Saturday, December 12, 2009

Screening Calls

Thanks to the invention of Caller ID a number of years ago, people began to feel like they had control over their phone lives again. No more interruptions by a telemarketer during dinner. Of course, now no one eats dinner together anyway. But I digress.

The unfortunate byproduct of this invention was that telemarketers were not the only ones getting screened. If each of us was brutally honest, we'd have to admit that we've glanced down at the ringing phone and chosen not to answer based on whose name or number was showing. (Don't judge me ... you know you've done it too.)

But there's another kind of "call" out there other than those that come in on the phone, and I can't help but wonder how many of us have screened those too.

The Call of God

There you are minding your own business with your very manageable and normal life and suddenly God interrupts. Some of us have permanently set our phones on silent for that kind of call. Still others argue with God and/or ourselves at the ludicrous idea He is proposing. We say things like, "What?! I can't do that," or "I think You've got the wrong person," or "I wouldn't even know where to begin," or "I don't want to join the Army!" (Ok, maybe that last one is primarily for me but you get the point.)

I was reading in the book of Amos this morning (when was the last time you read from that book?) and was reminded that God's outlandish calling patterns have existed for generations. How'd you like God to say, "Hey, I want you to go and tell my people whatever message I give you, ok? They usually won't listen, and they'll hate you for saying it, but I still want you to go." Oh, goodie. Where do I sign??? But look at these verses ...

Amos 7:14-15 (NIV)

14 Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'

There he was, minding his own business, raising sheep and growing fig trees ... then God called. Verse 14 also seems to indicate what his objection was ... God called him to do something he didn't know how to do. It was not exactly the family trade.

How about you? God calling you to do something that seems absurd? Feel inadequate, unworthy, and intimidated? Good! When we enter into something clearly bigger than us it forces us to rely on God. God doesn't call people who say, "Pick me! Pick me! I know more about this than anyone else. I'm your guy!" How does that person bring God any glory when clearly they intend to keep it all for themselves? No, instead He calls a kid to defeat Goliath, a carpenter to save the world, and a bunch of not-good-enoughs to proclaim that salvation to everyone.

Psalm 131:1-2 (NIV)

1 My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

THIS is the attitude God loves ... someone who is not proud or arrogant, but also someone who is not distracted by things that seem too great or too wonderful to possibly comprehend. Instead there is a stillness and quietness before God, like a child completely yielded to and dependent upon his mother.

My challenge to all of us, myself included, is that we stop screening God's calls but allow Him to use us to do great and mighty things for His glory. He will not force us to go. He will invite us. And He will provide everything we need.

Hey you! Time to start writing that book He's been writing inside of you.

And you! Stop ignoring the idea for that ministry He's been birthing in your mind.

Yeah, you too! Time to get on that plane and show love for someone on the other side of the world.

Stop concerning yourself with the great matters or the things too wonderful to comprehend. Answer the call. You will not be sorry you did.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CH-BOLC: Proud to Be ...

Here are just a few things I am proud to be ...

... an American.

If you're like me, you immediately have Lee Greenwood playing in your head. I'm sad to confess that the song had become a bit of an annoyance to me. (I tend to get annoyed by anything that is overused.) I mean, c'mon, this song was sung by not 1 but 2 people in my Junior Miss Pageant in 1989. 20 years later, can't we put this song to rest already?

So let's forget the song for a minute and return to the sentiment that made it so popular.

We live in one of the greatest nations on the planet. We may take it for granted most days, but there are days we remember we are a part of something truly great. In the middle of chaos and tragedy, we can proudly raise our flag and declare to every American: We are resilient. We WILL get through this.

... an American Soldier.

All it takes is one trip to Arlington, one observance of the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, one viewing of Band of Brothers, We Were Soldiers, or my latest favorite Taking Chance.

More directly, I am proud (and humbled) when someone salutes me. Or when I am out in public in my uniform and a total stranger feels compelled to come up to me and simply say, "Thank you." Then there was the Military Tribute that took place at the USC vs. UF game I went to on Saturday. It was no doubt pride I felt when the announcer called for everyone currently serving in the military to stand and salute when their branch song was sung. And no matter what branch you are in, every hair on your arms and neck stood at attention when the jets did a flyover to conclude the presentation.

But tonight may have been my favorite memory and proudest moment thus far as a Soldier. After a long day at CH-BOLC, I returned to my hotel, worn and weary. I boarded the elevator patiently waiting for the doors to close and take me "home". Just as they were about to close, someone stopped them to catch a ride. It was a father and daughter. We said our polite greetings then assumed the elevator protocol of silence. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the whisper of a child, "Dad! She's a Soldier!" He responded, "Yes, she is sweetheart." The little girl looked back at me and excitedly asked me directly, "You're a Soldier?" "Yes, I am," I replied. I think I may have heard a "Wow" whispered, then her dad said, "See, you can be whatever you want to be." The elevator doors opened and they got off. I smiled and wished them a good night. Then as the elevator doors closed again, another "wow" was whispered. This time it was mine.

... an American Soldier serving as a Chaplain.

If the pride I feel to be an American does not get me, add in the Soldier part and it's almost overwhelming. And now after a cumulative total of 10 weeks of direct training at the Chaplain schoolhouse and 17 months of hands-on training with my unit, words cannot express how humbled I am to be among this unique class of people called Military Chaplains. We are a people invited into some of the most profound moments of a person's life. We nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.

