Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Welcome to New Jersey

The long awaited move to New Jersey successfully happened this past weekend.

Tyler and I are now (almost) all settled into our apartment. So far, we are loving it here, although it is taking some adjusting. There are many differences from our Florida lifestyle. One of the first noticeable differences was the road. The rules of the road are different here, intersections look a little more messy (less defined, more lights, more signs), and it's like you can't turn left anywhere! We are already missing  grocery shopping at Publix. But on the bright side, there is a Hobby Lobby within 10 minutes from our place. Needless to say, I should be happy =)

We were welcomed to Jersey by snow! It was simply beautiful. I was like a kid on Christmas morning! I just couldn't stop staring out the window!

We have thus far attended our first Time Out (weekly Athletes in Action meeting) on campus, met several student athletes, and spent quality time with our new AIA directors. It's been a fun first few days! Tomorrow, we are looking forward to the football game, Bible studies, and our first NJ diner experience. As we continue to step into our new roles as full time Athletes in Action staff at Rutgers, we are eager and hopeful that God will use us in mighty ways to bring people into relationship with Him!

All in all, God prepared our hearts well for this and we are so thrilled to be on this adventure together with Him and each other!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Nostalgia

Five years ago, I was not right with God. I had spent about a year or so running from Him and His plans for my life. I thought I could find lasting satisfaction in life, without the Lord. I found out, time and time again, that I was very very wrong.

In early November 2007, I began to feel convicted and empty. I remember sending my friend Nicole a Facebook message asking about a verse in Scripture. She later told me that led her to continue to pray for me! And am I so glad she did.

On Thanksgiving evening, November 22, 2007, I watched the video below and it was life changing for me. Tears streamed down my face and my heart ached... I knew my life wasn't what it should and could have been.... there was SO much more and I had been missing out! Well, I wanted it. I wanted a life that was satisfied in Christ alone. At the same time, I was scared. I knew Nicole would understand and help lead me in this.

Despite that it was Thanksgiving night, Nicole and her parents welcomed me over with open arms. I remember sitting on Nicole's bed with her and our friend Jess as I sobbed. Through the tears,  I remember saying, "I need Jesus. Please help me!" And they did! Those girls stepped up and help shepherd me as I got back on the path the Lord had for me. And I have them as friends to this day. They will always hold a special place in my heart!

 (Pictured: Nicole, Me, Jess - Christmas 2007)

So, this Thanksgiving, this is what I am thankful for: friendships that have eternal value, God's grace and forgiveness, a fully satisfying life in Him, and God's all purposeful plan for my life. Because I was obedient 5 years ago to God reeling me back in, I have experienced His perfect plan for my life and many blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless!

"Give thanks to him; bless his name!" 
- Psalm 100:4

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ten Reasons Why I Go to a "Mega Church"

Since my senior year of college, I have attended Exciting Idlewild Church in Lutz, Florida. Idlewild has about 10,000 members and an enormous building! I remember when Tyler and I invited our families to join us at Idlewild our first Easter married, the first thing they all said was, "it's so big!"

I have now been at Idlewild for almost 4 years and here's why....

1. Idlewild as a church, and the Senior Pastor, Ken Whitten, hold and preach Biblical doctrine. Jesus Christ is the reason the church exists and excels.
2. Even in such a large sanctuary, I found comfort in sitting in the same seats each Sunday morning. And because of this, I ended up connecting with those around me!
3. Tyler and I began attending our first Bible Fellowship Class, Engaged Couples, which also doubled as pre-marital counseling. We learned so much from the materials, our peers in the class, as well as the two couples who facilitated the class!
4. After we got married, we got connected into what we now consider our little church family -- the Bible Fellowship Class Newly Married 2. We have enjoyed every minute of our time a part of that class... from the other couples in the class to the guest speakers. But at the end of the day, Newly Married 2 is our place of deeper connection with a smaller group of people within the larger body of Idlewild.
5. Pastor Ken Whitten is a strong, wise, and personal pastor. Regardless of the size of the congregation he leads, he's approachable, personable, and knows the people of Idlewild! It's so comforting to know that you're not just another number to the Senior Pastor.
6. Idlewild is a great place to invite non-Christians to church. Because the sermon's are so Biblically on point, there's never any doubt as to what they may hear during their church experience. And like many other Southern Baptist churches, Pastor Ken does an invitation at the end of each service, allowing people an opportunity to talk to someone personally and/or publicly profess that they're placing their faith in Christ.
7. There is always something to do through the church. I think because of it's size, there is great success in hosting Christmas pageants, fall festivals, and Vacation Bible School. Idlewild even has a recreation ministry which is open to the community!
8. Service is a key focus of Idlewild's. Over the last couple of years, the church has adopted a local elementary school and encouraged the church members to donate their time and/or their resources to enable a Title 1 public school to see the love of Christ! And for years, church members have fed migrant workers on Thanksgiving Day!
9. Each school semester, Idlewild has what they call Life Change University. Bible studies, book studies, and classes are held for one "semester" and the topics cover a wide spectrum! I enjoyed attending a LCU course during Fall 2010, as it provided me with additional study of God's Word with the people of Idlewild!
10. I couldn't find a reason NOT to plant roots at Idlewild... so I did. I never saw a reason or need to leave.

