Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Chair That Helped

When I'm under a lot of stress or emotional strain the only thing I want to do is sit in front of the TV and anesthetize my brain.  My brain rarely shuts off and sometimes I just want a break, so I find my favorite spot on the couch and tune out. 

However, I have found that this is exactly the opposite of what I need to pull myself out of a funk.  If I engage my brain in a creative activity I seem to find my equilibrium.  When I actually get up off the couch and write, or do a project...alone (my introverted self needs some time alone :)...I find myself able to recharge. 

This week, I spent time on this chair.  I found it at the new Goodwill Outlet for $4....I saw potential in it.

Unfortunately I couldn't clean the fabric well enough to keep the plaid, but with some vintage fabric I found up in the donations at the center awhile ago, some left over spray paint from a previous project, and a cheap staple gun I bought at Hobby Lobby with a 40% off coupin (love that store!) it turned out pretty nice!

Most importantly it gave me a creative outlet as I processed the week. And for about $8 that's a pretty good trade off!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

When God Answers Prayers

The last few weeks have been dominated by prayer, by hopes and imaginings, by trying not to hope, by a cycle of peace and anxiety that has taken us round and round. 

Monday morning we had an interview for the possible adoption of a little boy.  By Monday evening we found out one of the other four families was chosen.  It was an emotionally intense day.  Days later we are still processing it all.

For just over a month we had been waiting and praying about the outcome, having been caught off guard by the opportunity to submit our homestudy for a 10-month-old boy.  From the moment we received the call about this case God used it to stretch us and challenge our expectations, but it also birthed the thoughts of a possible reality--one that brought the desired conclusion to our adoption process and a child into our home.

Even as our hearts were being secretly attached to this child we knew only on paper, we put up guards against possible disappointment and pain.  We tried not to think too much about it.  We asked close family and friends to pray and then attempted to dispassionately wait and pray.  The irony is that you cannot pray for something so intensely and remain dispassionate, even when your prayer is "Thy will be done."

Anxiety would creep in.  We battled it back with the knowledge of God's sovereignty.  Then anxiety would creep back in.  But, for me, the miracle was that the more we prayed for the situation and the more our hearts got attached to the idea of a future with this little boy, the deeper the sense of peace we felt that God would carry us through, whatever the outcome. 

By Monday morning Andrew and I and the whole process had been bathed in continual prayer from family and friends all over the country.  The prayer was for God's will to be done and for our peace through promises like the one found in Isaiah 26:3: "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You."  We are so grateful for our Christian family--they have wrestled for our peace.  Their toil has been our gain.

Receiving the call that we were not the family chosen was hard.  A child we were invested in is to be a permanent part of a stranger's family.  And maybe even more disappointing is the knowledge that we have not found the child intended for us and that we will have to face this situation again, and maybe again.

But, something I realized through this process is that I used to think that praying for God's will to be done meant I shouldn't invest in one side of the issue or the other.  Somehow I thought maybe to really mean that prayer I had to feel ambivalent.  But what really was going on was that I wanted to protect myself from feeling the disappointment that would come if the result wasn't what I had hoped for.  Or maybe I thought God would think I was taking back my prayer when I was grieved by the outcome.

However, when God answers our prayers for His will to be done with the answer our human hearts had not hoped for, He does not disapprove of our disappointment or heartache.  He does not ask for an impartial trust.  What He asks for is a trust that even if..., we will trust Him to carry us through the sorrow, through the confusion, and through the uncertain road before us.  This peace runs deeper than the anxiety or sorrow we are sure to experience.  It is resting in the knowledge of a good God whose timing is perfect and who holds the world and our hearts in His capable hands.  It is knowing that He will answer saints' prayers for His will to be done and that He is near enough to comfort us in the wake of His hand.

God has given Andrew and I peace.  We are still processing our disappointments, but we are certain that God is faithful and that He will continue to provide for us in ways we could not ask for or imagine.  Thank you for those of you who have prayed for our peace...God does answer prayer.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Nature of Church

I've come to believe that the true nature of Church, and by Church I mean THE Church, the Body of Christ, is transformational.  We cannot engage the Body of Christ as we were meant to and stay the same.  God has taken people of all cultures and races and experiences and fused us into one body that is purposed towards one vision--the glory and expansion of the Kingdom of God. 

