Monday, July 30, 2007


Have you ever noticed how kids do not care what others think? At least that is the case with my kids. I have heard stories about kids that are so eager to please their parents that they are in tears after the smallest transgressions and eagerly attempt to make amends for their mistakes. My kids are the complete opposite! My kids emerged from the womb with strong opinions regarding what they want and how they want it. Even now, my kids are oblivious to societal norms. For example, I bought two new toothbrushes, one pink and one blue. My son insisted that he wanted the pink one (because he likes pink), and my daughter begged for the blue toothbrush. While other kids are fascinated with trains and dolls, my kids prefer to run around pretending to be crocodiles and snakes. My kids experience a blissful freedom in their ignorance regarding what they “should” like and how they “should” behave. My kids have a characteristic that most adults lack – authenticity.

I wonder when we outgrow authenticity. What happens in our lives that leads us to believe that we cannot be who we are, and we cannot like what we like, but instead must conform to what society says that we should be?

I struggle with authenticity every day. When my husband and I prayed about planting the Refinery, I felt a peace that surpassed my understanding. I knew that this was what God wanted us to do. However, I was very concerned because I am the least likely candidate that I can think of to fill the role of a pastor’s wife. The pastor’s wives that I have known tend to be larger than life women. In my past experience, these women were always good with children, had some musical talent (singing or playing the piano), and they were so spiritual that they almost glowed with the presence of the Holy Spirit. These women also tended to be quiet and humble. Anyone that knows me realizes that I am the opposite. I tend to be strong-willed, opinionated, and outgoing. I lack any domestic abilities whatsoever (which rules out being good with the small kids or cooking brownies for the church socials), and I have no musical talent (I don’t think taking piano lessons in high school will qualify me for our praise band). Although I love God and love my church, I also have a demanding career to balance in addition to family responsibilities. And even though I love the Lord, faith is sometimes hard for me (I am too analytical and seek answers to questions that have no answers). I concluded early on that God knew what he was doing when he made Mike a pastor, but God must have made a mistake in making me a pastor’s wife.

Sometimes I become so worried about the way that a pastor’s wife should act (and all of the ways that I fall short), that I wonder if I should try to change who I am. I have spent time wondering if I should not express my fears and doubts because expressing my weaknesses and fear could make some people uncomfortable. I worry that if I read a book that has a more liberal or conservative point of view than others at the church they will be offended. I wonder if I should pretend to have my life figured out when in reality I am barely holding everything together.

This week, Mike preached from Ephesians. Ephesians 4:25 says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” I read this verse and thought, “I am fine. I don’t lie.” However, upon reflection, I realized that when I try to be someone that I am not, I am essentially lying to my neighbor. When I hide the essence of who I am (my deepest beliefs, my outgoing personality, my lack of domestic talents), and when I try to force myself into roles that are clearly not suitable for me to please others, I am not only being untruthful, but I am harming the body of Christ.
If I have learned anything from observing my kids, I have learned that there is freedom in being who you are. I hope that I can follow their example – I want to learn to be who I am, not who I “should” be.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Interesting Article about Tradition

I thought this article made some interesting points about tradition.

The Problem with Mere Christianity
We jettison 'nonessential' theology at our own peril.
J. Todd Billings posted 2/06/2007 08:31AM

