The Impossibility of Obeying God

One of the pastors at Third Church RVA reminded me yesterday that God calls us to do things we can’t do without him. In his sermon on Luke 9, referring to Jesus feeding the 5,000 people in the crowd, Rich Hutton pointed out that after hearing the request from the disciples to send people home to feed themselves, Jesus gave them a directive instead. “You give them something to eat,” he said. But how would the disciples do this, when they were hungry and tired themselves, as well as broke and needy? Impossible.

God calls me to do the impossible. And God’s calling to you, dear reader, is unattainable as well, at least in your own power. What is God’s calling? What are his commandments? How are we to obey him?

“One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.'” (Mark 12: 28-31)

In my youth, I used to think I could do these things. I believed I could love God with everything in me, and I could love other people. But the more I grow and live, the more I realize it is absolutely, unequivocally impossible for me to do this! I look back at my life and realize that the main motivation for my actions, even the “good” ones, has mostly been self-centered. Not that I realized that. Not that I am that discerning even now! But I’m taking a hard look at myself and finding that even what I do in service of others is often tainted with pride and self-indulgence. Have I ever truly loved God and loved my neighbor? Yes. But have I obeyed God’s commands well, faithfully, and consistently? Absolutely not.

Just as it was impossible for the disciples to feed the crowd, it is impossible for all of us to do what God requires of us. And just like in the story of Mark, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus not only understands our inability, but is willing to step in and do the work with us and through us!

God calls us to do the impossible, SO THAT HE CAN HELP US! This blows my mind! I so desperately need God’s help and He is so willing to give it! Jesus was the one who fed the crowd, but the disciples were the ones handing out the bread. Their reluctance turned into joy, and their burden into gratitude.

Lord, will you help me today? Will you come to the aid of my readers as well? Do what we cannot do ourselves. May you empower us today to love you with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and may you love others through our service to them. May you purify our hearts so that our motivation for living and our purpose for serving is God-centered and not self-centered. May we pour out honest love and kindness towards those whom are closest to us, spouses, children, parents, friends. May we desire your glory to be displayed for all to see as we serve people outside of our inner circles. May we not seek self-satisfaction from our good works, but instead experience true joy and gratitude that stems from a sincere place of worship to God and service to others.

I thank God that in giving us commandments that are impossible to keep, He also demonstrates his love for us by empowering and supplying for us, to us, and through us.

“The Lord is the strength of his people” (Psalm 28:8a)

 

Advertisements

An Honest Assessment

The end of 2015. I’m not one to over-analyse things. At least that’s what my family tells me. But this year has been especially challenging for me and approaching its end seems to accentuate the urge to remember and recall the blessings received, the difficulties experienced, and lessons learned this past year.

For those of you on social media who view my beautiful family pictures with smiling faces and assume that I am a wonderful person with a wonderful marriage and a perfectly harmonious family, please remember that we take those pictures during happy and peaceful times, during vacations, birthday celebrations, and special moments. These pictures are not deceitful. They are honest. But they do not reflect the full spectrum of life lived.

With that said, here’s a recap of my year (and if anyone out there relates, shout out an amen, will ya?):

Despite my dreams and aspirations to be a good mom and wife, I have to admit I’ve yelled at my husband, said hurtful words to a daughter, acted intolerant towards a son, and neglected my mother. I’ve been impatient with those whom I love and wounded them with my words and actions. Not once or twice, but many more times than I could recount with a shed of dignity. I have cried many tears, especially the months that Gabriel had his eyes (and emotions) shut. Also, my other kids are leaving the house one by one and I confess I have not handled that with faith or trust in God. I have, instead, felt self-pity and self-absorption. Yes, grieving during empty-nesting is natural, and I sure have done that. But I’ve also been consumed with regret and insecurities, all pointing to the fact that my assurance of God’s presence and purpose have been lost in my focus on self. This depression has affected me in more ways than one, and I think I’m experiencing a full-blown hormonal super-charged midlife crisis!

