Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Aroma of Christ in Life and In Death

My mother has had a rare and unforgettable opportunity in comparison to that of most other public school teachers. She had the opportunity to teach for many years at an elementary school unlike any I have ever seen. The teachers at this school were like a band of sisters, living life together both inside and outside of the classrooms. The majority of them were believers, making that bond of unity all the more strong. I personally, by extension of my mom, was blessed to know them as well. I witnessed friendships among women that will last a lifetime, and I was encouraged as a young woman by the fervent prayer support among them.
It was through these friendships and various connections that my mother and I were asked to sing in a wedding during the winter of 1998. I was a junior in high school, and the niece of my mom's principal at her school was getting married. My mom told the family that we would be more than happy to sing at the ceremony, and I still remember that intimate night in the small chapel where this sweet couple stated their vows to one another and entered into the covenant of marriage.
Almost ten years later, the Kaylor family is in the midst of a journey they would have never imagined for themselves. Jessica and Jake have been blessed with three beautiful daughters (two are in the picture above), and their extended family and friends have grown even more important and dear to them in recent years. In the spring of 2005, Jessica was diagnosed with breast cancer. It would be an understatement to simply say that the journey from then until now has been a rollercoaster. There were times early on when her body seemed free and clear, and then there were times when it seemed as if every inch of her body was taken over by this aggressive cancer. My mom has continued sending me updates these past three years, and some of the emails have been more hopeful than others. One thing has remained constant through the long and painful process - this family's faith in the Lord of all creation has been steadfast. I can only imagine how much Jessica and Jake's faith in Christ will have a lasting impact on those precious girls. I only met Jessica and Jake that weekend of their wedding many years ago, but I have still been encouraged as I have read the updates on how they are doing in the midst of the pain and seemingly endless struggle.
The email I received from my mom yesterday made my heart sink as I read the words over and over to myself. Yesterday was Jessica's last day. She had been at home with hospice care for many days with the family understanding that this day was at hand. Jake was notified by Jessica's nurse in the early hours of the morning yesterday that the moment would soon come. Jessica was surrounded by her precious family as she breathed her last and entered into that eternal rest. Yesterday was also their middle daughter's 7th birthday, and the family chose to celebrate even in the midst of the sorrow, showing their thanks to the Lord and celebrating the life He gives.
The believer's perspective on life and death is so foreign to that of the world (or should be). How can we possibly rejoice when faced with death and praise when someone has been taken from us? Do we see it as someone being taken from us, or do we view it as someone getting to see Christ before we do? We are all impacted in unique ways by death, depending on who we are and also on the one who as touched our lives and is passing. These were some of the thoughts running through my mind as we mourned the passing of my grandmother four years ago, and these thoughts returned yesterday as I read about Jessica's passing. For Christians who are approaching death, there is a strange combination of deep sorrow and peace. Our perspective on life and death should be foreign to those in the world because we have hope in the only One who lavishes peace on those whom He calls His own. We have hope because of that moment when He lavished His saving grace on us, we have hope for today as He is continually purifying us even when the process is seemingly unbearable, and we have hope for the day to come. We have hope because He promised us that future, that glorious day when we will finally see Him for whom we have so longed.
In the quiet moments of reflection and prayer for the Kaylor family yesterday, the song came to mind that my mom and I sang at Jessica and Jake's wedding almost ten years ago...
All I once held dear built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this
(Chorus)Knowing you, Jesus knowing You
There is no greater thing
You're my all you're my rest
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord
Now my heart's desire is to know You more
To be found in You, and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All surpassing gift of righteousness
Oh to know the power of Your risen life
And to know You in your suffering
To become like You in Your death my Lord
So with You to live and never die
May you be encouraged by the Kaylors' journey on their blog:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thoughts on Two Extra-Special Birthdays...

