attic so I wouldn't have to pay to rent a storage unit! Meet Andrew, Amber, Zachary & Christopher Smart, some of the coolest people I know! (Amber and I direct Jr. High Girls' camp together.)
Then, as if making space for me and sharing their home weren't enough, they even unpacked my room and made my bed for me while I returned the U-Haul!
As you can see--it's a tight fit, but I got a LOT of stuff into that room--everything I could possibly need over the next couple months! :-) Isn't it cozy-looking?

So, I am now home in my new home.....and I'm going to go to bed! I haven't slept for coming on 37 loooong hours. I feel like my life changed a lot in two days--but God continues to bless me and provide for me and care for me! He is very gracious, even when I'm a whiner. :-p

Friday, December 21, 2007

Packing Woes

Ugh. How in the world did I imagine that I could easily pack up my apartment in a day?! I've been going at it for about 12 hours now, and I'm no where close to being finished. Where did all this stuff come from anyway? I have to go pick up my U-Haul in eleven hours... the countdown continues. I'm in packing misery here....but think of how organized I'll feel when I'm done! :-)

Glue Finale Banquet

It is finished.

Last night was my final time with the students as their youth leader. We invited a few adults who had helped out with events over the past few years, all the students who currently attend a few of the students who have attended in the past. We had a total of 32 people who came for the evening. The evening had been planned by a committee of current students. We wanted it to be special, so we set up the tables nicely for a special banquet feel.
We started off the evening with a few games. The first one was a baby-food eating relay. By the end, I think the participants were feeling pretty sorry for the babies of the world. :-)
We also had a ginger-bread making contest--or should I say "no contest"? One of the houses collapsed early on in the game.
After a game of Glue trivia, we ate tons of pizza and salad and watched a special slideshow of pictures from the last three years.
First we gave the students an opportunity to share favorite memories and ways that our group had impacted them. What an encouragement it was to me to hear how God has let us play a role in bringing people to him and helping them mature in their faith!

After that, each leader had the opportunity to share some "last words"--the things that we wanted the kids to walk away with. Unfortunately, at this point a group of four or five students began to be distracting and disrespectful. This ended in a showdown between one of the adult leaders and a girl who refused to comply that only was diffused when I interrupted my sharing to offer to call the parent to come pick up the girl and her friends. That kind of ruined the night for me. I don't really even remember what I said afterward--it's hard to come back from an interruption like that. I feel like the rudeness of a small group of kids ruined the culmination of three years of building relationships--their behavior robbed me of the chance to really say goodbye. I'm aware that I'm probably being melodramatic, but that's honestly how I'm feeling right now. I'm not sure why God let those girls come last night, but I pray that it was because he will use it for good in their lives, and not let their actions taint the memories of the majority of the kids who were hurting and listening and saying their goodbyes.
We finished the evening with a time of worship together, singing songs offering our lives up to God to go where he leads us and do what he asks us. After a group picture, we allowed the kids to take photos that we had used to decorate the youth room, and I gave them all a contact card with my new email address that I will be switching to shortly and my phone number.
That was the night. Afterward, I was exhausted (I haven't been sleeping well) and a group of leaders and two students stayed to help take things down. I cleared stuff out of the youth room that belonged to me, and cleaned my stuff out of the church office. Nikki and I took one last visit together to the church baptismal--where we used to sit and talk growing up. And then we left the church that had been like home and like family to me for 25 years, eleven months and two days.
If you'd like to see more pics of the evening, check out my photo site at

