You Only Live…Twice?

Dear Child of Mine,

First you should know that you helped me in writing my Tuesday night message for the young teen camp at Somerset Beach. Thanks for listening. I was their speaker for the week (me?!?) and had nine messages to prepare. I have never had trouble with public speaking, but the topic-choosing, pick a point and nail it, keep the audience’s attention and send them away changed? Not so much (experience.) But WOAH! What an awesome opportunity. What a fantastic experience. I am so thankful for my week and for the ways I was changed. I am more courageous thanks to the teens who listened and responded to my sermons (can I call them sermons?). Here is what I spoke to them about one night:

July 28, 2014

I want to tell you the truth about Life. Lately I’ve been hearing the newly-coined acronym “YOLO” being used in teen’s conversations. I see it on their Facebook pages. I see it in Instagram hashtags. I see it on tshirt designs. I see it on tv. It’s invading the minds of students across the country, and I’m here to preach a different message.

YOLO is short for “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.” Its intention is to open up our minds and set us free to do whatever makes us happy, to live boldly, recklessly, with no fear or apology. This doesn’t sound all that bad, I have to be honest. I mean, why shouldn’t we live each day as if it were our last? But the problem is that the YOLO mentality gives us the excuse to live in sin. If you only live once, then why not…try drugs… or drink alcohol… or have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend…or send that inappropriate Snapchat picture… or binge on a bag of chips… or stay out all night?

But I agree with what my friend Paul has to say about sin (my paraphrase of Romans chapter 6):

Just as the result of Adam’s one sin was punishment for all people, so also was the result of Jesus’ obedience to death on the cross the justification that brings LIFE for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man every single one of us were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man all of us can be made righteous.

The more sinful the world became grace increased so that, just as sin won in death, so grace can reign through Jesus Christ who brings eternal life.

What should we say, then? Do we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

For we know that our old self was crucified with Jesus so that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has allowed their sinful nature to die with Christ has been freed from sin.

Count yourselves dead to sin but alive in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin rule in your physical body by obeying whatever evil it desires. Instead, offer yourselves to God, to be used for good. For sin shouldn’t be your master, because you are living in the freedom that comes with grace.

 

I hope that made a little bit of sense to you. The point is if you believe in Jesus and claim the forgiveness he offers us through his death on the cross, then your day to day life should be different – set apart from those around you.

Because of God’s great mercy given to us through Jesus, we should not live like the rest of the world. The pattern of life around us would say we should steal and lie and cheat and destroy and get revenge. But that type of living only leads to death. If we let sin rule us, we can’t live a full life on earth and we won’t receive the reward of life eternally spent with God.

July 28, 2014

But what does it mean to live a “full life”? It means believing God’s plan is best and beautiful. It means trusting Jesus when he says, “In this world you will have trouble. But TAKE HEART! I have overcome the world.” It means knowing that God will meet our every need. It means living in such a way that everything you do matters in light of eternity.

A full life is characterized by living at peace with those around you. (Yes, even your annoying little sister or that mean kid on the school bus.)
A full life is lived by someone who can never get enough of God.
A full life can be seen in the love that nearly drips from someone’s every day encounters, leaving each person touched by the deep love of Jesus.
A full life lets all of the striving cease. We can stop working toward perfection, and let God do the work in us.
A full life offers forgiveness freely, even when it’s not deserved.

Yes, life is hard. But God hears your prayers. He knows your heart, he knows your pain, he knows your hopes and dreams. I believe His heart breaks when we’re sad or hurt. He longs to protect us because we’re his children. But a lot of times, his protection comes in the form of our option to obey. If we choose to do live life OUR way, there may be negative consequences that God wanted to spare us from. But we can trust his plan even when we can’t turn the page and know what’s coming next. I promise you, His plans are perfect. His ways are higher than ours, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. I’d trust him if I were you.

July 29, 2014

And beyond all of this day to day living we have ahead of us, we don’t have to fear death. Because whenever the end of our physical life approaches us, we can rest assured that we’re about to meet our Savior face to face. We get to continue the full life into eternity, being made perfectly into who God created us to be. We’ll spend our eternal life – our second life – with no pain, no sadness, no fear. We won’t have to strive to spend time with God because we’ll get to be with him forever and ever. I believe that eternity isn’t just sitting on clouds and playing harps and singing all day long. I believe eternity is going to be everything wonderful about our lives on earth only a MILLION times better. I can’t even fathom it’s goodness.

