August 25, 2014

The Ugly Beautiful of Saying Goodbye

This week we all say goodbye to my uncle. Just a few short months ago he was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away yesterday.

Our family has dealt with a lot of death in the last two years. Each time I have been surprised and overwhelmed at the beauty I have seen in those moments. Love pours out of people in these times. You see strengths in people you never knew existed. Though I was not there for his final moments, I was there the day before when he took a turn for the worst. While it doesn't take the pain away, it was breathtaking to watch God make the ugly beautiful right before my eyes in those hours.

I saw a wife being emptied of herself as she did all she could to live up to her vow to love her husband in sickness and health, until they were parted by death. I saw sisters and brothers-in-law pouring themselves out so that my aunt could do whatever she needed to be there for her husband. I saw two children working diligently to learn a business so their mother and father could focus on his health. I saw cousins and their children coming together to grieve and share some laughter. I saw people not even related jumping in to make meals, watch children, and provide comfort and someone to talk to when needed. I saw a daughter-in-law using her God-given talent in medicine to ask the right questions, make her father-in-law comfortable, deal with doctors, and have to leave the room to cry because she knew what she didn't want to have to say was happening.

Life is hard. Death is ugly. But the beauty that surrounds death for those who are willing to pour themselves out and get real with those around them is astounding. The love, compassion, and selfless service is rarely seen in any other circumstance. Though it doesn't make losing someone any easier, it gives the reminder that those who know Christ do not grieve without hope. Praise God! This is not the end! Death does not win! We grieve, we miss their presence in our lives, but we know that this is not the end. Hallelujah!

Oh, Father, wrap Your arms of peace and comfort around my family right now. Surround my aunt with those who will continue to love and care for her in my uncle's absence. Show me how to love on my family and any others that I may meet who are grieving. Help us to see the beauty in the ugly.

August 18, 2014

Raise Up in Me a Holy Passion

This prayer started Jen Hatmaker's life interruption. It's been reverberating in the back of my mind since I read the updated version of her book, Interrupted. I want to pray this prayer. I want to scream it from the mountain tops. But, I just can't make myself do it. What will it mean? What will happen? Where will I have to go? What will I have to give up? Who will I have to love in His name? Will my husband think I'm crazy? My kids? My parents? My friends? Am I strong enough to survive the answer to this prayer? So many questions. A heart that is pounding from fear, yet aching to go farther. I feel frozen, unable to truly live.

Then last night at small group, what ice breaker question did I get? "What are you passionate about?" I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time! My first thought matched my dear friend's answer when she heard the question, "What are you not passionate about?" As I waited for my turn to answer and thought about this, all I could think was, "I am passionate about so many things that it's really like I am passionate about nothing." Sort of like being a jack of all trades and master of none. I try to do so many things that it's like there's not one thing that my heart is fully in at any given time. I am feeling it as school starts this year. I love teaching my kids. I love what we'll be learning about this year (well, maybe not math.) But, for the life of me, I just can't get excited about jumping back in. Maybe it's because we just enjoyed summer so much and I don't want it to end. Maybe it's because I know that within weeks my daughter will pass me in math ability and I will have no idea how to teach her. I don't know, but the passion isn't there.

The most passion I have felt was just over a week ago in church when the praise team sang "Build Your Kingdom Here" by the Rend Collective Experiment. The moment I read the phrase "...refuse to waste our lives..." I lost it. Those words were the cry of my heart. Oh, Lord, don't let me waste this life on silly, earthly things that don't matter. Don't let me teach my children to waste their lives on those things. Don't let me teach other people's children to waste their lives on such things!

Now I sit with the question, "So, how do I NOT waste my life?" I don't have a to do list (and if you know me, you know that is killing me), but I do know this: loving others in His name is never wasting my life. The way I love my children and the way I love my kidz choir kids and the way I love the Afterschool Adventure kids may not look the same, but no matter how it looks, it requires me to be emptied of myself and poured out for Him. To be filled with the Spirit in order to serve others, in whatever way they need. It means serving the poor, the rich, the lost, the saved, the forgotten, the sick, the old, the young. It means being patient with my children, discipling and disciplining them in order to draw them to You, and being obedient in front of my children, no matter the cost. It means showing up every week to work with kids who may not remember my name, but they know that I love them and will be there for them every week. It means taking a sweet boy with us to Family Quest every week to make sure he's learning the truth of God's word. It means showing up to Kidz Choir every week, headache or not, to pour God's word into them as they learn more about Him and more about ways to truly worship Him.