The problem is that most of us don't approach church this way.  We approach it looking to find a community of believers that affirms exactly who we are and gives us exactly what we think we the style of worship just right? are people generally like me?  do they have the best program for my kids?  are they hip and "cutting-edge"?  The list goes on and on with the expectations we bring to church, and the result is that we have made Church (big C) into church (small c).  And church (small c) is, by nature, a business that caters to the endless stream of Christian desires for self-affirmation and we've lost our vision in the smallness of what we've become.

One thing I've learned in the last five years working at World Impact is that the Body of Christ is made up of a lot of people I wouldn't normally attach myself too if left to my own selfish desires.  And, that American individualism and the "right to choose" has given us countless opportunities to run away from having to deal with the fact that the world doesn't revolve around us!  Church (big C) was never intended to let you be who you are, it was meant to let you be who you were intended to be...and that takes some hard work done in the context of community.

Andrew and I were just talking with a friend recently about styles of worship in church and how fixated we are as the American church on the style of a services.  We want a pastor who will soon be writing books and having YouTube clips bouncing around Facebook and we want worship that gives us goosebumps.  We want small groups that "get us" and outreach that looks really "missional" with the least amount of daily investment.  It's gotten to the point that we choose churches that make us feel good instead of churches that make us a more functional part of the Body of Christ.

If you go to a Christ-centered church and can't worship the Lord because of the style of service, that's not a style problem, that's a You problem.  If you think the nature of Church is to be conflict free and easy, then you will spend your whole life running away and never engage in the mission God has for us...and isn't that exactly what Satan is looking for?

Try picking a small group full of people you would never usually hang out with and commit to working through the conflicts that may ensue.  Pray that God teaches you to sense the Holy Spirit in more that really moving music.  Try changing yourself as you commit to a body of believers rather than expecting they change for you. 

I heard a pastor talk recently about our tendency to approach the ways of God by checking them against our own reason and logic.  We tend to choose the aspects of God that fit in with our world view and reject or ignore the others.  But the Scriptures say that God's thoughts and ways are as high above ours as the sky is above the earth.  I think we've done this with church.  We have taken God's purpose for the Church (big C) and made it into church (small c) because it feels better in the moment.  We've limited God by our selfishness and stymied the expansion of His Kingdom in our own lives and our communities.

If the nature of Church is about bringing the transformational power of Christ to our lives and our communities, that means we shouldn't try to squeeze it into our own personal world-view.  We should approach it with reverence, knowing there may be things about the Church that we don't understand or that in our limited understanding we wish were different.  That's OK.  Embrace it.  It's a process but the more I am working on this the deeper my understanding of community has become, the more I am able to see Christ in even the most unlikely places.   

I want to think big.  I want to accept the fact that God knows everything we don't and that we will have to change our thoughts and ways in order to go on mission with Him.  Let's not make church about me or about you, we're much too small a vision.  Let's make church about God and commit to seeing ourselves and the world changed by Him.  Now, that's a mission I can get excited about!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

They Made It, Thank the Lord!!

It was a day we all were not quite sure would come.  Life throws our youth a lot of curve balls and a graduation celebrates more than just the work of the graduate!  It takes a dedicated teen, teachers, parents, and a whole team of supportive people to see this day come to fruition.  Andrew and I were so proud to attend the local graduation where we went to see Laniecha and her cousin Renelle graduate. Laniecha's mother smiled at me and said, "This is my degree right here!!"
We were pleased to see that at least three of the young men who attend our basketball program were also graduating!! 
Between Andrew and I we've known the girls and their families for seven or eight years.  Both are beautiful girls with lots of dreams and two sweet little sons.  We pray that God will continue to keep them and that they will seek to follow the Lord with the rest of their lives.  They made it to graduation, but there is so much more life for them to accomplish and that too will take a community of godly support.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

God Stretches

You couldn't call me extraordinarily flexible by any definition of the word.  I don't know if I could even do the splits when I wasn't old and out of shape and, if we're talking personality, I make schedules in order to follow them, not just for my health (as some people who disregard them must imagine).  Andrew has schedule flexibility, but I watched him trying to touch his toes while doing Tae Kwon Do stretches in a workshop with the kids this past summer (um, it didn't happen).

So, I suppose it's only natural that God would look down and say, "Those two aren't particularly limber, let Me see what I can do about that."  And, thus enters the last year of our lives.  God has put us through His own set of stretches as He has exercised us in ministry, marriage, family, and relationships these last 12+ months.

We truly want to follow the Lord and so we voluntarily sign up for God's workout class, sit down to stretch, feel the uncomfortableness in our muscles and hesitate.  "Feel that?  See, we're really workin' it here, God!" 