And all of this – the full life now, and the eternal life later – is offered to us through Jesus. His death brings us life. All we have to do is say YES.

True Sabbath

Child,

I’ve been a Jesus follower almost as long as I can remember. Sunday church is as much a part of me as sleeping or eating. I’ve known that one of the Ten Commandments is

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Exodus 20:8

Yet, I confess, I am only now beginning to understand the true practice of Sabbath.

I am so thankful for Ruth Haley Barton and her book Sacred Rhythms. I have been slowly working my way through its pages, trying to let the disciplines transform me. Last week I arrived at the chapter on Sabbath. And it rocked my world.

The day itself is set apart, devoted completely to rest, worship and delighting in God. pg 134

As I read Ruth’s reflections on the heart of Sabbath, on how our task-oriented lives require rest and returning to God, on how restorative a true adherence of Sabbath can be, I was completely hooked. I could hardly wait for my day of rest to come. (And I’m already looking forward to the next one. This is a wonderful repercussion of true Sabbath – the eager expectation of it’s rhythm in the midst of life.)

And so with the wisdom and experience offered by this soul-sister, I set out listing the activities that would nourish me, body, soul and spirit, and I was intentional to describe those tasks that I must set aside for the day.

Do whatever delights and replenishes you. p. 142

Your Daddy and I have set aside Monday as our Sabbath. Given the fullness of work and ministry, of achieving and accomplishing, of tasks and to-dos on Sundays in the life of a ministry family, we need to be intentional to carve out a different day of rest. We talked about guidelines and what desires each of us held for the day. We completed extra tasks on Sunday afternoon to help clear the clutter from the upcoming day. And before Monday even dawned, I already felt relief. I was no longer wondering if I needed to rest or “do” on Sundays. I no longer felt guilty for entering into a day of true rest and worship. A burden lifted as I let God take the busy work from my ever-scrolling thoughts, trusting He will help me see them through…later.

Waiting for my cup of tea, I worked on the music theory behind Sweet Hour of Prayer... When the beauty of the moment struck me...
As I went to bed Sunday night, having intentionally decided not to set an alarm, I told God I would trust him to wake me up whenever He desired. I was impressed when I was wide-eyed at 5am and already eager to get to God. With candles lit and quietness surrounding me, I spent more time than ever alone with the Lord, gaining insight into his word and most importantly having him instruct my heart to

Cease striving.

I spent an hour of time doing yoga as a form of worship and allowing my body to release the tension it instinctively stores. You dad and I then took a long walk together (one of my favorite things), talking about everything under the sun, including what I had uncovered in the Scriptures that morning. It was just 9am when we returned and I set out doing what I love – cooking a deliciously large brunch. We ate bacon, eggs, strawberries and cornmeal pancakes, and then retired to the sunny living room with a cup of coffee. Throughout the remainder of the Sabbath, we each did our best to follow the lead of the Spirit. Naps were taken, cookies were baked, sun was soaked in, letters to friends were written, books were read, piano was practiced, and games were played. As the sun set and darkness rolled in, I sat on the back porch with my candle lit, writing my thanks to God for the gift of this day.

I can hardly believe what I was missing out on all this time, and I’m so looking forward to continuing the intentional practice of Sabbath each week. Child, we can’t wait to spend time resting with you on this sacred day, helping you to delight in God and his good gifts to us.

Love,

Mama

 

Home Away from Home

Dear Little One,

Your daddy and I can’t wait to have you with us at Family Camp.

You see, for the past ten years of our lives we’ve been in a constant state of flux. First it was off to college, then summers of working at camp, then two major moves across three states in our first six years of marriage. The one thing that has remained constant is Somerset Beach Camp.

