Fiona in January

Fiona in January

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Dynamic Easter

I've been putting off blogging for a little while because I honestly have way too many things to blog about! Too many ideas and experiences over the past week and a half are blog-worthy. Yet here I am...finally sitting down and deciding on what to start with.


One of those times each year where, as a believer, it is easy to reflect on God's love and power. Our church was wrapping up our "Overcome" series with a fantastic celebration. The music was fantastic and the speaker, Scott Rigsby, who has the most inspiring and incredible story I've ever heard. He spoke in two services Saturday night and a total of 5 services on Sunday (counting our video venues), sharing his amazing journey - how he overcame physical, spiritual and emotional odds to achieve what he has today.

Easter 2011 from Oak Ridge on Vimeo.

I hope you take the time to watch him speak, you won't regret it! When we first found out he was coming to speak, I immediate thought of all my friends who are runners and wished more of them lived close enough to make the trip to hear him speak!

Easter this year was amazing, our church had more than 2,700 people attend services with many attending for the first time. Praise God!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who Said Failure Isn't An Option?

The first memory I have of failure comes rushing back to me at the tender age of 5. Let me preface this story by explaining my personality as a child...two words: Imaginatively Stubborn. My long-suffering parents and sisters will attest to that heartily!

Now I'm sure I "failed" before this early memory...what child doesn't fall down repeatedly trying to learn how to walk? However, this was a big, slightly epic "FAIL" that included some fairly serious physical ramifications.

I love Peter Pan...I have loved that story since the first time I heard it (right around 4-5 years old) and wholeheartedly embraced the characters in that story as a child. Unfortunately at age 5, my line between fantasy and reality was nonexistent. We had just moved to our new house in Bowie, MD - a suburb of Washington DC and we had a big backyard, lots of trees, a sandbox and a swingset. Basically mecca for a kindergartener! One of our huge maple trees had branches that hung over our swingset and provided the perfect "handle" for a 5-year-old eager to test out just how accurate the story of Peter Pan really is.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

I climbed up the swingset, balanced on the top of it, clutching the tree branches, squinched my eyes shut, screamed "Christmas!"(my chosen happy thought) and flung myself out into the air spread-eagle style ready to take flight!

Epic. Fail.

My ribs still sting a little when I remember that teeth-shattering impact with the unforgiving ground. Other than that I don't remember that much...other than my older sister shrieking for our parents...then I think I blacked out.

First failure...pretty painful one at that! So why am I sharing my epic fail with you? This week's message at our church (Oakridge Baptist Church) focused on how to overcome failure.

If you haven't kept up with this blog in the past few weeks, I'll fill you in. Our pastor has been preaching an incredible series titled "Overcome". The past three weeks have included powerful messages on overcoming depression, defeat and doubt. This week's message was another incredible segment focused around the story of Peter.

One of the best things our pastor mentioned was the fact that in this success-crazed, fast-paced society of ours, we must remember...EVERYONE FAILS. That's not something to brush off lightly, it is a Biblically-based concept.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 - No one in this world always does right.
James 3:2a - We all stumble in many ways.

It is not a question of IF you will fail, it is a question of WHEN...and that's not always a terrible thing! Failure can be incredibly fruitful, God causes everything to work together for our growth and good...often the fear of failure is so much more crippling than actual failure!

Many of you who know me well also know that I was in an incredibly difficult job situation for more than 3 years out in Indiana. The job itself was great, I loved what I was doing...but the work environment itself was toxic to say the least. I worked for a director who refused to accept that humans make mistakes. Our staff was so terrified to actually go to her and tell her that we made a mistake (i.e. didn't order enough paper originally for a printing project and needed more) that we would all scramble around trying to hide it from her.

It was horrible! Once I left that job and moved out to MD getting a job in an atmosphere that was the polar opposite of that job I realized just how awful that employment atmosphere was...and along with that, not every job is like that!

I don't want you to think I advocate using "It's ok to fail" as an excuse not to do your best work. That is not Biblical and wasn't the focus of this week's message at all. Our pastor hit hard on the ways God can use our failure. He can educate, motivate and cultivate us all through those bumps in the road, those miscalculations and mistakes.

Romans 5:3-4 - We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us - they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.

The first step toward allowing God to really work in our failures is to ask for and receive His forgiveness for failing in the first place. Failure is never the end, is never final unless we allow it to be. God will never walk away from us...EVER. That is a promise we can hold dear.

Ok, I'll end this post on a chuckle-worthy note because as I've been typing, I've been remembering one other slightly epic fail...

As a kid and all the way through high school, school always came pretty easy to me (with the exception of advanced math!). College went that way too...until I took Drawing 1.

I. Cannot. Draw. two-year-old Sunday school class out performs me in that way! However, if I wanted to graduate with a graphic design degree from my chosen college I was forced to take traditional art classes.

Which by the way is completely insane!


So I started taking the class and about halfway through my professor asked to meet with me...he was nice enough but basically said something to the effect of, "Em, it's killing me because you are working so hard at this, but you have no artistic ability and I honestly can't teach you enough to get you to pass this class."


