Monday, November 04, 2019

So Claudia, What Are You Doing with your Free Time?

For over a decade life was pretty much a blur for me.   There wasn't a lot of time for me to think when I had 10 kids under 15 or 9 teenagers at once.  But things have calmed down now.  Family responsibilities include about six hours a week of taking care of the most adorable 3 month old and her older siblings.  Really great kids and that is fun, but other than that I am free.

Suddenly I have found myself with something I never realized I would have .... free time.  Bart has less than I do, but he has some too.  And you may wonder what we are doing with it.
Well, I must confess that I now watch some TV.  I know, crazy.  But it's become part of my world.  Bart is working on his Doctorate (Dmin) so he has a lot of reading to do, so while he reads I watch TV.  

But I also have found some time to do other stuff, because while my physical energy is waning my passion for doing what I believe God has called us all to do isn't.  And since we can no longer do Foster Care in our home (if you don't know why, ask me privately) we are having to figure out ways to do things outside of work to further my passion.

Bart how is a CASA volunteer  It was a lot of work to get trained and it can be emotionally draining... but it's a great opportunity for him to use all of years of our experience to help other children.

I am also serving on an Open Table.  Know what that is?  If not you should check it out and see if there is one near you.  The organization Community Connected in Lynchburg uses the model and I am having a great time being part of a table.

In addition, Bart and I are mentoring from afar a kid who is going to be aging out of foster care in December.  He is in a facility much like our sons were in and has no connection with anyone.  He reminds me a lot of one of our sons at that age.

I'm also the point person for our church for the Care Portal which I'm super excited about.

Finally, I do PowerPoints and upkeep the website for our new church.  That's fun for me and uses a different part of my brain than work.  So it's like a hobby.

I guess I am sharing this because I think that people would say "Bart and Claudia did their part."  But that's not how we feel.  Still so much more to do.

Did I sufficiently answer your question?

We Will Carry the Torch

Photo credit:  Robbie Lucas

Last week I had an opportunity to visit with John Ott who spoke at PACE -- a convention I attended in 1986.  I can still remember it like it was yesterday because he was an amazing orator — and shared powerful stories that moved the crowd … and moved me.

The emphasis of that conference was evangelism and we were challenged to make a commitment to lead one person to Christ during the coming year.   Thousands of young people made that commitment and I found out last week that the following year they were able to do a survey (it was a small denomination) and over 7,000 people made first time decisions for Christ the year after that conference.

Seeing him again and reminiscing about the conference and some wonderful people that we both know and love reminded me of the impact that a group of people can have on the world if they are committed.   Sometimes I get frustrated in my current role of getting the church to be the church and care for the vulnerable and marginalized.  My frustration is less with other people and more with my inability to motivate and inspire.

But before I turn this into a therapy session for myself, let me bring us back to the original thought.   I asked my Facebook friends who remembered the conference — and what they remembered about it.   Now, 33 years later, they talked about the bus ride to the conference, the cute boy or girl they met, pranks they pulled, etc. and it made me smile.   Teenagers, all caught up in the things that mattered most to teenagers, were challenged and stepped up to the plate.   They don’t remember much of the conference, but because of them 7,000 people came to Christ.  

I am sure that I been responsible, somehow, to lead that group of teens who were more focused on applying hairspray to their mullets or adjusting shoulder pads on their sweaters, I would have been frustrated and discouraged.   And yet their commitment and what they did individually changed the world for 7000 people.  

At that conference there was a theme song that we sang a couple times at every service.  The chorus says, and I write it from memory:

We will carry the torch
We will lift high the flame
We will march through he darkness with the light of His name
Until the Glory of God is seen by the word
We will carry the torch of the Lord.

As all things, it is on YouTube and I chose the one closest to the way we used to sing it.  Except most of us didn’t have a Filipino accent.

Friday, November 01, 2019

At Just the Right Time

Ever thought that God wasn’t paying attention?  Ever had a request of God that seemed to be ignored?  Ever been frustrated that things aren’t going the way you think they should?

We all have.   But those times are when we need to remember this great verse from Isaiah 49:8 (NLT)

This is what the Lord says:
“At just the right time, I will respond to you. 
    On the day of salvation I will help you.
God is paying attention. He is not ignoring you.   He knows and sees your frustration.  But remember, He knows everything.   He knows the past, which we can remember.  He also knows the future which is a mystery to us.  So knowing all that His response is at just the right time.  Not too soon, not too late (even when we think it is).  He is responding at just the right time.