Thursday, December 20, 2007

One Reason I Love Ministry

Let me tell you about a 6th grader I'll call Kay. A year ago, I had never met this girl with a winning smile and an astute mind. In June a friend of hers invited Kay to come to church. She came for a few weeks and then attended our VBS program at the end of the month. During that week, she came to understand her sin and her need for forgiveness and she trusted in Jesus. During the summer she came to camp with us and the past few months she has been one of the most faithful students in our youth group, attending every possible youth meeting and small group meeting.
One of the awesome things about Kay is that she is a learner! She's not embarrassed by the fact that she doesn't know the Bible stories most church kids take for granted, but she is eager to catch up on them by reading her Bible regularly. Last week she set a spiritual life goal of reading her Bible and praying a certain number of days out of the week and came back saying she went OVER her goal, because she was excited about what she was reading. :-) A few weeks ago, I referred to a common Bible character (Moses, maybe?) and when she didn't know who I was talking about, one student said to her incredulously (and rather rudely), "Are you serious? You don't know who that is?" She retorted, "Hey! Give me a break, I'm new to the Bible!" Another week, two girls had planned a trivia game for our youth group activity time. Kay represented her team and received the challenge to quote John 3:16. She didn't know the verse, and felt bad when other students on her team responded with "C'mon"s and "That's an easy one!" A couple weeks later John 3:16 came up and she jumped to her feet and started quoting it. "I know it now," she quipped, "I learned it that night when I got home."
Kay is a great thinker, and therefore a great question-asker. When we talked about salvation and Heaven she raised her hand at the end of the lesson: "I have three questions," she laid out, "First, what happens to people who don't get a chance to hear about Jesus? Second, what about people who are handicapped and can't really understand?" [She has an autistic brother.] "And third, what would happen if a pregnant woman didn't believe in Jesus, and she died but God knew that the baby in her would have trusted in Jesus if it lived? What would happen to the woman and the baby if they died before it was born?"
One of the things that brings me a lot of joy is teaching Kay--because she gets it! Her quick mind gets to the point I was hoping to make before I even make it. When I'm teaching and I ask a question, I might call on six kids who have ridiculous answers, but Kay's answer will always be dead on. Often she'll say what I wanted to say, but she'll state it better than I could have! One night we were talking about something and I could tell I wasn't making much sense to the group. I tried to re-explain and then asked their confused faces, "Does that make any sense?" A couple of the kids stared at me with glazed-over eyes but then Kay answered, "Yes! It does! That was one of the things I didn't get before, but now I get it!" She then proceeded to reexplain what I had been trying to say, but had failed to communicate. Suddenly the other kids were nodding their understanding. When Kay explained it, it made sense to them. :-) I love the look in her eyes when we're reading a passage of the Bible and suddenly she makes a connection. Her eyes light up like the proverbial "lightbulb" moment, and I can see that she is understanding something new about her faith.
Tuesday night Kay and I were driving down the road and talking about technology. She observed how it seemed like technology that was supposed to make life easier (cars, computers, etc.) seemed to cause a lot of frustration for people [this came up because my car was making odd noises]. I agreed, and then pointed out that technological development brings both positive and negative results. "For example, instead of taking weeks or months to communicate with people at home, missionaries across the world can now email prayer requests to their friends and family and have people praying for them within minutes! But at the same time--the ease of communicating without ever physically interacting with people makes it so that the internet generations are less able to see other people as individuals, and have less personal communication skills." "Kristi," she told me, "that's one of the things I'm really going to miss about you--you always make me think about things differently." That's how I feel about her! Please pray for Kay. She's very apprehensive about youth group ending. "This is the only place I've ever learned about God!" she exclaimed, "I don't want to go somewhere where I don't know anyone!" I reminded her that when she started coming to our group, she didn't know many of us, but she's still worried. If God leads me to stay in the area, I would LOVE to keep meeting with Kay to read through the Bible with her. She teaches me so much as I watch her fresh response to the Word of God.

On Tuesday, Kay gave me a Christmas gift. We've been studying the fruit of the Spirit in our small group, and she told me that when she saw this engraved piece of glass, she thought of me. I was delighted! It's sitting in my living room and whenever I look at it, I'm reminded of two things: (1) No matter what is going to happen next in my life, I can rest in the peace that God gives, and (2) God is faithful to work in the hearts of people, causing them to draw close to him! What a privilege and blessing it has been to be able to witness him working in Kay's heart!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

But Officer, I Only Had One Piece!