On the flip side, I have rejoiced and given thanks for seeing my children grow in their faith and mature in their choices. I have seen them being courageous, determined, and disciplined. I have cherished the times we have as a family and my heart has been so encouraged seeing the love that they feel for one another. They are the best of friends and they will always be there for each other. What a gift! This year I’m gaining a daughter and the wedding happens in less than 4 months! These are exciting times full of hope and anticipation.  Lizette has recorded an album, Gabriel has had his eyes open for months! (Praise the LORD), Daniel has received a promotion and raise, Geneva has moved to RVA, and Elise has become a board certified CNA. Yay! And despite my many failures as a mom and wife, I have loved well at times, forgiven when needed, brought the family together, cooked for many family gatherings, listened, hugged, given rides, and cheered for my kids. God is certainly at work in my life.

In other news, my job has rocked. Not only do I love what I do but I have made good friends, met wonderful people who pour out their lives for their children and work passionately for their community. I have also been stretched in my skills as a musician. I got to direct the pit orchestra while working as music director for Fiddler on the Roof, a most terrifying and exhilarating experience. I also did my part in directing the music for Seussical in a two week period. Who knew that could be done! And I discovered the LoVetri Somatic vocal technique, which I’m using with all my private voice students with great results. Not only do I love my job, but my husband loves his job. I mean, really? He has left happily in the mornings and returned happily in the evenings. We are both, indeed, quite content in that department. Yay for 2015!

My faith, on the other hand, not so steady. I often times have felt far away from God’s presence, I have stayed away from the Word and doubted God’s goodness. I have not prayed due to lack of trust. But God has sent me encouragement in the form of great sermons, faithful friends, testimonies, facebook statuses, and beautiful sunsets. So despite my weak and feeble faith, God is strong through me and in spite of me. My verse for this year (and for my entire life) has been “I do believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

And friends. While I am sad to say that I don’t have many close, local friends at the moment, I do consider myself blessed by people who have cared enough to pray for me, worry about me, laugh with me, give me words of encouragement, and share their hearts with me. If you are reading this and know you are part of this group, I want to tell you I am so thankful for you!

2015 has been a hard year, but also a good year. I have eaten too much and gained enough to not fit into my clothes, I have traveled and seen new places, I have visited loved ones in Miami, I have made new friends here, I have been loved by those whom I work with, I have read good books, seen the justice system work in favor of the innocent, gotten mad at politicians, discovered the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my mom, gone to the Venetian Pool twice, been criticized for my views on welcoming refugees, seen my nieces dance flamenco, breathed in ocean air, made music videos with Elise, seen Newsies, cuddled with Bosco the horse-dog, learned to make flan, seen Man of la Mancha, had not one, but two blood transfusions, played Balderdash, bought new couches, gone to Carters Mountain with fabulous people, built a snow-man, gone Christmas caroling on Lizette’s birthday, gone to a vineyard, sat in countless amazing auditions, prayed with dear friends in a fellowship group, listened to Hamilton, toured the Supreme Court, chaperoned, attended Bible study, drank 4 sips of wine without getting drunk, and discovered many great little restaurants in RVA.

2015 has forced me to grow. It has been full of life, celebrations, and fabulous experiences, as well as challenges and heartache. God has remained a steady rock through it all. Thank you 2015, it’s been good knowing you.

family

 

 

 

Looking Back at My Summer and Forward to What’s Ahead

Back in June, I wrote my Summer Resolutions, outlining my hopes and goals for the past 3 months. As I look back, I can see many things accomplished and some untouched; Great, fun, and fulfilling events as well as hard and painful. Among the most memorable, here are a few:

  • I spent significant time with family, not with all of them at once, and with some more than others, but I am so grateful for the moments we shared. Knowing full well how hard it is to live away from loved ones, I don’t take any face-to-face time for granted.

    Dining out in Dewey Beach

    Dining out in Dewey Beach

  • I vacationed. 🙂 Our family (minus two kids) went to Delaware for some needed R&R at the beach; I got to hang out with two of my best friends in Miami, for a few days; Juan and I spent a day in DC with my sister-in-law and fiance, and my mom and I, again in DC, met with my dear nephew whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid (always a great treat to catch up with extended family); Our family (again minus two) visited VA Beach; And Gabriel and I got to lounge at the pool a few times. All in all, I am thankful for the times of relaxation and diversion, both of which were highly needed.

