Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Adventures in Community Outreach: Part 2 - Planning a Free Market

In  Part 1 of this trilogy, I explained the concept of a Free Market and mentioned it was 5 months in the planning.  Part 2 will concentrate on those steps.

First, let's take a look at the goal.  It was our desire to reach our neighborhood and surrounding community with Christ's love in a tangible way, no strings attached.  As our pastor put it, "We are blessed to be a blessing".  It was similar to the gleaning process mentioned in the previous post.  To take from our best and share with others.  We have done a lot of work with the homeless, however, this particular outreach was to those who had housing but were living at, or near, the poverty level.

Logistics were huge so tasks to be accomplished were broken down:
  • Leadership team.  We developed a team to be over the following areas:  Outreach, Logistics, Volunteers, Operations, Design, Communications, Sub Teams, Donation/Collection, and Social Services Connection.
  • Timeline: Deadlines throughout helped us to stay on task and accommodate time needed for printing, agency processing, etc.
  • Location:  The model for this outreach was held in a local park because many of those served had no transportation.  We're directly across from a public transportation bus stop and have a large piece of property so having it on site cut costs and simplified logistics.
  • Theme:  We not only had the giveaway, but created a carnival atmosphere with fun activities and foods.  Our logo reflected that.feel.  We also chose a verse to convey our goal...1 John 4:19...We love, because He first loved us!
  • Budget: Our model had a budget of $10,000 but we had less than half that amount.  We saved hundreds on rentals for festival food machines, generators, and various smaller items because of team members who secured them through employer connections. Still, funds were needed to rent 2 storage pods (for donations), a 20 x 40 tent to cover the shopping area, and 2 inflatables,.  We also needed to purchase face painting supplies, feed approximately 300 attendees and 100 volunteers,
The planning for our June 23rd event began in February when we met to discuss much of the above.  By March we had our team identified, a job description for each outlined and a working timeline.  We also investigated needed permits from the township and county.  April brought a logo design, research on rental items and updates from the individual leaders on how their areas were progressing.  By May, each area was estimating their volunteer needs for the day of, and the more minute details were being looked at and dealt with - there were a ton of them!  We also contacted the agencies who would identify the people to invite and gave them a timeline for distributing invitations and gathering headcounts. 

By June, we hit our stride.

  • Our pastor began his preaching series "The Blessed Life", to start casting the vision to the congregation.  
  • Prayer had been a key ongoing factor, but a prayer team that would pray for the event as it was taking place was sought. 
  • We signed up volunteers and explained the donation process.  We handed out sheets with job descriptions and hours as well as types of items being collected.  Our designer had created a tee shirt that all volunteers would wear the day of the event to create unity and make those serving easily identifiable to those we served.  Our supplier pre-printed enough for the team, and that first Sunday, we wore them to help create a buzz and to identify leadership for those who had questions. 
  • We designated 4 donation collection days.  Items were checked upon arrival.  If they were broken, faded or in some way did not meet the standard of "gently used", they were tossed.  All other items were given a 'value' from 1 to 8 and a sticker reflecting that value was affixed to the item..  Items were then boxed according to "department" (kitchenware, electronics, home decor, etc.) and stacked in one of the two on site storage pods we rented.  
  • We used a web site called "Volunteer spot" and entered the names and contact information of volunteers.  This web site allowed volunteers to view or change their commitments and also sent out automatic reminders via email.
  • A press release was sent to several media outlets, and one local paper did in fact run the story.
The week of the event we picked up rentals (inflatables and carnival food machines were delivered day of), set up the tent, and walked the property to confirm layout and generator/electrical needs. Food was purchased, RSVPs were confirmed, and even more last minute details were ironed out.

We marveled at all that God had done.  We had never attempted anything like this before, yet over 100 people signed on to help.  People were not only donating goods, but encouraged neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers to do the same.  A church neighbor came over one collection day to see what all the hubbub was about.  She was so excited by what was going on she came back three different times with items to donate and brought another neighbor with her.  We started by renting one pod and it quickly became evident that not only was a second pod needed, but we had to rearrange things in the church garage to accommodate larger items like furniture including a dining room set and youth bed, tons of TVs, baby items, bikes and more.  The parable of the five loaves and two fish was often quoted as we watched things multiply by leaps and bounds!

