Celebrating Grace

This morning’s message in church was powerful.  We are in a series about walls we build.  All of us have walls that we have built.  Our walls keep us safe and comfortable.  I know this very well because, in the last year or so, I have begun to identify some of the walls I have built in my life that have kept people at a distance.  I’m working on breaking them down.

This morning, I was particularly struck by the note that “walls kill unity and closeness in spiritual families,” or the church. Think about that visual for a moment.  If we are all walking around with walls built to keep us safe and comfortable, there is no place for unity.  We remain “safe” in our little silos and little changes.

One of the ways noted to tear down walls is to bring them into the light–to confess and celebrate grace.  I love that picture, not just grace, but celebrating grace!

At the close of the service, people were invited, to come to the front to confess to a pastor, elder, or prayer team member.  As a member of the prayer team, I had what I now see as a privilege of praying with a couple of people, one of whom is someone I consider a dear friend.  It was amazing to be part of that.  What I didn’t realize until I was walking back to my seat, was that, in standing there at the front, I had chipped away a little more at one of my walls.  Here’s my confession-I am a member of the prayer team and I don’t mind praying with people, but I get anxious every time we are asked to go to the front and be available to pray with people. I’m working on unpacking all the reasons behind that anxiety, but it has a lot to do with the walls that I have built to keep people from knowing the real me. Chip.  Hear that?  That’s the sound of my walls coming down. I am celebrating grace today!

I Will Engage

One of my new guiding principles in life is that I will engage.  It is part of the ongoing work of God in my life.  See, I am an introvert, but more than that, I struggle with  social anxiety.   In my case, I have trouble meeting new people and being in large groups of people.  Only recently, have I been willing to talk about it.  My journey through Faithwalking in the last year has helped me to realize that there is no shame in this and that just because I struggle with it, doesn’t mean I can’t work on it.

Recently, a good friend held up a mirror to me that let me see that I was becoming too comfortable with working at home an not having a lot of contact with people. That encounter challenged me to be more intentional about engaging and finding ways to work on my anxiety.

One of my ideas was to join a tennis meetup. Meetup is a kind of social network where you arrange to meet up with people to do things that you are interested in.  My thought was that I could meet some new people by doing something that I enjoy (the bonus being another form of exercise).  Last night was my first meetup and to be honest, I was anxious all day. Several times I almost talked myself out of it, but I was determined. I had some difficulty finding the courts, and in the past, I would have just turned around, but I kept going.  It was a victory. I had fun and I look forward to going back and getting to know these people better.

I have some other ideas and friends who have been supportive and helpful with ideas.  I continue to be grateful to God for friends who are walking this journey with me and for Faithwalking which has given me insight, tools, and a challenge to show up differently in life.

Gifts of Joy 2014

2014One of my traditions the last several years has been to share some of the gifts God has given me during the year.  The greatest gift God gave me this year was transformation. I am a different person than I was in January and I love the person I am becoming.  God has used Faithwalking in amazing ways in my life this year and so many of the gifts I received are related to Faithwalking. These include new Faithwalking friends who journeyed with me, or encouraged me along the way (Laura, Ali, Gail, Eva, Suzanne, Betsy, Ann, Holly, Carol, Hayward, Debbie, Jerry, Jim and so many others), others like Staci and Jamie walked with me and heard all my stories about what I was learning and what God was doing, giving my first 101 presentation, talking and doing Faithwalking homework with Ali and Laura, and more.

Other gifts include running, running in Run 4 The Children, Hill Country Weekend in Blanco with Jamie and Julie, hugs from Janie, my first trip to New Orleans with Julie, getting to have brunch with Joy Hebert in New Orleans, lunches at Taco Grill with Ali, Thanksgiving cruise with Dad, helping Staci with school work, seeing April and her family, a spring break visit from my brother and his family, seeing War Horse with Dad, and more.

2014 was an amazing year! I can’t wait to see what God does this year.

The Journey Continues: Faithwalking

What follows is Part Three in a series.
You can read part one here and part two here.


There is a third part of my story that I haven’t yet told.  It is the journey I began in January of this year with Faithwalking.  See, believing I am an overcomer, and seeing the lies I had believed most of my life, was just the beginning of my journey.  Last October, in the week following the revelation God gave me about the lies I had believed, I was having a rough week. My contract work had dried up and I was anxious about what was next.  I have learned, in times like this that it is better for me to be around people, so I planned my week out accordingly, but Monday, I had no plans.  I decided to go to Kosmos and journal.  I had just finished getting everything down when Pastor Jerry and his wife came in. They greeted me and I expected them to go on up to the offices, but Gail decided to sit down and catch up with me. I believe that meeting was a Divine Appointment because I shared a little bit of what was going on with me and Gail shared some of her story and told me about Faithwalking. Later in the year, Gail told me about it again and invited me to go on a retreat, and because she had already planted a seed, I was ready.