I had every intention of posting yesterday on the actual day when I was thinking of and celebrating two very special birthdays, but the hours just slipped on by. When it came time for me to wind down and relax on the couch, the times when I most prefer blogging or reading, my husband was using the laptop to prepare a sermon for his preaching class. Yeah, I think sermon preparation is a little more important than what I had in mind for myself last night...
The birthday I'll acknowledge first is that of my irresistible, big-hearted girl, Nali. My collie-border collie turned 5 years old yesterday, and we could hardly believe it as we watched her check out her birthday presents after I got home from work. Yes, we give our dogs presents for birthdays and Christmas! See the picture above? That was taken over two years ago when Nali's little sis came into the world and graced (?) us with her presence. Any plush toy you see atop Nali is now resting in peace. So we, of course, have to get her a special toy every once in awhile. Last night I got her a small plush soccer ball on my way home from work, and she loved it! We played for a little while before I tucked the ball away behind the couch (where her plush purple hippo dwells).
Nali's real presents this year, though, are a diet, increased exercise, and an echocardiogram. You would think she was a person! In all seriousness, though, at a followup appointment with the vet last week, he confirmed that the heart murmur he detected six months ago has gotten worse. While things are not critical yet, he still had to order an echocardiogram for her in order to figure out the cause. He strictly encouraged the diet and exercise, not only because any added weight can create added pressure on the heart, but also because she simply needs it. Since last week, we've enjoyed evening walks together. We either go by ourselves, or my husband takes her when he gets home from school in the afternoons. I must say, the walks have been a nice opportunity to simply exhale, unwind from a busy day, and, here recently, reflect on the past five years. Was there a time before Nali? Trying to imagine my life without her corresponds with trying to imagine my life prior to meeting my husband. The Lord so often blesses our lives with simple joys, and Nali's been that for both of us since the first day we laid eyes on her.

The other birthday I want to acknowledge is that of my niece, Isabelle, who turned 9 years old yesterday. The above picture was taken almost two years ago, and it's the most recent one I have. Not only am I prevented from being able to see her living hundreds of miles away, but the rest of my family also has not seen her in two years. We weren't able to send birthday cards or make phone calls either since we don't know where Belle, her younger half-sister, and her mom are living. I still remember this last time I visited her so vividly. I was home for the Thanksgiving holidays as usual, and my dad and brother took me over to visit her at her mom's house. We stayed for several hours, mainly since we couldn't bear to leave. Each time my dad has seen her, and by extension me seeing her, there is always the lingering question of how soon we will see her again. It breaks my heart how disunity can rip people apart from one another, and especially when it involves my niece. Belle is one of the most stunningly beautiful children I have ever laid eyes upon, there is no doubt that she is bright and loves to read, and yet we can't see her. We don't know when we'll see her again. The continual prayers for my brother always include her, primarily because his choices are what prevent us from being involved in her life. We pray fervently that one day she will know that there is a family who loves her, despite what other voices may be telling her right now. She is innocent and not to blame for what has led to this gulf in our relationship to her, but she is the one being made to suffer because of the actions and decisions of her parents. She is the one being fed suggestions and ideas that are not true, so we pray for truth. We pray that her heart will be convicted in ways that she may not be able to comprehend as a child, and that her eyes will be enlightened to the truth at some point. We can't see her, we don't know when we'll see her again, so we pray. We pray because we believe in a God who is sovereign over all the ways of man. Happy birthday, sweet Belle~

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fall Chili Cookoff!! (a.k.a. Productivity in the Workplace)

Perhaps the most anticipated team event where I work is the annual Fall Chili Cookoff. Each of the event teams (we're randomly assigned our event teams at the beginning of every year) picks a theme which is kept top secret from all of the other teams until the day of the cookoff. We are assigned a conference room and are able to decorate it according to our theme. Real judges come in from outside of the company to judge our team's chili, overall theme, and this year was added the pumpkin decorating. I was volunteered for that task even though I have never carved or painted a pumpkin in my life! So I stared at this ginormous pumpkin on my dining room table almost the entire week leading up to Friday before sitting down and attempting to make it look halfway presentable. See below for the results after SEVEN hours of work on Thursday night~

This side of the pumpkin was a mural of all things pertaining to my team's theme - The Price is Right!!