Kevin has been attending Southern Michigan’s Free Methodist Family Camp since he was in utero; he’s only missed a few in recent years. I became an SBC girl during my first summer of working there. I was a youth camp counselor in 2005, then I returned in 2007 on the housekeeping staff, and after your dad and I were married we lived on the grounds in 2010 while I worked in the office and he worked programming. Regardless of the number of employment years we’ve spent at Somerset, there’s something about those dirt roads, the serene lake, the trusty buildings and the faithful people that whisper,

Welcome back. You’re safe here.

This past week the Eccles family (well, the Kevin Eccles family) reserved their very own campsite for Family Camp. We were just around the corner from Mom and Dad Eccles and Grandma and Grandpa Arvidson. The week was spent rekindling old friendships, recounting wonderful memories, and retiring around the campfire. The days were shockingly cool given mid-July averages. I wore jeans and a sweatshirt most days, and donned socks each night in bed. (That’s a major indicator of cold for me. I can never wear socks to bed.) I know a few people were very disappointed in the chillier temperatures, but your daddy and I were quite content. It was wonderful.

2014-07-15 10.46.59

We slept past our alarms each morning and plodded to the bathhouse with mussy hair for all (of the other early risers) to see. Coffee perked as I made up the blankets on our air mattress, and bowls of cereal sufficed for breakfast. I spent lengthy times in solitude with God, craving the peace and freshness that His Spirit brings. The outdoors, the stillness of the morning, the sacred gathering of kindred spirits opened my heart to the words of the Lord.

2014-07-15 12.48.49

Kevin was able to play tennis with his brother and go golfing with his dad, and I got to make many new friends at the Pastors’ Wives lunch. We had ice cream at Freddie’s Freeze with our dear friends Jeff and Ruth (Bradstreet) Tyson and played with their 5 month old, Jenna. Todd and Katrina Crouch showed up one afternoon and along with Kyle Anderson, your dad and I had a great time catching up with them. There were sweet conversations with dear friends such as the Andersons and the Wiards, the Lukes and the Rhodes,  and so many others who have watched your dad (and me) grow up.

Evening worship was refreshing. There’s something about having a group of people from across many different congregations coming together and singing praise to Jesus in one voice. The messages of the morning Bible Studies and marriage sessions contained threads of reminders I needed to hear. Your dad and I had lots of good conversations as we discussed our thoughts on the matters of Flag Page personalities and how they affect our marriage.

And you know what? That’s just a snippet of our week at Family Camp. Won’t it be wonderful to have you along for the week? You’ll love the kids worship each morning and the marshmallow roasting at night. I can’t wait to have you with us to bring that added excitement and energy, watching as you look eagerly at the big kids playing four square and the families swimming in the lake. I’m fairly certain having you along will mean a lot more work and focused attention, but I still can’t wait. I love knowing that we’re going to be following in the steps of Grandpa Eccles who wrote in his recent autobiography,

I was saved at Family Camp. That caused me to plan to have my children attend Family Camp just as I had done as a child.

Come quickly, Child.

Mama

Pruning Hurts

Dear Child of Mine,

Today was filled with lots of dirty work, the grit and grime of housekeeping that only gets done because of my deep sense of responsibilityIf I don’t clean those windows and vacuum their screens and shorten the mini blinds and wash the deck chairs who will?  Maybe I have high standards, maybe I’m high maintenance, but I just like my space to be clean and tidy every once in a while. Moving into a house where others have lived leaves my subconscious aware of the dust and germs that aren’t mine. Part of me wants to just ignore it. But I’ve been there, done that. The best option is just to straighten up, pull on my big girl pants, and get the job done. (But only when the mood strikes. I work best when I wait until the mood strikes.)

IMG_3184

In the midst of all this cleaning, I had some wonderful conversations with three different loves of mine from Albion. Each one expressed the pain of missing me, no longer able to take it for granted that I’m a few streets away, couch waiting for them. They’re managing as best they can, but I think it’s still hard for them to come to terms with why we left. I know there are times that I wish I could have the best of both worlds, all of my worlds, together, tucked in around me.

My heart aches with and for those in New York who are asking, “Why.” And I look around me and see there is still much work to be done on this new home, in this new town, with this new family around us. But my work allowed my heart to resonate with the words of Ann Voskamp’s blog post.

It can be hard to prune good things that are blooming. It can be hard to remember why you are pruning.