It's not a call for everyone. But I am proud it is a call God has placed on me.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises of him who called you
out of darkness into his wonderful light."
(1 Peter 2:9)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

CH-BOLC: Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

"Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it
and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed
receives the blessing of God."

(Hebrews 6:7)

This is one of those verses I'm sure I've read over numerous times but never really SEEN. This week, however, I really felt like God highlighted it for me. It is a reminder that rain will fall ... and it will fall often. This week was proof of that ... when a fellow soldier of the United States Army fired numerous shots out against other soldiers killing 13 of them and wounding 31. And one of those 31 was a soldier from my unit. No, the land cannot control the rain that falls upon it.

But it can control what it does with it.

I want to be the kind of soil that "drinks" it in, that recognizes its own need for rain. It doesn't ignore it or act like it is not happening. It doesn't reject it. It doesn't wish it away. It drinks it in ... soaks it up ... and is somehow better for it. In fact, it uses the rain to produce a crop, not just for itself, but one that is useful to others. Other people benefit. Other people are nourished by what it yields. They are stronger. They are satisfied. They are blessed. As a chaplain, Soldiers can actually benefit from the suffering I've experienced. God can actually use it to minister to others. It "produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed."

But is there no personal benefit? Is my suffering only to bring strength to others? No! God is too generous for that. Notice how the verse ends: "...[it] receives the blessing of God." Wow. That's better than any crop, any reward, any result. Although my struggles are used to minister to others, those struggles + that ministry also yields for me the very blessing of God.

Even now as I am at CH-BOLC training for the chaplaincy, there is great rain that falls along the way: blood, sweat, tears, personal sacrifice, fatigue, separation from those I love, and much more. But through all of that God is planting (and watering) something in me that will strengthen others along the way ... and bring to me the blessing of God.

What a journey.

What a gift.

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass,
it's about learning to dance in the rain."


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CH-BOLC: Rising Above

Well I went back to the hospital on post for my breathing test today. Officially, the results concluded that I do not have asthma. Strangely enough, I wasn't sure whether to receive this as good news or bad news. When the doctor began to suggest (however tactfully) that perhaps my symptoms were psychosomatic and just a result of anxiety, or that they might disappear when I continue to exercise more, I felt my defenses revving up. To suggest this was all in my head or just because I wasn't in good shape felt insulting. I actually found myself wishing the results had been different for no other reason than to legitimize what I've been experiencing physically.

{*insert sound of record screeching*}

Hold on. Time out. What?? I was actually wishing I had asthma? What is that!??!

I'll tell you what that is: that is the enemy trying to psych me out ... again. How in the world is being diagnosed with asthma the desired result here? The truth is, maybe the medicines my doctor has had me on are doing what they're supposed to. Or maybe, just maybe, the God who created these lungs may just have healed me. How about that?
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Psalm 103:1-5

I must not forget all His benefits. I will not allow the enemy to convince me this good news is somehow bad. Today, God kept me from being labeled. He kept me from having the option of blaming some disease or illness for my performance. He showed me YET AGAIN that He is bigger than anything I may come up against.

Forget that I have not done much PT in the last two weeks. I'm going to take the diagnostic PT test this Friday confident that my Creator provides every breath, He empowers every step, He strengthens every muscle. He will renew my youth like the eagle's. (My platoon, interestingly enough, is "the screaming eagles".) So come Friday I will soar above discouragement, fatigue, doubt, and anything else the enemy wants to throw at me.

And the only label I will allow to be placed on me is this one:


Monday, October 26, 2009

CH-BOLC: He is For Me

Just because God promises to be our support (and Titus 1:2 assures God does not lie), that doesn't mean people always will be that to us.

The Soldier's Creed declares we will never leave a comrade behind, yet during our PT run today, one of my classmates complained about having to circle back around "just because of them" with the "them" being those of us who run slower than the others in formation. (He didn't know one of "them" was right behind him.) "Funny," I thought to myself, ... "he's memorized The Soldier's Creed, but clearly doesn't understand what it means to live by it."

But why should the Army, yes even the Chaplain Corps, be any different than the rest of the world? People will let you down. (I'm sure you've experienced this in your churches too.) Yes, some will encourage, but many will discourage. Some will build you up, but many will tear you down.
"At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength ... "
(II Tim 4:16-17)
"May it not be held against them." That's right up there with "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." I wish I could tell you that's what I thought when I overheard the comment during the run this morning. But as God later led me to this Timothy passage, my heart softened. I asked God to forgive me for thinking less of people who hurt me or let me down. I asked Him to help me look to Him for all my needs. I prayed that when I look at others that I would not expect failure and disappointment from them, but that I would not hold it against them if it happens. And I praised Him for the beautiful truth of Paul's last statement above ... "But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength."

And then, like a gift delivered through the speakers of my car, God reminded me of His faithfulness ... something I never have to call into question. He will never fail me.
I know that You are for me.
I know that You are for me.
I know that You will never forsake me in my weakness.
I know that You have come now
even if to write upon my heart,
to remind me who You are.

(Chorus of "You are For Me" by Kari Jobe)
Click here to watch/listen to the entire song.
God reminded me of who He is.
He is faithful.
And He is for me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

CH-BOLC: The End of Phase 1

Well, Phase 1 is over. (If you are interested in viewing a few pictures, click here.) Two weeks have zipped by. As I sat waiting to go into my doctor's appointment (more on that in a minute), God began to give me some clarity I thought I would share with you.

