Sunday, December 29, 2013

What's Your Purpose?

It is with mixed emotions that I report that we found a new home for Gator.  It's really bittersweet.  He was sweet and loved us all dearly, but he just wasn't where he needed to be.  The last straw came when he broke the gate that contained him in our backyard.  Without that, we literally couldn't keep him.  The great news is that a long-time family friend took him.  He and his wife (who's an animal lover) live on 100 acres in Arkansas.  They have another dog, 4 horses, a pond and many other opportunities for daily activities for Gator.  They called after his first day there and he'd already had several "adventures."  On his 2nd day they reported that he's the "running-est" dog they've ever seen and they loved him.  He gets along well with their other dog, whose name is... GATOR!  Yep, they now have 2 dogs named Gator.  It was destiny!  My heart is still broken and I still get a lump in my throat when I look out back and he's not there, but then I think of all the opportunities for fun he has now and my sadness turns to joy.  I actually feel guilty that he had all that pent up energy for so long.

As I think back to all the mishaps Gator had during the almost-2-years he was with us I can't help but draw a life lesson from it.  The first day he was with us, he OD'd on Clorox Clean-Up and ended up at the vet overnight.  Soon after that, he tore up the trampoline safety net, the sandbox and several chew toys.  Then came the time he swallowed a pair of Lydia's socks whole and shortly after that he ate a pair of underwear (that's a long story).  Then he graduated to the big leagues... eating the padded bench seat in the boat and the padded seat in the ATV.  He destroyed 3 "Jolly Balls" which are HORSE toys, ate several crepe myrtles and split a water hose into about 10 smaller ones.  These are just some of the highlights of his time with us and doesn't include the numerous knock-downs of the kids and bruises that covered my legs.  

Why was he so destructive?  Why was he such a nuisance?

I know why... he was not living his purpose!  He's a Catahoula Cur; a dog bred to hunt and herd.  He's a dog that requires lots of exercise and attention.  He wasn't hunting, herding, exercising and apparently not getting enough attention.  And so without a purpose, without a job, he was destructive and misdirected.  He used his energies and "talents" in places where they weren't needed.  He used up his energy for negative ventures.

I realize it's no different with people.  God has given each Christian gifts and has a purpose for each one of us.  When we spend our time serving in areas that God doesn't intend for us, we waste the gifts we've been given and can sometimes cause more trouble than good.

1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (Living Bible Translation):
To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. 10 He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. 11 It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have.

There have been times in my life when I served in a ministry that I knew I wasn't gifted in.  I was miserable and complained about it a lot.  I wasn't very good at what I was doing and it made me really uncomfortable.  I burned a lot of calories doing something that God never intended for me.  And I know a lot of others who are in or have been in the same situation.  We can't say "no" and so we get involved in things that God hasn't equipped us for and that God doesn't intend for us.  And sadly I know of even more people who aren't serving anywhere and the gifts God has given them are tucked away inside, wasting away.  Those are probably the people most like Gator.  The ones not serving at all; they are putting time and effort into other areas of their lives - work, kids, "stuff" and are completely unfulfilled.

I feel strongly that in early 2013 God told me not to serve, specifically not to get back into teaching, which is what I really wanted.  But he intended 2013 to be a year of rebuilding and abiding in Him, continuing to learn the lessons he had for me.  And now with only a few days left I am dying to know what 2014 will bring!  I know that teaching and leadership are my strongest gifts and maybe that's why God has allowed me to write these last couple of years - to fulfill those gifts to some degree.  I am excited and hopeful about what's ahead and I'm praying that I will be keenly aware of what he wants me to do at exactly the right time.

I know that the Kings and Queens Project (check us out on Facebook) will be something that God will use in 2014.  I pray that the KQP will be the way that God shows my children what gifts and service are all about - and maybe even that they may start to realize their gifts.  If you aren't on Facebook check out this video to see what God started for KQP in 2013:

Underwear Affair Video

I really hope that anyone reading this will take an inventory of activities and resolve in 2014 to find the exact place that God wants you and that God has gifted you for.  My greater hope is that you're already there!  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

'Tis the Season!

I hate to admit this, but here goes.  I've had a scrooge-heart the last few Christmases.  I didn't show it outwardly (not that I'm aware of) but Christmas and the materialism of it all really got to me.  Our family has slowly been making changes to our approach the last few years.  I don't share any of this to make you think we're wonderful and holy and giving.  It's just what's on my heart.  Two years ago we started the tradition of 3 gifts per child, plus whatever Santa brings.  Last year we went to 3 gifts per child from us and 1 from Santa.  For the record it's hard to tell 7-year-olds why Santa only brings them one gift when all their friends get multiple gifts from Santa.  I tell them that Santa knows what mommies and daddies want for their children and he honors those wishes.  Last year we also sponsored some children who will not have Christmas without families like ours providing the gifts.  We bought them things like clothes, coats and shoes (stuff that we have a multitude of and take for granted) and we made sure every child we sponsored got a bible.  We did the same thing this year and hope that in years to come we will tip the scales where the families we buy for get most of the gifts and we get fewer and fewer.  