    Smithsonian in DC

    Smithsonian in DC

  • I achieved some (but not all) of my cleaning/organizing goals around the house. We began our summer by literally throwing our couches out the window – I have the torn hedge to prove it – and buying new living room furniture after steam cleaning our carpets. That alone felt like a renewal of the soul! My new living arrangements bring me great contentment.

    My living room

  • I had music fun! Went to see Foreigner in concert with friends, a jazz outdoor festival with Juan and a bunch of teenagers, CWorks’ amazing production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as a loved musical of mine, Man of La Mancha, at the amphitheater.

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

  • I spent time with friends, not as much as I wanted, but I am grateful for what I got! With three family birthdays happening, we had opportunities to invite people, have great conversation, play games, and laugh (the best medicine).

    Daniel's birthday. Geneva is the new addition to our family after recently moving to VA :)

    Daniel’s birthday. Geneva is the new addition to our family after recently moving to VA 🙂

  • I worked. Somebody asked me a couple of months, what is it that I do to relieve stress. My answer came out without even thinking about it, “I go to work.” Not only did I have two incredibly packed days of lessons nearly every week, with the most amazing kids ever, but I also worked as a musical director for CWorks’ production of Seussical. I mean, can it get more fun than that? I fall more and more in love with my students and their families, and I count it as a privilege, honor, and blessing to work with each one of them. And as a bonus, I love and thoroughly enjoy the other staff members I get to have fun with. It’s a win-win.

    Horton and I

  • I learned. Attended this incredible vocal pedagogy course at the CCM Institute at Shenandoah University, where I gained great and practical knowledge, which I’ve applied to my teaching already. Next summer, I’ll complete the course and become a certified Sommatic Voicework teacher. I can’t wait!

    With my long-time friend, Kathleen, who happens to be a very talented voice teacher!

  • Probably one of the most significant blessings granted to me this summer, is the fact that I got invited to join a small, intimate, women’s fellowship group. I’ve met with them only a few times, but in these short weeks, they have had a severe impact on my spiritual growth. In a time of emotional instability (can you say pre-menopause?) and during a period in my life where God is firmly and sternly stirring my heart, digging up hidden idols, and exposing my lack of faith and trust in Him, God, who is always kind and gentle, has provided me with praying friends. They have been a tangible expression of God’s love towards me. What a gift!

    jude 1:24-25

    Jude 1:24-25

  • In addition to fun and games, this summer has been a time of growth and self-examination. I, along with my church family, have suffered loss, betrayal, and deceit. But, as with any other God-given tribulation, He has also granted us the gifts of trust, love, mercy, forgiveness, and peace. What a great God we serve!
  • Finally, my husband and I said goodbye to our Kingsway Community Church this past Sunday. I nearly cried when they all prayed for us during our last service there. Needless to say, I feel sad to leave the congregation I’ve grown to love and cherish.  This church has been an integral part of our lives ever since we moved to VA. But now God is moving us to another congregation and opening new opportunities for ministry. He is also calling us to take time to rest, examine ourselves, and listen to His guidance. I feel some grief and some apprehension. I also feel some excitement. I certainly feel peace.

Looking ahead, I am hopeful that God will show Juan and I the direction he has for us (one step at a time), as a married couple, as friends, as his servants. Honestly, I am not looking forward to putting in the effort into building new relationships. That’s the antisocial in me talking. But I am anticipating that little by little, He will help us to grow roots and feel at home at Third Presbyterian Church. 

I am also excited to start a new school year with a growing (actually I’m maxed out!) private music studio, CWorks classes, and music directing a couple of shows. I absolutely love the kids I am working with and can’t wait to spend hours learning, enjoying singing, and growing together.

My year will be busy and packed. But I hope and pray that God helps me to utilize my time wisely and effectively. I want to spend enough time in the Word, because I need it so very, very much. As I am being emotionally and spiritually stretched, I am anticipating that I will look back, at the end of this year, and see that I have become a more God-fearing person, a better wife and mom, a more faithful friend, and a more humble servant.