Being back at CH-BOLC has been an interesting journey. I'm in a better place emotionally but not necessarily physically. After being put on profile due to my breathing problems, I had mixed emotions. Of course in some ways, it was a nice physical break. But I have been feeling a little cheated. Pushing yourself beyond what you perceive your limits to be is a big part of what being here is all about. It's what can be agonizing but also extremely rewarding. Not doing it may make for an easier race but a hollow victory (if a victory at all). I never thought I'd say this, but I began to miss the suffering. Maybe that's why Paul wrote ...
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers [and sisters], whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)
"Not lacking anything" ... that's what I'm talking about!! But it only comes in maturity which comes by perseverance. Not just perseverance, but perseverance that has finished its work. And that doesn't happen without trials & the testing of your faith.

In Army Operation Planning there are 2 approaches: forward planning or backward planning. Forward planning is moving from step 1 to step 2 and so on until you ultimately arrive at your goal (hopefully). This is what most people use in daily life. Reverse planning is starting at your goal and working backwards determining each step and what must take place for each to happen. If "not lacking anything" is the goal, then maturity, perseverance, trials & testing are the necessary steps. I can try other steps but they will likely not get me to the desired goal.

Me + Trials = Perseverance = Maturity = Completion = Not Lacking Anything

This is my desire. But it may require getting over some hurdles. It may seem like they are coming one right after another. It may be scary. It may seem way too big.

But you are not alone. There are people around to help you get over the obstacles. And better yet, there is a God with you every step, providing all you need to be victorious. These trials are a gift. Sure, they don't feel like it ... but they are. They are leading towards maturity and completion.

Not ... lacking ... anything!

I am grateful for a week to realize the benefit of the training I am receiving here. The medical staff is continuing to work to confirm once and for all what is happening with my lungs. (I have another test on Tuesday that will prove for sure whether this is asthma.) But in the meantime, they have cleared me to return to training (at my own pace) and I am grateful.

May you be encouraged by whatever you are enduring also. It is not for nothing.

"For I know the plans I have for you,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you a hope and a future."
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Monday, October 19, 2009

CH-BOLC Phase 1 Week 2

Well, Week 2 is off and running ... but alas, I am not.

Upon my platoon leader's recommendation, I went to the clinic today to continue the medical investigations my doctor started in Birmingham to diagnose my breathing problems. The assumption is that it is just exercise induced asthma, but as of yet that has not been confirmed. Until the medical staff here can review my doctor's records, I have been stricken from doing any PT or training. I know, I know ... I can hear your collective voices saying, "Awww, what a shame!" But no one wants to be the one sitting on the sidelines while everyone else is "playing."

I go back in for follow up on Friday. Hopefully I will regain some of my exercise privileges back. (Yes, I said "privileges." Think I'm off base by calling them that? Just ask someone wheelchair bound.)

In the meantime, I have very mixed emotions. This verdict will keep me from doing one of the tasks I was most anxious about during my time here. Of course part of me is releaved. The other part feels like I got the easy way out. I guess God's desire is for us to be willing to do whatever, to trust Him even when the task is too big or difficult to comprehend. But maybe sometimes just being willing is enough. After all, God is a God of grace ... grace to handle all life throws at us. But He is also a God of mercy.

Grace or mercy. It matters not to me. All I know is He will always be everything I need.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

CH-BOLC Phase 1 Day 4

APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test)

Well, the PT test is over ... as is my first week back at CH-BOLC. I am pleased to say that I did pass the test! It was a little disappointing to see my PT score drop since the last time I took one, but I hadn't put in the kind of training time for this one as I did then. It helps me know I really need to kick it in gear, and progress will follow! The good news is this test was just a diagnostic, though I will have to take one for record before I leave.

On a slightly more spiritual note, God continued to demonstrate His faithfulness to provide for my every need every step of this journey...

The run occured on a track that is 3 laps plus a little to achieve 2 miles. After my second lap, I was feeling the pressure to maintain my pace if not speed up a little to ensure a passing score. My body, however, was feeling the burn ... especially my lungs which seem to be working overtime these days. As soon as I began my 3rd lap, a fellow classmate began to run alongside of me. He himself had already completed the run, while I still had a full lap to go. He humbly announced that he was going to run with me, and did so with great encouragement and support. He never belittled my pace or told me to suck up the fact that I seem to have developed asthma in the last 6 months. He empathized, he encouraged, and he ran beside me every step of the way.

This soldier, along with the one who encouraged me through the Fit 2 Win course the other day, were both such gifts! I thought about Hebrews 13:2 that tells us sometimes we entertain angels and don't even know it. I believe in the spiritual world, angels and demons both, but I can't help but wonder if sometimes other people don't serve as angels to us. I know I had 2 this week.

Thanks to them and to the God Almighty who is gracious and compassionate enough to provide whatever we need whenever we need it.

"God shall supply all [my] needs ..." (Phil 4:19)
"[He] will never leave [me] nor forsake [me]." (Deut 31:6)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CH-BOLC Phase 1 Day 3

Red Letter Day

Well, prayer works. I know this should not be a news flash to any Christian but I just thought you (meaning me) might need a reminder.

Most of the day today consisted of nothing blog-worthy. Then came the moment of truth ... the weigh in. First, let me be sure you understand how this works. There is a height weight chart based on age and gender and the Army wants you to fit into it. Someone of your age, gender, and height should weigh no more than what that chart says. Thanks to General Schwarzkopf, however, this is no longer the ONLY standard. If a soldier does not fit into the chart, a series of measurements are taken and percentage of body fat calculated. Every soldier MUST meet either the height weight requirements or the percentage of body fat ones.

