Friday, February 10, 2012

A Very Successful Failure

I love when God works in ways that we aren't expecting. I mean, it's a great feeling to see the reward that comes from successfully completing a God given task, but have you ever received God's favor in a failure?

In preparation for my birthday project I felt God calling me to fast. This was significant to me because I've never actually fasted before. In fact, fasting has always been something of  a mystery to me. By no coincidence I am sure, it had been the topic for my bible study a few weeks prior and though I left with a greater appreciation for the benefits of fasting, there was a lot of things that I still wasn't clear on. I admit that I was a little hesitant to be obedient at first, but once I committed to trusting God on this adventure I was pumped! Now, I'm sure my inexperience with fasting played into this greatly, but my expectations were pretty high. I was going to dive head first into this and be the best darn fasting woman there ever was! I knew that it wouldn't be all roses, but surely God was going to take it easy on me my first time. I prepared myself to pray through the hunger and to maintain focused on receiving God's guidance in regards to my project. It was going to be an AWESOME day of closeness between The Big Guy and I!

I woke up and was not the least bit hungry, SCORE! I prayed a little and then went about the usual business of my day. By around 10am I was really feeling the effects of missing my morning coffee. I was groggy and starting to get a bit of a headache. I prayed and pushed through, trusting that God would do away with that icky feeling. By lunchtime it was much worse. I was beginning to get cranky and felt the brainfog really set in. This was pretty upsetting to me because there have been PLENTY of days that I have missed breakfast and my coffee and I had never felt like THIS. Why today?? I felt horrible for my grumpy attitude towards my son and began to rationalize that maybe coffee didn't count in fasting. Maybe God wouldn't mind if I just had one cup to take the edge off. I decided that I would be cheating and prayed that God would take the crankiness and headache away.

He did not. 2pm rolled around and I felt like a maniac! I was trying to get my house ready for the guests I was having that evening, getting supplies together for my project, and trying to organize the next day in my mind. My mind that was now merely a dense fog wrapped in a massive headache. I felt out of control and I began to cry... for my coffee! It was at that point that I heard God's gentle reprimand, "How spoiled you are." Say what!? Did God, who I was hoping to spend a day of special closeness with, just call me SPOILED!? He sure did, and He was right. I don't think we expect God to say things to us that we view as negative, but let me tell you He is not afraid to call a spade a spade. He wasn't judging me or talking down to me, merely stating a fact. I was completely spoiled! Here I was preparing to take food and basic necessities to people who go without them on a daily basis and I was CRYING because I didn't have my morning coffee, by choice! If that's not spoiled I'm not sure what is.

I expected that my big "Aha moment" meant that the rest of the day would be easier, but I was wrong. I literally began to feel sick. My body ached, my throat was hurting, and I couldn't even put a complete sentence together. I held out an entire HOUR more before I sat down at the kitchen table and cried while I inhaled a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and pounded a cup of coffee. I immediately felt the physical relief, but my heart hurt.

I had failed. The fast had been broken and I'm not going to lie, so had I. I really struggled with this failure for a couple of days before God revealed some things to me. He didn't see my broken fast as a failure at all. In fact, I believe it went exactly as He had planned. I went into the fast with high expectations... for myself. I was going to rock at fasting! Here I was praying to be decreased so that God would be increased and I was being proud. I was proud of my obedience and that I was doing something I viewed as a big deal. I felt pretty impressed with myself. While I was fasting with expectation that God would reveal His plan for my project, His plan was simply for me to be humbled. Let me tell you, there is no way to feel impressed with yourself while you are bawling with a face full of PB&J.

