Finding Beauty in Holland

Today’s guest post is from fellow “Quester” Lisa King. Lisa is married with two beautiful children and I know you’ll love reading her story. What a story it is!

“When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

 

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

 

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

 

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

 

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

 

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

 

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

 

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

 

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”
©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley

What’s in a number?

37. It’s just a number, right? We all have “numbers” in our lives. An age. A date.

So what’s so significant about 37?

Well, when you are talking to a preemie mom, everything. Thirty-seven weeks into a pregnancy equals term. Or “Italy.” Even though 37 is really an arbitrary number decided upon by the World Health Organization, it still represents a victory over prematurity.

So, when I embarked on my journey of my 4th pregnancy, only my second to make it past 12 weeks, I had this goal in mind as my “first” goal. The one I would be “ok” with if I made it to. The one that would signify that I made it. I didn’t fail this time. But it was never a foregone conclusion that I would make it.

In fact, it was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve done. In many ways, ignorance is bliss. And knowing what I did about all of the problems in pregnancy meant I was hyper-sensitive to every sensation I experienced. Every contraction. Every pain. Every odd twinge was noticed, analyzed and either discarded or brought to my doctors attention.

That is no way to go through a pregnancy. It’s incredibly scary and nerve wracking.

And it took waking up daily, standing with my head held high, my shoulders back and the knowledge that whatever that day brought, God would help me through it.

There was no other way to get through 37 weeks of pregnancy.

A friend posted this status on Facebook recently and it rang very true:

‎~Fear of failure and fear of the unknown are always defeated by faith. Having faith in yourself, in the process of change, and in the new direction that change sets will reveal your own inner core of steel~

The question is…what is your inner core of steel? Mine? It’s God. Because, even though the things I’ve seen were not near as bad as they could have been, they had the power to break me. In my journey as a preemie mom, I’ve seen these things break many a strong woman.

Entering into another pregnancy meant I had to take a leap of faith. I didn’t know the outcome. I couldn’t ensure 37 weeks. I could only trust God that He also had this one in His hands and He would see that the baby came when the baby was ready. And that if that was significantly pre-term again, He would get me through that journey again.

Thankfully, I got my 37. I’ve been to Italy. And I thank God for letting me see both Holland and Italy. For without Holland, I don’t know that Italy would be as beautiful and unique. And without Italy, Holland would never shine as the beautiful place it also is.

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Is Lisa great or what?? Now you see what I meant when I said, “What a story it is!”.

Have you been in search of Italy, but taken a detour to Holland, instead? Find the beauty, the significance, and the hope that lies in Holland. Find the all-encompassing peace that lies in God’s love for us. Even the most extreme detours are held in His hand. If He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.

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Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

Since taking a break over the holidays, Qexchange gathered tonight to begin discussing our new book, The Search for Significance. The house was packed (not everyone in attendance goes to Quest, by the way) and we jumped right into the topic.

Chapters 1-3 introduce the premise of the book, which is that we often base our self-worth on the opinions and accomplishments of others. I’ll be the first to say that I am currently on the road to rebuilding respect for myself after not finishing college. I’m finding, slowly but surely, that I can still become someone without that degree!  In fact, you know what? I already am someone without that college degree.  A college degree wouldn’t make me important. In and of itself, it wouldn’t make me respectable, intelligent, fulfilled or happy. All of those characteristics I strive for (and believe most of us strive for) are already right here waiting for me.  I already have importance, respect, intelligence, fulfillment and happiness, I just have to accept them.

The great thing is that God’s acceptance of us works the same way.  You see, we already have God’s acceptance whether we believe it or not. He’s already given it to us. We don’t have to do any certain thing, say any certain prayer, or believe any certain stuff. God loves us already. He loves us just as we are (yes, warts and all), but loves us too much to leave us just as we are. When we let go of our comparisons and fears, we can embrace who God created us as and blossom into who He calls us to be. We can find freedom in His grace.

When I allow myself to let go of the past and believe that God created me for a purpose, to believe that I’m already living my purpose, I’ll be free to bask in the glory of life.

And the same goes for you.

What are the two great commandments in the Bible?  Come on, you know them, say it with me:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have so much trouble loving others because we can’t love ourselves!