Now, for me, I don't even worry about the weigh in because I don't think I came out of the womb fitting into one of those height weight charts. But the tape has always saved my large buttocks from failing to meet standards.

Today, however, for the first time in my young military career, I did not have to be taped because I passed the height weight check!! I was so shocked I made her repeat her statement again. Part of me thinks it is an error, because none of the charts I can find online agree with her verdict. But for all I know the charts have been updated and the internet just hasn't caught up.

In my heart of hearts, however, I know it's because of all the faithful prayer warriors who were praying "light" thoughts for me today ... so thank you one and all!

But don't quit on me yet ... your work, sadly, is far from done. Tomorrow is the PT test and I desperately need your coverage for that. 5:30 am EST is the bewitching hour, so toss up some prayers before you go to bed tonight since it will all be over by the time most of you wake up. I should be able to meet standards for sit ups and push ups but am nervous about the run since, as many of you know, my doctor suspects I've developed exercise-induced asthma and tomorrow morning will be especially cold. Both of these will be obstacles to overcome.

Thankfully I believe Philippians 4:13 with all my heart ... "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."

Thanks SO much for your faithful prayers. I'll let you know how it goes!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CH-BOLC Phase 1 Day 2

Now THIS is the Army!

As promised, today was much more the kind of day in the Army everyone imagines. I got up at 4:30 again and went running. We had no PT this morning since we were going out in the field so I took the initiative to do it on my own. After showering and getting cleaned up - a task which soon proved to be a waste - I met the rest of my class for formation ... in the rain. Soon buses took us to the site of our first event for the day. A little ditty they like to call "Fit to Win". This is an obstacle course where we run over the river and through the woods but grandma's house is nowhere to be found. Instead we travel from one obstacle to another, completing them as a squad and competing against other platoons. These obstacles included things like crawling through various tubes and tunnels, climbing over walls, crawling in the dirt under barbed wire, and the like. There were a few stations we had to bypass for safety issues due to the rain, the monkey bars (or horizontal ladder) being one. As someone who broke her wrist as a child on said monkey bars, I was ok with this choice.

Since this was a timed event and took place in the rain and mud, I wasn't able to get much in the way of pics & video but I did manage to capture one video. Here it is:

Tilt your head to the right at first. Don't worry ... eventually I did remember you can't take video with the camera turned longways.

(Remember if you subscribe to this post via email, you'll need to click on the title to go to the online version so you can see the video. If you are reading this as a note on Facebook, click on "View Original Post" at the top of the comments section.)

The purple heart for the day went to one soldier who happened to be the first to crawl through one of the cement tubes (like the one pictured at the top) and was greeted by a spider ... in his mouth.

Ahhhh, Army life.

This was an exhausting morning and by midday most of my body hurt. (Note to self #1: On the days there is no PT, there is a good reason. Do not feel compelled to add in your own.) But this was the first challenge with my platoon, so I enjoyed the bonding and inclusion ... and was especially appreciative of one person on my squad who ran alongside me and encouraged me through every exhausting hurdle.

After this event, my "typical" Army day continued with exactly what you want after being in the mud and rain ... a nice, cold shower. No, this was not on purpose, I was just fortunate enough to shower in a facility which turned out not to have hot water. (Note to self #2: pick a different place to shower next time.)

The day continued with a sermon by a fellow classmate, lunch, more classroom time and death by power point, and the exciting announcement that I have weigh in tomorrow.

And there in lies my prayer request for the day. :o)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CH-BOLC Phase 1 Day 1

Well, we're off and running ... in more ways than one! I started my day at 4:30 and gave myself a trial PT test in preparation for Friday. From there I got cleaned up and headed to the school for "in processing" aka Army welcome paperwork. Then the remainder of the day was spent in classes on a wide assortment of topics, some more heavy on the Army side (e.g. - strategic mission planning & how to write an Army memorandum) to some leaning more towards chaplaincy (ethical decision making). Couple of homework assignments, picking up some supplies, then back to my luxurious hotel. As days go here, today was about as tame as they get.

Tomorrow will be a little more what all of you picture it to be like here ... out in the field crawling in the mud. Don't worry, I'm hoping to take pics and/or video.

Until then!

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's not vacation ... I promise!

So, as most of you know, I completed basic or CIMT (Chaplains' Initial Military Training) at Ft. Jackson back in January. I still have 3 more parts to complete which are simply referred to as Phases 1, 2, & 3. Today I arrived back at Ft. Jackson to begin completion of Phases 1 & 2 (a 5 1/2 week task).

In preparation for my departure from my regular job, my dear sweet co-workers enjoyed referring to this time away as my "vacation" if for no other reason than to watch me immediately argue the ridiculousness of such a statement. Sadly, their jesting was all the more perpetuated when I was notified that Ft. Jackson's lodging was full and the 15 or so of us about to come were going to have to stay off post in a hotel. I tried to explain to my co-workers this was actually an inconvenience, but to no avail.

But today was the day ... and despite a torrential downpour that traveled with me every mile from Birmingham to Columbia, I arrived safely only to discover that the hotel was even nicer than expected. Turns out it has only been open about 4 months and the place is pristine! See for yourself in this video:

(If you subscribe to this blog via email and are unable to see the video, just click on the blog title and it should take you to the online version.)