From agency responses, we were preparing for approximately 300 people.  Things were reaching a fever pitch.  It was so exciting!

The last installment of this series is all about Free Market event day!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Toting Baggage

Yesterday I worked a bi-annual event called "Homeless Connect Day" in Trenton, New Jersey.  Several non-profits host the event where the homeless can receive hair cuts, vision care, acupuncture, chiropractic services, massages and health screenings.  In addition, they can pick up information on housing, VA benefits, legal assistance, receive help getting an ID so they can get benefits, and more.  Clothing and food are also available.

In order to get these services, attendees must first answer a brief questionnaire to gather information on a number of factors regarding their homelessness.  The compiled information is used when planning projects, lobbying for funding and more. 

I've been working these events for the past 3 years stationed in the "exit booth".  It's my job to ask attendees what they did and didn't like about the event, how they heard about it, what was most helpful and what was missing that might have been beneficial for them.

That's how I met Denise.  Many attendees just want to gather their "freebies", food and leave.  But Denise needed to talk, so I listened.  She told me she was grateful for the places around the city where she could stay, but her great need was for a place to leave her things during the day.  Many shelters only provide a bed for the night, and come morning, all her possessions need to be packed up and toted with her everywhere throughout the day.  Denise's health was suffering from the energy required to do that day in and day out - in the extreme heat of summer and the freezing cold of winter.  In fact, when I offered her some free items her response was "no thank you - I just can't add to the weight of what I already have to carry around.  In fact, I may just give you back this bottle of water because it's so heavy."

I encouraged her not to return it, but instead to drink it along the way - it was an extremely hot day and the water would be beneficial.

As she left the event to face the challenge of her burden, I wondered how many of us carry our baggage like Denise...not physically, but spiritually.

We don't have to be homeless  to lug our baggage wherever we go.  We may very well have a nice roof over our heads and a comfortable bed to sleep in every night, but we're still carrying our "stuff" with us day in and day out.  And it's beginning to wear us down...tax our strength and our heath.  We don't know how to let it go and think we can't function without it.  It's become part of our daily routine.  In fact, rather than unpack it to lighten the load, we wish there was a place to keep it safe.  We may even refuse a free gift and life-giving water because our hands are so full, what's being offered looks like it will just weigh us down further. 

In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus said "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  When we take on His yoke, we are able to lay down our burdens - the trade doesn't increase the weight - it lightens the load.

And in John 4:13-14 we are told "Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  Once again, the trade off is for something that is far better.

So what is weighing you down today?  What baggage do you need to unpack?  Anger?  Shame?  Jealousy?  Pride?  Hatred?  Loneliness? Don't store it away.  Those types of burdens get heavier over time.  And don't carry them with you wherever you go...they will affect everything else you try to do. Right now, open your suitcase.  Ask God to remove all the things that make it difficult to move forward.  As He discards the burdensome hurts and issues He'll fill it with free things that are light as a feather - His love, His peace, His mercy.  Then drink deeply of the water He offers.  You'll never be thirsty again.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Time - Gift or Curse?

I'm still working on the second installment of the Free Market 'trilogy', but something I read in my devotions yesterday just really struck a chord and made me think.  I needed to share and ask for your input as well.

The line was out of Jesus Calling for June 27th.  It said "I designed time to be a protection for you."

A protection.  

I don't know about you, but so often, I think of time as the enemy.  
  • It ages us
  • It reminds us of what we have not yet accomplished
  • It flaunts how long we have been without that thing we truly desire 
It most often drags during our workday, making it seem intolerable.  When we're having fun - on vacation, with friends, being entertained - it flies.

So to me, it is foreign to think of time as a protection. 

The next line of that devotional said "You couldn't bear to see your life all at once." 

Okay... maybe I DO see the possibility of protection. 

I have a number of friends going through some really tough stuff right now.  The death of a friend, a separation, a serious illness.

If we saw these things at the outset, we might run in the opposite direction.  And if we did that, we wouldn't experience the joys that come with the sorrows.  We would live life in fear of what we knew was coming.

On the flip side, the space of time protects us by healing some of our hurts as memories fade and pain subsides.  The distance that time provides can help us think more clearly - sometimes seeing that what we thought we wanted or needed would have been harmful had it come to pass. 