Needless to say I failed my first class...and last least so far! Drawing continues to be the bane of my existence. I can't even draw a straight line with the help of a ruler! However, without that failure, I never would have changed my major to Journalism and English - discovering my true strength and passion in the written word.

God has a funky way of directing us...even through our failure!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Doubt Your Doubts and Believe Your Beliefs"

Oh Switchfoot...the only "Christian" band my youth pastor could convince me to listen to when I was in high school...the only one I thought had any type of musical merit. I guess I was right since they're still together and turning out hit records...but I digress...

This morning's message at church brought the lyrics I used to title this particular post to mind. As the third installment in our "OVERCOME" series, this message focused on the struggle of doubt. Not a fun concept, but one that every Christian runs into...yet somehow rarely talks about. As if having doubts about your faith and your God when life slams you with the unexpected and the tragic is a weakness. Ridiculous...not to mention completely un-Biblical.

This particular message struck close to home for me because my husband shared his testimony and our recent experiences with doubt as a part of it. Each week, as a part of this series, our pastoral staff has recorded an interview with one or two individuals in the church who were willing to share their struggles with that week's specific topic. Aaron recorded his earlier this week and it was shown as a part of the message in the services this morning (and this evening). Check out the first part of his testimony here:

I almost teared up myself watching him talk so openly about how we struggled with doubting God's provision and love over the past few months as Aaron's been out of work and it has seemed like we've been abandoned by our God. The woman sitting next to me actually did shed a few tears! After our pastor gave an amazing message, Aaron finished his testimony summing up how we fought through that period of doubt and discouragement, were able to put our trust and faith in our Creator and obey His Word...and God provided and continues to provide for us...just as He has always promised.

Check out the second part of his testimony by clicking here:

If you want to check out the message (and I highly recommend it!), click here or go to and click on the "messages" link. The title of this week's message is Overcoming Doubt (4/10/2011).

I had to smile at times listening to our pastor speak this morning because he echoed some of the principles I have recently (and not-so-recently) come to hold dear as I've grown up and struggled through seasons of doubt. One of the points he emphasized is that doubt is not ALL bad. Doubt can drive me closer to God, it can allow me to discover new truths about God and can deepen my faith. Another wise man in my life sat across a kitchen table from me when I was about 16 years old, crying tears of complete frustration, and told me the exact same principles.

I was blessed, as a teenager, to have a youth pastor and his wife who insisted on making a deep impact in my life. This man is someone I have respected and looked up to for years and I continue to admire. He was the one who performed the wedding ceremony for my husband and me and has been a huge spiritual influence on my life.

When I was a teenager I really struggled with the concept of God being present in my day-to-day life, trying to reconcile why horrible things happened on this earth to those I loved and those I had never even met. My childlike world of black and white was muddying into shades of gray and I was angry. At God, at spiritual leaders, at those so-called "Christians" I encountered who were nothing but hypocrites pushing their own judgmental agendas, not caring who they hurt in the process.

However, I had someone in my life who came alongside me, taught me that it was good, even valuable to ask questions about the Bible and God's nature. That doubting in itself is not wrong, is not a sin and it depends on the attitude I express to God. I was young, desperately seeking answers from a God I didn't understand.

I vividly remember one afternoon I was sitting across from my youth pastor, listing off the reasons I had for being angry and for doubting God cared...he said something to me that I never forgot and was later repeated by my mother (years later)...

Circumstances change. God never will.

That statement took the wind out of my sails immediately, almost stealing my breath. It is the first time I can actually pinpoint "hearing" the words of the was as if He spoke to me, through my youth pastor, through someone who loved me like family to remind me of such a vital truth I would later cling to.

Later in life, really beginning in my senior year of college, I experienced grief like I never had before. I had never had anyone close to me die. Unfortunately that year, one of my friends was tragically killed...he was a year older than I was...his father was the pastor of my home church and we had known each other since we were toddlers. I remember getting the news of his death (I don't envy my mother that phone call!) and literally losing the strength in my legs and I sank to the floor in the dorm hallway unable to even speak. As I booked a flight to go home to attend my friend's funeral...I honestly don't remember much of that process.

I remember the funeral, the awful tight and empty nausea that hit me the second I walked in the doors of the church and saw that casket. In the days that followed I didn't want to hear a word about God, about His faithfulness, about His plan...all those words sounded like meaningless platitudes to me and I struggled to come to terms with the death of someone so young and so close to my own life.

It was about two months later when my mom said something to me that finally got through, something that I've carried with me ever since. I was on the phone with her, angry, tired, still grieving and crying for answers, for explanations from a God I once again didn't understand. She said simply, "focus on what you know to be true. What do you KNOW?"

I know God is good.
I know God loves each and every one of us.
I know my friend (Jonathan) is in heaven with Him even now.
I know God is good.
I know God is GOOD.

That phrase became almost a mantra in my head that I repeated over and over every time I started doubting God's presence or His nature. I KNOW God is good. That will never change. He never changes. Circumstances and my feelings will always change. He is ever-unchanging.