One quick prayer request before signing off ...

I will have to take (and pass) a PT test this Friday. (Nothing like jumping right in!) If I am unable to pass, I will have to do PT every night as well as the standard 6 am PT. Needless to say, this is not desired. Please pray I am able to meet all standards ... sit ups, push ups, and the 2 mile run. Oh yeah, and I'll have to pass a weigh in as well.

Looks like the party is starting already. :o)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nothing Runs Like a Deer ... or a Kenyan

I haven't been running for long in the overall scheme of things ... just about 2 1/2 years ... but in that short time, I've learned a lot. Some lessons are directly about running:
  • No one runs as fast and gracefully as a Kenyan.
  • Having the right shoes really does make a difference.
  • Performance is directly linked to how you choose to fuel your body.
  • Running is as much mental as physical ... maybe more.
  • Breathing is everything.
But better still, I've learned an enormous amount about life.
  • Progress requires discipline.
  • Approach challenges one step at a time.
  • Don't be intimidated by the end goal.
  • With the help of God we are able to accomplish anything.
... just to name a few. Recently, however, all of the lessons seemed to come together in one big one.

Productive Strides

In preparation to return to Ft. Jackson for the next two phases of my military training, I've been making a concerted effort to improve my running speed. I've come to the conclusion that my strides are what I call "unproductive." I take a lot of steps that don't make me a lot of headway. My feet come up and fall back down just inches away from where they started. At first I blamed it on my height, my short legs, my stumpy nature ... anything to keep it from being my fault. But the reality is ... my strides are unproductive ... and that doesn't have to be the case. If I am going to go to the trouble of changing clothes, lacing up my shoes, pulling back my hair, clipping on my ipod shuffle, and going out for a run, why not make it count?

Ask any runner and they'll tell you there are good running days and bad running days. Sadly, the day of my last 5k was a bad running day for me. 3.1 miles isn't really that far, but that day it felt like an eternity. Thankfully I began to hear the voice of God teaching me as I ran. (He has "coached" me on many a run.) He taught me to focus on a couple small things:
  1. Just take it one step at a time. - This lesson taught me to focus on each time my foot hit the pavement ... to choose to make that step count ... to push off and move myself forward.
  2. Breathe.- You cannot do anything without breathing. Breathing gets oxygen to your muscles so they can do what you are asking them to do.
That's it. One step at a time. And breathe. Nothing ground breaking. But then those two things started to mean more than what they appeared to on the surface.

One step at a time
In Ephesians 5:15, the apostle Paul writes, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (Emphasis mine.)

Making the most of every opportunity ...
Making each step count ...

Why? Because the days are evil. They zip by at an unfair pace. They work against us to make us older, weaker, lazier, more complacent ... that is unless we choose to combat that. It doesn't happen on its own; it happens when we choose to make the most of every step. If you have life in your body, and I'm assuming no corpses are sitting around reading my blog, then you have purpose. There is a reason you are still here on this earth, breathing in and out. And the Bible says that purpose is to be in a relationship with God and introduce others to Him as well. To know God and to make God known. He alone is the source of life ... true life.

That's all well and good, but to many of us, we may as well have been asked to run a marathon. How can we know God? And how in the world can we possibly help others to know Him? We breathe. But not the physical act of breathing. The spiritual one. Did you know that Scripture uses the same word for "breath" as it does for "Spirit"? It is through the breath of God that creation was spoken into being. And the breath or Spirit of God is what brings each of us to life. (See John 15:4-5.)

There have been days when I've been running and have literally prayed for God to be the breath in my lungs. Just as literal breathing provides my body with what it needs, so does the Spirit of God provide my spirit with what it needs.

So I take a step, and let God enable me to make it count.
Then I do it again.
And again.
And again.
And one day I feel the glorious rush of the finish line tape across my chest.

In the physical, I will likely never run as well as a Kenyan. But in the spiritual, I can be as successful a runner as my God enables me to be. I want to "run in such a way as to get the prize" (I Cor 9:24). I want to live on purpose. No more unproductive strides.

{image: Chez Joe}

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hope: The Butterfly Circus

Hope ...

... it was the lifesaver God threw to me 30 years ago,
... it was the subject of my first sermon preached 22 years ago,
... it was the message I knew I was called to spend my life proclaiming,
... it is the subject of this blog, and
... it is the message of this movie.

Stop surfing, emailing, blogging, shopping, or whatever else you may be doing at your computer and enjoy the warm blanket that will envelop you as you experience the next 20 minutes. You will be better for having watched it.

You are unique. You are amazing. You are loved.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Freedom vs. Security

America prides itself on being the home of the free. How many battles have been fought and lives lost in pursuit of achieving or protecting that freedom. But have we really found what we were looking for?

Long before this country came to be, before any formalized country came to be, our Creator declared us not only free, but secure. Genesis 2 tells us God provided everything Adam could need, including giving him purpose. And what did God do next? He said, "You are free ...." But God knew it was not just freedom that Adam needed; it was security. So He warned Adam how to keep his new found freedom in check. Adam had free reign over all of paradise, with a warning to avoid one tree. Then God met one more need and created Eve to be his companion and helpmate. So what does Adam do next?

Thank God for creating him?
Take a stroll to admire his new home?
Take his hot new wife on a date?
Dive right in to the purpose God had given him?

If only.

And with Adam and Eve in the genetic line of us all, our choices are often no better.

