Remember to Breathe by Pat Cirrincione

I sit here tonight and wonder what Christmas means. Right now, it feels like Christmas is only about finishing my present shopping and baking a bunch of Christmas cookies. And for some reason, this year I decided that it would be nice to make homemade gifts. I truly thought I had at least two full weeks left before the arrival of our Savior, and I just don’t know what happened to that week I lost!

Okay, I just need to take a deep breath, (in-out-in-out), and get really organized. But when did it become my job to wrap all these extra gifts that keep coming into our home via our newly married son and his wife? Okay, deep breath (in-out-in out).

I know I say this every year, but I must get back to getting ready for Christmas in August. Really. I used to have my Christmas cards in the mail between the end of August and the beginning of October. It actually became a Christmas tradition. Certain friends thought it was such a good idea that for the past few years I’m receiving theirs before I have even purchased our own cards. What happened to my former organized self?

I know, it happened when the grandchildren arrived. No, maybe it was when our first son got married and we had to switch some family traditions around. No, let’s go back to the grandchildren and the time spent between babysitting and going to their school functions and dance recitals and sporting events. I know what you’re thinking, “She’s just making up excuses since she retired and is spending her time with book clubs, knitting group, prayer groups, lunches and dinners with friends.” But I did all that stuff before. Could it be that age has been creeping up on me, and I just haven’t noticed? Now that is absurd!

I’m going to have to think this through. I know, I’m going to look at next year’s calendar and get more organized. I’ll place colored dots on dates where I need to get something done or begun. Maybe I’ll get the dots in red, green and yellow. Red for get this done as soon as possible. Green for go and do something, anything, but don’t wait until the last minute. And yellow for “maybe I should slow down a bit and take a deep breath (in-out-in-out).”

Perhaps I should just say, “Lord Jesus, please help this crazy woman. Let her take the time she needs to stay connected with you, to read her Bible, to pray.” That is a better way to begin my day than with red, green and yellow dots. It’s a better way to frame my baking, wrapping, addressing cards and wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.

It’s far better to keep in my mind that the joy and love of the season is about one person—our Redeemer King—who knows every hurried or unhurried breath we take (in-out-in-out).

The Naughty List by Wil Triggs

For whatever reason, my parents stopped going to church when I was little, or maybe they stopped before I was born. We didn’t consistently go to church.

But we did have a church. It was the Garfield Baptist Church.  All of my sisters and brother remember attending that church. This was my family’s church even though we were, well, sporadic in attendance. Maybe my parents were just millennials before their time.

Though we didn’t attend regularly, I do remember going there, one Sunday in particular.

The pastor was preaching about sin. And he was getting pretty excited. The sermons at that church were interactive in a way that we aren’t at College Church, with people shouting “Amen” whenever the pastor was trying to stress an important theological truth.

On this particular Sunday, the pastor pointedly asked the congregation about sin in their lives. He repeated the question, asking if there was anyone sitting in the church that morning without sin. No one responded.

The pastor asked a third time if there was anyone in this church who did not sin. If so, raise your hand, he said, challenging us to come face to face with our sin.

I was right there with the pastor.

I knew that Jesus had washed away my sins. Whiter than snow. As far as the east is from the west. Nothing could undo what Jesus had done.

I didn’t realize it, but that was not the point.

Every time he asked the question, the volume in his delivery got louder and more intense. It seemed to my young mind that he was not happy that no one was responding.

So after that third time asking, I shot my hand up into the air as far as it would go. Yes pastor, I was without sin!

The pastor and everyone else in the room saw my raised hand. The congregation erupted in laughter. The pastor was taken aback. My mother was mortified. She pulled down my raised hand as fast as she could.

Especially during the preaching, people didn’t really laugh at church back then, at least not at the level that happened that morning. And they were laughing at me. I didn’t understand why people were laughing. It wasn’t funny. I didn’t want to let Satan blow out my little light. I wanted to let it shine. And the pastor was asking for a response, just like he often did for people to come forward if they wanted to make a decision or have someone pray for them.