As I mentioned to a few people, I really was going to attempt drawing Bob Barker's face on this side of the pumpkin. Needless to say, drawing a cartoon face on paper is much easier than on the side of a pumpkin. So this side of the pumpkin stayed blank until about 11pm on Thursday night when I decided at the last minute to paint the show's logo.
The TV screen at the front desk of the office on Friday welcomed the judges who were coming in to judge the teams~
Tourists aren't tourists at The Price is Right without cheesy t-shirts (or just taping signs to themselves)! Mine was the actual shirt I wore to the show five years ago with my church's college group. The front says "The Price is Right with Jesus" and on the back is the passage from Corinthians "for you were bought with a price."

"Brian from Cocoa Beach" is elated to meet "Drew Carey" for the first time (the man who played Drew is actually a small British man who had to stuff his suit in order to get the effect of being puffy)

Our company has grown so much that we have to share conference rooms now for the chili cookoff. Our team shared a room with the team who had Winter Olympics as their theme. One of the Olympians tried to sneak into the show, and "Drew" managed to get an interview and sign an autograph before shooing her away~

"Drew" getting a photo op with one of his biggest fans~

We had three featured games from The Price is Right and "Plinko" proved to be the favorite!

Ms. Rhonda was on the team that had an 80s theme, and she definitely fit the part with her tight-rolled jeans!

Even some of our executives take the time to dress in a grass skirt if it means they are on the island vacation team~

This is a picture of productivity in the workplace - an ongoing game of Cornhole in the regional area~

My friend, Mindy, was on the team with the island vacation theme. She played the role of a tourist and took it as a great opportunity to bring sweet Rylie with her to work!
The company I work for continually promotes a positive environment and this is one of the many ways in which they do that. The team events not only allow us to pause and take a breath in the middle of an otherwise hectic week or season, but we also get to meet people from other departments that we may not really know otherwise. I had a great time, and it reminded me all the more of how much I love this time of the year!
(P.S. Our team came in 6th place out of 14, but we still had a blast! And my pumpkin came in 7th place...what??? Oh well, my team liked it at least!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Is Your Praise?

O My God,
You fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
My heart admires, adores, loves You,
For my little vessel is as full as it can be,
And I would pour out all that fullness before You in ceaseless flow...
I love You above the powers of language to express,
For what You are to Your creatures.
Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.
~Excerpt of a prayer of thanksgiving from Valley of Vision~

Each of us experiences seasons of praise, seasons of crying out, seasons of wondering where in the world the Lord has us or is taking us. If we stop each day and examine how many times we complain compared to how many times we are truly thankful, the contrast may be more surprising than expected. Even when we have reason to question, even in the darkest hour of the night, those whom He has called His own will always have reason to be thankful. Sometimes it takes a lightning bolt to remind us of His provision and goodness, and at other times it only requires a mere detail in an otherwise typical day.

Today, my moment of praise was somewhere in between the lightning bolt and the small detail. As many of my dear friends know, I had surgery on my mouth this summer. Even after health insurance covered their portion (insurance for which I am most grateful given my circumstances), the amount I owed was enough to make my stomach turn anytime I happened to glance at the bill - $1100. To some that may not seem like a huge deal, but for a young wife still in school and working to get her husband through school, such an amount left me feeling anxious to say the least. I immediately requested the hospital's application for financial assistance. I knew that it was a long shot since I don't consider myself poverty-stricken by any means, but I also knew that I should explore all of my options (i.e. anything to avoid the credit card, which I wouldn't be able to charge in good conscience). After almost two months of waiting, I received the letter in the mail today informing me of their decision upon reviewing my application. After taking a few deep breaths, I opened the envelope and read those long-awaited words, "We are pleased to inform you..." The balance I owed the hospital went from $1100 to $0. The hospital not only accepted my application for financial assistance, but they covered the entire balance.