My failure was ultimately His success and for that I am blessed. Not only did I leave this experience with a more humble heart, I left with a greater appreciation for the bigger picture. Sometimes we get caught up in our failures and we let them diminish what God is really doing. Sometimes what we see as our failures are really some of His great successes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Come As You Are ~ Pocket Full Of Rocks

Reposting to include a better quality video. =0)

This goes along with my earlier post, but I couldn't figure out to add it in. lol.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Perfection and Grace

I'm not perfect and I am a Christian. **GASP**

It's true! I make mistakes constantly (everyone who knows me just let out a collective "mmhmmm!") I fall short of who I'd like to be daily, probably even hourly. I sin. Yep, I SIN and God still loves me! He loves me when I'm cranky. He loves me when I'm selfish. He loves me when I am outright disobedient and I do things that I know He doesn't approve of. HE LOVES THIS SINNER!

I didn't fully believe that until about a year ago. It's something that deeply hindered my walk with God, which is why I feel so compelled to share it publicly. I have prayed for my own salvation at least 4 times in my life. I'm talking walked up to the front of the church bawling, kneeled before the altar, and asked Jesus into my heart...4 times! I like to think that God was up in Heaven chuckling and knowingly shaking his head, thinking, "Girl, where do you think I have been? Don't you understand that the first time worked?" You see, once we ask God to be our Lord and Savior, He takes up permanent residency with us. No need to keep inviting Him to be our savior. We can't lose our salvation by sinning. God doesn't jump ship when things get dicey. He doesn't see the things we do wrong and run away. He loves us through it all. He sticks with us even when we don't believe that He possibly could. Even when we think He should have left us in our sin.

God knows that we are ALL imperfect. I was in a Beth Moore bible study last summer and heard something that spoke to my heart so deeply, probably because it seemed so contrary to what I THOUGHT I knew about God. She talked about the fact that God is NEVER disappointed in us. I thought, "Hold up, HUH? I do way lame stuff all the time and I'm sure He's probably about ready to give up on me." The truth is nothing we do shocks him or comes as a surprise. He is omniscient. He knows every detail of our lives from beginning to end. He knows every time I am going to sin from now until I'm standing face to face with Him. What I do is never a let down because He knows it's coming. Please don't misunderstand me, this is not a free pass to sin. God does not WANT me to sin. He simply knows that my free will leads me to make bad choices sometimes and He knows ahead of time what and when they will be. Beth talked about the excitement God must have every time we sin (stay with me here), thinking, "Fantastic! She only has to make that mistake 2 more times now! She's so close to really getting it!" That message unlocked some serious chains that were keeping me from enjoying my life with God.

I spent 30 years thinking that I was too sinful to really be saved and that at best I was just a huge failure in the eyes of God. I truly believed that in order to be a "Real Christian" I had to be perfect. It may sound silly, but I thought when I was saved "for reals" the Holy Spirit would come upon me and stop me from sinning from that point forward. Clearly THAT never happened, so my sin must have just been too much for God to want to take on. I can't express the freedom I felt when I finally got it. I don't have to be some perfect "Super Christian." In fact, I've come to realize that nobody is. Pastors are not perfect. That family in the front row at church, flawed! All the super amazing women I meet in Bible studies, sinners. We are all just human. We are ALL just sinners. Christians aren't called to BE CHRIST, to be completely without sin. We are called to love God and others, as we love ourselves. We are called to trust that God loves us enough to help us when we struggle with sin. We are called to have faith that when we sin He stands right there with us, loving us through it and patiently waiting for us to ask him for help.

The road to Heaven is not paved in the perfection of Christians. It's paved in God's love for us ALL and it is cushioned by His mercy and His grace. Know that when you ask God into your heart that mercy and grace is for you! He doesn't expect us to be perfect. He loves us just as we are, NO MATTER WHAT. I struggled for so long not truly understanding God's nature and I missed out on many years in relationship with Him because of that. I want to scream it from the mountain tops so nobody has to miss a single second of understanding God's love: God sees us as we are, sees our sinning nature, and still wants a relationship with us. He loves us more than we could even fully comprehend and His mercy and grace are big enough for every one of us!