The retreat took place at the end of January.  I can’t begin to describe all that took place that weekend, but it was the beginning of a major change.  I shared some things with my small group that I had never shared with anyone and I made some friends that I will never forget.

Following the retreat, we were given the opportunity to go on to a 201 class which lasted 24 weeks.  Everyone that signed up met together every other week.  We had homework every week and met with a small group and a coach every week.  During these months, I began to learn and understand how and why I show up in life the way I do. I began to see how I have built invisible barriers to keep everyone out and how I distance myself from people whenever my anxiety rises.

Those who walked with me got to see the change in me first hand.  My eyes began to sparkle, my confidence has grown and my countenance has changed significantly.  I am learning to recognize and manage my anxiety.  I still have work to do, but I also know and believe that there is no condemnation in Christ.  I have discovered that I have a story to tell and a voice and I love to tell the story of what God has done, and is doing in me.

I jumped at the chance to go through the leadership course in order to be a coach. I’ve also been given the opportunity to become a presenter at other 101 retreats.  I gave my first presentation this past weekend.  I am thrilled to be able to give back in this way.  The truth is that even though the material is the same, God continues to speak to me in new ways each time I am part of a retreat.  I shouldn’t be surprised, at this point, but I always am at how God speaks when we create space for Him to do so.  We are all broken and in need of healing. God’s heart and character is to do just that—to heal, reconcile, and restore.

My journey isn’t over yet.  God is still teaching, speaking, healing and changing me. I am a life being transformed.

Faithwalking is creating a community of disciples of Jesus who are being personally transformed and who are catalysts, mobilizing Christians to become the functioning body of Christ in their neighborhoods, workplaces and 3rd places – to serve the poor, the marginalized, and those in need; to work for the common good, to restore individuals, social systems, communities and nations to God’s design.

My Story: Lies I Believed

What follows is Part Two in a series.  You can read part one here.


My church Life Group meets on Wednesday nights.  The Wednesday following the 5k turned out to be a very significant night. Bruce, our leader, asked us to meditate, for a moment, on God’s love for us. I was overwhelmed in that moment and can only describe what happened as a revelation. God gave me “sight” where I had been “blind.” I began to see and understand that there were some things I had believed about myself for most of my life that were, in fact, lies.

That night, we also read Ephesians 3:20-21. Bruce commented that we often look at these verses and focus on what God can do for us.  When we do this, we miss the weightiness of the verses.  God led me to look up the Amplified version on my phone and, in that moment, he amplified my understanding that it is ALL about God working out HIS purposes for HIS glory.

“Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]—To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen (so be it)”. -Ephesians 3:20-21

God, in His wisdom, knew that I needed a physical experience of overcoming in order to fully grasp what He as beginning to do. He knew that I needed to see and understand that He has always been working to carry out His purposes and I can trust that. I can trust Him and I can trust the new vision He has given me of Truth.

A very wise friend encouraged me in the week following this, to write down all that God was doing. What follows is a list I created of all the lies I believed followed by the TRUTH I now believe, more each day.

Lies I believed

  • I am insignificant because I am not married, raising a family or have a successful career
  • I am a failure because I am not successful, because I struggle with my weight, depression and anxiety
  • I have to do better or be a better Christian in order to be used by God
  • I will always be alone
  • If I make a wrong decision, I am a failure
  • I am stupid and useless

THE TRUTH

  • I am a daughter of the Liberating King, the Creator of the Universe and I am LOVED. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” -John 1:12
  • Though there are consequences for bad decisions, making them does NOT make me a failure or any less loved.
    There is no  condemnation for those who belong to Christ”. -Romans 8:1
    God can redeem my mistakes
  • I did NOTHING to earn His love and grace and there is nothing I can do that will cause him to withdraw His love and grace.
    “For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;” -Ephesians 2:8
  • Romans 8:37 says I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me
  • I can live into HIS freedom when I give Him permission to work in my life.
    “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”-Galatians 5:1
    Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30
  • I am not alone. God is always with me. My dad, my brother, my Life Group and my friends love and support me
    “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”-Matthew 28:20b
  • I do not have to be afraid.
    “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me” -Psalm 23:4

This was a very significant week in my life. As I write, I am still in awe of God and what He did, and I am in awe of the fact that He was still only beginning this new journey.  The following week, He had another Divine Appointment.