Think about that. Allow yourself to be loved by yourself. See how much love you can then pour out for others.

We’ll do it together.

A Gift Wrapped in a Different Package

If you follow my personal blog, you know the story of Baby Adam.  About a month ago, Adam was considered a healthy, term baby, ready to meet the world until unexpected complications arose during labor. You see, Adam’s heart stopped beating for 9 minutes before he was born. On top of that, meconium (waste material in the uterus) made its way into Adam’s lung, causing an intense infection. More details on his birth can be found by following the link above, but Adam’s mom, Mimi, has been emailing updates periodically and granted permission to share this one with you:

     Dear Friends,
     This baby from the moment of conception was such a gift from God (as every baby is)! We had put so much effort into getting pregnant with Christopher and the girls that we assumed we could not conceive without a little help from modern medicine. So when we realized we were pregnant and made it through the first trimester, all I could think and say was, “thank you God”! This life within me was pure gift – handed to us surprisingly and freely!
      We began to imagine a future with a fourth little Harman running around. Christopher prayed for a brother and the girls practiced being big sisters on their baby dolls! With five of us around the dinner table we always had to stretch our hands to meet in prayer, this new little life would fill in the gap perfectly!
    Being of “advanced maternal age” my doctor asked if we wanted to test for genetic conditions. We chose not to do the test knowing that having it done would not change the outcome. I also have to admit that I believed it would not happen to us.
      The night of his birth while he was on a cooling treatment at Children’s Mercy, a nurse practitioner described to me Adam’s life-threatening conditions and the last thing she said was that he has Trisomy 21 or Down syndrome. This, of course, was the least of my worries. The next day as I spoke to his doctor, not knowing if he would even live or be seriously brain-damaged, I heard myself say, “Adam is a gift from God and we want him to live but we want to do God’s will and are not afraid of death.” Our wonderful doctor responded, “Yes, Adam is a gift from God.”
    In the moment I heard myself speak those words came the realization that my perception of “gift” while he was in the womb was not the same as God’s. I knew in the depth of my heart that Adam was still a gift just wrapped in a completely different package than I had ever imagined. “Adam” (named after my brother) means “made in God’s image” – of course our child is perfect – he just happens to have an extra chromosome!
     I spoke to a wonderful couple from St. Peter’s School who have 8 children, one of them is a high school student at O’Hara and has Down syndrome. It was great to hear them say, “he is just like our other children, each with their abilities and disabilities.” They also encouraged me to press upon people that he is not a “Down’s” baby but a person (child of God) first who has Down syndrome. Terminology does matter. Just as their son has been an incredible blessing to their family, St. Peter’s School and everyone he meets, we are confident that Adam will be too! He has already touched so many people in so many ways and helped us to realize what a precious miracle life is!
      Barring any last minute set backs, Adam will be home with us Saturday!!! Your prayers and support have been incredible. We are forever grateful.  And now all I can think and say is, “thank you God”!
    

This story is near and dear to my heart for many reasons, but I especially love the paragraph Mimi included about her perception of this “gift” not being the same as God’s. Sometimes we expect certain things from God, we assume He will answer our prayers just the way we think would be best. What’s so amazing in this story is the realization that God does answer prayer. He is always with us. He does not forsake us, forget us, or hurt us, but can we say the same about ourselves? When things don’t go as we think they should, do we forsake God, forget Him, or hurt Him? Do we wonder why He didn’t come through for us? Or do we take Mimi’s approach, seeing God’s perfect grace in the midst of our trials, saying “thank you, God!” for the unexpected and challenging, yet beautiful gifts He creates?

I challenge you to see your circumstances this week through God’s eyes. Ask Him to help you understand what He is doing. Look for his handiwork in the midst of your trials.

When we take a second to look around, we’ll see that God’s perfect grace is all around us.

Creative Prayer

After posting about what my iPod taught me, I knew I wanted to change the way I “fit” God into my day.  Fit God into my day? Nah, it’s time for a change. From now on, I’m taking God with me everywhere I go. In fact, instead of taking Him with me, I think I’ll go ahead and let Him take the lead!