Billy!

Juan and I were having a conversation yesterday. Billy McKillop’s name came up and my immediate response was “He is one of my favorite people in the world!”, to which Juan answered, “Mine too!”

This is my 6th entry in the Tribute series, and I’m so glad to dedicate it to this awesome person, my friend Billy.

I know Billy from my days at Pinelands Presbyterian Church, in Miami. When Juan and I first started attending that church, we came in as a couple in great need of support and spiritual strength. Billy, more than likely, does not know how big of an impact his life and leadership was for us. In all our years in ministry we had never met a person quite like him. He showed us what true humility looked like. He demonstrated real love for people and a genuine concern for their souls and well being. Billy was not boisterous nor seeking accolades, but he served quietly and wholeheartedly. I remember many days when God’s grace surprised me through Billy’s life. All I had to do was watch him at work or have a conversation with him, and I would often learn something new about compassion and evangelism. I had not fully understood how God’s grace could be so evidently displayed in leadership, until I met Billy McKillop. I am so grateful for the work God did in my heart through him.

Billy has a sweet, thoughtful, and supportive wife by his side, and together they have raised three passionate and loving children. The McKillop family has served in ministry both in local churches and abroad. Wherever they go, they display God’s goodness for all to see. Their commitment to the expansion of God’s kingdom is evident in their life choices. Many have come to the knowledge of the gospel through their labor of love. Thank you Billy, Sherry, Caleb, Zachary, and Gabrielle, for your service to the Lord. I am one of those people whose life has been deeply enriched by yours.

After Billy's installation service at New City Fellowship (Billy and Sherry are second and third from the left)

After Billy’s installation service at New City Fellowship (Billy and Sherry are third and fourth from the left)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Perfect Description of the Past Week

This week has been some week. Seriously, a week of extremes, in circumstances, emotional reactions, and spiritual responses; a week of utter failures and amazing victories. Care to know what happened? Here it goes!

THE BAD

How about we call it, a series of unfortunate events, too many to list. Among others:

  • While the family was out enjoying Christmas activities last Sunday evening, the adorable, cuddly Bosco (the pony-sized puppy which has been living in our house the past two weeks) managed to wreak havoc by plentifully peeing on our rug, eating massive amounts of chocolate cake which in turn produced profuse diarrhea, and drinking out of the toilet bowl (I’ll spare you the details). Two days ago, I came home to chewed up carpet, because, what is more fun to a puppy than tearing up the carpet, of course.
  • On Monday, while getting ready to go out and do some last minute grocery shopping before Christmas, and while trying to maintain enough self-control to not kill the adorable, cuddly Bosco, I heard the loud crying of my oldest daughter who had twisted her ankle outside and was now not able to walk from pain, resulting in a trip to the emergency room. (This run-on sentence describes the run-on emotional toil on my already overflowing cup). Oh, and, get this, while preparing to rush Lizette to the hospital, the puppy bolted out of the house, happily galloping at the speed of sound, while all the kids (except the injured one) ran after him like mad people all over the neighborhood, to the amusement of our neighbors. At the hospital we discovered Lizette had injured ligaments and would then begin a period (which has not ended) of immobilization of the leg, as well as the use of crutches. I do not recommend crutches in a split level home….
  • My original plan was to have a peaceful Tuesday: I would take time to prepare and organize my music, as I was leading the choir for our church and we would have our dress rehearsal that evening. I would also begin my preparations for our Christmas Eve dinner, cooking some, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house. But then life happened and my Tuesday looked nothing like I had pictured it. It was rainy and cold, and I was out purchasing pain killers, doing the shopping I had not gotten done the previous day, and dealing with relational and emotional, family issues. So I panicked. Yes, I totally panicked. And what do I do when I panic? I pass it on to the husband and the kids, of course. But more on that on the “UGLY” chapter… (how’s that for a transition?)