I didn’t really think that I had never committed a sin, it was just one big misunderstanding between the pastor and me. Afterwards, I felt bad and tried to explain, but there wasn’t really anything I could do. I was young enough that people were forgiving. And I think in a subsequent Sunday the pastor even joked about asking for a show of hands, looking over at me, and people chuckled in a more acceptable level.

Sometimes at Christmas, we put ourselves on the nice list. We get caught up in the moment and think of ourselves as good. We raise our hands up in the air like I did those many years ago. And then, the  wonder of Jesus can get lost in our sense of goodness.

This Christmas, I’m thinking of my favorite quote from a book I read this year:

“…we sin even in our best moments as we serve God. There has never been a single moment when we have loved the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29, 30). In our most sincere time of prayer, the pure eyes of our holy God see the unbelief, lukewarmness, spiritual pride, hypocrisy, and selfishness that is in our hearts. We grieve over the sins we see, but God sees far more. Our sins are like the dust on a gravel road. My sins and yours are beyond number.” (The Psalms Volume 1—Psalms 1 to 41, Rejoice the Lord Is King by James Johnston, p. 415)

Though our sins may be beyond number, even more measureless is the great God who gave his only Son. He laid down all the glories of heaven. He laid himself in a manger. He washed dirty feet. He spoke to waves and storms and demons and pigs and Samaritans and tax collectors. He laid himself out on the cross. He laid aside his very life. He was laid in the tomb.

And then, wonder of wonders. Savior, Redeemer, Friend, Mighty God. King everlasting.

Let’s think more about Jesus this Christmas and less about the lists, be they naughty or nice.

Lists, Lists and More Lists by Pat Cirrincione

As a child, the one list I never made was a list to Santa about the gifts I wanted for Christmas. My family didn’t have much money, and I never wanted to make my parents feel bad about not being able to give me my much longed-for pitcher’s mitt. Thinking about that now, maybe I should have made that list to Santa.

The adult me, however, has become a chronic list maker. I make a list to go shopping (grocery or gift), and I don’t veer off the grocery list especially if I am at the market around lunch or dinner time.

I have a list of every record album in my collection, in alphabetical order. From books, to clothes, to my spice cabinet, everything has a place and an order to it, all because of my lists.

When I have company over for dinner I make a list of the food I’m serving, the time each one takes for cooking, and then another list to remind me of what not to forget in the refrigerator.

I don’t know where this list need came from, except that I used to see my Dad with a list of what needed fixing up around the house. Sometimes the list was short, and sometimes it was long. It could be genetic.

When we go on vacation or even a short weekend trip, I make up lists of what clothes to take along, what books I want to read, what kind of snacks we’d like to munch on, and which Bible I’d like to peruse.

Then there are my truly important lists—my prayer lists. I have a list of who I pray for in my missionary group, a list for people in my Adult Community group and another list for people in my Bible study group. These lists help me as I pray for missionaries out there spreading the good news of the gospel or for those I care about and their concerns for families and one another. I have a list for the needs of the woman I meet with weekly, learning from God’s Word together. I consider it a privilege to have these lists to look at and use every day.

However, it’s when I go “off list” and just speak to God as one friend to another that my prayer, or discussion, with God becomes meaningful. It’s as if I am sitting with a phone in hand, calling him to have a great talk together, sharing concerns, thoughts, hopes and dreams, good and bad that has occurred. And he’s probably relieved to not hear a list of prayers, wants, and needs.

So, as these December days bring us closer to the birth of our Savior, I’m making a list of what I can do for him.

Here it is:
•read his Word daily
•become the person I was meant to be according to his plan.

And then I’ll make a list of what I am serving for Christmas Eve dinner and New Year’s Day. And what final gifts I need to purchase, and what days I babysit the grandchildren, and what cookies of I have left to bake and . . . 

Christmas Charity by Lorraine Triggs

The doorbell rang rather late that day during Christmas week—the first Christmas without my dad, who had died five months earlier—and my sisters and I hurried to the door. We opened it and stared at the two policemen who stood on the porch. “Is your mom home?” one of them asked.

My sisters sent me to get our mother, while they chatted with the officers. Once my mom was with us, the policemen picked up two large bushel baskets topped with festive bows. One basket was filled with food; the other filled with toys. Jackpot! “We give these to the poor and needy,” the police explained. “To make sure you have a nice holiday.”

