Dear January [yet again],

Dear January,

This is my third year of letters to you. You and I haven’t been on good terms for seven years, but I think the truce that we worked out last year is going ok so far, at least until my Facebook newsfeed blows up later in the month. (Facebook has a new thing now where it reminds you of posts that you wrote in years past, so I think I’ll take a hiatus toward the end of the month. I still remember the post that I wrote quickly on Jan. 23, 2009, asking for urgent prayer because something awful had happened to my brother, but I didn’t know what. I really don’t want to relive the posts from the days and weeks that followed that night.)

The 23rd falls on a Saturday this year, and I’m contemplating getting a sitter for the kids and going away for the weekend — just me, myself, and I. A little solitude might be nice.

This year holds a lot of promise, and I’m going to focus on being optimistic about the future. I’ll be finishing my second year as a professor, and I’m loving my job. Two of my kids are in high school now, the middle is in junior high, and this year is our last round of elementary school. When the fall semester begins, I’ll only have to deal with TWO school schedules!

I still imagine sometimes what life would look like if Nathan was here. Most likely, I would still feel stressed about being outnumbered raising three boys and have no clue about how capable I really am. I suppose I have that to be grateful for. Without the trials, I wouldn’t know how strong I could be. I would give anything to have him back, but life manages to go on, and so do I.

January, I feel like I have more confidence facing you this year than I have in several years. You don’t intimidate me like you used to, because I’ve proven to myself that I can make it through, and in just a few weeks, you’ll be gone and February will arrive in your place.

Till next year,

Ang

There’s This Guy … (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 19, 2015)

I’ve been spending time with someone special. To be honest, I’ve known him for a while. We were on-again, off-again for years, and although I was always the one who got busy or bored and drifted away, he welcomed me back with open arms every time. I’ve never known someone so patient; he’s obviously smitten for me.

 

Have you ever read Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages? I highly recommend it, if you haven’t. This guy I was just telling you about really seems to like our quality time together, but words of affirmation score pretty high, as well. He has written me so many love notes that I’ve lost count. Come to think of it, he also showers me with gifts for no particular reason, so I would add gift-giving to his languages, too. He’s a keeper, for sure.

 

I suppose when I think about it, I’ve made a few sacrifices for him – I have given up free time, attempted things outside of my comfort zone, donated money – but nothing compares to the stuff he’s done for me. I don’t even know where to begin, but I do know that if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

 

Perhaps it is apparent by now that I’m referring to my relationship with Jesus. I owe my entire life to him, and I’ve given him plenty of reasons to doubt me and walk away from our relationship, but he has been stubbornly faithful never to leave me. In 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (ESV), we read that we have “eternal comfort and good hope through grace” because of Jesus, and I can attest to that fact through my personal experiences. I also believe firmly that Romans 8:38-39 is right on target when it says that nothing can separate us from his love.

 

How would you describe your faith-walk with the Lord in relationship terms? Is he your confidante because you talk to him often and openly? Are things strained and distant between you? Are you just pals who hang out every week or whenever you happen to make it to church? Maybe you’re not sure where things stand, and you don’t have a know-that-you-know-that-you-know kind of assurance in your faith. If that’s you, then I encourage you to check out 1 John 5:13, which reminds us that we can be certain of our eternal plans. If you’re not even sure about what a faith-walk looks like, then talk to your Life group leaders or pastors; they’ll bring you up to speed. Wherever you are in your faith-walk, know this: you never have to walk alone. There’s a reason we use the term “church family,” because we’re in this together.

 

The Intimidated Visitor (Prayer Devotional for the week of August 31, 2014)

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty friendly person, and I frequently tried to find new faces to say hello to on Sunday mornings, but having the tables flipped and walking into new places as a single-again adult has been a humbling learning experience. I can’t think of very many situations that feel more intimidating than walking into an unfamiliar church alone. If you have kids, you can kind of hide behind them as you figure out where they need to go, but once you’ve dropped them off to the nursery, kids’ classes, etc., you are on your own.

In Acts 2, we read about how rapidly the early church grew. Verse 47 says that “the Lord added to their number daily” (NIV), and other verses mention the thousands of individuals who flocked to the new congregations. I wonder sometimes about the demographics of those newcomers, but we aren’t given much detail other than knowing that the sheer number of new believers was skyrocketing.

I think Crossroads, in particular, does a fantastic job of making people feel at home, but we can all get stuck in a rut sometimes, so maybe it will help to be reminded of how much courage it takes to walk into a new place alone. I’ve gone to church my whole life, and I’ve been a leader in several capacities, but still, walking through the lobby and finding a seat in a new church made me feel very self-conscious and awkward.

That isn’t to say that people were unwelcoming; on the contrary, several people introduced themselves and struck up a friendly conversation. But when it came to finding my seat and participating in church, I still felt alone. Worse yet, I felt like I stuck out. I avoided the temptation to fiddle with my phone or re-read the bulletin a dozen times to look like I was busy. I tried making eye contact and saying hi to people, but it wasn’t easy. With these things in mind, I would like to offer some practical suggestions to make intimidated visitors feel welcome.

First, don’t stop doing what you already do so well! Keep greeting people; introduce yourself; get to know them. Better yet, invite them to come sit with you. I would have really liked for someone to ask me to sit with them, just so I didn’t go through the worship service alone. (Sure, there’s a crowd, but I think most of you understand what it feels like to feel alone in a crowd.) Don’t stop there. Invite them to your Life group (even if you aren’t the leader!). Take it upon yourself to introduce them to the pastor, etc. Remember the story of the early church in Acts 2: they focused not only on the gospel message, but also on fellowship and nurturing new members.