God protects us in time.  I think I may just have to change my attitude about my former enemy.  Embrace him and understand his usefulness. 

So what do you think?  Is time a gift?  A protection?  I'd love to hear your thoughts...if you have the time.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Adventures in Community Outreach: Part 1 - What is a Free Market?

My writing has been quite limited as of late because my time and efforts have been redirected a bit.  This is the first of a 3-part series about my distraction.  My church has been working on something called a "Free Market".  It's a pretty foreign concept for most.  It's like a traditional flea market with one great big difference.  It wasn't a fundraiser.  No one was selling spaces for people to come and put out their "junk" to sell.  No, a free market means that the goods - new or like new - are all donated and then given away.  For free, no strings attached.

It's an idea that been more than 2 years in the making and about 5 months in the planning.  I've shared the background before, but for those who are unfamiliar, here's a brief synopsis...a little more than 2 years ago, after reading the book "The Externally Focused Church", I went to my pastor and told him about the nagging feeling in my spirit that we were just not involved enough in our community.  The CommunityConnections ministry was born.  I invited 4 or 5 like-minded individuals to form the team and we began with a food drive.  In the past 2 years, the outreaches have gotten larger and more involved: from serving meals at a Salvation Army drop-in center, re-modeling a local Dress for Success office, and adopting a shelter to do an "Extreme Home Makeover" on its 17 bedrooms, to hosting a Christmas store this past December that involved purchasing gifts and allowing those in local shelters to maintain their dignity by choosing and purchasing items for their children at 10 cents on the dollar.

The Free Market was something my pastor had encouraged me to investigate in those early days, but it took two years for God to grow our ministry team to about 15 people, and to have service truly become part of our congregation's DNA.  That's why, when we put out a call for over a hundred volunteers just 3 weeks before volunteer intensive Kids Camp (our VBS program), people still answered the call.  God had prepared their hearts and minds to do what needed to be done.

As the ministry head, I am blessed to work with people who aren't afraid to step up and take the reigns on different outreaches. This time around, Cathy, a woman who's organizational skills know no bounds, stepped up to the plate.  Her previous church had done a Free Market a few years prior and so she was the one to cast the vision to our team and supply the details.  Her former church was several times bigger than our congregation of about 600, and their budget for the outreach was slightly more than double ours, so we needed to tailor the specifics to what our numbers and budget could handle.  For the past 5 months, our ministry team and some additional individuals who joined us specifically for the task at hand, have been working out the details. 

To fully explain the Free Market concept's purpose and goals, Cathy shared a passage of scripture with us.  Deuteronomy 24:19:  "When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back and get it.  Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord you God may bless you in all the work of your hands."  People were to harvest their fields in a circular pattern, leaving the corners (as well as any 'overlooked sheaf' from the circular harvest) for those on the fringes of that ancient society - strangers, orphans and widows, so they could survive.  There was nothing less desirable about what was left behind...it was just as viable a crop.  The idea was that God had given them a harvest, but it wasn't to be assumed that it was all for them.  He gave them bounty and they were to share out of that bounty.

The Free Market was rather like a modern day concept of gleaning.  God has been generous to us, so we need to in turn, be generous to others.  A three week sermon series entitled "The Blessed Life" instructed and encouraged the congregation to see exactly what God had put into their hands and what they could do with it.  God doesn't need a lot - He just needs a person who is willing to give what they have for Him to use.  Think David with his sling and a few stones...or Moses and his staff...Shamgar and his ox goad (yes, that's someone in the Bible - you'll just have to research it :)

So that's how it all began...an idea, a vision, some teaching.  In the next installment I'll share about the actual details of planning the event - just in case it's something you'd like to bring to your church.  Trust me, if you do, the harvest of blessings you'll reap will be difficult to contain!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Summer of the Blue Bike

I was just talking to my friend and fellow blogger, Pam from In the Shadow of His Wings, about my blog posts.  I was beginning to feel they don't fit what I've perceived to be "the norm" based on others I've read. Other blogs seem far shorter than mine, more succinct.  Anyone who's read one of my posts knows I tend to write what might be charitably labeled...essays.  That comment led Pam to suggest I add to this blog something I once shared with her.  It was actually more of a short story pieced together from a couple of journal entries back in August of 2007.  I called it "The Summer of the Blue Bike", and in many ways, it's the precursor to Lakeside Lessons.  I doubt this fits that short, succinct norm I mentioned, but today I'm responding to a request :)