Sorry it's been a while, but life gets so busy! Last Thursday was our last regular Thursday youth group--and it went VERY WELL! I'm glad that I got to preach my last message to an attentive and receptive group of kids. :-) It made me feel good. This week was my last Sunday at Cascade, and I was thankful for the opportunity to publicly thank the congregation for all their support over the last 25 years. It was sad, but not quite as sad as I had feared it would be. I guess things are already changing so much that it makes it easier to leave. Yesterday we had our final small groups. That was kind of sad, but both of them went well. Tomorrow night is our youth group's Finale Banquet. I've got a lot to do to finish preparing for it, but I'm looking forward to the evening. :-)
As if all these "lasts" aren't enough, Friday night will be my last night in my apartment. On Saturday the 22nd I will be moving in temporarily with my dear friends the Smarts, who have been gracious enough to clear out and fix up a room for me. Since I'm going to be moving so soon, I've been trying not to buy any groceries and instead eat up my canned goods so I don't have to move them! Well, I had some friends over last Saturday for home-made pizza and I had some extra pizza dough that I left in the fridge for future use. Today I decided to make a pizza that I could eat for my meals until I move. The dough smelled odd today--as if the yeast had fermented. In fact, it smelled very much like a nice red wine--great for drinking, not so great for pizza crust flavor. I quickly whipped out my trusty laptop and allowed my old pal, Google, to assure me that sometimes dough smells like that, but that the fermenting scent/flavor bakes out. Hooray! So, I rolled out the dough, smothered it with sauce and topped it with turkey kielbasa and TONS of olives and cheese (trying to get rid of what I had left).
Fourteen minutes later, I pulled it out of the oven, and cut myself a slice. That's when I discovered that Google had betrayed me. In fact, the pizza did still smell AND taste fermented. I forced myself to finish the whole piece (because of course, there are children starving around the world who would probably be happy to eat fermented pizza). But by the end of that piece I was looking for ways to rationalize throwing it out. I was, afterall, going to the store later on--what if the pizza crust impaired my driving abilities? In the end I comprimised: I peeled all the abundant cheese and toppings off of the pizza and saved "slices" of toppings in the fridge for tomorrow (or else I'd only have canned corn and frozen spinach to eat), but I tossed that nasty crust! Unfortunately, after eating one "topping" slice, I'm not sure if I'll be able to stomach it tomorrow. It's odd how a bit of bread under the cheese and meat make it more digestable, but without the crust the other stuff seems really bad for the stomach. Anyhow, I need to go work on some stuff for our finale banquet, but I just wanted to relay my fermented pizza experience and leave you with a photo of my "topping" pizza.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What Is This?

It was one girl's second night at youth group and as I passed out Bibles for the lesson time she took one and looked confused. "What is this?" "It's a Bible," I told her. "Oh...what's a Bible?" I glanced at her in surprise, but saw that her face was sincere. "The Bible is what we call this book that contains messages for us from God," I explained in passing. After the lesson she asked me "Why doesn't this book have an author's name on it?" I explained to her how God spoke through many different human authors over many centuries, and how sometimes the smaller 'books within the book' were named after their human writer. Then she asked me the toughest question of all, "So, if it's from God, why did he have all those other people write it--why didn't he just write it himself?!" These kids constantly challenge me to think about things in entirely new ways. :-)

Loosening the Ties That Bind

Tonight the kids were disrespectful, inattentive, unloving, defiant and downright rude! Not all of them, of course, but I'd say more than half of them were problematic tonight. One girl kept pointing a laser beam at sensitive parts of peoples' anatomy. A group of kids were angry at another girl for telling the truth about their disobedience and getting them in trouble. A boy pretended to sleep during the lesson and when I asked him to sit up he heaved a humungous sigh and then began to noisily blow bubbles with his gum. A group of girls who seem to think that their "cool" status gives them more value as human beings than everyone else were taunting, teasing and terrorizing some of the kids they didn't think were cool enough to be treated with dignity. More than half of the kids were throwing food during snack and then lied about it when confronted. Some of them refused to help clean up the mess they had made. Ugh. You have to understand, I do love those kids; God has granted me a deep inexplicable desire for their well-being. But tonight I sure didn't like them much. It was like a den of werewolves in the full moon. All the kids' beastly, hairy, growling hearts were exposed in two short hours. And while I still love them and earnestly want what is best for them, I have to admit that I think God may have been using tonight to help loosen the ties of my heart that bind me to them. If every meeting were like this, leaving wouldn't be so hard.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nightmares on Clinton Street