1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray unceasingly”. We are encouraged to pray at all times. No matter what we are doing, whether going off to work, in meetings, driving our kids around, at home doing housework, out playing sports, whatever we do, we can pray. With this in mind, I’ve researched many ways to not only pray, but pray often.

Prayer Board

Pin photographs and/or sticky notes with names of people and situations to a bulletin board to remind you to pray for them.  You can also pin-up lines from songs, Bible verses, beautiful landscapes, or anything else that inspires you to pray. This is also a great way to teach children to pray! My 3-year-old prays at bedtime and without fail, she closes her eyes, folds her hands and then looks at me and says, “What do I pray about?”  I always tell her she can talk to Jesus about whatever she wants, but a prayer board will be fantastic for her to have hanging on the wall by her bed.

A Five Finger Model of Prayer

Here is a way of using your fingers to trigger thought of different groups of people. This approach would be perfect to use when sitting in traffic, the school pick-up line, grocery store check out, or any other slow-moving situation. 

Thumb: Pray for those farthest away, such as missionaries and friends/family overseas.

First finger: Those people who lead and guide us, pointing the way (ministers, teachers)

Middle finger: Those people with power and responsibility (governments, etc.)

Ring finger: Those people we love (family, friends)

Pinky finger: Those who are ill, weak, old, less fortunate, etc.

Whole hand: Pray for yourself, offering your hands to God to serve Him.

Arrow Prayers

An arrow prayer is simply a quick prayer to God, like an arrow shooting up to heaven. It is a good way of praying a simple thought, especially in the middle of a busy situation or if you find long, wordy prayers difficult. For example, at the office you might pray “Lord, guide me through this meeting”. Other ideas: “Lord, please help me be patient right now!” or “Please give me the right words to say.” I once heard a person say he woke up and said “Good morning, Lord!” and continued to shoot up quick prayers like this all day long, keeping God active in everything he did. At the end of the day, he simply said “Good night, Lord.” It’s important to remember to listen to God, as well, but these arrow prayers are especially easy to do anytime and anywhere.

Prayer Walk

Did you pull into the parking lot to find only the very last spot in the last row available? Great news! Use the long walk inside to pray. Notice the people you walk past and pray for whatever their specific situation may be. Patience for a mom with kids, comfort for an elderly man, etc. This is a great opportunity to pray for strangers in your community.  If you’d like to focus on your neighborhood, schedule a regular walk around the block (or more) and pray for the family in each home.  

I hope these ideas inspire you to pray unceasingly. Do you have other ideas? Other strategies you already use?

What My iPod Taught Me About Life

I do my best work in coffee shops. When surrounded by seemingly smart, artsy people and the aroma of delicious, gourmet coffee, I’m in a total zen zone. Inspired, I generally take a careful (but not obviously careful) sip of my non-fat cappuccino (because I don’t understand anything else on the menu), pop in my headphones, set my iPod to shuffle, and get to work. 
 
On one particular day, creativity set in quickly and tasks were flying off my to-do list right and left. I was getting stuff done, good stuff, and was even inching my way ahead of the game. I was foot-tapping along to the Beib, Katy, and Kei$a, successfully refraining from belting out any choruses.
 
The music tempo changed for a couple of minutes and I enjoyed the slower paced, Who Am I by the Christian group, Casting Crowns.

I reflected on the words in the song for a moment before proceeding to excitedly lose myself in the beat of Enrique/Usher’s newest hitfollowed by Justin Timberlake’s beatboxing charmWhat, you forgot Justin knows how to break it down?

Ok, back to it. Could the order of these songs be a reflection of more than just the vast variety of my iPod?  Could they be a reflection of my life? Of your life?

Could it be that I’m bebopping away in my own little world, hustling and bustling from one task to the next, only pausing periodically to let God in?
 
Am I sandwiching Christ in my day?
 
As routine has shown, my days progress as follows: one eye opens, my feet find the floor and I shuffle to the bathroom, careful not to topple over as my sense of balance hasn’t yet fully awakened. (It’s not likely to improve too much, even after my 4th cup of coffee, but I digress.)  I brush my teeth, give thanks and pray during my shower and then jump right into the chaos of life.
 