The problem here is in perspective. We think we're not really free if there are any limitations on us at all. We're not adults with curfews, we're free children of God living under the protection of a loving Father.

Let me see if I can illustrate this.

This is a picture of my niece and nephew playing in the yard in front of their house. They've spent many an hour playing freeze tag, keep away, fetch (with their dogs), or any number of other great yard games. They love it! And other than a possible pile of poo from said dogs, this yard holds no danger for them. They are safe and secure there. But only if they stay in the yard. Del & Chris have instructed them not to go into the street. I know what you're saying, "What cruel parents! That's so restrictive, so confining! Those kids will never have any fun if you limit their freedom!" Yeah, they look like they're really suffering don't they.

Ok, I'll give you another example. A couple years ago I started a new job. It was a good job for a good company. But I didn't see it as such at first. All I could see was the limitations, the handcuffs that had been placed on my freedom:
  • I worked in a cubicle.
  • I had to keep a time card.
  • I had to schedule vacations and get them approved by a manager.
  • And I was limited to ... brace yourself ... one hour for lunch.
Oh the horror! So when someone came along and offered me a different job for a different company ... one with lots of freedom, whatever I needed to be happy ... I took it! Of course this is better for me. I can't work in these restrictive conditions. One problem ... turns out this great job, didn't include the security of a guaranteed paycheck. At times, living free also meant working for free. Suddenly I realized, freedom is great as long as you don't have to give up security to get it.

The reality is we all have a deep desire for both. The thing is, we see God's warnings and instructions as kill joys to our freedom. But we've got it all wrong. If we will live within the parameters God has established for our protection then we can enjoy both freedom AND security. But if we insist on searching for some perceived greater freedom, we will do so at the expense of ultimate security.

That's the beauty of the gospel of Christ. With Him we can have our cake and eat it too. We can be both free and secure. But this freedom is so much greater than a world without rules.

It is running free in the yard ...
It is purpose with provision ...
It is paradise free from shame ...

It is the American Dream in its purest form.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Full Battle Rattle

When the Army tells you to put on full "Battle Rattle" that means you are to come wearing your Kevlar helmet, your IBA (Individual Body Armor) vest, gas mask carrier strapped to your leg (not pictured), knee and elbow pads, and a few other accessories. (Note: I realize I sound like a real girl to call them "accessories" but hey ... I am a girl!) Here is a picture of my friend and CH-BOLC Platoon leader, CPT Heather Simon, sporting full battle rattle for the camera.

She may be small, but she's scrappy!! :o) Of course, chaplains are non-combatants so otherwise we would have another vest on over the IBA with all sorts of weapon-related things strapped to it. Thankfully we don't have to deal with all of that.

As my unit prepares to deploy, there is much training and prep that has to be done. Every drill is packed full of things they have to complete to be ready to go. And most of the training has to be in the exact same environment they will experience over there ... which includes completing the tasks while wearing full battle rattle. I don't know if you can tell from this picture, but all of that stuff adds a lot of weight. The IBA alone weighs about 25-30 lbs! In fact, a couple of drills back, we did a first aid training exercise and I played one of the victims. I was dressed in full battle rattle and dropped to the ground as if I'd been shot. Do you know that I woke up the next day feeling like Rocky Balboa had pummeled me when I wasn't looking! I finally realized it was from the IBA pressing in on my ribs when I fell to the ground. This thing is exhausting to wear around for very long, much less to be doing a lot of activity in it.

Then I thought about Ephesians 6 ...
10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
I've read this passage a million times. But it is starting to take on a whole new meaning for me. The reality is that many times we don't want to put on the armor of God. It's time consuming to gear up ... and sometimes the weight of it feels like more of a disadvantage to our effectiveness than an advantage. But as a general rule, you don't hear a lot of soldiers complaining about the IBAs. Do you know why? Because they know those 30 lb vests can be the difference in them coming home to a parade or a funeral. Why can't we see the benefit of the armor of God the same way? Why can't I??
God has offered us supernatural protection for the supernatural battle we are engaged in everyday (whether we are aware of it or not). Why in the world would we refuse it and insist on going out unprotected, vulnerable, susceptible, and all but wearing bulls eyes on our chests?
More and more I am coming to realize that some of God's best blessings and provisions we refuse and/or balk at because they appear difficult or inconvenient at first. How short-sighted and juvenile of us. We should be suiting up everyday and thanking God for the provision of His protection!
One final note ... there is one other thing in common in this analogy. In God's armor, the only offensive tool is the Word of God (and verse 18 seems to indicate prayer is one as well). As a chaplain, guess what my only offensive tools are in battle? Yep, prayer and the Word of God ... oh, and a Chaplain's assistant who is armed and poised to protect me. Hmmm, I wonder who that would be in the spiritual scenario? (Hint: His initials are JC.) And do you know how a Chaplain best partners with the Chaplain assistant while under fire? You stay as close to him as possible always keeping him in front of you leading the way. Somehow I feel like I've heard that before.

Monday, June 8, 2009

This Ain't the Oscars ...

Every spring it happens ... people begin making statements like "It's an honor just to be nominated," when in secret they are actually dreaming of grandeur and laboring over an acceptance speech with the perfect blend of humor and sentiment, surprise and humility, and one, of course, that includes thanking all the right people. The big night arrives, complete with limousines, red carpet entrances, and wardrobe by the latest designers. The lights gleam, the nominees beam, the music climaxes until the big moment.

