Thursday, December 26, 2019

Is this Enough?

Maybe it's middle age.  Maybe it's just the ending of another year.   But I asked myself several times the past few days, "Is This Enough?"

Historically I have been person driven by passion and fueled by meaningful relationships.   I have had a cause ... and still do ... that wakes me up every morning and keeps me going all day.   Between these things and my family, I have always had more than enough to do be fulfilled and enough energy to get it done... most days.  In the past I also had a pretty extensive speaking schedule, traveling across the U.S. to share with social workers and foster and adoptive parents.  I also squeezed in time to write five books, and pursue a variety of hobbies that were often short lived.  (I can be REALLY excited about something for quite a while but then I'm just NOT, and then I can't make myself get excited again).

The past year or so I have been pretty tired by the time my work day is done.  My position is demanding as well as rewarding and often pretty exhausting.   I do not have close friends locally which is a change for me as I have always maintained solid friendships over the years.   I have work connections with really cool people and I love our parishioners, but relationships are few and far between when it comes to friends that aren't tied to either work or church, which is Bart's work.  Most of our children and grandchildren do not live locally and the ones who do  live in my house which means that I see them often enough (sometimes too often).  I find myself, for the first time ever, watching TV, something I've never done regularly.

In addition, I am not asked to speak much any more.  I don't pursue opportunities because I don't enjoy travel much any more (if I ever did) and I have learned that while you may get paid $1,000 for a 20 minute keynote, by the time you make arrangements, plan the speech, get there, and get back home, the hourly rate really isn't that high.  People don't buy or read my books any more.  I don't market them so they just take up space, a reminder of how I am really "yesterday's news."

So I asked Bart the other day, "Is this enough?"  And I think I was also asking this question of God.   The answer came to me, through a television show, surprisingly enough, where a couple was asking the same question.  Their conclusion?  As long as we have each other we have enough.

I am so very grateful for my husband and the life we have built together.  So many folks struggle with this primary relationship and I am so thankful that ours is so solid.  We have been through so much together and yet it brings us closer together instead of driving us apart.

As we discussed this this week and I pondered it for a few days, I realized that maybe my life has always been bigger than it really needed to be.   Maybe it is just getting right sized now.  And it became very clear to me how grateful I am for my husband and family.  I realized that maybe my kids can be my friends.  I reconnected with my brother recently, so maybe I should spend more time talking to him.   I can Face Time my grandkids.   And I can enjoy each work-related relationship to the fullest.  I can get more involved in volunteering which I started this year and am enjoying.   I am the person who gets to choose how full my life is ... I am not a victim of my circumstances.

Finally, I remembered a verse and a song this morning.   The verse is 2 Corinthians 12:9:  My grace is sufficient for thee!   And the song below.  So I have my answer, though it took me a while to figure it out.

Friday, December 06, 2019

The Rest of the Verse

You may or may not know that across our nation there is an “orphan care movement” that began over 15 years ago.  The essence of this movement is that it is not the job of the government to care for the orphan, but the responsibility of the church.  There are thousands of people across our nation who are dedicating their lives to making sure that the church wakes up and accepts their God-given mandate.  

Because I have been a part of this movement in several capacities, personally and professionally, in the past couple decades, I have read, written, and quoted James 1:27 on multiple occasions.  But only this week as I was processing all I learned at the Care Portal Deep Dive (warning, I am fired up about this game changing tool!) that I was able to understand the rest of the verse.

Part one says:  
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress 

Makes sense, right.  And is a wonderful quote if we want to get others involved in doing this work.  If James called it “pure religion” who doesn’t want to be part of that?

But here is part two of the verse:

and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

How do those two go together?  What’s the connection?  I think this week I may have figured it out as I listened to story after story of real, ordinary people, like you and me.... meeting the real needs of children and families, I finally get the connection.  So here are my conclusions:

1) If your focus is on meeting the needs of others, it’s pretty hard for the things of the world that pollute us to grab hold of your mind space.

2) If you take these verses to heart and you are moved and filled with compassion for those less fortunate and you have them in your heart, then the things of this world can’t take hold of your emotions and pull you away.

3). If your free time is filled with thinking about, praying for, and doing for families and children in need, there isn’t enough extra time for the things of this world to take over.

If we as Christians take heed to part one of this verse and make part one a central focus of our lives, part two won’t be a concern.    Let’s do this!

(By the way.... I would LOVE to tell you about Care Portal (or you can check it out for yourself by clicking on that link!  Or you can do both!)

Monday, November 25, 2019


How many times do we want to give up because the journey seems father or higher than anything other journey we have ever experienced?  I know I am tempted often to just say, “too hard, too much, too far, too impossible…. and yet God doesn’t give us permission to give up just because it’s hard.  In fact, in Galatians 9 Paul says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

On Saturday my husband and I (and six other folks at that theatre) saw the movie Harriet.  it was intense and powerful and definitely worth seeing, though there were really no light hearted moments.  To say the movie was serious is an understatement.   ("of course, it’s serious, Bart said, using the condescending voice he only uses with his beloved wife, "slavery was a serious awful thing.”)

Harriet Tubman was a young black slave in her twenties who ran to the north for freedom…. risking her life many times.  I won’t tell you more than that, because I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, but she ended up rescuing a lot of slaves in her day utilizing the underground railroad.   Even if you don’t see the movie, reading her life story in a brief online article will inspire you.

There is one scene that will forever stick in my mind.  She had gone back to Maryland several times for members of her family and others to make the 100 mile trip to Philadelphia on foot.  It becomes necessary for them to move even father north to Canada after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which allowed slave owners to go into the north to catch their slaves who thought they had made it to freedom.   The committee of the underground railroad has a secret meeting in New York and they are about to conclude that they can’t continue to rescue the slaves because they are now so far away.   They are about to make this decision when Harriet, barely five feet tall,  stands and says, “I am not going to stop rescuing slaves because it’s far.   Some of you were born free and others of you have been free so long you have forgotten, but I remember.” 

She then goes on to remind them of what it is like to be a slave.   She ends her speech with more determination than when she started to keep on doing the difficult task to which she felt God had called her — no matter how hard, no matter how far.

What is your impossibility today?    

Our impossible is God’s reality.   

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.