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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

All things new.

Our dear family friend, Bobby Michaels, passed away today in Thailand while on a ministry trip. He was 55 years old. It is hard to believe, to say the least. We wonder why, in the blink of an eye, God would choose to take one of His choice servants from the earth. A servant who passionately sought the Lord and furthered the Kingdom. Bobby's heart beat for the nations, that they would know the Jesus that loves them. Anyone who met him would decipher that within about 10 seconds of talking with him. :)

We are left now with memories. Though they are many and they are rich, we still grasp for what we really want: Bobby back. Without a doubt, that is not what he would want! He is where we all long to be: in the presence of the King. Maybe he is singing. Maybe he is bowing at His feet. Whatever he is doing right now, he is absolutely whole and we can rejoice in that.

My favorite of all of Bobby's recordings keeps playing over and over in my head today. It was a song called, "You Know Better Than I," originally recorded for the movie, Joseph, King of Dreams. The lyrics are hauntingly appropriate for this moment:

You know better than I
You know the way
I've let go the need to know why
For you know better than I

Our sadness and joy mingle. We grieve for us and rejoice for Bobby. Patiently, and often impatiently, we await the day when all will be made new and whole again. In the meantime, we will follow Bobby's example in proclaiming the Lord's great love for the people on this earth. Please join me in praying that Lee, his wife, as well as his son and daughter and grandchildren will experience unfathomable peace.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the paper!


The article came out today in the Tennessean! While all the details aren't exactly as we would've chosen (especially the title of the article - we laughed when we saw it!) it's a privilege to have our story told.


Comfort for today.

"All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the kingdom. You're suffering now, but justice is on the way. When the Master Jesus appears out of heaven in a blaze of fire with his strong angels, he'll even up the score by settling accounts with those who gave you such a bad time. His coming will be the break we've been waiting for. Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they've done. Eternal exile from the presence of the Master and his splendid power is their sentence. But on that very same day when he comes, he will be exalted by his followers and celebrated by all who believe—and all because you believed what we told you. But we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he's called you to be, pray that he'll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely."

2 Thessalonians 1:5-12, The Message

Saturday, March 21, 2009

9 little pots.

My little dumplings arrived home from the studio yesterday! I really loved my pottery class and cannot wait to take another one. These are all made with stoneware and are microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe, oven-safe, and food-safe. But I'd really like to work with porcelain next. It's a more difficult medium, but I just love the lighter, smoother look. Maybe next time, Shawn will even take a class with me! :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No false starts.

The other day, I vented on the phone to my best friend Jess.

"I just feel like we've had so many false starts." In other words, I pictured a clearer cut path in these just-out-of-college months. Get a job that's in line with what I want to do for the rest of my life (ha!), get married, purchase a home, and just glide through blissful married life until we're ready to have a kid or two. Ok, ok. Unrealistic, I know. But I was holding on to at least the good job part.

Jessica calmly replied, "There are no false starts with God. You don't want to be the person that just has everything handed to them. You want to be the one that has experienced trials that will shape your character. God wants that, too." Her wisdom never ceases to amaze me.

She's right. But it's not the answer that makes me sleep better at night.

So in choosing to look from this perspective - and I do - then I choose to look at each struggle in this season as a lesson gained. One life-point on the scoreboard. But really, you don't just gather a lesson, put it in a burlap sack, and lug it behind you as you travel on. These sorts of lessons need to seep into the fabric of our character, changing who we are in the best sort of way.

I want to try to put into words a couple of lessons that are just seeping in.

But before I do, let's go back to Summer 2008. Shawn and I are engaged, spending a perfect summer in Chicago, and praying and seeking the Lord about where we're supposed to land next. Nashville was an option, but after several closed doors there, Chicago seemed to be the best place for us to start out. We had friends and a sense of familiarity there. Ultimately, it was comfort that drove my decision (I can't speak for Shawn). We had heard the advice over and over to begin marriage in the least stressful way.

Little did I know I'd soon be learning a lot about what God thinks about "comfort." He's not too concerned about it. Of course He wants the best for our marriage. But from what we can tell, that plan never involved "comfortable." On the other hand, He knew that the struggles we'd experience straight after the honeymoon would plant us firmly on our knees together. I can honestly say I am more in love with Jesus and I am more in love with Shawn than I was on December 27th. And that, I know, can only be from God. On a side note, I love how my husband wakes up with me at the crack of dawn just so he can spend a few minutes with me before I head to work. I love how he packs my lunch and even puts lemon juice on the apples so they don't brown. :) I love that when I come home to an empty apartment, I can always find his open Bible on the table and know that He has spent time with Jesus. There are a thousand little things that make him the most loving, lovable man to me. I sense just a fraction of how God must love me because He put Shawn in my life.

