The London Times

“Quick” London update…

Sunday at Speakers Corner, we spoke to a lot of people. That’s why we were there. Apparently, every Sunday in Hyde Park, people gather there to talk abut politics, faith, and many other topics. Some people stood on ladders or step stools, others just stood in small groups to discuss. Some yelled, belittled, insulted, and interrupted. Others passed out information on their beliefs or wore signs.

Most of the faith talk was Christian vs. Muslim and much of that was heated. Before Women’s Development, I ran from conflict. I hid from it. I avoided it at all costs. But now I know the difference between conflict and direct communication and also see the value in pushing through some conflicts. Even so, I still did not expect to engage with anyone at Speakers Corner. God had other plans.

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I spoke to an atheist man who insisted that faith was nothing and logic was everything. He was tall and well dressed, and spat bits of chip in my face as he spoke. Though he dismissed me as a silly girl, I was able to share several truths with him: God created me, He did so to glorify himself, I exist to glorify God, and God has revealed this and other truths to me through his Word. Sharing these things with such an ardent atheist was a huge victory for me, as I rarely declare the Gospel to anyone but believers because of fear. My team members also had conversations about their faith, mostly dispelling falsehoods or misconceptions about Christianity.

Monday was a training day. We had two long sessions in evangelism and two long sessions about Islam. My hand ached at the end of the day from all of the note-taking I did. Great teaching. For lunch, we all wanted to get some fresh air, so we walked down the street for fish and chips. It was incredible! SO much better than what we get at home! And I also discovered a new love… ginger beer! This non-alcoholic beverage is refreshing and has a bite. I’m a fan.

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Tuesday morning included some practical training for the day ahead, and then we drove to a nearby neighborhood. We set up a book table with several Bibles and Christian books. Most were in English, but we also had books in Farsi, Arabic, and Somalian. In the US, I’d walk right by something like this, but here, people just walk up and start talking to you about the books. We also passed out Christian tracts– another thing that I’d walk right by in the US. I never take something someone tries to hand me in the street. I go around them or hold my hand up in a stopping motion and walk faster. Thus, I was extremely hesitant to pass out tracts. But I was wrong again– people not only take them, they stop and talk to you about them.

I was paired with Tiffany for these activities. We had a blast and met some really sweet people. Tiffany did have one encounter where a woman was quite angry, but she handled it with kindness and grace. What I loved about working with Tiffany was seeing how she will talk to anyone and has no fear about bringing up her faith and asking someone else about theirs. Her fearlessness was a blessing, and definitely helped me to do these activities that seem strange to me.

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One girl in my group was able to sit with a woman and share the entire Gospel with her. Most of us could see conversation happening and we’re able to pray for them as it was taking place. One major focus this year was to be able to declare the Gospel, and we celebrated this beautiful victory together!

Today, we once again began with training– our final Islam session. Then, we set out to meet people– what an assignment! Amanda, Jami, and I went to the mall. There, we met two women who we talked to for over an hour. I don’t talk to strangers at home unless they’re in customer service, usually assuming that people don’t want to be disturbed. But the ladies we sat down next to at the coffee shop and began to speak with enjoyed talking to us as much as we enjoyed them. We’re hoping they will join us on Friday in the park– please pray that they join us!

Tomorrow is our day off. Having already been to London, I have no need to see everything. I think I’m just tagging along with friends, more eager to spend some sweet time with them than anything else. These ladies and I have shared life for the past year. It’s been a tough and beautiful journey, and they have blessed me beyond measure.

Please pray for our safety and fellowship tomorrow. Pray for our park ministry on Friday– that we would be bold in conversation and that the kids who come would have a great time. Pray for safe travels as we return on Saturday. Thank you for partnering with me in prayer :)

Jet lag is tough stuff

Well, I’m not sure if it was all jet lag. I’m sure it had a lot to do with that toddler screaming through the entire flight, too. Either way, this room is full of some giggly zombies right now.