He walks over and gently presses down on our back to make the stretch a little deeper.  "Whoa!  That's far enough, God!  That's a little more uncomfortable than I had expected!"  We start to get that little panicky feeling like our hamstrings(/hearts) are surely going to snap any second, but to our surprise they don't, and after the initial panic subside it starts to feel more comfortable. 

But it doesn't stop there. If you're really serious about getting in shape, the next time you stretch you will take a deep breath and stretch further than the last time.  Sometimes I catch myself thinking, "Wow, that was a good deep stretch for me, God.  Glad I'm done with that."  But, God doesn't ask us to put a limit on how far we will stretch outside of our comfort zones for Him.  He keeps pressing and it's up to us to commit to His requests or drop out of the class.

I've been thinking a lot about this recently and how the process of being stretched by God at first makes you feel your limitations.  It hurts, it feels impossible, and it makes you aware of how tiny and insignificant you really are.   But then as you give things over to the Lord and watch Him sustain and accomplish His work in your life it is incredibly empowering and liberating.  I know in my own power I can't do anything, but in God's power there is no limit to what He may accomplish through me.

I don't ever want to stay content with how far God has stretched me.  I want to (even when I don't want to)let God lead me further outside my comfort zone each day and give up my plans for my life and submit to His.  Each time God stretches me I pray that I take a deep breath and then ask God to stretch me again.  With each day that I am striving to do this I am, surprisingly, finding more and more peace as I face the uncertainties of life with a God who is able to do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine. 

But, even though God is teaching me to be a more flexible person, don't ask me (or Andrew) to do the splits, it's just not gonna happen here on earth.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Update

Dear Team,

Recently we had a fight in our high school basketball program. Since starting the program, there had only been one other fight. People generally really respect World Impact and care about participating in our programs.

The fight occurred over a heated moment in the game and words and fists were exchanged. Our staff broke up the fight and then we closed the gym down. We closed the gym to let people know that we do not tolerate fighting and to help the students keep each other accountable, since the decision of a few affected everyone there to play that night.

Watching it happen was disappointing but the day after the fight occurred, Martin, one of the guys involved, came up to World Impact wanting to speak with Randy and I (Andrew). He sat down and began to tell us that he knows what good we are doing for the guys and that he was truly sorry. He also said that he would understand if we did not want him around anymore because of his actions.

In our community it is rare to hear someone say they are sorry. In an environment where your reputation is all that you have and respect is worth more than any amount of money, saying I am sorry is not a popular thing. Impressed by Martin’s maturity, we made sure he knew how much we appreciated his heart-felt apology. We then got to share with him about how God forgives each of us time and time again and that we forgive him too. We also shared that the opposite of not wanting him around was true—we love having him participate in our programs!

I am always blown away at how God can take a bad situation and totally turn it into a way to share His grace and love. Martin did something that was wrong, but he also took the first step to make it right. Martin is a leader, I just do not think he sees it yet.

It is our desire to see the Martin’s of this community be leaders in our local Churches. Praise God for giving us millions of second chances and for continually restoring us! Please pray for Martin and others like him to continue their growth in Christ. We are seeing guys in our Bible Study who have a deep hunger for the Word. Sometimes during Bible Study we just sit around and talk over their questions about who God is and how that should affect our lives—and it is not always our staff answering each other’s question! God is at work in this great city and it is such a joy and honor to witness it on a daily basis!

Let’s take this city for God!

Andrew and Adria Medlen

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Living On A Prayer

So, no, this post is not about Bon Jovi, although that may disappoint some of you (ahem, Andrew).  I've been thinking a lot about prayer lately and spending more time engaged in it.  I used to pray about lots of things, but I think I'm just starting to really believe in its power.  Don't get me wrong, I've always believed that God was mighty enough to do anything He wanted, I just was a little bit skeptical about being able to be part of the process. 

One of the things our staff has been doing more regularly than we have before is prayer walking in our neighborhood.  At first this is an awkward assignment.  Who knew you could pray with your eyes open and interrupt serious prayers with, "Hey, don't step in that dog poop."  But, it has been an amazing experience for me.  The more I let go and pray out loud the more I feel the Lord gives me to pray about, the more burdened my heart becomes for my community.  Sometimes I don't even know which person I'm praying for to be released from the bondage of addiction but I get choked up in an earnestness for their freedom.  And, even though you wouldn't think this would be true, you meet a lot of people while walking and praying.