An Unlikely Beginning

Overcomer

One of my new guiding principles for life is that I will share my story. God has done a lot in me over the last year. Some of you have had the opportunity to walk alongside and see the change in me first hand. I’ve had the chance to sit down with others of you and share. Many of you are spread all over the world which makes sitting down face to face more difficult. Over the course of the next few posts, I plan to share various parts of the story that has unfolded this year.

The most difficult part of any story, I think, is where to begin. This story begins in an unlikely place which is just like God. Sometime in the spring of 2013, one of the ladies in my life group at church talked to us about participating in a 5k obstacle course run in Galveston. I agreed, thinking it would be fun to do this with these new friends. I did some training, but I had no idea what to expect other than that I would be climbing over things and crawling through mud. The run took place September 28th. I knew 10 minutes in that I needed to have done more conditioning. My core temp was rising quickly. I was saved when we walked through a lazy river for a few minutes and I was able to dunk my whole body in the cool water.

The course was one of the most difficult physical things I have ever done, but also the most fun. This picture is worth 1000 words. It shows what I felt as I came up over a hill towards the end of the course. For the first time in years, I felt like I could accomplish anything. I was exhausted and on top of the world. I determined coming off that day that I would start running so that I would be in better shape the next time I did the course. What I didn’t know is that God was setting the stage for what was to come. Nor did I know that running would become as much a spiritual discipline as a physical one.

Gifts of Joy 2013

This year for Christmas, I got 4 jigsaw puzzles and a JJ Watt Jersey.  I am pretty happy. However, the greatest gifts I received this year were not material. They were gifts from God, sometimes given through people, sometimes directly through the Holy Spirit.  I am so grateful for these gifts of joy this year: spending part of a day with Dad taking my nephews to IHOP, mini-golf, Chuck-E-Cheese, Chick-Fil-A, and swimming; hugs from the nephews, a voicemail from one of the nephews telling me he loves me, every time I got to hug my brother, a trip to Brazos Bend State Park with my Life Group, starting a new job, movies and dinners with friends, house sitting, working puzzles, running (walking, climbing and crawling are better descriptions) the Gritty Goddess 5k Obstacle Course  in Galveston with Tanya Bernard, Amy Bedore and Barb Smith, being set free from lies I have believed for too long, starting to run 3 days a week, believing I am an Overcomer,  Ladies Retreat, celebrating my grandmother’s 90th birthday, Home Tours and hot chocolate with friends, Christmas light tour with Jamie and Julie, and so many more.

On Mission With God

The message in church this morning was encouraging and a great reminder that we are all on mission wherever God has us.  Too often, we think of missionaries as people who go overseas to tell the story. We think of these people as somehow extraordinary. I know because my parents were missionaries. A large part of my identity is being an MK (Missionary Kid). I remember coming back to the U.S. every three years and everyone looked at us differently.

The truth is that those God calls to go overseas are extraordinary only because, and when they allow God to equip them and work through them.  I grew up in a community where there were a lot of missionaries. I loved it.  I also know that they are ordinary people.  They have flaws.  They even have conflicts. But when they let God work, He does great things.

Every once in a while, I get to share about growing up overseas.  One of my favorite stories to share is my dad’s story because God gave him a love of foreign languages and a particular love of Spanish. For almost forty years, dad taught French and Spanish in Africa. If you know your geography, you know that parts of Africa speak French, but not so much Spanish.  If you think God can’t use the gifts and passions he’s given you, think again. He is an amazingly creative God.  When we seek Him and allow Him to work through us, He does amazing things.

My dad has retired from his work overseas, but he hasn’t retired from being on mission with God. God gave him a passion for students and he continues to teach here.  He has taught a lot of subjects, but his greatest desire is for his students to know God.

God’s desire is for all of us to be on mission with him wherever He places us. My life has taken some strange twists and turns.  I’m not sure what God is up to in my life right now, but I know that He’s always had a plan. Today, I was encouraged, to keep my heart open and to be ready to tell my story and how it is part of His Story.

 

Prayer Story

Each week, my church has a prayer story written by a church member in the worship guide. I love having the opportunity each week to see how God is answering prayers and moving in the lives of the people I worship with each week. Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share one of mine and decided to share it here as well.

GOD ANSWERS PRAYER
January, 2012, found me looking for work. Like so many, as the weeks turned to months, I found myself discouraged and frustrated. One of the things I have learned is the importance of getting involved during these hard times.