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Birthday Project 2012

I want to preface with something that I wanted to tell people more throughout my birthday project experience, but couldn't find the right words. I really am not certain I have them now so bear with me please. =0) I am not some extraordinary person. I am really not all that selfless, creative, or even remotely worthy of the praise that I received for doing this project. I am just a girl who heard about this fantastic way to serve others (here, to be exact), prayed like crazy for God's guidance, and trusted that He would bring everything into place. He is the one who deserves EVERY bit of credit for the success of this project. My constant prayer through the planning and execution of this whole shebang was "Please Lord decrease me so that you can be increased. Let all of the glory be yours." I have been struggling with whether or not to even blog about this experience for fear that I might take credit for something that He orchestrated so perfectly. So please know that's not my intent. My heart is that you will read about this experience and see how loving our God is, how we have the honor of being His hands and feet, and how easy it is to let His light shine through us. Thank you for the opportunity to share this phenominal experience.

The Birthday Project is a fabulous concept that I learned about on Pinterest. The second I read about it I knew that it was something that I wanted to do. I prayed and got immediate confirmation that God was totally on board to make it happen for my 31st birthday. I committed to carrying out 31 acts of kindness (one for each year of my life) throughout the day of my 31st birthday. Before long I felt called to stray from my plan of doing this alone so I decided to invite my mom and closest girlfriends. Almost immediately I felt the nudge to think bigger. I sent out an invite to all 274 of my Facebook friends and hoped for the best. Before I knew it I had friends donating clothing, toiletries, and all sorts of great things that could be used to bless others. I even had people I didn't know contributing to the cause! So I want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to everyone who helped out! Love you all!

I had these cards printed (forgive the horrible picture) to hand out throughout the day. I thought it was a cool way to promote paying it forward and to let people know what the heck was going on.

Friday evening I had lots of helping hands to get things ready to for our morning dowtown at the homeless encampment. Nicci helped make sack lunches, my mom wrote encouraging notes to the homeless, the Varela family helped pack up toiletry bags. It was a huge weight off my shoulders to have such willing and cheerful helpers. 

Act Of Kindness #1 was a thank you note and treat left for our mailman on our way out the door Saturday morning. He's got a pretty thankless job and is always so friendly and upbeat.

Act of Kindness #2 & #3 were handing out clothing and basic necessities to the homeless. I was so thankful to have a small army of friends that came to help with this. The Wardricks, Smiths, Varelas, and Minnichs all brought along their kids, which I thought was a beautiful way to lead by example. My friend Cherish was also there and was so touched that she started planning the next time we can come down to help so that she can share the experience with her children. It was quite an eye opening morning spent in the streets with the people who live there. We found that the thing they appreciated the most was socks. THAT was humbling. I have an entire drawer just for my socks! I don't wear half of them and if we are being honest, have never even had an appreciation for them. It was a moment of pure perspective for me.

Act of Kindness #4 - After we had given out several bags of clothing and over 100 toiletry bags we brought out the sack lunches. I have to say that having never gone directly into the streets of Fresno, in this neighborhood without the safety net of a community organization, I was nervous. I was nervous for how we would be received, how we would be treated, and for what I would be exposing my son too. I was at ease within seconds of stepping onto that street. The people that we met that morning were respectful, kind, appreciative, warm-hearted, and even paid special attention to my 4 year old. I was more impressed by the manners and social graces of these people, who are literally just trying to survive in these terrible circumstances, than those of many of the far more fortunate people I encounter in my daily life. Again, so very humbling.

Act Of Kindness #5 - While we were downtown we walked over to Holy Cross Center for Women and dropped off coloring books and crayons for the children and makeup for the women. 

Act of Kindness #6 -  I found this Free Compliments sign (here) and posted it so that people could spread some positivity of their own. I even had a lady see it and decide that she would tear off a compliment to take to someone at her work on Monday. Yay!
Act Of Kindness #7 - Left quarters on the washers and dryers in the laundry room of an apartment complex. I used to live there and was shocked to see that the laundry prices had doubled! Those were my Top Ramen kind of broke days and I know I would have appreciated this particular act of kindness! lol!