In a recent ecumenical meeting of Christian leaders discussing theology and worship, two evangelical representatives expressed a shared dilemma: How should they integrate concerns for justice and care for the poor into worship? One complained that modern praise songs do not speak about these issues. Given their nondenominational backgrounds, they were not sure where to turn for help.
These evangelicals hit one roadblock that arises when "mere Christianity" severs our ties to theological traditions. At its best, mere Christianity can be summed up by a proverb frequently attributed to Augustine: "In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, charity." Mere Christianity should also remind us to celebrate the oneness of all believers, united through our one head, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:15). However, mere Christianity will disappoint when it becomes a substitute for the Christian faith. At its worst, mere Christianity shifts with the trends of praise music or the latest evangelical celebrity. Despite our best intentions, our theology and practice can become "conformed … to the pattern of this world" (Rom. 12:2).
Misleading UnityThe phrase mere Christianity can be misleading, suggesting we can act independently of traditions that guide our interpretations of the Bible. It's quite American to position ourselves above tradition. Sometimes even denominational churches do this by hiding their theological distinctives, thinking they will narrow the pool of potential parishioners. If you take Presbyterian out of the church name and avoid teaching about predestination and the sacraments, more people will come, right?
A friend of mine has a daughter-in-law who attends a large nondenominational church. My friend sent her the Heidelberg Catechism to introduce her to his Reformed theological tradition. Her response surprised him. She wrote back saying that her nondenominational church uses the Heidelberg Catechism all the time. It is one of her church's key resources for educating people in the faith. Consider the irony: While many Reformed churches push their own catechism to the side, this large nondenominational church discovers the same catechism to be a profound tool for teaching the Christian faith. Still, both churches illustrate problems with mere Christianity.
One church claims to be nondenominational instead of naming its tradition. The other fails to uphold its explicitly named tradition.
Sometimes churches go further than downplaying their unique beliefs. So-called divisive doctrines get pushed to the side as nonessentials, even when they are truly important. For several summers while I was in high school, I served overseas with a team of other teenagers with an interdenominational, evangelical mission organization. During orientation, the leaders set ground rules. We should preach the gospel, participate in Christian worship, fellowship, and so forth. But we should not speak about the sacraments. Although we celebrated the Lord's Supper, we were to avoid discussing its significance. Is it a sacrament or an ordinance, a memorial or a true receiving of the body and blood of Christ? These questions were off-limits. The team regarded Christians as more "spiritual" if they voiced no strong opinions on the Lord's Supper.
Yet doctrines aren't "dispensable" because they provoke controversy. Consider how the early church debated Christ's identity as true God and true human. Even such a central teaching hasn't been immune to dispute. So when it comes to an issue like the sacraments, silencing voices of conviction is not the way forward. Instead, honest yet charitable discussions about our differences can deepen faith. We should not jettison disputed doctrines just because they can be divisive.
Differences Illuminate AgreementWhile theological traditions highlight differences among us, they don't have to harden us to one another. And they can give us a wealth of resources from which to grow in our faith and help us face the challenges of today's world.
During the ecumenical meeting I mentioned earlier, a Roman Catholic nun and a Reformed pastor both responded to the evangelicals' lament. They obviously came from divergent traditions, but both knew where to go for worship resources on justice and concern for the poor. The nun spoke about the long Roman Catholic tradition of social teaching emerging from reflection on "natural law" as a provision of God available to all people. This tradition-specific reflection has led to songs, worship, and spirituality in Catholicism that keeps social concerns, such as poverty, at the forefront of obedience to Jesus Christ. The Reformed pastor spoke about how John Calvin wanted almsgiving to be connected to a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. That way, sharing in the body and blood of Christ manifested itself not only in mutual love in the church, but also in love for the hungry, the stranger, and the naked (Matt. 25:31-46).
Paradoxically, theological traditions can highlight what we share with other Christians. By articulating our differences, we also discover our commonalities. In some ways, the Roman Catholic nun and the Reformed pastor had more in common with each other than with the generically evangelical pastors on the panel. Both realized that they did not approach Scripture as a blank slate. They needed the interpreters of the past to have a fully orbed scriptural theology. Both realized that God's concern for the poor and the outcast connects to the gospel itself. They disagreed on much, but they both drew from the breadth and depth of tradition to apply scriptural insights to the challenges of the day.
Yet even as tradition helps theology address contemporary issues, it also prevents us from succumbing to "the spirit of the age." Insights from other times, cultures, and places can bolster our fight against superficial belief. C. S. Lewis diagnosed the problem of eschewing tradition as "chronological snobbery," "the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age." In its place, theological traditions open up the wisdom and possibilities of the "cloud of witnesses." Like us, these witnesses faced dire challenges in trying to teach and live out the gospel in an inhospitable world. Many of their challenges are bound to appear again and again: Is Jesus Christ a prophet (like Muhammad) or the eternal Son of God? What is the relationship between Israel and the church?
Not only that, but creeds and traditions can be ways to protect our fidelity to the Bible rather than subvert it. This is how Reformers like Calvin regarded the extrabiblical Trinitarian language in the Nicene Creed.
Holy Spirit at WorkObviously, traditions can be misused. Some may use "in essentials, unity" to say you are not a part of the body of Christ unless you share their particular views on speaking in tongues, predestination, or the sacraments. More than once, a fellow Christian has cross-examined me until I could recite the relevant "code words" of his tradition: Did I hold the right views on spiritual gifts, providence, free will, or the millennium?
Yet for many, fear of divisiveness has cut them off from the riches of the church's cloud of witnesses. Rather than providing a path to church unity, avoiding theological distinctives often just leads to superficiality. Voices drawing upon the wisdom of the past help the church bring the gospel into our complex world. If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, we need to remember that we read the Bible through the illumination of the Spirit who has actively worked in the church for 2,000 years.
J. Todd Billings is assistant professor of Reformed theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.