THE UGLY

Here’s where it gets really good. You see, ugly is so ugly. As I was saying, panic, and worry, combined with perfectionism and pride, make the ideal recipe to, well, let’s say, kill the Christmas spirit. It began on Tuesday as I started anticipating I would not be ready for Christmas Eve. I transferred this pressure to my family (oh, and did I mention that my lovely, future daughter-in-law has been visiting us and watching me in “action” this whole week?). I wish I could blame my hormonal changes. But even though hormones can (and probably do) accentuate my emotional responses, they are not to blame for the sin that so reigned in my heart, putting my family in great distress. After my initial mini-fit on Tuesday, I told myself I would have a good, peaceful day on Wednesday. I got up that morning with a new resolve to be positive and stable. Ha! My “good” attitude lasted for most of the day, until BOOM, I completely lost it! I’m talking hyperventilation, anger, frustration, and worst of all, blaming and shaming. My family had been nothing but helpful and cooperative all day. But the enemy of my soul knew where to get me. A comment. A look. A tone. An unfinished task. A feeling of being out of control. Fear of failure. Pride. You name it!

And so just as our family was leaving the house to go to church, where I would lead the choir in the entire service of Lessons and Carols, in “joyful” celebration of the birth of our savior, I was acting more like a dog with rabies than a daughter of God. I arrived at church in distress and in tears. I then proceeded to lay guilt on my sweet daughter, who had been so loving towards me all day. The choir assembled in the appropriate room at the previously assigned time, ready for their warm-up. I did not show up on time, but walked in 10 minutes late, still red-eyed, as I barely composed myself to lead them in a short warm-up. My incredible sinful attitude was being displayed for all to see, and I needed to get a grip within the next 12 minutes.

THE GOOD

Praise the Lord, the good outweighs the bad and the ugly! The only reason it outweighs it, is because the good comes, not from me, but from God himself. He is perfectly good, and kind enough to shower his children with goodness, not once or twice, but always.

  • Grace: I am a recipient of it. Everyone who saw me at church on Christmas Eve knew I was not well. But every single one of them smiled, said a helpful word, and encouraged me. There wasn’t a single complaint, even if well deserved, but even as I walked in late, I was greeted by happy, forgiving faces and patient hearts.
  • Forgiveness: Boy, did I have to ask for it! Sitting at the table on Christmas Day I asked my family to forgive me, and was blessed by their immediate willingness to do so, without reservation.
  • Rescue: I don’t know how I led the choir on Christmas Eve. Honestly, my mind was only present half of the time. But the service was not about me. It was about Jesus and the goodness and love He displayed so openly by leaving his rightful place in heaven to become a human being. So God took care of it. He enabled the choir to sing their hearts out, he helped me to not be lost or make mistakes, and in the end, He received the attention and the glory, the way it was meant to be.
  • Love and friendship: Despite the disaster earlier in the day, our Christmas Eve dinner was lovely. Our family was happy to share this time with wonderful friends. The food was amazingly delicious. The caroling around the piano was uplifting and sweet, and the joy of God was evident. He had compassion for me and gave me what my heart so deeply desired, even though I did not deserve it.
  • Prayer: Our need has been greater, so prayer has increased. The ability to pray is a gift from God. Because Jesus was born in a manger and grew up to become the sacrifice for our sins, our Passover Lamb, we now have full access to him! We pray and he listens! It’s quite amazing. Not only has our family prayed more, but I have been specifically touched and encouraged by Lizette’s prayers. You see, she has gone years without praying… or believing in God. But God has begun a great work of inward transformation in her. At every turn this week, Lizette was the first to say, “Let’s pray”. No amount of bad or ugly can outweigh the joy of hearing her words and seeing her heart being poured out to God in faith and trust. Isn’t God good and merciful?

Today has been quiet, happy, and peaceful. Bosco is still alive and, somehow, still here (It’s a Christmas miracle). We are learning to keep him away from food and toilet bowls. This morning Lizette, Geneva, and I prayed and laid hands on him so that God would help him as well ;). We are eating delicious left-overs and Lizette’s pain is not as intense any more.

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

With my 3 daughters on Lizette's birthday, last Friday

With my 3 daughters on Lizette’s birthday, last Friday

From One Church Member to Another

Church friends, can I vent a little? I know we are generally well meaning, and I understand that we have good intentions. But we need to realize that our words are weighty. When we speak to each other in church meetings or prayer groups and talk about reaching the lost, let’s not use phrases like “we are called to love the unlovable” or “there are a lot of sinners out there” or “let us be open to receiving them (you know, the sinners).”

