August 2010


Last weekend I had a wonderful time at the beach – an unexpected gift from God – which I loved (and shared in my previous post). Nevertheless I found myself a little puzzled as to why God had given me that weekend away when he did. You see this past weekend, I was supposed to be celebrating a dear friend’s 50th birthday in the Caribbean. It was very indulgent and felt really extravagant to go so far for such a short trip, because it was.  BUT it was for a big birthday, me and this friend have known each other for 20 years, and our friendship was instrumental in bringing me back to Jesus. So when she asked if I would come, I could hardly say no, and frankly I was delighted to have the chance to celebrate her life.  Sadly though several weeks ago, this beach bash got cancelled because her mother took very ill in the UK and so she spent her birthday at her mother’s hospital bedside in Manchester.

That of course meant I was in New York this past weekend.  And how glad I was.

I awoke on Saturday early only to get a voice mail message from my Uncle in Nigeria.  This is most unusual.  Calls from a cell phone in Nigeria to one in New York are not cheap and my Uncle lives on modest means.  The brief scratchy message told me that his 40 year old wife, Mercy, had died unexpectedly. She had gone in for fibroid surgery the day before and didn’t survive.

It was a devastating shock to all of us. 

And yet despite the fact that I was receiving this terrible news and was thousands of miles away,  I found myself being so grateful that I was here in NY and not jamming in Jamaica.  I spent the weekend calling my mother and my sisters and  contacting my brothers as we pieced together what had happened.   And we were able to rally to send some much-needed funds to help off set the cost of the funeral.  (Funerals are often lavish community events in Nigeria where large numbers of  people come and expect to be well fed, not to talk of the cost of the coffin, burial plot, embalming etc.  It adds up quickly.)  Several days later I finally got through to my Uncle.   He was holding up well, all things considered.   The sadness of course lingers and Mercy’s life here on earth was far too short.  She leaves behind a deeply grieving 15 year old daughter.  And there is certainly great mystery in why God took her now and in this way.  (Fortunately we can rejoice that she is one of his children.)

* * *

So God often changes our best-laid and even prayer-filled plans.  But it’s to achieve his purposes, not ours.

And every now and then as he did here for me, he gives us a glimpse of why the plan has changed.  It’s a small window into his grace.

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I spent all of last weekend at the beach!  A work friend spontaneously invited me to her large spacious home, and so I went.  I took Friday off, jumped on NJ Transit, and within 3 hours, I was lounging in a beach chair with a book in my lap, and reveling in the beauty of the ocean, the waves, and the sand.  It was wonderfully glorious, made even more so because it was so unexpected.

In the course the weekend, I was given a complimentary ticket to a Beach Boys concert and so Saturday night found me boogie-ing to the sounds of “Good Vibrations” and “I Wish They All Could Be California girls”.  I haven’t danced that much in a long, long time! Then Sunday morning in church the speaker was Tony Campolo, whom I know only by reputation and had never heard, so that was a treat as well.  He’s past his prime by now, but I appreciated his message which focused on “such a time as this'” and what evangelical Christians can learn from mainline churches.  Among other things, he highlighted the importance of convicting people to take a stand for Christ, advocated for a non-consumeristic approach to living both individually and corporately, and made a plea for the US government and mission groups to empower Haitians to help themselves rather than just giving them more handouts or assistance. 

After a quiet afternoon writing letters, when it was fittingly dull and overcast, I headed back to a rainy NY.

As I looked back over the weekend once I returned to the city, I was struck by what a concrete and tangible example of grace it was:  a totally undeserved gift of a weekend away from an unobligated giver.  It was a reminder of how lavishly God loves me, how every good and perfect gift comes from him, and it was a sweet taste of what happens when we receive and “open” a gift we didn’t even know was coming our way.

I’m convinced God gives us good gifts frequently that we fail to receive with open hands and thus miss out on the joys he desires for us to have.  This one dropped into my lap so I couldn’t help but notice it.  But I’m praying that I’ll continue to have a receptive heart to take whatever God gives me, even (or especially!) when it’s unexpected, for I don’t know what delightful treasures it may lead to.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Willow Creek Leadership Summit telecast  here in NY, around the U.S. and around the world (literally!) from this large church (WC) in the Chicago area. There were many provocative talks, some of which I’ll probably highlight here over the next few days.  But the one I want to focus on today was given by Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church in Kansas. He very frankly and humbly talked about what happens when leaders fall.   Acknowledging that each situation is unique and has its own nuances, his presentation was about how his church navigated a situation that arose when two of his leaders, both of whom were married, began a relationship.  With each other.  And their efforts to confront this in a in a grace-filled way. That per se is not my interest here, though if you have an interest in hearing his talk, it’s well worth it, and it may be downloadable at www.willowcreek.com/events/leadership/2010.

Instead I want to highlight his 5 R’s of resisting temptation, because these can be applied to a whole host of sins.

1. REMEMBER who you are, God’s treasured child.
2. RECOGNIZE the consequences of your actions
Ask yourself these diagnostic questions:
If I give in to this, will I feel better or worse? Will this bring me shame or embarrassment if others find out? Who will be hurt? Can I share this with my congregation? Am I able to tell my small group about this?
3. RE-DEDICATE yourself to God: Stop, drop what you are considering doing, and pray!
4. REVEAL your struggle to a trusted friend
5. REMOVE yourself from the situation.

Good words, for today and every day.