We just attended our last Sunday morning at Idlewild as Florida residents. It was very bittersweet, as we are excited to be moving. However, saying good-bye to our Bible Fellowship Class was almost as hard as saying good-bye to family. I know I am going to miss the people, the teaching, the discussion, the prayer, and the genuineness of that class. I can only hope and pray that we will find another home like Idlewild.

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10:24-25

Friday, November 16, 2012

Leave and Cleave

On December 11, 2010, Tyler became my husband, my partner, my person.

However, that has turned out to be more of a process than an overnight switch. Many older and wiser married couples shared their advice with us on the topic of leaving and cleaving. I am extremely grateful for the Biblical counsel and model that many couples we know have been to us during our time of marriage. However, all the advice (and even little comments here and there) we received in regards to leaving and cleaving left me very confused. I was left thinking of leaving and cleaving, in very simple terms, more spouse, less family. Ok, wrong! Here's how God's been working on my heart.... 

Yesterday, God laid the topic of leaving and cleaving very heavily on my heart. I got thinking about the blessings and challenges Tyler and I have faced living 15 minutes away from our parents over the last year or so, and how different things will look once we move to New Jersey. We've been able to spend quality time with our parents, very regularly while we've lived in Largo. But moving away won't mean we have completed the "leave and cleave" process. I came across an article by Sandra Lundberg this morning, that touched on the topic of leaving and cleaving, on the Focus on the Family website...

"This is not to suggest that children and parents should cut off their relationship under the guise of leaving and cleaving. But your primary human relationship now is with your spouse, not your parents. Your commitment to God comes first; then your bond to your spouse, then to any children you might have, then to your family of origin, and then to extended family and friends." 

Wow! That is so powerful and enlightening to me. My relationship with my parents, and Tyler's relationship with his parents, cannot be our most important relationships any longer. Our marriage relationship is priority, after our relationship with the Lord. Now, not that this is easy, but it all just makes so much more sense than it has in the past. I understand how my relationship with my parents must change, in order for me to best bring honor and glory to God as a wife. My mom can still be one of my best friends, but if I am seeking from her what I should be seeking from Tyler (getting my emotional needs met, heavily dependent on for decision-making, etc.) that's where I am in trouble. My husband comes first, before my parents, and he should always know that. But, at the same time, my relationship can flourish with my parents, so long as I remember God's desire of those relationships and healthy boundaries!

 (pictured: My mom & step-dad, Tyler's dad, sister, mom, and of course, us in the middle)

Without our families, we would not be who we are today. We have been molded, taught, and raised well by our parents. Tyler and I will miss our families as we embark on our new journey in New Jersey. We look forward to having them visit and taking full advantage of Skype technology! And I trust that by the strength of God, we will continue to cleave to one another as spouses and leave our parents in a healthy way, while continuing to cherish our relationships with them!

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." - Genesis 2:4

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day

Happy Veteran's Day!

I come from a long line of brave gentlemen who served our country in several military capacities and am so proud! 

Arthur Edward Bound Jr. - my grandfather who served in the Navy.

My brother, James, and I at the grave of our great-grandparents at Arlington National Cemetery. Thomas Francis Meagher, our great-grandfather, served in the US Navy. 

Not pictured, but not forgotten, include my late grandfather, Harold G. Marshall, who served in the US Army. 
My father, and Harold's son, John A. Marshall served in the US Army also!

"Freedom is not free."

God Bless America!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Limitless Love

Have you ever thought about the limits of love? We all have our limits at which we draw the line - whether in a dating or marriage relationship, a parent/child relationship, or a friendship. Maybe for you it's lying, cheating, gossiping, or stealing. Or perhaps you consider someone unworthy of your love if they aren't supportive of you, don't believe the best in you, manipulate you, or have a bad reputation that could damage your own. Whatever it may be, we all have limits to our love.

Some of you may not like to admit that... so I challenge you to think back through some of your relationships in life. At what point did you break up with your high school sweetheart? Maybe when they kissed your best friend or you found out they were denying your relationship all together. When did you give up on that friendship you had for years? Was it when she spread a terrible rumor about you or perhaps when she seemingly moved on to a new group of friends? When did you decide divorce was the best option? Maybe it was an affair, anger, or abuse. When did you stop speaking to your child or parent? Was it when they stole from you, or maybe when they said they didn't love you anymore? .... Ok, those are your limits.

My limits have changed over the years and I am seeking to love in a way more like the love God has for us! I want to aim for forgiveness, not revenge. I want to love unconditionally! But in my own strength, I cannot do that -- and neither can you. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to love others (and even ourselves) the way God loves. God has no limits in His love. As Shannon Ethridge writes in her book Completely Loved, "He promises to be faithful to you, even if you are unfaithful to Him. His love for you is unconditional. He will never turn His back on you, will never forsake you, wouldn't dream of slamming the door and driving away, or ripping your heart out and stomping on it." That's the kind of love I want to have for God and others, but I absolutely need Him to empower me to do so.