Statements such as these imply that the sinful and the unlovable are out of the church, and by default the lovable and the sinless are inside. We know better, right? We know the Bible says we are as unlovable as the next guy, yet despite ourselves, we are immensely loved. We know that we are sinners, every single one of us, forgiven sinners. We KNOW this. Yet, somehow, when we communicate with each other, we separate ourselves from “those” people, as if we were somehow better or more worthy. Let us remember we were DEAD in our sins, but Jesus, in his great mercy breathed life into us, called us by name, and rescued us. WE DID NOTHING other than believe. And we cannot even take credit for our belief, since we know that even faith is a gift from God.

The Gospel is God’s transforming truth for ALL of us, inside and outside the church. For some, it may be the welcoming into the kingdom of Christ. For others, it’s the shedding of a self-centered lifestyle. But that doesn’t change who we are: LOVED SINNERS. The Gospel is free! Let’s season our words so they say what we really mean. When we communicate, let us include ourselves in the sinners and the unlovable and the needy categories. Because we are. We are part of mankind, and mankind needs a Savior.

Venting complete.

It’s a gift!

Singing with my boys

Singing with my boys

There is something so deeply entrenched in our souls that makes us, the human race, sing. I’m not sure how it works, but I know, from experience and from observation, that singing is a natural, instinctual even, response and overflow of our emotions. We don’t teach people to sing in the same way we don’t teach them to walk or smile. They just do. It’s simply a part of life: A gift from our maker.

Yes, there are factors which contribute to better or worst singing (I’m a voice teacher, I should know) but in the end, whether in key or out of key, trained or untrained, in company or alone, we allow our feelings to surface as we sing or as we listen to the singing of others.

Do you have legs that work? Then walk! Who am I to tell you that my walking is prettier than yours? Sure, some of us can use our legs for marathons while others simply to transport us a few feet, but if they move, they move. I get it, I basically stink at drawing (my father’s visually artistic genes skipped a generation, apparently), but I refuse to let that stop me while playing Pictionary. I will draw, even if badly, because I have hands that work and eyes that see. So why not sing? We have a built-in instrument that goes with us wherever we go and that requires simply the flow of air and the opening of our mouths. Yes, yes, you don’t need to point out that some singing sounds, well, less than pretty, painful even, but if God intended for only some of us to sing, then He would have given only some of us the vocal folds to do it.

So, why sing? Because you can. And because it’s healing and affirming and all around fantastic. Sing when you are happy and filled with energy; sing with others around a campfire and feel the bond of frienship; sing when you are depressed and in need of a good cry; sing when you’re in love; sing in the shower, you’ll enjoy the acoustics; sing when you worship God, in your car and in your church, and while you vacuum your house. Sing because you can, and because it allows you to feel and to let it all out.

I teach music for a living and I lead the choir at my church. I constantly meet people who believe they can’t sing (when they can.) Such belief usually comes from a time in childhood when they were told by others that they didn’t have a good voice. I have met countless of people who refuse to open their mouths to sing because they are convinced they can’t do it. What a horrible shame. I am not saying that everyone has a pretty voice or that everyone has musical talent. What I am saying is that everyone should sing. Period.

Parents, let’s never tell our kids that they can’t sing! Instead, encourage them. Sing them to sleep when they are babies, sing along to children’s songs with nursery rhymes, sign them up for choirs and music classes in school and after school. If they have a passion for singing, do everything in your means to help them develop their voice and treat it safely, not to obtain fame and wealth (even though that does happen in some cases), but to have longevity in their voice, to bless others, to create songs and record them, and to sing to their kids and grand kids.

Singing is good. And fun.

Only some of us will be professional musicians and singers. Only some of us will be cast in shows or hired as soloists or selected for a band. That should be expected. But singing is not only for the professionals. It’s a gift from God to all of mankind. So sing and worship and cry and laugh, because that what singing is for.