I think it has also made me more aware of the Holy Spirit.  The more we have asked the Holy Spirit to give us favor with our neighbors and lead us to places and people of spiritual openness, the more we are directed to them.  I am believing in my part of the prayer process and it is beginning to take root in my life.  Sometimes driving around town I spot people in their cars or walking on the sidewalk and I find myself praying that the Lord will meet them in some way and change their lives and I believe that He can.  And, I find myself saying things like, "Let's pray that God shows us which community is spiritually open to begin our church planting efforts"  and I believe that He will!

I have also found prayer to be more of a necessity in my life than it used to be.  Andrew and I have felt God's strong call this last year to give over more of our lives and walk further in faith and, let's be real, the only way I can make it through the day is clinging to a very needed conversation with the Ruler and Controller of all things.

I am no Mother Theresa, that's for sure, but I want to encourage you to do things that take you outside of your comfort zone to experience God through prayer--not because I am awesome and have the right to challenge you in this area but because it is an exciting part of being a follower of Christ and I want to share that with you!  You can prayer walk in your neighborhood.  Take an evening stroll and just start praying...the Holy Spirit will direct the rest.  Or take a step of faith today that you know you'll only be able to do if you verbally affirm through constant prayer that God is real and will carry you through.

I heard a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. several years ago that has always stuck with me.  He said, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."  As followers of Christ our life-breath should be a dialog with the Creator of the Universe.  What a privilege.  It's uncomfortable at first perhaps, maybe even scary, but the joy and action of the Christian life is to truly be, as Bon Jovi sings it, living on a prayer.

Let's stop living as the walking dead and breathe the life-giving power of prayer into our lives and our communities and see what God will accomplish for His Kingdom.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Doing What I Value

Since the beginning of the year I have been on a mission to do what I value and not what I don't.  It sounds simple, but it's not--especially not for someone who is a stubborn, perfectionistic first-born, who wants to be good at everything.  I came frighteningly close to burnout this last year and while I was teatering on the edge of losing it forever I realized it didn't have to be this way.

Life is stressful and hard and uncertain and full of many sorrows, but that was not primarily what was dragging me into the abyss of ministry burnout.  It was my desire to be everything in all situations, to be the best of the best, to shoulder my load and everyone else's, to be the "team player" that picked up everyone's slack and made things successful!  Placing these expectations on myself not only packed some very unwanted stress-pounds onto my gut, but made me feel overwhelmed and resentful.

Thankfully the Lord brought me some clarity before I packed my bags and ran off to Mexico, and since then I have been working on asking for help when I need it and not claiming other's responsibilities as my own.  I have also decided that I should do what I value and let the rest go.  This is not to say that I don't still do plenty that I don't want to do, but I try to be realistic about what I can actually fit on my plate.  I try to pick out the most important parts of projects and focus on those being great and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.  As much as I'd like to believe it's true, I'm not Superwoman after all.

This is true in ministry as well as in my personal life.  For example, as I shared in my last blog, I am not a woman who finds much personal value in things many other women do.  I am not saying that cooking a five course meal (or a meal that at least isn't microwavable and/or previously frozen) isn't valued--I sure do love visiting those ladies' houses--but it's just not me.  My house shouldn't look like it does right now (I like to refer to it as The Pit), but I would rather spend time working on the vision of our church planting tactics than make sure my house is spotless.  I also love to save money and find awesome deals, but I cannot seem to take the time necessary to become a great couponer--I am determined to do better, but then again, time is money and I'm not so sure I wouldn't rather spend my time somewhere else (I'll let you know how that one turns out). 

While there is much freedom in this line of thinking it can be difficult to let go of my own expectations or the expectations I feel people have for a good, Christian woman/wife/(hopefully)soon-to-be-adoptive-mother.  I still feel the pressure to host people with freshly baked bread and the cleanest house, or to not be so opinionated at work and at home, or to start thinking less about my call to minister to the city as we prepare for kids.  But, I just won't do it.  It's just not who I am.  Hey, I planted a garden this year (even though it was mocked mercilessly for it's tiny size by Andrew's Kansan relatives), that ought to count for something if we're talking Proverbs 31 women, right?!

Living what I value is something that requires constant attention to what I value and why.  I need to know that what I'm valuing is godly and logical.  But then I just need to focus on what is important for me and say about the rest: "It is what it is."  It's a work in progress.

So, let's be real, when I host I'm the Hostess with the Mostess:  The most dustballs hidden under my couch, the most frozen entrees in my freezer, the most notebooks stacked around the house with ideas about our ministry programs and future, and the most grandiose plans about how I will weave together my life as missionary, wife, and mother so that I can be a part of changing the world...and in my heart of hearts, I'm OK with that.