"The Summer of the Blue Bike"

"It had been a rough year and an even tougher summer. As the days dragged on long and hot, I ached to sit on the sand of an empty beach and watch the sun slowly rise out of the ocean, breaking into the sky in all its golden glory. If I closed my eyes, I could almost smell the salty air and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. But when I opened my eyes, what I had imagined as the relaxing lapping of waves on the shoreline, was instead the incessant tapping of raindrops on my office window. Another dreary day spent chained to my desk.

It seemed this summer, more than any other, everyone I knew was vacationing on some sandy beach or cruising to an island - and they all wanted to tell me about it in raptured detail. 
There were many things that kept me from the ocean. Money was first and foremost. Even a day's jaunt to the beach cost a tank of gas and fixings for lunch. An elongated stay with the cost of rent was out of the question. Then there was the matter of time. Going with the rest of the weekend warriors meant the stress of battling them on the road and the dunes. And taking off a day from work was akin to a miracle since apparently, I alone in the universe knew how to do what I do...job security is a two-edged sword.

Instead, I entertained myself on the weekends by going to yard sales and searching for bargains and that's how I found my bike. A man's blue Huffy Expedition for the bargain price of $15. It needed a tire changed and a bit of 3 in 1 oil and it was as good as new.

At first, I bought it for the exercise...but as the summer waned, I discovered that my blue bike was no mere piece of exercise equipment. It was a 2-wheeled ride to freedom. I packed it up in my Nissan Pathfinder and headed off to the County Park where there were plenty of miles of trails.

As the pavement rolled out ahead of me like a black ribbon in a sea of green grass, I took in my surroundings. A larger number of blue jays than I'd ever seen in one place flitted back and forth in a grove of trees chasing each other in a playful game of tag. 

As dusk began to fall, rabbits ventured out for a bit of clover and the deer began to graze - close to the wood line at first, they slowly gained courage and ventured out into the center of the field. First I spotted a mother with her 2 fawns, coats still sprinkled with the white spots of youth...then another doe and another, some with fawns, some without until I counted a dozen grazing brown statues. The elusive buck was not in sight however.

I cruised around the lake, through the woods and across the fields where shouts and clapping cheered on soccer and baseball players battling it out in fierce summertime competition.

Finally, my legs had had enough - my thighs screamed for mercy. Somehow all the miles of walking I had done for months on end had not prepared them for the ups and downs of the bike trail.

I put my bike back into the Pathfinder, locked the door, and grabbed a bottle of water to cool off. As I downed the thirst-quenching liquid, I was slowly able to regain the feeling in my legs. Gradually, I put one foot in front of the other, struggling like a toddler trying to find his balance, eventually making my way down to the water's edge.  I chose a bench looking out over the relatively still waters of the lake.

The first thing I noticed was the blue heron strutting on the dock piled high with rowboats. A pontoon boat and paddle boats lined the far side of the dock - a reminder of all the activities the water provided in the heat of the day. Without warning, a flurry of wings broke the silence and a pair of seagulls lifted skyward from the water. I chuckled to myself thinking, "I may not have the ocean, but at least there are seagulls!"

This would become my routine for weeks as the summer flew by. Then, as if with the turn of a page, it was almost fall. The days seemed to grow short ever faster, but the tradeoff was glorious sunsets. Streaks of red, orange and purple painted the sky as the sun sank below the horizon in a burst of fiery light...and then it was gone.

It was on one such evening that I sat gazing at the water listening to the cacophony of honking geese as they arrived, wave upon wave to rest for the night. Hundreds covered the surface of the lake as a long boat cut the water, sending them flapping and splashing in all directions to get out of the way.

I pondered the past 8 months and all that had happened in that short span of time. Just a few days into the start of the new year, my husband and I had an argument. Not that arguing was anything new for us. In the 28 years of our marriage, we'd made it into an art form. Like the bob and weave of a boxer, we could land a blow and get out of the way, then come back together in a clinch until one worked loose and tried to score a knockout punch. Yet somehow this time was different. The fights had become more intense and more frequent in the past few months, but this one ended with him walking out the front door, never to return. 