Oh, Lord, help me to love well all I meet. Help me to love my children well every moment of every day that they may see You in me and desire to have You in their lives, as well. Help me to love my husband well so that he can be the leader in our home and continue to do the work you have set in front of him. Help me to love my church family well so they are taken care of and are able to serve others in Your name. Help me to love the lost all around me, regardless of their circumstance or station in life that they may see Your beauty and Your deep love for them and their deep need for You.


August 17, 2014

A Prayer for Our School Year

Oh, Lord, as we begin another year in this homeschooling journey, please lead and guide. Give me wisdom to know what to say and when. Help me to know when to move on and when to work harder. Give me a thirst for knowledge and for sharing knowledge. Lord, help me to make everything we learn and study point to You. Bless this time with my children and use it to draw us closer to each other and closer to You. Help me to be organized and flexible, ready to teach and ready to slow down and enjoy each moment. Give me creativity and energy for each new day. Help me to be consistent with time on my own in the word and exercise, as both will help me to be more focused and be a better servant to my children and family. Lord, let them see You in all I say and do. Give me wisdom to answer their questions and help me to always point them to You.

Give my kiddos a thirst for knowledge. Let everything we study draw them closer and closer to You each day. Soften their hearts to Your word and Your ways. Give them an excitement for each new school day. Use our obedience to Your call to homeschool to see their need for You in their lives. Grab their hearts. Change their lives. Help them to see their need for You alone as Lord and Master in their lives.

Lord, grant us laughter, even in the midst of tears over math or language arts. Let me see the gift they are even on days when they struggle and argue. Help us to see every teaching moment and to make the most of it that they may see You in us and in the world around them. Help all four of us to love each other and others well. Show us how we can pour ourselves out for those around us. Help me to follow my children's example to reach those outside of our house walls. Don't let me squash those impulses when they rise in my children.

Draw Sophie to You! Draw Ethan to You! Change their hearts and lives for eternity and equip them to serve You, even from such a young age. Help Kevin and I to be sensitive to Your leading and to the things You are doing in their hearts. Help us to not dwell on the negative, but to look for the small ways they bear Your image and that You are speaking to their hearts. Help us to encourage them and train them in the way they should go. Guide us as we teach them Your word and help them to hide it in their hearts. Bring back to their minds scriptures they have learned in the past that they may draw closer to You and understand more about You through Your word.

Lord, move, lead, and guide us through this school year. Bring laughter and joy to our hearts as we draw closer to You and closer to each other. May all we do honor and glorify You alone!

August 10, 2014

Interrupted and Overwhelmed

I just finished reading Jen Hatmaker's book, Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity for the second time. This was the new new, expanded version. I felt just as excited and convicted and overwhelmed as I did the first time I read it!

This book is really Jen's personal story of God interrupting her comfortable, affluent life by showing her the needs of the "least of these" around her.  She, her husband, and their three (at the time) children changed jobs, moved, and started a new church whose mission was to love and serve God with their whole hearts and lives out in the real world. (OK, there was more to it than that, but if I typed it here you wouldn't have to read the book!)

The first time I read this book I felt much like Jen, knowing there was more out there than I was doing or experiencing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  God used her pointing out Isaiah 58 to interrupt my life.  My time in the Word and in prayer should result in more than just me feeling better or knowing more about God, but me being more like God. It should result in action that benefits more than just me or my family.

This time, I read the book after spending this past year working with our church's new Afterschool Adventures program.  We hold this at the income-based apartment complex across the street from the church. I spent a year working with the "least of these" right in my own backyard.  I found myself wanting to shout AMEN to so many of the things she was saying.  While the parents have no problem sending their kids over to church with us for our Wednesday night dinner and Family Quest activities, we can't get those parents to cross the street for anything!  They just won't come to us, we must go to them.  While they live in our backyard, they really do live in a whole different world than we can even imagine.

I was especially drawn to and convicted her comments Matt. 25. Am I really ready to stand before Christ and hear what He has to say about what I did to the least of these?  According to His word, whatever I did to the least of these, I did to Him.  Ignore the poor=ignore Christ. Ignore the hurting=ignore Christ. Ignore the imprisoned=ignore Christ. Ouch! It reminded me that Sanctity of Human life is about so much more than abortion! It also opened my eyes to hard, yet often unseen work, of so many in our church body.  The school teachers, foster parents, adopted grandparents, who pour out their all for others, never asking for anything else in return.