So I still firmly believe that God wanted us in Chicago for this first part of our marriage, but for very different reasons than mine.

Lesson two. I've been dying to write about the school where I work, but for the sake of the privacy of the kids, have felt uneasy about it. I will say that I am madly in love with 18 beautiful babies. :) [The picture is not of my class, but was the only one I had from the school where their faces weren't all exposed. Felt better about putting it on the internet.] At the same time, this may be the most trying job I've ever had.

For these kids, I'm not even sure I want to know what goes on at home. I'm sure I would be sick. My kindergarteners write on their papers why their mommy or daddy got locked up. The 5-year-old boys ask the 5-year-old girls to be their "baby mommas." There are much more graphic things that I'd rather not get into. I hate that we live in a world where this is reality for these precious children.

While I never pictured beginning my "career" at an urban elementary school, I now can't imagine a better place. The kiddos crave affection like you've never seen, but display that need in vastly different ways. Some throw full-out tantrums (ok, many do that); others draw pictures of the two of us and light up when I praise their hard work (my favorite!).

At the same time, some of the people I work with have treated me (and everyone, for that matter) worse than I've ever seen. Their flagrant, shameless disrespect is appalling. On most days, it takes everything I have to just let their comments go. Everything I have not to wallow in bitterness toward them and how they treat me and, mostly, the kids. Forgiveness feels downright unfair. It's unreasonable and, to the world, senseless. But it's a choice I make for myself - to choose not to carry around their baggage - and it baffles them. I hope it always does. It's also a choice I make in faith that God will avenge. He will repay. That's not my job.

So as much as I love and loathe this job all at once, I feel caught in the "in-between" between right now and what's next. The mission field I've dreamed about for years is right here. No need to hop on a plane and traverse several time zones to find need. Need is calling out from every corner. And while I love our little downtown apartment with a myriad of restaurants and shops at our fingertips, there are days I miss living in a hut in the Amazon telling barefoot children about Jesucristo. Here, I can only picture being a vegetarian. But I would gladly eat rat and monkey brain again if that's where God had me.

Shawn and I feel like we're on the edge of our seats waiting to see His next move. More than ever, we are convicted to live simply - no debt, less "stuff" - allowing us to pick up whenever and follow God where He wants us. We sense the abiding peace and freedom that comes with leaving everything to radically follow Jesus literally wherever He has us.

Our lease is up in September and we're on the fence about whether or not we'll stay here. Our options are seemingly limitless. Teaching English in Asia? Joining the Peace Corps? We pray for wisdom and courage in equal doses. It's hard not to hold onto the idea of "upward mobility" by staying and pursuing a career of some sort. But when I search Scripture, I find only the opposite in Jesus. He sought humility, "downward mobility," and all for my sake. Wow.

I want to share a final story I found in one of my journals yesterday that was such a great reminder for me.

There was an American man who traveled to India because he wanted Mother Teresa to pray for him. (True story, by the way.) So he travels to Calcutta, finds her in the Home for the Dying, and says, "Mother Teresa, I desperately need you to pray for me."

She looks at him and asks, "And why is that?"

He tells her, "I need to know what God has for me. I need clarity in my purpose in life."

Mother Teresa looks at him and says stoically, "I will not pray for you." He is at a loss for words and gives her a puzzled look.

She goes on to say, "In all my years of knowing Jesus Christ, I have never had clarity. I have only had trust. So that is what I will pray for for you."

Isn't that what we all need more of? I know I do. We can go on asking Him for answers and wishing He would just spread His plan out on the table. Or we can trust that He is God and we are not and He is in complete control. Doesn't that sound so much better?

Not clarity, Lord, but trust. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

News...

A few days ago, we were contacted by a writer from the Tennessean (Nashville's major newspaper) who wanted to feature us as the "Couple of the Week"! From what I understand, it's a full article about our relationship, engagement, and wedding with a few pictures. Pretty fun!

So last night, we spent over an hour on the phone with the woman who is writing the article and tried to tell her our story from the very beginning. She was a believer, too, and was so encouraging about our future. What a blessing!

Look for the article in the March 29th issue of the Tennessean. I'm not sure if it will be online, but if it is, I'll be sure to say so. And yes, we'll make sure we get about 20 extra copies. :)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yummy comfort food.

