Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday ten: #millersbecruisin

My family loves to cruise. In 1982, my parents went on a cruise to Jamaica for their honeymoon. Our immediate family went on a cruise in 2007, and then we had a little family reunion cruise in 2010 with my dad's side of the family. Needless to say, I was super excited to join them again on a cruise to Grand Cayman and Cozumel this past week. Here's some of my favorite memories from our wonderful week together. Sadly, I left my camera memory card at home, so all of these pictures are from my iPhone. Not too shabby, but not what they could be.

1. Watching the sun go down over the water was like having a front row seat at a show where God just did what He does best. I certainly felt small as I watched the sun go down and disappear into the water.

2.  We do not have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my extended family, so the time we do have is precious. I loved laughing, playing, and dancing with my family last week- young and old.

3. Just being on vacation, away from my normal routine, is a treat in itself. Relaxation and rest were abundant on this trip. It didn't hurt that our surroundings were gorgeous.

4. I love to eat. That is no secret. I'm just going to be honest with y'all and tell you that I gained almost three pounds in the five days we were aboard the Carnival Paradise. And every little calorie was worth it. :)

5. Sightseeing was a blast, especially when we were led around the two islands by such entertaining tour guides.

Hell, Grand Cayman- black, limestone formations named quite appropriately.

6. I absolutely loved being in Mexico again. It was so special for me to be able to talk with the locals and visit with them. The thing I love most about the Mexican culture is that they immediately adopt you into their hearts with no reservations. The mother and son in this photo were so sweet to my sister and I; they gave each of us a little gift for shopping at their stand!

7. Karaoke was a blast on our last ship, and this time, my dad, uncle, and cousins did not disappoint as "The New Temptations."

8. The staff aboard the Carnival are all so wonderful and personable. One of the best parts of each cruise we have taken has been our dinner waiter. Septa, our new friend from Indonesia, had us rolling with laughter every single night.

9. The best part about traveling with eighteen (yes, eighteen) other people is that the fun is magnified. Our family was constantly making other families jealous (my assumption) because we had so much fun everywhere we went. Here's some of them breaking it down at a bar on the beach. We just can't behave.

10. Beautiful scenery is to be expected in the Caribbean, and I was so astonished at the beaches we visited this time. I especially loved Cozumel. My sister and I spent the day at a beach club, and it was honestly one of my favorite days on a vacation-ever.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

on women empowering women

If there is one thing I am passionate about in the Church, it is definitely the gathering of women to read His word and to encourage one another. While in Uganda, I had the privilege to speak to a group of women who call themselves the Daughters of Destiny. While in Uganda, I loved visiting the village churches and seeing the young children at school. It was a privilege and an honor to be welcomed into people's homes as we walked through the villages. But I also knew that there was a specific reason why I had come to Uganda-there was an experience or a lesson to be learned that the Lord intentionally prepared for me. And until Saturday, when I was able to sit with an amazing group of women and just talk about the Lord, I had not seen that thing yet.

As someone who has attended church since I was in the womb, the Lord has given me myriad opportunities to be mentored and discipled by various women outside of my family. My own mother is an incredible woman. She is strong and faithful to those she loves. She works tirelessly to meet the needs of so many others, yet she is quick to recognize and understand when she needs rest. She taught me not to be ashamed of taking naps. :) I admire her so very much, and love her beyond words. But there is value in the variation of experiences offered when women of different backgrounds come together and find each other within genuine community.

Through the years, the Lord has been more than generous to me by providing women in the church who have been mentors and friends to me in each stage. From middle school to college and post-grad life, I have been blessed to know some incredible women. Walking through life with other women does not have to be anything fancy or difficult. It does not have to be something complicated or intrusive. But it does need to be authentic. And I can say, gratefully, that in addition to my own mother, there have been so many women in my life who have been authentic with me-showing me what it means to be a woman after God's heart in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. For that I am forever grateful.

With my mentor from middle school to college, Lindsay Sebesta. She used to be my babysitter!

Beautiful women of Capilla Calvario Chihuahua Church in Mexico at the women's retreat. So many women in this picture were so pivotal during my time there.

Titus 2:1-5 states

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women are likewise to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God not be reviled. 

Oh, there is so much to unpack in these verses. For right now, let's pay attention to the general plea that Paul makes in his letter to Titus- the importance of generations impacting generations. No matter how old you are, people look to you, and you look to others. As a twenty-something, I look to women in their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties to understand my self. And girls who are in high school and college look to me, knowing that it was not long ago that I stood in their shoes. The responsibility of a woman after God's heart is to recognize her impact on not only those who are in her immediate care (if she is a mother) but also to understand that her spiritual sisters are watching her, too. And they are taking note of each move she makes, watching to see how they should walk.