And, men, don't worry.  While Jen is the main author, her husband, Brandon, does write in here as well. Every few chapters or so we get to see what was happening in his heart as Jen was going through this huge change in hers.

Jen's transparency and humor will make it really hard to put this book down. Especially if you are craving something more with Christ and the church, but you just aren't sure what it is!  I have the book and I am more than happy to start a waiting list for anyone here in Hannibal who wants to read it. Even though we aren't all called to start a new church, we are all called to love those whom God has placed us near, rich or poor, regardless of skin color.

Now, what to do with it? What does this mean for my life? My marriage? My family? I really don't know! I know that I will continue to be involved in Aferschool Adventures, but right now, I feel like that's all I know for sure. I want to BE the church. I want to love others as Christ loved them. I want to stop being selfish and love my husband, family, neighbors, and community with reckless abandon and in a way that screams Christ's name. I don't know what that means, yet, but I am so glad that my life has been interrupted and won't be the same.  I was so overwhelmed by this in church this morning as we were singing "Build Your Kingdom Here" by the Rend Collective Experiment. I couldn't hold it in or hold stay still. It was such the cry of my heart! Lord, build Your kingdom here, in my heart, in my house, in my church! Lord, lead. Lord, guide. Lord, teach and mold. I thank You for the changes in hearts and structure You are doing in our church. Help us to be willing to do whatever You ask, even if it means services look different, happen at different times or meet in different places. Move us to be a people in Christ and about Christ. Oh, Lord, revive us and pour Your Spirit out on us. I thank You that being the church looks different in each life so that the most people can be told about You. Show us how the McSmith house is to be the church, right where we are.

While a lot of this may be loving on the poor and the least of these in my community, it's about so much more than that. It's really about loving, period. Loving God and loving others, no matter who they are or where they are from. It means understanding that Sunday morning at 9:15 and 10:30 may not be the best times to gather if you want the lost to come and hear God's love for them with the gathered church. It means asking "them" to come to "us" just may not work and we'll have to do the hard and uncomfortable work of going to "them" and showing God's love to them over and over and over. It's not a one time thing. It's a relationship and relationships take work. That's why it's hard and uncomfortable. And that's why I know I will only be able to do it with God's help because it's certainly not something I would do on my own!

So, read the book. Ask God to show you what He would have you do. Then, go and do what He's asked!

Of course, I have to list some of my fave quotes (and it was really hard to choose...if you borrow the book from me you'll see lots of underlining!)

"Until we are compelled and contributing, we're settling for an anemic faith and a church that robs Christ followers of their vitality and repels the rest of the world...There is a call on our body that must be answered collectively."

"All of a sudden, I saw my exact reflection in Peter: devoted, but selfish, committed but misguided. And that is not going to be enough. It won't suffice to claim good intentions. Saying, 'I meant well' is not going to cut it. Not with God screaming, begging, pleading, urging us to love mercy and justice, feed the poor and the orphaned, to care for the last and the least in nearly every book of the Bible. It will not be enough to one day stand before Jesus and say, 'Oh? Were You serious about all that?'"

"This is what God taught me through Judas as Jesus' table, eating the broken bread that was His body: We don't get to opt out of living on mission because we might not be appreciated. We're not allowed to neglect the oppressed because we have reservations about their discernment. We cannot deny love because it might be despised or misunderstood. We can't withhold social relief because we're not convinced it will be perfectly managed. We can't project our advantaged perspective onto struggling people and expect results available only to the privileged. Must we be wise? Absolutely. But doing nothing is a blatant sin of omission. Turning a blind eye to the bottom on the grounds of 'unworthiness' is the antithesis to Jesus' entire mission. How dare we? Most of us know nothing, nothing of the struggles of the poor. We erroneously think ourselves superior, and it is a wonder God would use us at all to minister to His beloved."

I could go on and on, but, you should just read the book!!!

August 07, 2014

Year Number 4, Here We Come!