Any feelings of anxiety for money over the coming months to pay for the surgery melted away instantly. One piece of paper reminded me of His overwhelming presence, His continual provision, and the peace only He can bring. I am still in awe of the fact that I owe absolutely nothing, and I can only attribute such a blessing to the Lord. I mailed that application knowing full well that the hospital did not have to grant me a penny of assistance, but He provided in this way. And even if the hospital had turned me down, He still provides and He leads us through every season in life.

Now I turn the topic over to any of you who may be reading. What is your praise this week? What was the instance, whether big or seemingly small, in which you were reminded of His goodness in your life? For those whom He calls by name, we never have far to look in order to see His hand at work.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ladies Fall Tea

What better time of year for a ladies tea than the beginning of the autumn season? A handful of ladies from church put together a splendid tea on Saturday and the mid-morning turned out to be a sweet time of fellowship and listening to one woman's personal testimony.

The decor was so beautiful and a truly warm and welcoming atmosphere for the coming of autumn. We each left with the goodies on our plates - honey dipping spoons for our own hot tea at home and a cinnamon stick hot tea bag!

The ladies of Grace - Not all were able to attend, of course, but I was glad for the ones who were there. I am still getting to know many of the women at church, and this was such a wonderful opportunity to do so.

This why I am determined to learn how to cook and bake! Cranberry chicken salad sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, apple cinnamon bread, pumpkin bread, lavendar cookies, gingerbread scones...are you hungry yet? The spread was exquisite!

This sweet woman was our guest speaker at the tea on Saturday. She is a member at the church from which our church was planted, and it was truly encouraging to have her share with us. She gave her personal testimony, and God's grace was evident throughout. She reminded us that any pain in our lives should be neither watered down as if insignificant, nor should pain be magnified to the point that such experiences are the central focus. We should always view our suffering in light of God's sovereign grace in our lives. Even when we aren't aware, He is orchestrating it all for our good, sanctifying us, and preparing us for Himself.

Thank you, ladies, for such a memorable day! I am eager to see how the Lord continues to grow us together~

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Stayin' Put or Movin' On Up?

Some friends and family may vaguely remember my feeble attempts at explaining my job when I first started at the company just over three years ago. It admittedly took me at least six months to come up with a semi-coherent summary sentence describing what Summit does, and even then, I was never confident about the garbled words coming out of my mouth. (And garbled they were!) I completely understand, especially now looking back, why I was received with the awkward smile and nod by those to whom I really did try explaining my job. It was just really difficult to explain to people, especially with my little to nonexistent knowledge of anything related to energy or the business world. Not to mention how my job even remotely related to my college degree and masters program...

If you're just tuning in, I work for an energy management company. Summit contracts with clients for the purpose of managing their electric power and natural gas usage to ensure that they are receiving the best for their buck. Now, these aren't residential clients with whom we contract, but rather companies that have large industrial sites that spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on their energy usage. For every unit of energy used there is a unit cost: multiply those and you get the total cost. (That is a very dumbed down explanation, but again, my explanation is a work in progress.) Imagine how effective the service of researching rates can be in saving such clients a significant amount of money in their overall spend. While Summit doesn't necessarily promise dollar savings, there is a whole gamut of services provided to the clients that. Not only do we contract with clients here in the U.S., but we have in the last year or two expanded to clients in other countries. Such growth is exciting and good for the company, but also understandably comes with its fair share of challenges.