With lifelong friends from growing up at Piedmont Church who I know will be around for quite some time.

The fab four- precious college friends from UGA.
Let's go back to Uganda, shall we? As I sat with these women and looked into their eyes, listening to their questions as they sought to know and understand the characteristics of a Proverbs 31 woman, the Lord made it clear to me why He had brought me there. We (Americans) have so many resources available to us- Christian books, music, Bible studies, conferences, retreats, podcasts, apps, etc. These women are hungry for the Word and ready to grow deeper, but they do not have those resources. So Lord willing, next year we will return with a group of women who are ready to pour into these ladies through a women's conference. God can do anything in and through His people. And so we sit at His feet, waiting to see what He does with our willing hearts.

With a sweet Ugandan sister, Happy Betty on our last night in Uganda.

I just finished reading an amazing book that I was just certain I would hate: Jesus Feminist. It challenged me in the best ways, calling out deeply held beliefs and putting them against the Word as the true and final authority. The author, Sarah Bessey, writes

Women are hungry for authenticity and vulnerability, real community- not churchified life tips and tricks from lady magazines. These can be fun, even relationship building, but surely it's not the whole picture...We are seeking Jesus- we want to smell him on the skin of others, and we want to hear tell of his activity. We are seeking fellow travelers for this journey. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell stories and listen, to love well, to learn how to have eyes to see and ears to hear. We want to be part of something amazing and real and lasting, something bigger than ourselves.

We seem to think as women that we are not powerful-that because of our genetic makeup, there are certain things we just can't do. But God has equipped us to be kingdom movers and shakers. And it's about time we do just that as we pour into the next generation while learning from the one before.

This post is a part of She Shares Truth, a weekly writing challenge for women who are a part of the She Reads Truth community. Take a look at this post to read more about spiritual motherhood.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tuesday ten: what I love about summer

While we may not have experienced the summer solstice, school's out, so it is summer time to me. Without further adieu, here are ten things I'm loving thus far about this summer.

  1. Spontaneity. It's nice to not have work get in the way of being able to make plans.
  2. Spending time with friends I don't get to see as much during the school year.
  3. Reading for pleasure and not worrying about a "reading hangover" the next morning.
  4. SUMMER SKIES. The sunsets=epic. Our God is amazing. 
  5. Babysitting for kids that are growing up too fast.
  6. Ice cream. Popsicles. All the cold sweet things.
  7. Summer salads.
  8. Getting home from a long run at 9 p.m. and it's not even dark.
  9. Crafting and working on projects for the house.
  10. Not setting any alarms that go off before 7 a.m. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Uganda Part I

Friends, the journey to Uganda is long. Our team traveled for more than one day to get to our final destination of Gulu, Uganda. The travel itinerary was from ATL-DC-Amsterdam-Rwanda (We just sat on the plane)-Entebbe, Uganda. The flights from DC to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Rwanda were the longest flights I had been on, ranging from seven to eight hours each. However, we flew with an awesome airline (shoutout to KLM International) that fed us literally every two hours. We also were able to watch movies and television on our personal screens on the seat backs in front of us. So we didn't suffer too long.

Robbie, Pastor George, Antonio and I at our hotel in Kampala.

Upon our arrival in Uganda on Monday night, we were greeted and picked up by Pastor George. We went to a delicious roadside restaurant for a little midnight snack of chicken and chips (fries), and then drove to our hotel, which is apparently a nice one, because the Ugandan pope stays there. :) That night, we were all exhausted, even though it was only Monday afternoon to our Eastern hemisphere bodies. The flights we took were the longest flights I'd ever endured, so I was thoroughly exhausted.

Kampala neighborhoods and city outskirts, right behind our hotel.
While Robbie has traveled to Uganda several times, Antonio and I were both experiencing everything about Africa and Uganda for the first time together. We quickly learned about "Ugandan time" and realized that a schedule or itinerary would only be loosely followed. The next morning, we were able to sleep in a bit and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, which would be fuel for a long ride from Kampala to Gulu. The drive to Gulu was long. As in, eight hours long. Ha. Due to poor roads and a van that is barely hanging on for life, we had quite the journey to our destination. But we made it without a scratch, and along the way we also saw some stereotypical "African" things, such as baboons, an elephant, and the Nile River! I was struck by the beauty of the landscape-the lush green and the rolling hills. While the journey from Kampala to Gulu was long, it was wonderful to see so much of the Ugandan countryside as we traveled on dusty roads through village after village.

The elephant friend we saw on the side of the road. 

Street market. That pineapple was the jam. Just sayin'.