The hustle and bustle consumes my day until the end. With everyone tucked away in bed, I eventually follow suit, my head hitting the pillow with a nearly audible thud. I reflect for a moment and pray about the good, the bad, and the ugly before drifting off to sweet, sweet sleep.
 
Yep, I’m a sandwicher. Not all the time, but often enough.

Are you?

What can we do to incorporate Christ into every moment of our day?

Maybe you have already figured it out. Please share!

Bigger Than Me…

Quote

Hey there!

You may remember me, Micah, as the blog writer for 30 Deeds in 30 Days back in October. What an experience!! If you missed out on that phenomenon, read through a few previous posts to catch up on the amazing things that happened that month.

If you, like me, feel this blog has been rather lonely since the 30 Deeds event, I’ve got good news! I was recently hired as the Director of Outreach and Communications for Quest and will be updating this blog regularly. To get off on the right foot, I want to explain the background surrounding why I’m in this position.

(Get ready, because you’re about to read some COOL handiwork à la God!)

The scene is set. It’s early 2011 and my family has attended Quest for about a year. Slowly but surely, however, I begin noticing I’m not fulfilled. I’m not alive for Christ.

We stop attending Quest and begin searching for a church that will provide instant satisfaction. My view of my relationship with Jesus is very self-centered. I want to have my own personal relationship with Christ without worrying about anyone else. I am looking for a church that will suddenly fulfill me. I am walking into church on Sundays expecting to hear something that will instantly connect me to God and inspire me to hand Him the reigns. I’m taking the approach to my faith that today’s society takes with nearly every aspect of life: give me the drive-thru version, folks, I need it all now!

Spring of 2011 has me bummed. The oasis in the desert just isn’t appearing! No Sunday sermon is hitting me like a ton of bricks. No pastor is magically smacking any sense into my head. I’m not finding a church that has me excitedly rising at 5am to spend time with my Bible.

Fast forward to June 2011. Still on our search for the perfect church, we aren’t yet back to attending Quest on Sundays, but we stay in contact with our friends there. We start hosting a weekly Quest Bible study at our house and here’s where God starts moving in a way I finally get.

Through the weekly study, I have an epiphany.

Guess what? Faith isn’t about ME! It isn’t even just about God and me!

Faith is about God, me and others.

If I want to feel fulfilled, I need to bring God to those around me. If I want to be close to Jesus, I need to be His face to the world.

Instead of personally growing close to Jesus for the end result of Heaven when I die, I can aid others in growing close to Him for the result of Heaven now!  Right here on Earth! Why wait?!

Are you following me?

Faith is a call to action.

What better way to be close to God than to be His very own hands and feet to the world? What better way to experience happiness, fulfillment, growth and purpose than to create Heaven on Earth. Today.

This, friends, is what Quest is all about. What matters is that Jesus died for everyone so He could be life for everyone. The rest is details.

I’ll say it again, He died for everyone and the rest. is. details.

Jesus was sent to reconcile a lost world to God, and He calls us to do the same. God loves all people and we know what a difference Jesus can make in lives. For this reason, we seek to reach out to those around us and share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

Quest’s purpose is to do the work of Jesus, creating Heaven on Earth so that every person we meet may grow closer to the God so very much in love with all of us.

What a challenge. What inspiration. What fulfillment.

After realizing that faith is about bringing Jesus to others, I wake up with nothing but Quest on my mind. I send a vague email to a friend and she casually mentions that the church is looking for an outreach minister.

“Outreach minister?” I think aloud, “I don’t even know what that is. WHY do I feel like I’m supposed to have the job?!”

Next thing I know, I’m interviewing and accepting the role as Director of Outreach and Communications. Talk about hitting me like a ton of bricks, smacking sense into my head, and waking me up excitedly at 5am!

I’m answering a call. I’m working to create Heaven on Earth. I’m a part of Quest and we just so happen to be on a quest. Our purpose is to be God’s hands working to fulfill God’s mission. We are the face of Jesus in our community and we will meet you wherever you are on life’s journey.

If you listen to the song that’s playing now (Sanctus Real’s “Whatever You’re Doing”), there’s a line that perfectly sums up what’s going on :

Whatever you’re doing inside of me

It feels like chaos, but I believe

You’re up to something bigger than me-

Larger than life. Something Heavenly.