And the award goes to ...

Counter that with the God of all creation coming to earth as a baby born of an unwed teenage commoner. No red carpet. No music swells. No fan fare. No one asked Mary who designed Jesus' swaddle. It was just them, in a barn, with some animals.

And that was just the beginning.

So I guess it should come as no surprise that He would grow up to preach a message of becoming great by making yourself less, being glorified by being ridiculed, and being first by putting yourself last. Is it any wonder that people were so enamored by Him and His teachings? They were radical! Foolishness to many. But to some ... some who were just crazy enough to believe Him ... they were words of life.
"They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 5:40-42 NIV)
Did you catch the red carpet moment in that? The apostles had just been beaten and told never to talk of that which they wanted most to talk about ... and they beamed with pride over it like they were accepting an award! They didn't sleek out with their heads hung low whining about how doing the right thing gets you no where these days. They didn't grumble to each other about their inevitable bruises and broken bones. They pulled out that proverbial acceptance speech and humbly began, "It really is just an honor to be in the same category as those before me ... those I've looked up to for years ... the heroes of the faith. Those who have suffered for the cause of Christ." And when they thank Jesus, you can rest assured it is not a token "shout out" to the Big Guy; it is an emotional utterance of their deepest gratitude for the One who suffered most of all.

Imagine that.

I learned something as I read some Revelation passages recently. Did you know the martyrs will be resurrected before the rest of us? And as if that early admission isn't amazing enough, they are resurrected to co-reign with Christ during the 1000 years! (See Revelation 20:1-6)

I'm starting to see a pattern. It makes Paul's words in Galatians 6:9 take on a whole new meaning! "So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up." Our greatest glory comes in sacrificing to bring God glory. The more suffering it causes us, the greater the reward later! I'm not suggesting we go LOOKING for ways to suffer, but imagine how different our perspective could be if we viewed things through this upside down paradigm of Christ ... the one these apostles lived by. Imagine the next moment of excruciating hardship, instead of dropping our shoulders and rehearsing our bitter diatribe of woes ... what if we replied as if we'd just been handed an Oscar!

"Me?! Oh my gosh! This is so unexpected! I can't believe you would even consider me worthy of such an honor!"

Ridiculous right? This is not some pipe dream; this could happen! The Bible is not a collection of exceptions, but examples! (Right, John Elderedge?) If we will press in and allow God's view of life and circumstances to radically change us ... we too could walk the red carpet of fellow sufferers ... with joy!

Oh, that I would view difficulties and obstacles this way, Lord. May each problem arouse anxious anticipation instead of fearful dread. As if the envelope is being opened to reveal ...

... and the winner is ...

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Greatest Tool of All

"God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called."

I know this.
I've said it many times.
But today I understand it at a new level.

It's easy to get hung up on being "ready" for a task before us. We delay things like having kids, going back to college, or stepping out in some form of leadership because it's just not the right time yet. (I've often heard people respond, "if you wait for the perfect time, you'll never do it.")

The truth is that sometimes it really ISN'T the right time.

But sometimes it's just an excuse we hide behind. Its counterpart of "I'm not ready" is the same kind of hideout. We tell ourselves we need to be adequately prepared so we can do whatever it is well, and there's some truth to that too. There's nothing wrong with wanting to do something with excellence.

But behind these excuses of bad timing, lack of preparation, or lack of adequate equipment lies a fundamental flaw in our thinking:

Our success is NOT based on any of that.

David did not delay fighting Goliath until he could get some properly fitted armor and a sword he could maneuver. These would have been perfectly reasonable delays in all practicality. But as I read in a my devotion today "David was not bothered because he knew the battle was God's, not his. David knew the tools were secondary to proceeding with God's presence."

It's ok to desire to be prepared with the tools to do what God has called us to. I DO need to be trained in counseling, Biblical studies, and chaplain ministry, not to mention sufficient training in the military in general. There's a reason the Army requires all of that before they release me to be a chaplain. These are important tools. I'm not suggesting all training or tools are futile. What I think God has said to me today is that the MOST IMPORTANT tool is His presence, and I had that before He even called me to do this.

My confidence cannot be in the flesh (see Philippians 3) nor even in the most spiritual of tools. My confidence must be in Christ and Christ alone.
"David was not trusting in the tools, or in his strength in using the tools, to determine his success. He was trusting in God."
I'm not sure that I will ever feel adequately equipped for the chaplaincy ... IF my focus is on the tools. But I can confidently step forward without armor or a sword, with nothing but a sling shot and five little pebbles because those are not the source of victory. David didn't even have to have those! He knew all he needed was God.


Help me to learn all I can about Your Word and about all the things that would be considered "tools of the trade" as a chaplain. But forgive me for allowing my confidence to be dependent on any of that. Give me the faith and confidence of David that I would boldly step forward knowing all that matters is that I have You.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Playing Holy Catch-Up with God

We talk all the time about "waiting on God" but do you think God ever waits on us? I'll let that question roll around in your brain a bit. I guess what I am asking is does God fire the starter pistol whether we are ready to go or not?

I used to hate it growing up when someone would suggest we "race" to a particular destination, then yell "go!" before I was ready. It was mean and a sneaky way to get the upper hand. None of those are words I would use to describe God. But I had never really thought about Him "waiting" on me.

Until now.