Monday, July 23, 2007


While I was in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, I had the pleasure of meeting a camper named Anne. When I met Anne, I learned that she had a form of autism among other problems. My immediate response was to feel sorry for Anne. As I watched her at camp, I felt such pity when she had problems expressing herself, when she acted out around others, and especially when she could not do many of the activities that the other campers could do. My heart ached because I wondered if she would ever experience the joy of going on a date, playing a team sport, or enjoying slumber parties like other girls her age. I prayed for her and her family, and I was bothered to think that so many people are born into the world with problems like Anne must face.

One day, Anne spent the day with Jennifer and me. Anne quickly bonded with us, especially with Jennifer. I had an opportunity to ask Anne’s mother about Anne, and Anne’s mother explained that among Anne’s other health problems, she had fetal alcohol syndrome. She explained that just as a drunk displays no inhibitions when intoxicated, the part of Anne’s brain that regulates such activity was destroyed; thus, Anne did not have inhibitions and often acted on impulse.

That night, we had a powerful worship service during which each of the campers went to prayer stations and then placed symbolic items on a cross. When Anne got to the cross, both Jennifer and I sat in tears as we watched Anne attempt to place her items on the cross. No matter how hard Anne tried, her hands would not do what she wanted them to do. Her mom helped her place her items on the cross, and then Anne did something very surprising. Anne walked up to both Jennifer and myself. She hugged us, kissed us on the cheek, and then held out her cheek waiting for a kiss in return.

In that moment, I realized that I had misjudged Anne. I had observed Anne by the world’s standards, and all that I had been able to see was a girl that needed pity because she was not “whole”. My point of view changed when Anne kissed me, without hesitation and without inhibition. I realized then that Anne had a gift – Anne was capable of doing something that few of us ever do – she loves others completely, without hesitation, and without inhibitions. Anne not only loves without inhibition, but she shows others her emotions. Anne is raw and real in a way that I will probably never accomplish – she loves without worrying what others will think, she loves without considering whether she will be loved in return, and she loves with unselfish and careless freedom.

In Ephesians 2:10, the Bible states, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” As Mike shared on Sunday, we are God’s works of art. Although Anne may be flawed in the world’s eyes, she is a work of art. Most importantly, Anne is living out the verse as she does good works by loving without reservation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


When I became a mother, the advice I received more often than any other was to savor every moment. I was consistently warned by parents of older children that child rearing was comprised of the longest days, but shortest years of your life. They implied that while the work of raising kids was hard and made for long days, the years would fly by. I was often sent email forwards filled with stories cautioning the reader to spend every moment possible savoring time with one’s children because the moments of childhood are fleeting and irreplaceable.

While this advice was well intentioned, the advice made me a nervous wreck. I became so focused on savoring every moment and spending quality time with my kids that I was often too anxious to enjoy the time that I was spending with them! For example, I would come home from work, determined to make the hours before bedtime three to four hours of nothing but “quality” time. I would get angry at myself if my mind wandered (because I knew that I should be enjoying every burp and smile), and I felt guilty when I was not “enjoying” every moment of a silly game with the kids.

Upon reflection, I realize that I have pushed myself to the extreme – I have attempted to live every moment to the fullest with my children in hopes that I can avoid the regret that is sure to follow. In fact, I am terrified of regret. I hate the thought of looking back one day and realizing the mistakes that I made as a parent. I have attempted to convince myself that if I can savor every moment, and if I can do everything perfectly, I will have no regrets.

Lately, God has shown me that no matter which choices I make, I will have regrets. Regret is a natural part of life. Sometimes I will regret things that I could have changed (for example, I may look back and regret that I did not travel more or that I took a job that was not suitable for me). Other regrets will be the result of life circumstances that are completely beyond my control (for example, I may regret being unable to prevent my child from suffering pain at the hands of a cruel classmate). Regardless of the source of the regret, I am sure that no matter how hard I try, I will make decisions at the time that I will later look back upon in hindsight and regret. I know this because I am not perfect, therefore, being imperfect, I will make some poor decisions which will lead to regret.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Make the most of your regrets …. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” I love this quote because it is so different from other quotes about regret! Many people say, “live a life without regret!” However, the wisdom of Thoreau’s quote is the realization that by learning from our regrets, we can live a deeper, fresh, and fuller life. If we learn from our regrets, regrets can serve a useful purpose in our life journey.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Our Prince and Princess

More Pictures from Mississippi

The sign below states this is the temporary location of a MS district court judge. The other pictures were of common sites throughout the Bay area.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Have a great day!