Can you readjust your limits in love to be more like Christ's? How can you seek to love others better? It could start with forgiveness, reconciliation, or it could just mean starting fresh in the next relationship with a makeover on your limits. I encourage you to seek to love others like God loves you!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Outward Appearance

Last night, on Instagram, I came across 2 photos that my (African-American) friends posted.  Here is one...

The other had some offensive language and I can't seem to find it anywhere but Instagram. It was like a screen shot of a Google search. Typed in the search box was "little white b**ch" and under the search box it said "did you mean Mitt Romney?" Well, needless to say, I was immediately on a roll.

Why am I posting about this? Because I think racism as America knew it decades ago is dead, but racism itself is still very much alive. Check out this article on Yahoo! News. I read that and could not believe my eyes. I am shocked that people have openly said they were voting for President Obama because of his skin color. Imagine if someone said, "I'm voting for Romney because he's white." Outrage would've broken out (and rightly so)!!

I have posted some of my views on Twitter and Instagram recently. I commented on the "My President is Black" photo my friend posted and said, "would you be less proud if he was white? #RacismIsAProblem" and the responses I received were that I am ignorant. On Twitter, I posted, "Vote for a candidate based on their stance & record and your beliefs & research, not their appearance. #RacismIsAProblem" which was reposted by one of my dearest friends, who is African-American.

But I want to move beyond the political and more into the issue I see at hand with racism. 

I was never taught to look at someone differently because of their skin color. All my life I have had friends from varying cultures and backgrounds, and with different skin colors. In pre-school one of my best friends was Jewish, in kindergarten one of my best friends was African-American, later in elementary school I had a close friend who was Native American, in high school I had a close friend who has Downs Syndrome, in college I had a roommate who was Jewish, post college I have been privileged enough to work with some of the most diverse people on the planet! My husband and I have even discussed adopting a child of another race! 

But it is extremely common for people to practice some form of racism. Maybe they discriminate against people from a specific country, religion, or culture for a specific reason... or maybe there's no reason at all. Maybe they believe their race is at a disadvantage. Maybe they believe their race is superior above them all. Or, perhaps they believe their race has suffered long enough and it's time to prove themselves, as a race, valuable. Anyway you swing it, racism is racism. And I am disheartened to see what has been brought to light during the election this year. 

One thing I am grateful for is that God does not look at ones skin color or culture! The Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 16:7 that, "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Thank goodness! In a disillusioned world where people focus so much on skin color, and economic and cultural background, we can all stand before a Holy God without fear of rejection based on any of those things. Our heart is what God sees, and what God tests. 

If only we humans could look passed the exterior and into one another's hearts. I personally want to seek to love, understand, embrace, and accept others -- who are different from me in how they look, worship, love, and live -- and challenge you to do the same. Heaven and hell won't be full of one race. We're all going to spend eternity together. Let's start supporting each other and living together peacefully, now!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

So You Call Yourself A Christian...

Many people today consider themselves to be a Christian. Maybe they grew up attending church with their family, perhaps they own a Bible, or maybe because they don't believe in any other religion they must be a Christian.... right?

Last week in our Bible Fellowship Class at church, the question "When you think of the characteristics of a Christian, what comes to mind?" came up. Individuals responded with their thoughts, which I loved and am going to share. However, I want to clarify that people may have these characteristics and not be a Christian and people who are Christian's may not necessarily have these characteristics. Words like servant, selfless, and humility were thrown out. I absolutely agree! And there are many more, these are just the few that were brought up in the last few minutes of our class time. 

My mind began churning and continued to do so as we sat in church service after class and listened to a sermon on being All In. "Jesus isn't looking for decisions, He's looking for disciples!" and "Jesus who gave His all for us, demands we give our all to Him." were some of the powerful words spoken by Pastor Ken Whitten that morning. 

The theme of the morning, for me, was overwhelmingly obvious... authentic Christianity. Too often, I see people who want their cake and to eat it too (if you will). They want to "be a Christian," while enjoying the fleeting pleasures of the world -- whether that be attending church occasionally while indulging in ... excessive drinking, promiscuity, living the "college life", seeking approval of others--no matter the cost, cheating, etc. That's called hypocrisy and I don't care who you talk to, but nobody likes or respects a hypocrite. 

As I left church that morning, I thought the first question posed in our Bible Fellowship Class -- "When you think of the characteristics of a Christian, what comes to mind?" would help us give ourselves good benchmarks. How would you answer that question? How do you measure up against the list of qualities that comes to mind? What areas could you grow in, to display more "Christian like" characteristics? It's easy to look at someone else and see how they are not living out those characteristics. We like to hold others to standards we're often times not willing to live up to ourselves! Give yourself a review and seek to grow in your relationship with Christ. As you press into Him, you will over time become more selfless, loving, humble, and serving.

"Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." - Philippians 2:2