It was about 2 years ago when I got "the call" from the Army about the chaplaincy, and shortly thereafter when God confirmed that "call" was from Him. And as hard as this is to admit, it's been a call I have not been warming up to very well. I wanted to say "wrong number" and hang up the phone. I felt like Isaiah when he said, "Woe to me. I'm ruined," except I meant it not because I'd experienced the holiness of God, but the holy call of God and never before had I felt more unholy. He made it clear it was coming from Him, which made me accept the call, but it didn't make me like it. (I'm just being honest.) So for two years now, I've struggled to truly embrace this whole thing. Moving forward, but reluctantly. Being obedient, but not joyfully.

Thankfully God is patient. Over and over, in many different ways, He has been speaking to my heart, to my fears, to my hesitance. He's not judged me or belittled me for not having more faith. He's met me where I've been and just spoken words of Truth: He's reminded me of all I've seen Him do in my life in the past. He's encouraged me with images of miracles He's allowed me to be a part of. And He's continued to invite me to join Him again.

Something finally clicked.

Like David before Goliath, now I'm looking at the giant WANTING to be a part of the battle for his defeat. I'm disregarding my own puny stature because I'm overwhelmingly confident of the ENORMOUS size of my God.
  • No longer am I looking at this call with fear and dread but rather with faith and anticipation.
  • No longer am I fixated on the effects of this call on me, but the impact it can have on others.
  • No longer do I hear myself saying things like, "I am still in training so I don't have to deploy with my unit" and instead saying, "I am still in training so I don't get to deploy with my unit."
  • No longer is this solely God's desire for me but my desire as I follow Him.
He waited on me. He let me dance around and stretch and twist and warm up saying, "Hang on, I'm not ready yet." And He lovingly continued to coach me. But now, my feet are on the starting block and I'm ready to go. He let me catch up before He took off.

He waited on me.

Now as I run this race with Him at my side every step, I can do so joyfully not with frustration of having been cheated or bitterness for running when I didn't really want to. He helped me "throw off everything that hinders" so I am now free to "run with perseverance the race marked out for [me]" (Hebrews 12:1). He ... waited ... on ... me.

One closing note, however. I don't believe God will stall His plan for the world because of our disobedience. I think we have to be actively trying to get ready and seeking His help for that too. We can't just sit down on the couch and say, "Nope, not ready. Check back later" then continue munching on Doritos with no intention of moving. But it is our loss if we let Him move on without us. Imagine David without the story of Goliath? Why would we not want to be a part of God doing the impossible??

So, how about it? Feel like racing home?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

CIMT ... not for the faint of heart

So, for quite some time now, I've wanted and needed to post about my experience at Ft. Jackson. I have a total of 13 weeks of training which must be completed. It can be done all at once or broken up into parts. This past January, I went for the first 4 weeks of my Army training. This first part was called CIMT which stands for Chaplains' Initial Military Training. In other words ... it was basic training. As you can imagine, it was stretching in every way.

Here is a snapshot of the month:

Day 1 - We arrived at the school and met the staff, cadre, and 83 other classmates we would travel with on this journey. We would remain in our civilian clothes (or "civies") for another 3 or 4 days.

We went through DAYS of "in-processing" which included medical & dental exams, equipment issuance, and mucho mucho paperwork.

We began to learn drill & ceremony (which includes marching). And of course we began to learn all we could ever want to know about PT (physical training).

Next, we began our "Warrior Task Training" which included such things as land navigation (including compass work & radio communication), biochemical warfare protection, and first aid.

But the learning curve is quick so you better pay attention and jump in fast. We learned how to start IVs on each other in the morning and had to do it that afternoon. Welcome to the Army!

One of the most memorable (and miserable) moments of the month was the day we went into the gas chamber. The day before we learned all about the masks and the next day we got to put that knowledge to the test. There is no mistaking which of these pictures are in the classroom and which are the real deal!

Oh, but the fun was just beginning! We also had Victory Tower. This is the day I like to call "Face Your Fears" Day! It may not look like much, but it was a challenge to be sure. Here's a video one of my classmates put together from the day:

And the day that felt MOST like I imagined the Army was the day all the Warrior Task Training came to a head and real life scenarios were acted out. I realized just how grueling everything can be when you are wearing full "battle rattle" which includes a 25 pound individual body armor vest. Yeah, I slept well that night for sure!

In addition to all of this very physically demanding training, there was a great deal of classroom work which was mentally demanding. We also began training for chaplain-specific duties such as conducting a 20 minute field service. This is a religious service which happens whenever and wherever one can find while a unit is deployed. There are often more semi-permanent locations available, but field services take place when the unit is away from the base but still in need of spiritual encouragement. Here are a few pics from those:

But all of the hard work paid off when we had our official "Beret Donning Ceremony" the last day of CIMT. Wearing the Army beret is a privilege that has to be earned. Prior to our completion of CIMT, we were always in our patrol caps. But on Friday, January 30th, we were given the right to proudly wear our country's beret. Here are a couple pics from the ceremony. Click on the pictures to see them better. The first is us still in patrol caps, the second in berets:

There is so much more to tell, but just not enough blog space in the world to tell it all. I hope this has helped you better understand my time away and thank you one and all for your prayers for me while I was there. I am going back for Phase 1 and Phase 2 in October and November, then will complete Phase 3 and graduate next spring. Continued prayers are definitely coveted for that as well.

So, as I close out this very long post, I will leave you with 2 pictures. One of my platoon ... a group of people that will always hold a special place in my heart. And one of the whole class. I'm so glad I could go on this journey with you!