This morning's message brought all of that history back to light, those truths that I've clung to over the years as loved ones have passed away, as I've seen close friends lose young children and babies to sickness and disaster, as I watch those I love battle cancer or other horrible illnesses. Some days it is the only thing I can hang onto to stave off doubt...God is good.

As our pastor spoke this morning, he added one more truth to that vital mix in my comes from Jeremiah 29:13 - "If you look for me with your whole heart, you WILL find Me."

There it is, right there in black and white in the Bible, God's most amazing truth. He is always there. All we have to do is look.

Over the years I've depended on some amazing individuals to point me back to God and to His truth during times of doubt. One of the most important things to remember is to be honest about struggling with doubt. Keeping everything inside and pretending just because you believe in God and His Son, you're perfect and shouldn't let anyone know that you doubt is insane. Not only is it self-destructive, it is completely contrary to what the Bible says!

Keep in mind what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: "We are often troubled, but not crushed. Sometimes in doubt, but never in despair. There are many enemies, but we are never without a friend. Though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed."

If there was ever a battle cry for a Christian it is in that verse. Whatever happens around us, whatever seasons of doubt and discouragement we encounter...we are NEVER alone. That never changes. HE never changes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Taking A Time Out

All of you who have kids under the age of 4, or (like me) are regularly around that age group, are extremely familiar with the concept of a time out! This morning I found myself in need of a self-imposed time out. For some reason I woke up on the grumpy side of the bed and just couldn't seem to snap myself out of it as I began working.

I worked through the morning hours in a slightly dark mood and then finally stopped, thinking to myself that I had to find a way to get rid of this completely unnecessary icky mood. Just knowing that I was IN a bad mood for no reason was cheesing me off...vicious cycle!

One of the things I've decided to work on is taking time out of my day (every day!) to spend with God. To get back to reading His Word and take the focus off myself and pray for my family, my friends and others rather than allow myself to wallow in the daily frustrations of life.

So I took a time out.

With God.

I turned everything off...and if you know me, you know how hard that is! I do my best work with music or Food Network on in the background - I don't work well in total silence! However, the Creator of the universe deserves my undivided I put my insane urge to multi-task on hold and sat in silence.

I am reading my way through a book my sister Kate lent me called "If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy - Making the Choice to Rejoice" by Lindsey O'Connor. I'm not a parent yet and won't be for a few years, but the concepts in this book translate to so many areas of my life, even not having kids!

The chapter I read today focused on getting to know God better. She broke it down into 3 "P's":

1. Poring over His Word
2. Praising Him
3. Praying to Him

Besides bringing joy, God's Word is able to convict, correct, confirm and train us in righteousness. Through His Word we come to know Him and His will for us...if we don't read it, how can we really know Him? I have to say I felt a decent-sized twinge in my conscience reading that excerpt!

Praising God is one thing we can do to shift our focus from ourselves and our problems to God. The Lord inhabits the praises of His people and we can enter His presence when we praise Him! This is exactly why I took a time out, I knew I needed to change my focus, and what better way than by thanking God for all He is and all He does in my life?

Prayer is a privilege, the ability to have direct access to God is a gift. Our relationship grows when we want to commune with God. Don't wait to ascend to your ivory tower and don robes of righteousness to begin praying. Pray today, wherever you are, in whatever condition you find yourself! This is a perfect summation of what prayer should be, and what I aspire to do each day.

I have this great little system for praying for those I love and for whom I have committed to pray. It's my little "prayer box" that contains 3x5 cards with requests and answered prayers. Before I start praying through the "requests" file, I go back to the "answered" section and thank God, recognizing the amazing answers to prayers He has given me. It always puts me in the right frame of mind to pray.

Today I read Psalm 37. I am reading through Psalms and it has quickly become my favorite book of the Bible. I love the practical application I find there and am so encouraged by David's pronouncements of God's faithfulness.

Many verses jumped off the page for me today, check 'em out:

v. 3-4 : Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

v. 7a : Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. (I definitely need reminding of this!)

v. 8b : Do not fret - it only causes harm. (Ok, God, I get it...I need to stop worrying)

v. 9b : Those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. (There's that whole "have patience" theme again!)

v. 21b : The righteous shows mercy and gives.

v. 23-24 : The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delights in his way. Though he may fall, he will not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds Him with His hand. (This made smile and I could actually feel my shoulders relaxing as God reminded me that He will always take care of me)

v. 28a : The Lord loves justice and does not forsake His saints.

v. 39-40 : The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord, He is their strength in times of trouble because they trust in Him.

Sometimes grownups need time outs too! I'm so glad I took the time to sit down and spend about an hour with God through His Word and prayer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Redefining "Church" Music

I absolutely adore the fact that our church blows away all the preconceived notions of what "church" music should be. It's always fresh and new, our bands are always up for taking on new challenges and putting their own twists on songs.

Case and point?

Last week Aaron and the band covered a Mumford and Sons song before our pastor launched into an incredibly moving message focused on overcoming defeat when you feel like giving up.

Check out the message here:

I can't wait to see what waits for us this coming Sunday!