I love the concept of this song.  God is at the end of our lives and our future is His memory.   The chorus says:

When I'm lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You're already there
You're already there
Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You're already there

He will respond at just the right time.  Hold on to that today.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Are you a bringer?

Remember the story in John 6?  People were hungry and the disciples were trying to figure out how to feed them.  Phillip said, “No way, dude!  We can’t possibly find the money to buy what we need!”

But Andrew was different.  He came to Jesus not focusing on what they didn’t have, but on what they did have.  A small boy with five loaves and two fish.   That’s it.  But he brought them anyway.  And we know the rest of the story.

Pastors and biblical scholars refer to Andrew as “The Bringer.”    He is only mentioned a few times in Scripture but each time he is bringing someone to Jesus — the boy with the lunch, his brother Peter, and the Greeks.   Andrew was a bringer.

If we determine to be bringers here is the kind of life we live:

1)  We recognize that everyone we know needs to be introduced to Jesus;

2)  We find ways to bring others to Him;

3)  We look around at resources and ask “what is it that we have available” — not at the huge need — and we bring whatever we have to Him.

Make a commitment to be a bringer today.   Because when we bring what we have and the folks we know to Jesus, He will do way more with them and with the things we bring than we can ever imagine.

Monday, October 28, 2019

God will Repay (And That's a GOOD thing)

Have you ever had an experience that you feel has stripped you bare?  Ever felt like you had nothing left when the season was over?    Think about locusts and what it looks like when they have come and eaten everything — stripped it bare.   Is this how you felt at the end of that season?

As you know, my family had a situation like that last year.   We are still recovering from that and probably will be for a long time, in fact, I dreamed about it last night.

Check out these verses from the small OT book of Job that discuss what happens after a season like this in your life.  God Himself says, 

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm[b]
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;

If you are in one such season and you feel as though metaphorical locusts are devouring everything in sight, remember …. this, too, shall pass, and when it is over God will repay you!  Days of plenty, days of God working wonders are ahead!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Let God Enlarge Your Family

Oh, no, you may be saying, here she goes again.   Trying to push me to adopt.

Well, not exactly.  Did you know that the subject line of this email is actually a Bible verse?

Psalm 115 verses 13 and 14 says this….(in The Message)

13 And let God bless all who fear God - bless the small, bless the great. 
14 Oh, let God enlarge your families

You could, of course, interpret this as God calling you to care for orphans, but as I mentioned in a previous blog entry that 23 of you read, God doesn’t have to call us to do things He’s already asked us to do.   Caring for orphans is all over scripture…  If you’d like to see a long list of verses that talk about the fatherless and the orphan all you have to do is click here   

But today my challenges is this:  Let God enlarge your definition of family.   My husband has said many times over the years that the lines that define family are permeable.  For example, in our world, are the baby mamas of our grandchildren, though not ever connected to us by blood or by marriage, part of our family?  You bet.   Are the birth families of some of our children who we have gotten to know a part of “us?”  Certainly.  But we have had other situations as well.

I think back to this story  about when Jesus came to Thanksgiving dinner at our house.  It happened in 2005 and I wrote about it again in 2017 because it is still a powerful memory.  To give context, in 2005 we had a total of ten children who were ages 9 to 19  and holidays were awful back then.  All kinds of memories and trauma triggers for the children made them act worse than ever on holidays.   And yet, the kids held it together when a mentally ill man from our congregation invited himself over for Thanksgiving.  For that holiday, Dave was family.

I’m not even saying you have to seek it and try to find others to be part of your family— but what if you invited God to enlarge your family in whatever ways He saw fit?  What if we were all open, every day, to redefining who family is and sharing ourselves with lots of people?

I’ll share one more thing — and sorry that this is all about my family today, but it’s one thing I’m pretty proud of in the way that we have raised our kids — the fact that they understand that our family can be family to anyone who needs one.  

 As you know, Im participating in Open Table, and the woman we are mentoring was looking for a church.  I talked  to my kids about her joining us for Sunday dinner and lunch, a time which has become pretty sacred for us — the one meal we try to always eat out together.   I said, “I was wondering if you would be OK with us sharing our family with a person who has nobody.

My daughter, who came to us at the age of six, was sitting with her husband and three of the most adorable children in America.  She said, 'Of course.  You’ve been sharing us with other people all our lives.”   Now she is willing to share her family with others as well.  

Let God enlarge your definition of family.   Be open to him enlarging your family in creative ways.  Believe me it is a rich and deeply satisfying way to live. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Ever heard or said the words, "If God is calling you...."