The thing that bothers me the most is the stress this time of year causes everyone.  I've been asked (and admittedly I've dutifully asked), "Are you ready for Christmas?" more times than I can count.  I give the response that's expected, "Yes, I've got almost everything bought and wrapped."  But I really feel convicted to say, "I'm not ready for Christmas... I'm so overwhelmed and bombarded by all the marketing, all the hustle and bustle that I've spent less time than ever focused on Jesus - the WHOLE REASON we have Christmas.  What about you?  Are you ready?"  Maybe next year I can be that bold.

I read a very convicting blog several weeks ago.  If you want the whole version, here's the link (for the record, I don't necessarily condone some her word choices):

Here's an excerpt:

What happened to Christmas? What on earth happened to it? When did it transform from something simple and beautiful to what it is now? How insidiously did the enemy work to slowly hijack Jesus' birth and hand it over on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the confiscation? 
Here are some things I'm taking away from her perspective plus some thoughts/challenges to myself:

I find myself intentionally NOT talking about Santa, not asking my kids what they want for Christmas and I have almost burned all my brain cells trying to tactfully tell two 7-year-olds why every other kid they know has a creepy elf sneaking around their house every night and why we don't.

I am SO on the verge of telling my kids there is no Santa.  Close family tells me to not ruin it for them, not to "take away their childhood."  But honestly, I am sick and tired of hearing my kids talk about Santa and being good because of Santa.  I refuse to adjust their behavior by telling them, "Santa's watching," even though I would get them to stop whatever they were doing wrong.  As Jen's blog said, Jesus can't compete with Santa when you're 7 and you believe.  And when my kids see Santa as more important than Jesus I feel like a failure (as I well should).  It's not that I want to be cold-hearted and "take away their childhood" but I want them to have a healthy perspective on the "magic" of knowing Jesus, not the magic of Santa, reindeer and elves.

I am intentionally throwing away all the Toys R Us, Target and Walmart sales sheets immediately.  The less they're exposed to, the better.

I do feel that it is critically important to show love to others and honor them, but why do we do it on someone else's birthday?  Why not dedicate our efforts in 2014 to honor loved ones on THEIR birthdays so that when Jesus' gets here on December 25 we can focus all of our attention on Him.  I think it's ok to still celebrate and honor people during December, but not if it causes strife, grief and ulcers!!!!!  Think of this: for as many times as you've thought "Oh no! I "have" to get a gift for (fill in the blank of the person's name you forgot)," (usually at the last minute when you have to run out for "one more thing"),  you've been the (fill in your name as the person who was forgotten) on the other end of that.  Do you really want someone stressing out and buying you something at Christmas because they "have" to?  I don't!

My birthday was about 8 weeks ago.  I felt loved and honored and received lots of nice cards and gifts.  When people ask what I want for Christmas several weeks after my birthday I am 100% honest when I tell them I don't need anything.  And this year I am honest when I tell people that I truly don't WANT anything.  Please, I would rather you spend money on someone else who needs it.  I know you love me and want me to know it, and you can show your love by buying a gift in my honor for someone who actually NEEDS it! (whew, I feel a little better now)

Go ask your kids what they got for Christmas last year.  Can they name any of the gifts?  I cleaned out my kids play room recently and they never even noticed.  They still don't know things are gone.  They have so much stuff yet I still hear, "I'm bored."  Are you kidding me?  And now that it's December I'm supposed to go broke restocking a play room of toys that they may never even play with and won't miss when they're gone?!

On the bright side, it does appear that more people are looking for families to sponsor, through angel trees and local organizations.  What if we added up our receipts from this year spent on non-charitable gifts and cards and vowed to spend 1/2 of that amount on needy families next year (which would mean spending 1/2 of what we spend this year on people who really don't need any more stuff - i.e. kids, family, friends)?  If every  one of us did that we could really make a difference and be able to truly share more of Jesus at Christmas time.  The most stress-free shopping we've done the last couple of years has been the shopping we've done for others.  It's fun buying things for people you don't even know; knowing that they will appreciate it more than anyone else you buy for.

In conclusion, please know that I don't judge you.  These are my thoughts and my convictions.  I don't want to have a scrooge-heart at Christmas.  I want to have joy and more importantly I want to share this joy and the significance of Christmas with my children.  I want them to know it has nothing to do with buying, spending, charging, stressing or big marketing.  But it does have to do with the greatest gift ever given, in the form of a baby when history was forever changed.
    Isaiah 9:6
    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And part of the story of our lives, the Gregory's, is that a diligent faith and many, many prayers have brought the greatest gift after two long years - my restored health!  And maybe that's part of my conviction - leading a life that is counter-cultural because of the incredible journey through the desert we've been on these last couple of years.  Spending time in the valley certainly changes your perspective on everything - even Christmas!

Whatever approach you choose, I do wish you a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!