If my mother was anything, it was courteous. She thanked the police for the baskets, but she was sure there were other families in town who needed these baskets more than we did. “They’ll get baskets,” the officers said. “These are yours.” Again, my mother refused. By this time, her daughters were about to stage a mini-revolt. Passing up all those toys and free food?

“We don’t really need anything. We have enough,” my mom was trying hard to convince the policemen that we were neither poor nor needy. “God takes care of us.” As soon as my mom said that, our hearts sank. We knew: the men in blue were going to walk off the porch taking those two bushel baskets.

Make no mistake—it wasn’t pride that kept her from accepting those baskets. It was her confidence in God, and the city’s charity fund was no match for his care or the generosity of his people at our church, especially that first year after my father died.

I remember one morning when my mom opened the refrigerator—milk, a few eggs and a partial loaf of bread. That was it. “Well, girls,” she said in her plain way, “We’ll just have to wait and see what God does.” The wait ended with the delivery of the morning mail.

A small white envelope, without a return address, arrived in the mail. My mother opened the envelope and out fell a check. I don’t remember the amount, but I do remember the short note attached to it: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 in the King James Version, of course)

That continued for that first year after my father died; then five years, even twenty years later—a check would come in the mail for my mother with the same verse, always in the King James version. To this day, some seven years after my mom’s death, my sisters and I still have no idea the identity of this generous person.

We learned a lot about trust in God’s provision those lean years, but we also learned another lesson from my mother about giving—just do it. Every Sunday, my mother gave to the work of the church. In retrospect, I suspect it was a true widow’s mite that she gave, but she just did it.

She even gave to College Church when she would visit us. “Mom, it’s okay if you don’t give to College Church,” my husband and I told her. (And all of you reading this right now forget what I just wrote.) We might as well have been talking a foreign language. What? Go to church and not give?

I haven't always followed my mother's lesson about giving. Why? There's the uncomplicated reason that I simply want to spend my money on other things. Even in my more spiritual moments, I suspect it's because I make it more complicated than it really is and talk about wise stewardship of my investments. I'm not against discernment, but church is church. Christmas isn't about investments. It's about celebrating God giving his only Son. 

My husband says he can still see my mom's hand, a slight tremor with age, wrinkled and worn after decades of hard work and sacrifice, determinedly releasing the dollars into the offering plate as it was passed when she visited College Church. A poor widow. A blessed church made truly wealthy by that kind of sacrificial giving from the heart.

As Advent begins, we plan to keep giving simple, and just give that special gift—a Christmas gift—to College Church. I know my mother would be proud.

Being David's Dad by Ash

Ash and Katrina discover God’s goodness and grace in unexpected ways.

DSC_6364.jpg

The year 2017 was supposed to be our year of stability. For the first time since 2012, we would live in the same home, with the same daily routines and responsibilities as the previous year, without any major life transitions. Sure, we had given birth to a new child at the end of 2016, but he was our fourth in five years, so we chalked that up as standard. Little did we know that our first year with David would be anything but standard.

About two months after his birth in Indonesia, my wife, Katrina, noticed that David was not as active and responsive as our first three kids had been. David was soon diagnosed with hydrocephalus. That means that he had too much cerebral spinal fluid in his head. The pressure builds up and causes problems for his brain and other important things. Katrina and three-month-old David flew to Singapore for his first brain surgery to help him drain the fluid properly in February. By late April he needed another operation. Patients are most likely to have problems in the first six months following each operation. Having seen what that was like, we decided we needed to be closer to a hospital and family during that time. As soon as David was able to fly, we packed up our home and said goodbye to our friends in Indonesia and moved to California. In June, David was hospitalized again, this time for a dangerous infection. During that week, a team of neurologists diagnosed what we thought was frequent stretching as seizure activity. Multiple doctors also confirmed that any vision David may have is not useful to him. In September, David had two more brain surgeries. His first birthday was November 17 and he has yet to make it three months without a hospitalization.