So what do I, a seminary student with a church ministry undergraduate degree who prayed to pass any math or business classes I took in school, actually do at such a company?? Well, after spending the first two years in data management departments ("paper pushing" and glorified auditing of invoices), I have been on the new client team since February 2007. My team of four serves as the messengers between the client managers and our internal departments. We ensure that any new clients are correctly and completely entered into our computer system. We receive the data from the client via their assigned client manager, whether invoices or contracts, take it to the necessary departments for their expertise, and ultimately notify the client manager when their client has been completely setup in our system. What are helpful personality traits for the kind of position I am in? A people person who is able to communicate clearly and positively, someone with exceptional attention to detail, ability to multi-task, and pristine organization. Hmm...yeah, I would say the position I'm in is a pretty good fit (as long as you don't try to compare my work organization with my home organization!!). Now if only you could be a fly on the wall and see me attempt to apply all of these to a phone conversation with client manager who lives in Belgium but is originally from France, you might be in for some real entertainment!

I can look back on the past couple of years and clearly see the ways in which I have grown both individually and in how I relate to and work with others (I don't studder as much). My convictions have been sharpened when it comes to my role as a witness right in the middle of comfortable, middle America, and I have become increasingly more thankful for the ways in which the Lord has clearly provided by means of this particular job. After almost two years of being in this position, I am still always open for any opportunity for continued growth, which is why I applied last week for a position in a different department at Summit. I did not apply out of any negative feelings for my current job or co-workers, but simply for the opportunity to dive deeper into the actual services that Summit performs for our clients. The analyst position is a much more concentrated responsibility, one in which the individual becomes the "expert in residence" for whichever market he or she is assigned. I was eager to apply for the position as I could see the ways in which I had potentially been prepared for this kind of a move. The interview took place last Thursday, and I still had not received word when the weekend arrived. And then I didn't receive word on Monday. And then on Tuesday. Finally, after that many days of waiting anxiously (but honestly trying not to be anxious), I received the phone call late this afternoon. I timidly entered the regional manager's office and he proceeded to tell me the simple reasons for why I would not be the ideal candidate for this position. Everything he said was completely understandable, and I walked out feeling confident in the level of his honesty with me, but also encouraged by the positive things he told me about my career thus far at Summit.

So with a potential move up in the company (this move would have been a promotion of sorts), I spent the better part of the past several days asking myself "x-ray" questions, analyzing my heart and motives and dealing with the possibility of not being selected for the position. Regardless of whether or not I was offered the job, am I thankful for where I am at right now? What would such a transition solve, if anything, in my life right now? Would the increase in salary be worth it? Am I prepared for "no," or am I consumed with any self-centered notion that I had better be the one offered that job? Such were some of the questions I was flipping through as I prepared myself for the conversation that occurred today. When I arrived home after work, my husband obviously asked whether or not I had been offered the position since we have been waiting for this all week. He asked if I was alright with the decision they made, or if I was disappointed, and in all honesty...I was able to take a very refreshing breath and tell him that I am honestly completely at peace with the outcome. I have no reason at this point in my life to be disappointed because I have been given much more than I could have ever asked for or anticipated. The Lord has continually provided, and will only continue to do so in the ways He deems best. I couldn't ask for more...

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. ~Psalm 147:10-11

Monday, October 06, 2008

Song for Sunday (and a look back at life just one year ago)

Almighty God
(T. Hughes)
The rising Sun that fills the sky
The starry host that lights the night
Reflecting Your glory
The mountain heights, forever stand
The rain that falls to soak the land
Respond to Your glory
Almighty God, in every way
You are above and beyond understanding
If we did not praise, the rocks would cry out
Glorious God, high above understanding
The vast expanse of earth and sea
Held by You in harmony
Speaks of Your glory
All You've made, since time began
Life itself, Your perfect plan
And it's all for You glory
Almighty God, in every way
You are above and beyond understanding
If we did not praise, the rocks would cry out
Glorious God, high above understanding
Creation joins as one to sing 'Glorious God'
So far about all earthly things
Almighty God, in every way
You are above and beyond understanding
If we did not praise, the rocks would cry out
Glorious God, high above understanding