I can hardly believe it, but this will be our 4th year of homeschooling this year!  Sophie will be in 3rd grade and Ethan in kindergarten, so it's the first year of full-on, full-time school for both.  Yikes!  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't more than a little nervous!  But, I am so thankful that God has given me some amazing friends, both other homeschoolers and seasoned teachers with great ideas, to keep me going and help me be creative. My two kiddos are so different when it comes to how they learn and what they enjoy. I am praying I can keep up with both of them and keep it fun so they continue to enjoy learning.

A few things that have been going through my head:
-I think I am almost as nervous in year number 4 as I was in year number 1. If things don't go well there's nowhere else to place blame. The buck stops here!
-I have become a curriculum/book junkie. It is not good for the budget, which makes me thankful for yard sales and second hand stores so I can find some fun reading books. I am also thankful for the library!
-Homeschooling has tested and grown me in ways I never imagined. I feel so inept for this task and can only do it with God's strength and guidance. Prayer is so essential!
-Thankful for our home school group, HAHE. We have some great ladies willing to share advice and the kids really love the classes. Looking forward to some new adventures with that group this year.
-I think I have learned more in the four years we've been on this journey than I learned in all my years of school. I love learning alongside my kids each day.  It's so fun! It has also created a love of learning in me that wasn't really there before we started this journey.
-There's nothing quite like that moment things click and your child starts reading. I am a little jealous of those kindergarten teachers that get to experience this on a large scale each year. Reading is essential for everything else, so what a moment when they finally get it.
-I do, however, have a lot to work on as a teacher. Our virtually non-existent schedule needs some tweaking, I need to be better at preparing in advance, and I need to be willing to do more of the complicated experiments and projects. I need to be more consistent with waking and getting exercise done in the mornings so I can have more energy to start my day.

Lord, thank You for this calling on our family. It's not easy and it's not cheap, but it is what is best, at least for now, for our family. Help me to see it as a blessing each day. Help me to be prepared and eager to start each day. Lord, move in me and my children during this school year that we may see You in all we do an study.

August 05, 2014

Lord, Thank You for Afterschool Adventures!

About a year ago I uttered a short prayer.  Admittedly, it wasn't a heartfelt prayer, but one uttered out of obligation.  Deep down, I didn't really even want it answered because I knew God’s answer would not be the answer I would want.  But, I asked it anyway.  And I was right, His answer was far different from what I was hoping it would be.

I uttered a prayer asking God to show me how to live out my faith while loving and serving others in front of and with my children.  Instead of the answer I wanted, a short-term mission trip serving orphans and people I would most likely never see again, He sent an email from Jennifer Humiston about an afterschool ministry that was starting in the apartments across the street from the church.  I had plenty of excuses why it wasn't a good fit for us, but God shot down every single one.  So, with much hesitation, I agreed to go help each Wednesday afternoon.  My life has been forever changed. 

Though it wasn't in my plan, I fell in love with these sweet kiddos.  God used them to change my life and open my family’s eyes.  God has shown me that I don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth to serve the “least of these.”  They are in our own backyard. He opened my children’s eyes to see that there are those in need right here in our own town.

I have seen, week to week, God’s promise that His word will not return void come to life in front of my eyes.  Though my children are not saved, God continually uses them to share the truth of His word with the little ones we bring with us to Family Quest each week.  Many of these children had never read a Bible and therefore didn’t know many of the stories and passages that we learned about each week.  What a blessing it has been to see my children’s faces light up with joy as they tell their new friends all the details they can remember about each story.  What joy it is the next week to watch those Afterschool children light up with joy as they tell us what they remember from the week before.  His Word is true and He is faithful!

God has reminded me how deep His love truly is for me every time I look into the eyes of a little girl who loves a parent with such ferocity, whose biggest fear is to be separated from them, yet this parent clearly does not love her back with this intensity and care. It makes no sense to me! But, it makes no sense that a Holy God, whom I have ignored and treated cruelly, would send His Son to die in my place while I was in the midst of such sin and hatred toward Him. God is so good!

This has truly been a way for me to live out and grow in my faith, witness and disciple my children as I live life obediently, and it gets them involved in their community and sharing God’s truth.  They see the same things we do each week; the highs, the lows, the frustrations, and it’s still their favorite part of every week.  They can’t wait for Afterschool Adventures to start up again.   They are just as invested in this ministry as I am.  We love it!  Kevin comes when his schedule allows, so it’s really a family mission for us. This is the living out of Matthew 25, “…whatever you do to the least of these, you do it unto me.”