My entire missional community is one bunk room at the training center– all 11 of us. It would’ve been tough to be separated at this point. Going through an intense year of the Women’s Development Program and living life together for that time has bonding us uniquely. We’ve been talking about and preparing for London for so long that it is strange to actually be here living out this mission.

Today we had orientation and training. Tomorrow we have church service, and we’ll experience Speaker’s Corner. There, people of many faiths will be sharing/shouting what they believe. My goal is just to have a conversation about my faith with someone of a different faith. After that, we will head over to a church plant to serve there. It’s a big day.

Those of you praying for us, praise God that we all got here safely, and so did everyone’s luggage. Pray that we would bless our hosts and be good stewards of our accommodations. Pray for sweet and plentiful sleep tonight, and that we’d be on London time tomorrow. Pray that we would be bold and courageous tomorrow at Speaker’s Corner. Pray for our continued safety and at we would continue to sacrificially love one another, in spite of close quarters and little alone time.

And now… to sleep :)

Looks like we made it…

Currently waiting in the immigration line, but we are officially at London Heathrow!

We’re excited to be here– to learn and to serve. No one slept much at all on the plane… thanks to a screaming toddler. Pray for focus, energy, and patience today.

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Me and Laura on the bus :)

To smile and remember

One year! Woohoo!!! Brian put up with me for an entire year!!!

Yup. It’s our anniversary. One year ago today, amidst a monsoon, we entered into a covenant with God. We became man and wife.

What a year it’s been, and –thanks to the blog– I can look back at every day of it. So can everyone else. This blog has been part of the journey.

I just looked back and read my post from our wedding day. I cried. It was a beautiful day, in spite of the storm. It was a picture of the year to come– beauty, in spite of the rain.

Marriage is hard. We idealize it as single women, thinking that once we’re married, everything will be perfect. But instead of perfection, it shows you everything ugly and twisted about yourself. I’ve realized my need for God over and over and over this year. I shoot up prayers constantly: “help me love him better,” “help me forgive,” “help me get over my selfishness,” “help me to serve him even though I don’t like him right now,” “help me to love him like you love me.” I truly do not know how people stayed married without Jesus in the middle of their marriage.

And while I am seeing all of the ugly stuff inside of me bubble up to the surface, Brian is in front of me telling me how beautiful I am, how loving I am, how strong I am. I have never been more confident or comfortable in my own skin. He builds me up every day with his words and actions. For the first few weeks of marriage, the first thing I did in the morning was check to make sure he was still there– that he hadn’t left me. But a year later, I know Brian will be there, every morning, snoring away. He sees the ugly, but tells me I’m beautiful. He sees the tears and fear, and tells me I am strong. He sees me struggle, and he leads me in prayer.

I look back at year one and see so much beauty and joy that I can face the future confidently. No, I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know that Brian and I have learned (and are learning) to communicate well, to serve one another, and to keep God at the center of our marriage.

One year down, many more to go. Several struggles overcome, countless more on their way. But even as I type this, I have an image in my head of me grabbing Brian’s hand and running forward. And that’s what I think marriage is– you say yes to God and to one man, and then you run forward… together. I’m so glad to have Brian as my partner in this life– to love him and serve him and put up with him and point him back to God. And that’s what he does for me.

So today we smile and remember for this day one year ago. And then we turn and move forward towards more laughter and love, more trials and struggles, and to more days like today… to smile and remember.

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Breaking the fast

We’re at dinner with our community. Brian’s men’s group has been fasting for three days and tonight, they broke their fast together… with steak and potatoes.

I’m sitting in the living room with the wives, talking about TV shows and husbands and kids. I’m listening more than talking– beat from my week. It was quite a week at school, and there was very little else I had time for… including sleep.

Thusly, I wasn’t really around during Brian’s fast. When I was, I was grading, and not really present. So, I know we have a lot to talk about tomorrow when we get to look at each other’s faces and say more than a few words. Even so, I do have a few observations on Brian’s fast.