Since I last posted about Shawn's job at the insurance company, he has actually quit and gotten a new job! The former job just wasn't a fit for him and for us. We literally only saw each other for about 30 minutes a day because of our clashing schedules. We are praising the Lord for this new job and are just so thankful to both be employed!

On that note, we had a lovely dinner tonight as a little celebration. You know... celebrating always means yummy food at our house.




The menu:

Chai Spiced Buttermilk Pancakes
Homemade mixed berry syrup
(I just brought frozen berries, sugar, and lemon juice to a boil then let it simmer into a sauce)
Chunky organic applesauce
Scrambled eggs with Italian cheeses


It was the absolute "comfort" meal and we savored every bite.

You must check out Joy the Baker's website. Her blog has tons of creative, easy recipes with gorgeous photos. It's my new go-to recipe website when I want to make something special and unique.

And speaking of recipes, I have a new favorite cookbook as well. Mama Newby gave me this one for Christmas, and it's actually written by a missionary friend of hers. It's called "O Taste & See" and I've been able to try 6 or 7 recipes so far and every single one has turned out fabulous! She is great at using everyday ingredients, too, which I appreciate. Our favorite so far has been the Overnight Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns. Delicious. You can order it here. Thanks Mama! :)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chicago, Chicago, What a Wonderful Town.

Sometimes I feel like a tourist in my own city. This weekend felt just like that and we had such a blast.

We set the tone for our lazy weekend by sleeping in Saturday morning and lounging around until lunch. After a long week, there's nothing better. It was a beautiful, sunshiny day, but still so cold. That still doesn't make sense to me. How can it be 35 degrees, horribly windy, and full sun?

Anyway, St. Patrick's Day is coming up on Tuesday. For the rest of the world, this wouldn't be a big deal. But for Chicago, it's apparently huge. Here, it mainly means lots of drinking while wearing obscene amounts of green. I think if ol' St. Pat walked around Chicago, he'd be pretty confused. :) We live above an extremely popular bar, so we usually go to sleep to the sound of drunk people yelling outside. Well, when we looked outside Saturday morning, the bars were already packed and lines of people were streaming out the door.

In the good category for St. Pat's Day, every year on the Saturday before, the Chicago River is turned a vivid green. Because this has always fallen on our Spring Break, Shawn and I had never seen it in person.

So we began our walk.

We had no real agenda, so we sauntered into the Museum of Contemporary Art. It's a free museum, so we just walked in and started looking at the first exhibit... until a security guard ran up to us in a huff and asked, "Where is your free visitor badge?" [And as he looked at my thermos of tea...] "Young lady, you know you can't have drinks in any of the galleries." Our question: if everyone is a free visitor, why do we all need badges? We didn't feel like waiting in the lengthy line to get a free pass (and we definitely didn't feel like battling that guy) so we headed back into the cold.

Next stop: the very green Chicago River. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of people crowding Michigan Avenue, all of whom wore green. Most of whom were drunk. But still a fun day and I always love masses of people.

We were not disappointed when we finally got to the river. It was GREEN as green can be! What a hilarious holiday!

On our way back to our apartment (we were feeling really cold by now, so we decided to head home) we passed by homeless people panhandling for cash, street mimes doing a performance, and the most interesting: more than 20 Chinese people practicing "Falun Dafa" along the sidewalk. Anyone ever heard of this? They handed us a brochure as we passed by and apparently it's a Chinese spiritual discipline that's composed of several meditational poses and is practiced by over 100 million people. I'm still not sure why it had to be on the streets of Chicago, but it looked like they were sitting down looking at their watches. We were confused and just loving how off the wall our city can be.

We ended Saturday with a yummy dinner at our favorite, Grand Lux, with our friends Grady and Leanne. What a perfect day.

Today after church, it was sunny again (thank you, Lord!) so we decided to venture out. We walked down Michigan Avenue once more - my favorite place to walk - and passed by a concert at Fourth Presbyterian that was open to the public. The North Dakota State University chorale was performing and they were incredible. Their first note we heard brought tears to my eyes, it was just so beautiful. What an unexpected worship experience.

This post seems a bit disjointed, but so did our weekend, so I guess that's fitting. We just love this quirky city. We have no idea how long we'll be in Chicago, but want to milk it while we're living in such an incredible location. Come visit us, please! :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Light changes everything.







































Dear Miss Sun,

It was wonderful seeing you today. It's been a while (ok... months) since you've come to visit, and I want you to know that you are always welcome. Come again soon and stay a while so we can feel your warmth on our faces and in our hearts. You liven up our city like nothing else.