Because there’s a counter-intuitiveness to it, this plucking off certain life activities that will yield good fruit. Some might even think it foolish to pare back, when the bloom and gifting apparent; a good harvest inevitable.

Yet it’s the pruning of seemingly good leaves that can grow a better life. 

To allow later seasons to yield the longed-for abundant crop.

And THAT, sweet Child, is why we had to say goodbye when things were so good – believing that God is preparing an even more abundant harvest than we could ask or imagine. But it required faith-following.

I don’t know what tomorrow will hold, let alone a year or ten from now. But I believe in the God who holds my future.

Praying for you,
Mama

 

 

Home Again, Home Again Jiggity Jig

Dear Child of Mine,

I’ve been yearning for you a lot lately; more than usual. Perhaps it’s because so many parts of our life seem to be eager for your presence. Our desire is changing from we really want a child to something is missing. There is a new void in my heart that I can’t quite describe.

It’s been three weeks since we moved (back) into the parsonage and I have to say it seemed like our surroundings whispered, “Welcome home.” I wasn’t sure how I would feel dwelling in the space we occupied during the first three years of marriage. It seemed so long ago, another lifetime. But this house is our home. It feels right, like pulling on the glove sized perfectly for your fingers.

Seeing the empty rooms, though, reminds me in a very loud way of your absence. Barrenness was easier to ignore when we lived in a studio apartment, but now its presence is around every corner. I’m hurting maybe more than I was, but also more hopeful. This seems like the right place to have you join us, with space to play, a church to love you, and family nearby.

I’m not certain of our next steps. We haven’t found a new doctor yet because we’re waiting for our insurance to be official and I still need to call our R.E. in Rochester for a good referral. Even if all of those pieces line up perfectly, you may not come to us in the form of a biological child. Maybe it’s time to start the arduous steps of adoption.

Either way, you’ll be loved, welcomed with arms wide open and received with tight hugs.

Come quickly, Child. There’s room for you.

Love, Mama

The First Sunday

Dear Child of Ours,

Sunday, June 29th, 2014 was your Daddy’s first week in the pulpit as Senior Pastor of Monroe Free Methodist Church. We spent the week preparing the sanctuary, arranging volunteers, setting the worship order, and praying. Wednesday morning was our first church event and we saw many former friends at prayer meeting. That evening we hosted a “meet and greet” for anyone interested in getting to know more about the new pastor and his wife and wondering what we’ve been up to for the past three years. Kevin and I both had time to talk to just about everyone who attended and we left feeling like the event was a success – rekindled relationships, stories of honesty exchanged, fun times had.

On Saturday night, just before going to sleep, we found a wonderful email in our inboxes written by one of our FM pastor-mentors:

May the Holy Spirit rest on you tomorrow as your people gather to worship.   May His Presence bring healing and joy and unity to the Monroe church.  And may He give you every gift needed to serve those good people, and serve the Lord.
And a friend from our Albion church posted this on my Facebook status (which, by the way, received over 115 “likes” making us feel extremely loved and supported):
If he starts with the sermon he left on, he sets a very high bar for himself. That was a fantastic message. Tell him not to be anxious. Your congregation is blessed, even if they don’t know it yet.
All that to say we went in to our first Sunday service bathed in prayer, by these and many others. What a tremendous blessing.
Your Daddy and I knelt at the altar together hours before the service, taking time to consecrate ourselves, our congregation, and the worship service to the Lord.
Looking back on the hour of congregational worship, there were plenty of “technical issues” that could have gotten in the way. But God was glorifiedhearts were open and responsive. The people sang corporately with me leading on keyboard and I was encouraged by their participation. Kevin arranged for two other lay people to read passages from the week’s lectionary, and we found out later than one of the readers felt so convicted by the Scripture they were reading that they could barely get through it. What a moment of the Spirit! The sermon was beautiful and heartfelt, stirring in quite a few of our hearts. What a great thing seeing two people respond to an altar call of surrender, indicating the congregation’s openness to the work of the Lord.
The feedback we received from various attendees was very positive and we spent the next seven hours of our drive to Greenville, Illinois talking about church stuff and reflecting on OUR FIRST SUNDAY.
We can’t wait for you to join us in the pews, Little One.