Of course, I didn't realize it was the final blow that night. Many was the time he'd threatened to leave, each time telling me I'd discover how difficult life would be without him. Occasionally, he'd even manage to stay away for the night - and once for a long weekend. But what was really different this time was my reaction. I didn't cry. I didn't get a feeling in the pit of my stomach that my world was ending. I was okay.

It was the beginning of a new life, but like most births, it was a traumatic experience. Something wonderful would be produced as the end result, but it could only come to fruition through pain. And so that was why I spent the summer without seeing the ocean.  And that was what led me to the blue bike and ultimately a new found sense of freedom and a real joy. I was finally living life."

When I wrote this, I talked about something wonderful being produced as the end result of a traumatic experience.  I had no way of knowing what the next 5 years would bring.  Highs and lows, sadness and joy.  But ultimately, a closer walk with God, a wonderful support system from a new church, a ministry calling, and much, much more - including a friend who has lent me his beach house for a few days the last few years so I can see and feel and smell the ocean.   Lastly, the blue bike has been replaced by a purple one aptly named "Magnum Rebound", but I still find freedom and joy in riding.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How big is your God?

How big is your God?  After several recent conversations, I feel the need to ask that question.  Some seem to assume because they can't see or imagine the immensity of God, He must only fit into the little box they've envisioned in their finite mind.

These people say I'm crazy to think God can hear and address the prayers of every person on this planet. That it's actually pompous of me to believe He would care about me and my silly little needs. 

If they want to believe that for themselves, that's fine.  Well, actually, it's not fine, it's very sad that some would believe God exists, but not believe He cares about them.  Or worse, as one put it, that they were created to be "messed with".  But why do they feel the need to talk me out of my firm belief in a supreme, loving, caring being?  Why do they think I'm being naive?

I recount story after story of how God has answered my prayers in big and small ways over the years.  This is the 'abridged' version of one of my favorites from a few years ago...after crying out to Him in the privacy of my car, defeated and desperate about a number of things going on in my life, God sent a woman I'd never met, speaking a language I didn't understand, to pray over me minutes later.  As her words were translated by another who had no idea about my circumstances,  it was as if she'd been given a checklist from God.  The way she worded things, the issues she prayed for...the exact same things in the same way I'd laid them before His feet moments before.  I've walked with God a long time, but the experience gave me goosebumps and I feel it's a powerful, convincing argument that God truly hears prayer.

Others don't believe at all.  They are unmoved by my accounts.  They drag out their rationale.  They want to talk about coincidence, energy, spirituality, and myriad other "forces" to explain away the things that my Big God has done and is doing.  To me, it's far easier to believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent GOD than some energy force bumping around in the dark impacting the whys and wherefores of my existence. 

So how big is YOUR God?  Can He part the sea to allow 2 million people to cross on dry land?  Can He shut the mouth of a hungry lion in it's den with a man?  Can He walk around in a furnace with three others to keep them from being consumed?  Mine can.  And because He's a God that's the same yesterday, today and forever, His power isn't just ancient history.  He does miracles in the here and now.  He provides jobs, heals sicknesses, and restores marriages.

My God is a big God but He's also a caring God.  His word tells me He knows me by name and that name is written on the palm of His hand.  He knows how many hairs are on my head.  He formed me in my mother's womb.  It tells me that He withholds no good thing from me. Can "energy" do that for you?

He's a big God, but He's a God of details.  He put the stars and planets in their places, but He also clothes the lilies of the fields.  And He knows when one of His children are hurting, so He sends just the right person to pray so she knows her requests have been heard.  This is not coincidence...it is Godincidence.

My God is the one of whom it is said gives me exceedingly, abundantly more than I can ask or imagine.  How big can you imagine?  Can you picture your town?  Your state?  Your country?  How about your world?  Your solar system?  Your galaxy?  Well, then, you can imagine quite a bit!  But He goes beyond that.  He has not created us to mess with us or abandon us.  He created us in His image.  He loved us first, so we in turn love Him. 

I don't want a God so small I can wrap my mind around him and define him.  That would make him all too human, and not God.

So think about it...how big IS your God?  I'd love to know what big things He's done for you...