Welcome back.

Love,
Whitney

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The sound of silence.

"Be still and know that I am God." This has to be one of the most difficult commands in the Bible. In these last two tumultuous (and, at the same time, beautiful) months, I've avoided stillness as much as possible. As a result, I am sure I have missed some things God wanted to say.

Tonight I revisited 1 Kings 19, a passage I preached a sermon on about a year ago in a class at Moody. I hope to write more about it in another post, but what God really pointed out to me was how Elijah had to be silent to hear the whisper of God. Elijah had to be still to be intimate with God and know him as his "friend."

Silence in and of itself is a form of worship. When the seventh seal was opened in Revelation, there was silence in heaven for half an hour. I think you'd agree: the world militates against our slowing down, much less our retreat into silence before God. We live distracted, fragmented lives for the most part, with information and activity overload. I think about my own life: my computer, iPod, cell phone, radio, TV. It gets a little ridiculous.

C.S. Lewis puts his finger right on it in
The Screwtape Letters. If you haven't read the book, it is a collection of letters between Screwtape, a secretary of the devil, and his nephew, Wormwood, instructing him in the best ways to tempt the followers of the Enemy, God:
My dear Wormwood:
Music and silence - how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell, no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but ALL has been occupied by Noise. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.
God speaks when we choose to be still and silent before him. Only then can our ears detect even the whisper of his voice, which is so often drowned out by the earth's loud cries, by noise. We cannot overlook how often Jesus took time to be still and silent. There seems to be a pattern in the Gospels - his healings and teachings were after he took time to be alone with God.

Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors, was a Catholic priest and professor at Harvard when he became so moved by the humility of Jesus that he made a life-changing decision to live with whom he considered the "poorest of the poor" - the mentally disabled - for the last 12 years of his life. In his first year living in the community, he wrote this in his journal:
Why should I spend an hour in prayer when I do nothing during that time but think of people I'm angry with, people who are angry with me, books I should read and books I should write, and thousands of other silly things that happen to grab my mind for a moment?
Can you relate? I can. I find myself distracted from the time I start praying to the time I finish and I even have to keep a list beside me of unrelated things to think about after I pray! I also know that I want results from my prayer. When I don't "hear" from God or am fundamentally moved in my spirit, I'm ready to stop, check "prayer" off my list, and move on. But God demands our faithfulness in this. As hard as it is, whether prayer is helpful, practical, or fruitful to us should be irrelevant because we are simply to be faithful and obedient, just as he has been faithful to us.

I am so encouraged by what Nouwen goes on to write:
The remarkable thing is that sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning - day after day, week after week, month after month - in total confusion and with myriad distractions - radically changes my life. God does not leave me waiting in the dark too long. I might think each hour is useless, but after thirty or sixty or ninety such useless hours, I gradually realize that I was not as alone as I thought; a very small, gentle voice has been speaking to me far beyond my noisy place.
As much as I'd like to end on that note, I feel compelled to do something about this instead of just hypocritically writing about it and telling everyone else to be silent. I'm committing now to spend 30 minutes every morning for the next 10 days in stillness and silence, waiting to hear from God. Maybe I'll pray or meditate on Scripture, but mostly, I just need to listen. I'll write about it here. I encourage you to do the same: to wait for the whisper of the One who loves you unconditionally, extravagantly, and passionately; the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy 60 Days!


This past Friday night, Shawn and I celebrated our 2 month anniversary! (It just so happened that neither of us was working that night, and we love an excuse for a candlelit dinner.)

In celebration, I put together a meal full of our favorites. Since I'm a vegetarian, that usually always includes salmon.

The menu:
Blackened salmon
Grilled asparagus
Wild rice
Mom's Golden Honey Pan Rolls
Limeade

For dessert:
"Sit and Stay Awhile" Apple Crisp
Side note: Thank you, Kirra, for introducing me to Joy the Baker!
Oh my goodness... phenomenal!


I think this was my favorite meal I've made for Shawn and I so far. The star of the show (no question) was the Golden Honey Pan Rolls - thanks Mom! I made them using a hot roll mix and the topping from my mom's recipe:

1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg white

Just mix these ingredients together, follow the directions on the hot rolls box, then drizzle this topping over the rolls before putting them in the oven. So easy and sooo delicious!