I know I have.   Standing in front of crowds, congregations, groups of folks in many settings. I have said, "If God is calling you to be a foster or adoptive parent, or of late, a Safe Family, or a Vision 30 Partner....

But this week at the Orphan and Vulnerable Children Conference, I heard these words from Isaiah 1 and want to pass on a couple thoughts I learned there.

The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

So now you are probably saying to yourself, “OK, Claudia, I’m pretty sure that this doesn’t apply to me.   I have never once offered God rams or the fat of fattened animals.  I don’t ever try and give God the blood of any animal, especially not bulls and lambs and goats. I stopped burning incense a long time ago.  And I have never once gone to a celebration about the New Moon!"

But what if it said something more close to home?  What if it talked about the offerings we put in the plate at church?  Or the last time we got together at church for a “fall festival” or a community wide block party?   What if their convocations and assemblies translate into our worship services or Bible studies?  Just sayin.

God even says to the people, “

When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

So what is the solution?   What if all this activity that I am pouring myself — my religious stuff — worship and prayer and coming together with other Christians — what if it is becoming like the folks God asked Isaiah to yell at in Scripture?   How can I fix it?

He makes it pretty simple:

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;    plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.

There you have it. Get busy paying attention to those less fortunate. Get involved in taking care of the fatherless. Its pretty clear. And if you haven’been going that, God will settle the matter and forgive you.

We often say to people If God is calling you ...." But that statement is incorrect. There is no if.

God has already made it very very clear that we need to find our own place in the space of caring for the fatherless. It’s at theme throughout Scripture. It isn’t “If God is calling you” it is “BECAUSE God has ALREADY commanded you.”

Think about it. 

(Thanks Jason Johnson and Kelly Moore for some of the thoughts above)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Your Welfare Depends on It

No, not welfare as in a government program.  :-)

Our society has redefined a word and we now think of government programs, but here is the first definition of the word welfare:

the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group.

We all know Jeremiah 29:11, right?  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."

But do you know what Jeremiah 29: 7 says?

The context is this.  Jeremiah is telling folks that God has sent them to other cities in exile.  He tells them to go ahead and get settled in their new cities — to buy homes, settle down, get married, have babies.   He wants them to know that He has sent them there for a purpose.

In verse 7 he says, " But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Woah.   Learning all about the City of Lynchburg, most specifically,  as we have begun to spread the word about Vision 30, I have realized all the needs that are here.   

I’m not comparing my move to the area to an exile by God, but there is certainly a message here for all of us.  Wherever God sends you, settle in.  Plan to stay for a season.   Seek the welfare of the place where you live.  Pray for the city where you are. And, He reminds us, your personal welfare depends on the welfare of the place you live.

Maybe you don’t call the town you live in or near by a city, but the same thing applies.  God sends His people to wherever He sends them, not to receive, but to give.   To look for ways to make it a better place.  To earnestly seek ways in which to serve in order to make it a better place.   

We are not called as God’s people, or as the church, to live in isolation from the cities where we are.   We are responsible for the welfare of those in them.

What is it that God is calling you to do to make a difference in the city to which He has sent you?

Check out the Care Portal.    Maybe there is something you can do in your city.  Let me know if you do -- cuz that would be cool to hear about.  We are planning to bring it to Virginia, and I am interested in hearing if anyone has used it.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Every. Single. Morning.

What do you think about when you first wake up?  Often for me I don’t think about something pleasant.  Whatever stress, guilt, burden, struggle that is happening in my life seems to pop into my mind right away as I transition from sleep to the beginning of my day.

This is why these are some of my all time favorite verses from Lamentations 3:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, 
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Every day we need God’s mercies to be new.  We need to wake up and realize, after all of the other stuff hits us, that the mercy He offers us is for TODAY, for THIS day.  Maybe we ended yesterday wondering if we could get up again the next day but lo and behold, when we wake up we are faced with His mercies which will get us through yet another day.

Every single morning God’s mercies are new and they are more powerful than whatever you are facing today.

And because these verses are some of my favorites, this song is also my favorite hymn. I learned it as a child and every time I sing it it is a great reminder that through all of the ups and downs of my life, God’s faithfulness has indeed been great and every single morning His mercies have been new for me… for that day … for that situation…. for that trial … for the forgiveness of that sin.  And they will be there tomorrow as well…. and every day after that.  It’s something I have learned to count on.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Transaction or Relationship?