“Have a great day or not …. Your choice.” Arman Codianne

The statement above may not seem profound to some of you. However, if you knew Arman and the hardships that he has endured, you would understand how miraculous these words are.

Arman is a massage therapist that lives in Waveland Mississippi. A few years ago, he traveled to Africa. He wanted to bring joy to the hurting, so he performed massage therapy on AIDS patients that were in Hospice care. When Hurricane Katrina hit, Arman had evacuated. When he returned, he found his home completely flattened. Nothing was left except a pile of rubble. Arman was unable to obtain a FEMA trailer for a few months, so he lived in a 3 person tent. Did I mention that Arman has Multiple Sclerosis?

Despite his illness and the fact that he has spent almost the last 2 years in a tent or a FEMA trailer, not to mention the fact that he lost his business, Arman is the most joyful person you will ever meet. Instead of crying about his circumstances, Arman organized a costume party for friends after Hurricane Katrina. Arman can often be found wearing a clown nose, because, as he states, it is hard for someone to remain mad at a person wearing a clown nose.

When I asked Arman about his amazing outlook on life despite his difficult circumstances, Arman replied, “What else would I do, just sit around and cry?”

In Philippians chapter 1, Paul is writing a letter while he is imprisoned. Phil 1:18 states, “I will continue to rejoice.” Paul does not say, “if my life improves I will rejoice” because Paul understands a fundamental truth – the circumstances around me do not make me rejoice, I choose to rejoice. Despite the hardship in his life, Arman understands that his hardships and circumstances do not determine whether he has a great day. Only he can determine if he has a great day.

I hope that each of you will choose to have a great day today and each day that follows.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bay St. Louis, MS

We have returned from our mission trip to Bay St. Louis, MS. This is a picture of a truck that was swept away by the water.
This huge tree stump and roots was moved by the water to the middle of a parking lot.
The Welcome Committee - Rhonda, Mike & Don.
This was a common site - the remains of a home (usually we would see a slab with a toilet or fire place remaining and nothing else) with a FEMA trailer or some sort of tent by the former home.
This bear was swept away by the flood waters. It landed on a pile of debris behind the home of the child that owned it.
People often painted warnings on their homes as well as requests that a place not be destroyed.
This was left after Katrina.

Mike & me.
The remains of a mobile home.
The pier was washed away.
What remains of a home.
The staff from the Refinery: Front Row - Matt, Tyler, Aaron, Jennifer, me. Back Row - Jeremy, Kipp, Rhonda, Mike.

The inside of a home.
The inside of a business.

A house that had not been touched since Katrina. The house was filled with mold and workers had to wear special suits when they attempted to gut the house.
A historical building that was moved by the surge.

Downtown - many houses still need repairs.

Rhonda, me, Jennifer

A church that is not yet repaired.
Our home for the week.
The Cox family.

This sign was common throughout the gulf coast.

The bridge

Home Sweet Home
Chickie - 80+ years old - she had lived in her family home for her entire life. Many hurricanes were survived in her home. When Katrina came, the water went over the roof of her home - which was 2 stories high. Chickie's home was many miles from the Bay.

Armon is special. He has done mission work in Africa - he gave massages to orphans and people in Hospice homes. He has MS and lost his home after Katrina. He lived for a few months in a tent before he finally got a FEMA trailer. He is a beautiful person and he understands how to celebrate every moment of life. He had parties after Katrina and is often seen with a clown nose on. A quote from Armon, "Have a great day, or not. It's your choice." This sums up his attitude.
I met Billy on the pier. This sweet boy was running around in nothing but a diaper.

A tent that some people still live in.
The water went over this bridge near Pearlington.
The stories of the people of Waveland and Bay St. Louis were amazing. We were there the last week of June 2007. It is sad that so many people still do not have homes to live in. Not only were homes lost, but jobs, businesses, and family members were also lost due to Katrina. Words cannot describe the devastation that still remains. However, so many people were filled with hope and gratitude for the masses that have made the trip to the gulf to help them rebuild.