Through all of this God has been so gracious to us. He has given us access to some of the best doctors in the world, all of whom admit freely that they cannot predict much of anything about David’s future. They cannot tell us if David will ever be able to walk, talk or see. This has led us to lean even more on our God who knows all things, can do all things and loves us and David more than we can imagine. We knew that David was a gift to us from God (Psalm 127:3) before we learned about his hydrocephalus. That has not changed. We also know that God does not give us bad gifts (Luke 11:7-11).

God is teaching us that the same faith and perspective that strengthened us before this tragedy will give us the strength we need to face this journey. He has challenged and taught us about prayer—do we pray out of selfish desire or out of a desire to see him glorified? We would love to see David healed completely and we know that God is capable of healing him today. But we also know that he is not obligated to do so.

A few weeks before Easter, while we were still in Indonesia, I was asked to preach at one of the churches we serve there. I was led to preach on John 11—Jesus raising Lazarus. It is a rich passage filled with powerful emotions and statements, not only from Jesus but also from his friends. It has continued to speak to my heart through the highs and lows of this year. There are times when I feel like Martha and Mary and want to ask Jesus how he could allow this to happen. In those moments I am comforted by Jesus’ message throughout the chapter that he knew what was best for his friends; and that he would be revealed and glorified through it. I am also reminded that our hope is not ultimately tied to this life. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus to life, but eventually Lazarus died again. The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection points us forward to Jesus’ own death and resurrection, by which he defeated sin, death and the grave, and through which we receive eternal life. Our hope is not in an easy, pain free life in this world here and now, but in the ultimate resurrection of all who believe in him.

That eternal perspective can also be seen in Paul’s response to persecution and suffering in his own life. While our situation doesn’t directly compare to Paul’s, we still glean from his focus on eternity in the midst of it. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 he says, So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The specifics of our situation may be different, but the principle still stands true. It is hard to see our child go through so much pain and to struggle so much with basic life skills. It is hard to live each day not knowing when or if he will need another emergency surgery. It is hard to be separated from the people we love and with whom we serve for the sake of the gospel in Indonesia, without knowing when or if we can return to our home there. We do not know what God has planned for our family. Whatever it is, he does not promise us that it will be easy. In fact, he promises both difficulty in life and peace in his victory (John 16:33). Ultimately, living our lives for his glory is worth far more than whatever hardships we face (1 Peter 1:3-9).

So, while we continue to pray for miraculous healing for David, we pray first and foremost that David will know Jesus, the giver of eternal life that will be free of pain and suffering, and will make him known to others. We pray that God will use David’s life in whatever way will bring him the most glory. We pray that we will glorify God in how we raise and care for David and his sisters. We pray that he will continue to lead and direct our whole family, and that he will give us strength for the journey—wherever it leads. As we come to the end of a tumultuous 2017, we look forward to a new year filled with uncertainty and hope. A teammate of ours in Indonesia is fond of saying, “I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” Amen!

My Rutted Road by Nancy Tally

Indeed, the road of my life is not the only road with its ruts. Every time I listen to someone else’s story it is evident that all our roads are rutted somewhere along the way. I believe I would be amazed and surprised—be it pleasantly though—to hear a story where someone’s road of life was all smooth and even.

Ruts give us character. Our responses to them refine and define who we are and even can change the direction in which we are traveling. Ruts can be messy as we slide our way through the muck and goo of life, sometimes stuck spinning our tires, sometimes out of control. Other times the ruts are dried out, hard and unyielding. We bump and bounce around, with every sense jarred; the ruts trap us in their track.

The name of a certain hospital came up this morning, and I started reminiscing about my trips there some forty years ago. The following tale was—in view of my entire life—a very small rut but interesting none the less.

As a new bride, I was cleaning the apartment my husband had lived in for a few years before we were married.

He usually had his clothes dry cleaned, but he never threw out the plastic bags from the cleaners or the hangers. There were closets literally stuffed full of empty plastic bags and hangers. I grew up in a household with siblings ten to twelve years younger than I, and it had been drilled into me that this was intolerably dangerous. I soon set about the task of ridding the apartment of these potential child killers.