His group was fasting and intentionally praying through several things. Brian spent a lot if time in the Word over the last couple days. I saw it. And he was very calm and much more quiet than normal. He was also so sweet to me– even though I was tired and cranky and not very nice to him. He’s loved me well this week.

I expected Brian to be grumpy and complain a lot. I also thought he’d just try to sleep through much of it. I confessed this to him and he forgave me. I hate that I thought this of my husband. Instead of a curmudgeon, I got a sweet servant.

The men just came in from smoking cigars and the volume went up– I should probably get off my phone and go join my community.

Oh yeah– and my spring break started today. Bless the Lord! Couldn’t have come at a better time! More on that soon…

My story

I’m surrounded by stories.

Brian and I, as part of the Story Team, spent much of the Verge conference this past weekend at the Story Team van as we collected the stories of what God is doing all over the world. The best part was sitting in the van, just listening. Story after story, God was faithful and got all the glory.

Then on Sunday, we met up with a lady who would like to be on Story Team. We told her all about the team, how everything works, and what our experiences have been like. More stories.

And for the past month, my kiddos have been writing stories and making books for a contest. The big reveal is at an event in a half hour (thank the Lord!). It’s been all about stories in class for weeks. We brainstormed, we planned, we drafted. Then we revised and edited and published. We illustrated and them bound these books– and in all this I say “we” because I have literally been involved the entire way with all 43 student books. Last night, I stayed up until LATE to get them all graded. So. Many. Stories.

And then there’s this blog– our daily recounting of the story of year one for me and Brian. It’s so close to the end of this part of the blog, but of course, nowhere near the end of our story.

I’m surrounded by stories, I talk about stories, I teach stories, I help with stories, I tell stories… and I’m living a story.

One of my favorite authors says this about story:

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
 
I am blessed to help my students create stories, and to live even better ones. I am blessed to hear and write and edit stories of God’s grace and faithfulness. I am blessed to be living a good story. I am blessed to share my story here.
 
It’s not normal– this life of mine. But, according to Miller, it just means I found some meaning in life. And I have.
 
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.
–from “Blessed Assurance”

Thoughts on Verge

I have twenty pages of handwritten notes from this weekend. Twenty. So, you can see the trouble I’m having tonight in attempting to convey what I learned over the past two days at Verge. If you want the long version, call me and we can meet for coffee or a beer, because I am still too tired to even try to write all of that out. You’re getting the “I can’t stop thinking about this today” version of Verge.

All of the talks at this year’s Verge were about Making Disciples. Content and delivery differed greatly, and my mind was a bit chaotic during the sessions, attempting to take in all of these great ideas and thoughts and truths.

Today, I kept thinking about family– specifically treating people like family. Yesterday, Dave Gibbons gave a talk where he shared that when we think of disciple-making, we should think “home”– specifically family. I should treat others the way I would treat family– invite them in, eat with them, share my things, live life together.

I started to think about the people who challenge my patience, or those who I think are living lives they shouldn’t. Jesus has called me to love these people, but sometimes that feels very abstract to me and I find myself not knowing how to love them. Treat them like family. I’ve been thinking a lot about this today– with specific faces coming to mind and then wondering how I would act towards that person if they were my sibling. It’s challenging, yes, but makes a lot of sense to me. I will continue to think on this.

Other things that keep coming to mind today are the stories I heard in the Story Team trailer. Normally on Story Team, we tell the stories of what God is doing in our own church. At Verge, we invited people from all over the country to come in and share.

The Airstream trailer was set up beautifully. At the far end, bright cushions invited the interviewer and guest to plop down. The narrow counter tops held framed photographs portraying some of what we do– a camera man filming a couple on a couch, or the story trailer/van from last year’s Verge conference. Vintage cameras and film filled in the empty spaces. Accordioned gray baffles lined much of the curved walls and black and white rugs covered much of the faux hardwood floor. A large microphone stand sat in the middle of the trailer, its long arm reaching towards the guest.