On Sunday my husband taught Sunday School.  We are studying the early church and working our way through the book of Acts.  We were studying the story about when Peter and John healed the lame man.  You remember it from the song right, “ Silver and gold have I none (clap twice)  but such as I have give I thee (clap twice) in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk…. he went walking and leaping and praising God…. etc.

Bart  pointed out that the lame man was asking for a transaction.  He wanted some money from the disciples.  That’s all he expected.  He showed up every day hoping for a few coins that he could use to buy food.   But Peter and John offered him relationship… healing.  And when he was done the Bible said that he “clung” to the disciples.   They had offered him a relationship that led to his healing.

Here’s the interesting part…. you may or may not know that I volunteer with Community Connected which uses the Open Table model.   Six other folks and I meet weekly with a woman who is trying to transition out of poverty.  Obviously this is a relationship based model, not transactional.   We don’t give her stuff… we build relationships.  After our meeting I was talking to two other table members who happen to be young newlyweds who work for Liberty.  Their passion is so impressive.  Just neat kids.   I was telling them about this concept as we were discussing mission trips, something that they are responsible for, in part, in their jobs.

Their eyes got bigger and bigger as I talked.  It turns out that the campus pastor at Liberty this week used the same passage and the same words as he spoke to thousands of students this week.  Our responsibility as Christ’s body is more than transactions… it’s relationship.   

I concluded my Facebook post as I will conclude this devotional.  (Is it ok to quote oneself? :-)  Lives are seldom changed by transitions.  Lives are changed when we do more than reach out and touch someone, but when we reach out and grab their hand and promise to never let go.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

You May Not Want to Read This

As you probably know, the book of Proverbs is full of wise sayings.  They aren’t promises nor are they necessarily threats.  They are just words of wisdom gained over time by the world’s wisest man.

That being said, we should pay attention to them and not ignore what is said.

Today this verse stood out:   Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.

Because of my role in our Vision 30, I have the opportunity to be directly connected to many organizations who are spending time daily with the poor.   I have noticed that for most folks in the church, the poor are far away from their thinking and their willingness to respond.  I am perpetually wrestling with my own role in this big picture.

I think it is interesting that Solomon says “those who shut their ears” instead of “those who don’t hear”.   Those are two very different things.   What Solomon says is that this is a very intentional act.  It’s not just a matter of not paying attention, or being unable to hear them, but it’s a purposeful choice.

Most middle/upper class Americans, even those in the church, are doing just that.  Shutting their ears to the poor.  You may say, “ NOT ME!  I have never shut my ears to them.”  But there are ways that we creatively do that:

1)  We live in neighborhoods where there aren’t any poor people.  Not being judgmental, because I’m doing the same things.  The only people living in poverty (based on the guidelines of a poverty wage) in our neighborhood are the adult children living in our house who, because of us, aren’t really living in poverty. 

2)  We keep our car windows rolled up when we see a person with a sign at a stop light.

3)  We know of volunteer opportunities that would put us in touch with the poor, and yet we are always “too busy.”

4)  We go to churches too far away from neighborhoods where the poor live to actually worship with anyone who isn’t like us.

5)  We hear appeals all day long to support folks in poverty all over the world, and yet our money is spent on things that are luxuries.  I won’t list them, but you know it’s true.  Do I NEED my water to be flavored?  Do I NEED to go through a drive through and get a Starbucks iced tea?  Do I NEED a fit bit?  Do I NEED an iPhone.  You get the picture.  I’m preaching to myself right now.  (and by the way, I could argue my need for an iPhone).  :-)

I didn’t write all this to provoke guilt.  But it appears that we have found a way here in the good old USA to shut our ears to the cries of the poor.  More times and in more ways than we want to admit.  

If Solomon is right, we may all be in trouble.  Just sayin.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

An Update on The Fletchers

I know it has been forever since I blogged, but today I found myself doing something I haven't done in a very long time and it reminded me of those days when I used to blog all the time.  I looked at the AdoptUsKids Website.   And that made me remember so many things.

But before I dive into that, let me give you an update on how we are doing as a family for those of you who are wondering, and then I will rant on about waiting kids at the end.  :-)

We recently returned from a trip to Minnesota for our son Leon's wedding.  We were there in April for Mercedes wedding as well.   For those of you who are on Facebook, there were plenty of pictures, that's for sure.  We are thrilled with the choices that these two have made and love their spouses as our own.    We also were thrilled to share the engagement of our son Rand this past summer -- he has found an amazing girl as well.  We are so blessed.