I would grab handfuls of plastic bags, yank them free and dutifully tie them in knots before depositing them in the garbage. The hangers would rear backwards till the plastic gave way on the front edges; then shoot forward like bullets from the force of my pull

This would have been no problem in a standard closet.

However, these closets were two rows deep. As I stepped into the closet to “de-plastic” the back row, I notice a bag I had missed in the front row. Yes I did. I grabbed it, and when I yanked the hanger, it predictably flew back then shot forward—straight into my eyeball.

There I stood, slightly bent at the waist and both hands tightly clasped over my eye and SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS! Roland, my husband of just a couple weeks came running. But I would not let go of my eye for him to see what had happened. I had no intention of removing my hands from that eye and my howls were the only verbal explanation he was receiving. The intensity of the pain was truly blinding.

Roland eventually managed to pry my hands off my eye, but I could only tolerate to open it for a split second. That was long enough for him to decide. We were off to the nearest emergency room.

I was still holding my hands over the eye when we got there. When I heard the nurse ask what happened, I took my hands down for a second to show her.

“What happened?” the nurse asked more vehemently. Roland started to answer and was immediately silenced. They wanted to hear it from me And on second thought they were going to take me to another room to tell them. No, he couldn’t come. He could stay right where he was.

I saw a police officer hovering in the background and understanding dawned. They thought he hit me. Of course, a twenty-something white female accompanied by a thirty- something black male, what other explanation could there be? They were giving me the security of not being pressured or influenced at all by his presence as I told my story.

I thought that they are never going to believe this.

I noticed a second police officer listened in as I told my story to the nurse who, was turning a sickly pale shade of green.

Staring at my eye she said she thought she was going to be sick. I asked why she was so upset. You see, I had not yet seen how my eye looked.

Fortunately, the nurse had no problem believing my story. She reported that she had cleaned her closets earlier that morning and did the very same thing I did—grabbing the plastic bags on her hangers and pulling as the hangers went flying back and then forward. So. there she sat repeating,

 “I’m never going to do it again. I’m never going to do it again!”

While I had a big blood red contusion on the outer white area of my eyeball and one of the most glorious shiners you could ever behold. there was no permanent damage and only the slightest tiniest abrasion on the white (now bulging red) area of my eyeball. It was one of those things that looked and felt way worse than it was. I must admit it was humorous—for me at least—to walk into church the next morning and watch Roland fend off all the “what did you do to her?” accusations.

But why share this now with all of you? This fall, I was studying the Women’s Bible Study lesson on Psalm 9 and the second part of verse one says, “I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”

But what had I just done that morning? I recounted this same story and other more atrocious things experienced at the same hospital. I focused only on the problems. Why hadn’t I, in my reminiscing, focus on what God had done for me?

He had spared me from losing my eye. One, I had closed the eye fast enough so that the major cut was on the lid and not on the eye. Two, it was on the outer white not on the iris or pupil. The doctors were clear about the difference these things made in the lack of having permanent damage. Three, it did not happen the day before when I was home alone. Roland was there to care for me. Four, the nurse, because she had just taken the plastics off her own hangers that morning, understood the truth of my words as well as their warning to her. God had been there in both the timing and in what had even happened to the nurse on duty.

Making this particular rut nothing more than a pebble in my road because I was hedged about with protection.

In the last few months I have been learning to view my past ruts differently. I am learning that even now years and decades later, I am not trapped in the ruts of my past responses. I have come to call God Abba and to look forward to talking to him. If you know me, you know I did not always view him as a kind and loving Abba but as a ruthless and cruel father to be avoided.

I have known God for fifty-five years, but many of those years were spent loudly and angrily challenging him about why would he ever identify himself as a man much less a father. And that speaks to the problems that arose from one of the biggest ruts in my road. However, I am learning that God indeed has loved me ever since I was very young. I see him working in my life and on my behalf before I even knew him. And he is showing me how a father should love—and that sets me free.

But those are stories to tell in other months, for other times. For now remember that when you know the truth, the truth will set you free, especially from unyielding ruts.