Our hosts for the week were Pastor George and his sweet wife, Irene. We were also accompanied by a few little housemates-George and Irene's three adorable children. A couple girls who serve as house helpers also live with them. Regardless of whether "the Americans" are in town, they usually have a full house! One thing that struck me was the sense of community that pervades every part of life there. The people live close to one another and are focused on relationships. Each night, when we returned from the villages, we were welcomed with a meal and a time of relaxation and fellowship. On more than one occasion, the pastors and church leaders we worked with through the week also joined us. It was clear that people were valued and welcomed on a regular basis, not just during our stay. On our first night, we ran through the itinerary and decided where the focus of our time should be spent: encouraging and visiting the people of the village church plants. I'll be back to share more about those villages in part II!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tuesday ten: summer bucket list

Hiking with friends in North Georgia last summer.

Tybee Island, Georgia

Washington, D.C. with the besties

Yes, I know it's Wednesday. But it's summer time and so there is a little extra grace, right? Friends, I am so glad that it is summer. As a teacher, I do not take my summer lightly or for granted. I am oh so very grateful for time that I have to relax and spend with friends and family. So today's Tuesday ten is dedicated to that blessed season for which I have the highest hopes.

Summer 2014 Bucket List

  1. Take a beach trip.
  2. Go pick strawberries at Washington Farms and then make something delicious with them. 
  3. Go paddle boarding at Sandy Creek Nature Center.
  4. Attend my first Braves game. (Yes, I know I should be ashamed of myself.)
  5. Try at least three new restaurants in Athens.
  6. Take a day trip to Helen with church friends.
  7. Visit Terrapin/Creature Comforts breweries.
  8. Get the Love Bags outreach project up and running.
  9. Go to a painting/pottery class with my Timothy Road friends.
  10. AthFest! :)

Monday, June 2, 2014

on true wealth

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
-Matthew 5:3

And a ruler asked Him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.' And he said, "All these I have kept from my youth." When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" But He said, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." And Peter said, "See, we have left our homes and followed you." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life."
-Luke 18:18-30

In America, we pride ourselves on being number one. You hear people say that we live in the greatest country on Earth, and people have strong ties to our nation. There are many who greatly enjoy celebrating the freedoms we have as American citizens, as they should. But there is also a side of America which is sadly self-involved and self-serving. We look out for ourselves and do not take the time to get to know the people around us. There are people around us in our workplaces and neighborhoods who are broken and hurting, but we prefer to stay inside our big houses and do what is best for us-binge watch Netflix shows or dream about our next remodel by perusing Pinterest. 

Yet there is so, so much more to this life we have been given. I say all these things not as a bitter diatribe but as a wake-up call to us as believers. Our lives are not our own. We have been crucified with Christ, and our freedom in Christ is not for us to pursue our own selfish pleasures, but to pursue righteousness. In America, we have so many distractions. Our social media worlds are available to us 24/7/365 due to our smart phones. Cable television has hundreds of channels, and Netflix has hundreds of movies. We have stores with thousands of products available for our one stop shopping needs. 

And yet we find ourselves empty. We are the abusers of alcohol and drugs who self-medicate. We numb out through social media and ignore our consciences that tell us we should go talk to that neighbor or call that friend. Our lives, when lived for ourselves, are empty and lackluster.

So Jesus says that the answer is not found in the accumulation of more things, but in His kingdom. Interesting how He always turns our worlds upside down in the light of His holy perspective. According to the Scripture above in Luke, it is a miracle that anyone in America is a follower of Christ. Because whether we choose to believe it or not, the majority of us are very, very wealthy. 

Consider the following statistics:

  • 80% of the world's population lives on less than $10 a day.
  • Half of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day.
  • The poorest 40% of the world's population accounts for 5% of global income. The richest 20% accounts for three-quarters of world income.
  • Twenty-two thousand children die every day due to poverty-related reasons.
  • Around 27-28% of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted.*

We cannot ignore or argue with the facts. So what do we do in light of them? How then should we live?

Uganda, much like many of the nations on the continent of Africa, is a third world country. Yet it's inhabitants are a people who live in community. They love one another. And the believers I was privileged to meet have an unshakable hope that is found in Jesus alone. Their life-free of distractions that bog so many Americans down and enslave them to the fear of man- is one we should envy. Yes, they are financially poor. But their lives are a beautiful reflection of Christ, because they know that in Him is found joy and lasting contentment that cannot be replaced by material things. 

Lord, may we learn to find our all in You alone, because You will always be more than enough.

*Anup Shah, "Poverty Facts and Stats," Global Issues, last updated January 7, 2013, http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats.


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