I spent much of yesterday in the trailer listening to the stories of women. They told of hardships and struggles, or the dark and messy parts of life. Then they would tell of prayer  and reconciliation and miracles and redemption. God is moving and he is doing amazing things all over the place. These were just regular women, but they told powerful stories they were ministering to my heart. They reminded me that nothing is impossible for God and even with weak faith in him, he still does great things. I have less fear today. I look at the future differently today.

The final bit of Verge that wouldn’t leave me alone today was the music. I sang the songs from this weekend’s many worship times over and over. I even surprised Brian by playing Propaganda’s album this morning as we did chores. Propaganda was a surprise guest last night, performing a song with the band. Brian is not used to me choosing to listen to rap. Today may have been the first time ever. But he speaks truth and writes thought-provoking and rhythmic lyrics. I really like it :)

I was missing my Story Team family today, after all the hang-out time we got this weekend. Brian and I met with a potential new writer today to share with her the vision of the ministry and get to know her, and all I wanted was to tell her about our amazing weekend and the trailer and the stories. Brian kept me in line, though. Glad I have him for that ;-)

Verge day one

My head is so joyfully chaotic right now that I can’t quite think straight to write.

I have pages of notes after a entire day of truth-filled teaching. I feel like Brian and I have so much to talk about! We sat next to each other all day, taking all of this in side by side, but now I would really like to process it with him.

While I don’t have words right now, I do have photos…

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Verge is taking place at the Moody Theater, home of Austin City Limits Live.

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Worship was amazing– the Aaron Ivey Band and Jimmy McNeil :)

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The Story Team had its own workshop– one of the best parts of the day. So blessed to be a part of this team!

Excited for day two, tomorrow!

Friday-on-Thursday

It’s my Friday! Woohoo!

I put together my sub plans, ran my errands, picked up Chuy’s, and came home to plop on the couch with my husband. The greatest part of Friday-on-Thursday is that there’s better TV :) Brian and I enjoyed our favorite Tex-Mex and watched that better TV. We both thought back and neither could recall the last time we did this. Literally.

Brian and I are going to the Verge conference tomorrow in downtown Austin. We’re both pretty excited. Several favorite pastors are coming to speak, and we may be most excited about the Story Team trailer set up outside the conference. Conference goers have signed up for slots to come in and share their stories of what God is doing in their lives. I can’t believe I get to be a part of that!

I’m excited about the conference, but honestly, I’m really excited about a hot date with my pillow– at 9pm!!! Don’t judge–it’s been a long four day week ;-)

Loud, ugly, and stupid

Last night, I posted from our date night. I entitled the post “Sweet sweet evening”. And it was, for most of the evening. Then, we got home.

I’m pretty sure the neighbors heard us yelling. It was loud. It was ugly. It was stupid.

We were tired, and an argument broke out. But in the midst of trying to be heard, our motivations both changed, mutating into something neither of us desire for our relationship. So, we yelled. We were mean. We wanted to be right. We forgot our love, our vows, and our God, and both selfishly went down a road that leads to nothing.

There were apologies before bed. There were more this morning. And then, on the way to church, I asked, “Do I need to edit last night’s post?” We both groaned.

Our family reads the blog. Coworkers read it. Our friends read it. Strangers read it. We set out to be honest here– delivering an honest daily account of year one. But no one wants to read that a date night ended in an epic fight. I hate to write it. But that’s what happened.

I wish the clear headed version of myself from today could step into last night and slap the angry, selfish person I was then. I vowed to Brian that I would put his needs ahead of my own. I vowed to love him selflessly. But I didn’t remember any of that last night. All I knew was that I was hurt and I wanted my hurt to be known.

The biggest enemy to my marriage is in me– my own selfishness and pride. If I seek my own desires and put myself first, I will destroy this marriage.

I told my beloved this morning, as I held him in my arms, that I never wanted to yell at him again. I told him that I love him and I’m sorry for everything.

He forgave. I forgave.

We had a great day today. We even told our friends about the fight at church. We told another group at lunch. We both admitted fault and would squeeze the other’s hand as we spoke.

We promised to be honest, so here it is: Marriage is difficult. Sometimes, even on date night.