Road to Hope in South America, Asia and Africa

This year, the Thanksgiving Eve offering at College Church helped support three projects in three different regions of the world--rural villages in the Amazon basin, pastors and church leaders in Southeast Asia and the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. All three projects have the same end goal: to proclaim hope of Jesus and his Word to all people, everywhere. Find out more about all three projects and how you can give.

Watch the following videos about the projects in the Kenya and the Amazon basin.

How A Google Doc Changed My Life by Rachel Rim

One of the biggest blessings of my life exists in the form of a Google document.

Two years ago, my friend Alycia and I sat on the steps outside "Saga O" on Wheaton College's campus and made the rather arbitrary decision to be accountability partners. Looking back, we had no clear idea of what that really meant. The decision came out of a conversation about how ironically difficult it was to read the Bible regularly at a Christian college. If memory serves correctly, I made the suggestion, she readily agreed and neither of us thought too much about it. Later that night, one of us created a Google document, titled it “Rachel and Alycia’s Accountability Page” and we went on with our unsuspecting lives.

Like in the gospel story of the five loaves and two fish, God took our clueless-but-genuine intention and multiplied it in ways we never could have predicted. We started reading Deuteronomy and Hebrews together and began writing on the page every night. We wrote out our questions and thoughts on the passage and responded to each other’s posts in different colors. Soon we were reading Paul's letters to the Corinthians, the prophet Hosea and the Gospel of John. We posted on C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, shared lyrics to hymns we were currently listening to and pondered the Tolkien lectures at the Wade Center we attended. 

It didn't take long before academic discussions turned into personal conversations. Alycia opened up to me about her family; I shared with her some of my struggles. We began to not simply share prayer requests but to meet every week, usually on the steps of Edman Chapel, and pray for things going on around the world, on our campus and in each other’s lives. Whatever happened on any given day, I could count on Alycia’s steady reflections on our accountability page; whatever a particular week looked like, I knew there would be a time to come together, share and pray. The summer before our senior year, we read a book together and decided to pursue spiritual friendship—friendship that was intentional, committed and rooted in biblical truth.

Looking back, I’m not sure either of us would have so casually embarked upon our accountability friendship had we known all that would happen. There is something a little frightening about seeing something grow so powerfully, so unambiguously of God. Some truly beautiful conversations and memories have come out of our accountability, but it has also been immensely difficult at times, as we struggled through busy schedules, the natural wounds that come from deep vulnerability and the inevitable realities of post-graduation life.

Part of the struggles we faced—and still face—stem from the fact that we have few places to find examples of friendships like ours. Short of David and Jonathan, there aren’t many biblical stories used to illuminate deep friendship, and the topic does not factor heavily in most sermons or seminars. Our culture as a whole, and I would dare to say, church culture in particular, holds friendship as the least committed of all relationships. It puts marriage and romantic relationships up on a pedestal, and friendship comes in last of all. The nature of friendship is seen as whimsical, the decision to “be friends with someone” as arbitrary; we become friends and stop being friends with someone based on how we feel, and we use words like “commitment” and “intentionality” exclusively for marriage.

As a single, recent college graduate, friendship obviously plays a different role for me than it does for someone in another season of life. I recognize this, and yet at the same time, I cannot help feeling that our under-emphasis of friendship has caused us to miss out on a fundamental aspect of God’s character, as well as a profound avenue for grace and blessing in our personal lives. I have learned different things from my friendship with Alycia than I have from my relationships with my parents or my sister, particularly because I’m stuck with my family whether I like it or not, whereas friendship requires unrequired effort. It is creating a covenant where none exists, choosing commitment in a culture that says we can drop friends when we no longer feel like we have much in common. And accountability specifically has done more than anything else in my life to show me that I cannot walk alone—that to do so would be to miss so much of what it means to be human, made in the image of the relational God.

Alycia and I are still accountability friends, though we live in different states and the lack of proximity makes everything harder. Our Google document is close to three hundred pages long, and I recently returned from Minnesota where I spent a week with her and her family. Before my friendship with Alycia, I never knew friendship could be so hard and so complicated; I also never knew it could be so beautiful. It is my prayer that both secular culture and Christian culture can slowly work towards understanding friendship in a radically different light. I’ve found too much beauty in my own to pray any differently.