I was new to The Fellowship at Cinco Ranch and decided early on to get involved in the Prayer Ministry, a ladies Bible study, and a Life Group where I made new friends and found much-needed encouragement. I am particularly grateful for my Life Group. I love doing life with this group of people. Early on, I was impressed by their willingness to share and wrestle with spiritual things together. I was touched by their concern each week as they wanted to know how things were going and what they could pray. These days, they are friends that I love and trust dearly.

I also learned a lot about looking for a job in this day of technology and social media. Even though I hadn’t found a job yet, God began to lay on my heart that maybe I could help other job-seekers with what I was learning. I talked to Pastor Tim about how I could share my knowledge.  A seminar which I led was held in April, 2013, on using technology and social media in the job search. I hope to do another in the coming months.

These things and the part-time contract work I found helped keep me on track during a time when it would have been very easy to give up. There were some days that I did want to give up, but God continued to remind me that He was still in control.

The part-time work was a blessing because I was at least able to pay the bills. But then, right around the end of April, I got notice that the contract work I had been doing was abruptly ending. I freaked out!  I knew that God had provided before, but I was tired and frustrated and felt done in. By Thursday, June 2nd, I decided I’d give the job search two more weeks and then I would have to see about doing whatever kind of work was available just so I’d have some money coming in.

I started sending emails out to all my contacts again. That included a couple of panicked emails and texts to friends who I knew would pray. One of these friends encouraged me to talk to God by writing out what I was feeling in a journal. Funny how sometimes it is someone telling you to do something that will motivate you to do what you know you should have been doing all along. Sometimes you need a friend to jolt you out of “panic” mode.  I quickly discovered that writing out my frustrations and claiming Bible verses brought my focus back to our great God where it belongs.

The verses in 2 Corinthians 4:8 reminded me that “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” and I confessed to God that I was feeling a little crushed and in despair. I prayed for wisdom and favor.

That weekend, I found a position that interested me through one of my job alerts. It was for a web content developer/technical writer. While I did not have experience with technical writing, the description said good verbal skills and everything else seemed to fit, so I applied.   On Monday, the recruiter emailed me with a couple of documents to work on as a sort of pre-test.   The client received them on Wednesday and the recruiter called me later in the day and asked if I could come in for some more pre-interview tests.

On Thursday I took a personality test, a verbal skills test and a math test.  By the time I got home 35 minutes later, the recruiter called saying the client wanted to interview me on Monday.

I got up super early Monday because the interview was at 9 a.m. in The Woodlands.  (Though I’d be working from home, this is where the company is based).  The early appointment meant dealing with rush hour traffic, so I left extra early and ate breakfast up there. I interviewed with the president of the company and one other person.  They asked for some samples of my writing and said their timeline for hiring was 2 weeks. I thought it went well enough, but after all the many interviews I’ve been through — it was hard to get even a little excited.

The recruiter called that afternoon before I had even had time to put together writing samples. She told me I had the job and asked if I could start the next day! The rest of the day was very dream-like. I was stunned and felt like I was going to wake up and it would all have been a dream.  It was even within the two weeks I had set!

It wasn’t a dream! I have been working for a month now. Not only did God provide something that pays well, He answered my prayers with a job I really enjoy. I am so grateful for His goodness, for new friends I have made through this journey, for old friends and my dad and my Life Group who have been such a support, and for the opportunity to help other job-seekers through the knowledge I have gained.

Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.  1 Peter 5:6

God of Wonders

Sunday, during church, my Pastor asked us to close our eyes and picture a moment when we looked on something and were filled with awe and wonder at God, the creator. I had difficulty picking one, so I decided to share some of my favorites.

Pikes Peak
Right after college, I spent three weeks in Colorado Springs looking for a job. I still remember the awe I felt each morning when I walked outside and looked up at Pikes Peak.  I remember wondering how anyone could look at the beauty and majesty each day and not believe in the Creator.

Sunsets
Colorful sunsets have always left me in awe as well. Growing up in Nigeria, I saw some amazing sunsets due to the dust in the air. I remember seeing one towards the end of my Senior year as I looked with both excitement and trepidation towards leaving the country that I called home. It was then, that sunsets became a sort of promise for me–a reminder that wherever I found myself, God was there.

i

During my Sophomore year of College, my best friend and I made a practice of driving out to a lake most afternoons.  We had a favorite quiet spot.  We’d go separate ways and have our own quiet times with God. Then we would watch the sunset and talk about what God was teaching us. One evening, as the sun set, I noticed that it’s reflection on the water made a small “i”. I commented that it was sort of like God was signing His signature (I am) to the day.

Masai Mara
I remember the first time I went on safari in Kenya. I was in absolute awe of God’s creation as I saw the majestic and beautiful animals in the wild and looked out over the vastness of the Mara.

lionMara