Today all three girls in our afternoon small group confided that last week they each had a nightmare about church or youth group. Oddly, all three of them said this was the first time they had ever dreamt about church. Each of their dreams involved antagonists infiltrating the church and preying upon our youth group community. One of the girls dreamed that a man wearing the "Scream" mask broke a window and killed me while the rest of them were trying to escape. Another girl dreamt that there were two ghosts--one of which pretended to be a student--who then attacked and ate some of the kids. The third girl had a dream that a group of assailants with weapons broke into the church, took me hostage and hunted down students executing them.

Oh how my heart ached as I listened to them laughing at the "bizarrity" of their dreams being so similar. I don't think they realized what I (who also dreamed last night about being turned out of Cascade) could see. Each of these girls is feeling apprehensive about the changes in the church--and feeling helpless as their community is ripped apart.

Please join me in praying for these kids, that they will discover a new community of believers to encourage and challenge them to continue to grow in love for God and people. Pray that God will ease their apprehension and grant them peace and comfort in his presence.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I Am Woman, Hear Me...Google!

My family is mechanically illiterate. Yeah, we know how to change our oil and our tires and maybe replace a battery or an air filter. But that is about as much as we do. So having never tackled my headlight or the windshield wipers before, I was tempted to rely on someone else. It would be easy enough to let Jiffy Lube fix everything up, but you know how much they charge for simple repairs. I was sure if I mentioned it to one of several of my friends, they would volunteer to help. But for some reason, I wanted to do this one myself.

The old windshield wipers came off easy enough, it's torn blade flapping in the wind, but I was seriously confused by the diagram on the packaging of the new one. After quite some time trying to figure out what the teeny diagram was referring too, I finally just tossed the instructions and eyeballed the parts and the screws they had given to me. I pulled something back, pushed something through, shoved something on (and then realized that I needed to redo the past two steps and push the something through in the other direction), and then, voila! It looked right! All I had to do swas screw it back on and for the first time in almost a year I had a complete driver's side wiper! Here's the not-so-complex-looking part that took me a while to figure out. :-)

It only took me a few minutes to replicate the process on the passenger's side, and suddenly I had two beautiful, windshield wipers which actually WIPE the windshield when I turn them on! Aren't they shiny and pretty?

The headlight was more challenging. I popped the hood and found how to pull the light out of the casing quickly enough. But then I couldn't figure out how to unplug it from the wiring! The most frustrating thing was that I wasn't sure if this was a brain-issue or a brawn-issue. When I thought I just needed to pull harder, I broke some pieces of plastic off of an attached part, so that made me afraid to pull. I ended up running inside to google the parts to see if I could learn anything more. Google confirmed my prior suspicions that I was doing what I needed to do, I just needed to pull harder. I tugged and pulled, and yanked at that part, but I wasn't budging. I was starting to get frustrated. I hated the idea of admitting defeat and taking my car to a friend's house to ask them to pull since I wasn't strong enough. I'm a single woman! I have to be able to handle these things on my own! This is not that difficult! Finally I muttered a plea for help, "Lord, please. Help me get this thing off!" I thought that I had been pulling as hard as I could before, but now I really was. (I'm sure my neighbors were laughing at me doubled over the headlight of my car, foot on the bumper and grunting as I pulled with all my might!). And then, with a beatiful POP, the old lamp came out! "Thank you, Lord!" And to my delight, after plugging the new one in, the light worked!

Here's a picture of the offending piece! The green arrows point to broken pieces of plastic that fell below.

I can't wait to drive at night while it's raining! I'll be able to see! :-) The final result is below, which I captured for you despite the odd looks from my neighbors as I finally stopped fighting my car and then began to photograph it! Isn't she a beaut, though?