We also welcomed Camilla Mae into the world.  Our daughter Salinda and her husband Mike, are now parenting three children full time -Gabby will be 10 in December (CAN YOU BELIEVE IT-- she's growing up way too fast). and Carlos celebrated his 5th birthday about a week ago.  He and Camilla were baptized on September 15th.   We also get to see Mike's son from a previous relationship often.  His name is Jy and we claim him as one of our 9 grandchildren.

The rest of our children seem to be doing fairly well.   Everyone who lives with us here in Virginia (Dominyk, Jimmy, Wilson, and Salinda) is employed full time (or close to it) and we have developed a routine.  I am enjoying not commuting.

Kyle and Christy and their three children (Silas is now 6 and the twins are 3) continue to do well.  We enjoy visiting them and watching Kyle be a great dad to his kids.   It's a pure joy and blessing.

We visited John in jail a few weeks ago in MN -- he is anticipating release in August of 2020.  We hear from Tony regularly (he is in MN as well).   We don't hear from Mike and only occasionally from Ricardo.

At this moment in time (knock on wood) we are all fairly stable  and we are grateful.  We love our new home, our new church (we moved in June), and are finding ourselves at a more stable way of life.  Until the next thing happens :-)

So, what am I all worked up about today?   There are still too many of them.  There are still too many kids who are legally free for adoption and nobody is doing anything about it.

Where is the church in caring for these kids?  Even if someone isn't called to adopt or foster, God calls ALL of us to do something.

Check out this new resource I found out about....   It's called Care Portal and maybe your church would like to participate.  We are hoping to bring it to our region within the next year, but maybe you already live in a place where you can get your church involved.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Need motivation to get more exercise?

Come on now.... you know it's true. Most people need a motivation to get healthier and to exercise. Some people are a little strange -- they actually love it and have lifetime habits. But for the rest of us, we need a motivation other than taking care of ourselves or we would always do it!

As you can probably tell, the #Doit4theKidsDay5K has been that motivation for me. This is the 3rd time that I've participated in the fundraiser, and each time it has been motivating.

The first time I posted everything I ate and every time that I worked out. I know that it annoyed many of you to the point of unfollowing me. The second time, I was trying to go 143 days without stopping but on day 110 our lives fell apart and all the progress I made disappeared.

But I decided to try again. And I decided to do 100 days starting on May 7th. Several people agreed to be part of the challenge, but to my knowledge only 4 of us have prevailed (please correct me if I'm wrong. 

So I'm on day 70 and I have just 30 days to go. So how about joining me for the #best30daychallenge? Here's how it works:

Exercise 20 minutes and then take a selfie or a picture of what you're doing and mention what day it is. If you start today you have 48 days to exercise 30 of them. Not hard, right?

But here's the trick -- or the trap. One of the four people who have kept up with this came up with it after she got behind. She said "I'm going to donate $10.00 for every day short of 100 days I end up when it ends on October 5th"

Isn't that brilliant motivation? So who is up for this challenge? The penalty is a donation to a great cause so it's a win win. You exercise 30 days and you can let everyone else bear the responsibility of supporting this cause. If you miss a day then a $10 donation comes to help with the Vision at PHFS.

And the bonus? The satisfaction of helping me get to day 100 AND knowing you've exercised for 30 days is going to be a great feeling. Let's do this together. 

Everyone understand?

Or maybe you'd just rather donate and skip all this.  That's ok too.  :-). 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Running out the Darkness

Have you ever noticed that utter darkness is not possible if there is even a glimpse of light?  No matter how deep and cold darkness is, one single light, even one match or one candle, can change it.

That is why Jesus says to us, His people, “You are the light of the world” because each time one of us let’s our light shine, darkness is an impossibility.

As you have probably noticed, I have been consumed for years with the desire to see each believer recognize their responsibility when it comes to dispelling the darkness for those kids who are in foster care or those children who are marginalized and at risk of being separated for their families.   Jesus never had a plan B.  He said that we are His body, we are His hands and feet.  If we don’t do it, He can’t do it.   We are the solution.

I love this section of the song “Power” by “We are Messengers”.  May this be what you and I are doing in our communities, in this city, in this region, in our homes, in the schools our children and grandchildren attend, in our neighborhoods, and every place we go.  And may we be a constant reminder to others around us that WE ARE THE LIGHT…. no point cursing the darkness unless we are willing to shine.

Yeah, we're running out the darkness
Chasing down the dead of night
We're bringing hope to the streets
There's a new way, a better life