Act Of Kindness #8 - Stood inside Starbucks and paid for the drinks of people in the drive thru. The baristas handed them the Random Act of Kindness card instead of giving them their totals. My friends Cherish and Melissa V. helped so we were able to pay for a whole line of cars!

Act Of Kindness #9 -Taped popcorn and hot chocolate to movie rental machines.

Act Of Kindess #10 -Brought homemade cinnamon rolls to the crew at our neighborhood's firehouse. These guys were so appreciative they opened up the garage so the kids could play in the fire truck! They even got to watch the firemen in action as they got a call during our visit.
Act of Kindness that was not my own - After an awesome lunch with 11 of my friends and partners in crime, my incredibly generous Aunt paid for everyone's meal! It was her very own act of kindness for the day and I just have to say we all were so very grateful. She is a woman with a giving heart and knows the awesome feeling you get from doing kind things for others well. Thank you Auntie!!

Act of Kindness #11 - Bought 24 balloons and handed them out to children at a local shopping mall. The next time you are having a bad day I want you to buy as many helium balloons as you can. FIRST of all there is no way possible to carry this amount of balloons and not get smiled at! Second of all there is just something magical about walking around with a bunch of balloons. I felt like I worked at Disneyland or was in the movie UP. Most importantly, the look on a child's face when you hand them a balloon is just priceless.
Act Of Kindness #12 - Gave a bouquet of roses to a mom who was shopping with her two very young children. Some of my little helpers handed out single roses to moms as well. They were all thrilled to receive them.

Act Of Kindness # 13 - Left quarters on children's rides
Act Of Kindness #14 - Stood in front of the movie theater handing out $2 off coupons

Act of Kindness #15 - Walked to the front of the line at Color Me Mine and handed the woman a $5 off coupon. Her total was $5 exactly! Awesome!

Act Of Kindness #16 - Left coupons by the register at the tea store.

Act Of Kindness #17 - Walked into Subway and paid for a family's lunch. This guy's reaction was hilarious! He thought he was on a hidden camera show for sure! He even asked for my address so he could pay me back!? I explained that I would much rather he pay the kindness forward.

Act Of Kindness #18 - Bought candy bars from 2 girls who were selling them to raise money for a church trip to Santa Cruz. I asked them which their favorites were and told them to keep them for themselves.

Act Of Kindness #19 - Bought a third candy bar and gave it to a little girl walking into the movies with her dad. (With his permission of course.)

Act Of Kindness #20 - Wrote affirming messages (you are beautiful, look at that gorgeous smile, etc.) on the back of RAOK cards and tucked them into the mirrors of clothing stores. This was hilarious because we wanted to be a little sneaky so that we could surprise patrons and the employees with the notes. My mom, the Varela Family, and my friends Melissa, Sarah, and Liza ALL picked out clothes and asked for dressing rooms so that we could leave the notes in three different stores. lol!

Act Of Kindness #21 - Left happy notes in random places for people to find and hopefully keep and use the RAOK cards. This one reads: It's a beautiful day!! SMILE!!

Act Of Kindness # 22 -  This one was exciting too. My plan was to buy a gift card at a grocery store and hand it to the person behind me. Well OF COURSE there was nobody getting behind me in line. My friend Melissa suggested I ask to go ahead of someone. I was terrified to tick someone off while trying to do something nice, but she assured me it would work out so I trusted her (and God.) I asked a woman if she minded me going ahead of her since I only had one thing. I could tell she didn't want to and my heart raced. She agreed, but was not thrilled with my asking. (I would NEVER in a million years ask to cut in line, btw.) I bought the gift card, turned around and handed it to her. Her face was that of utter confusion. I said, "This is for you. Have a wonderful day." She couldn't believe it and was smiling the whole way out to her car. 

Act Of Kindness # 23 - Collected shopping carts from the parking lot and brought them into the store.

Act Of Kindness # 24 - Taped quarters to the toy dispensers at grocery stores

 Act Of Kindness # 25 - Taped dollars to toys at the dollar store

 Act Of Kindness # 26 - Taped a dollar to a sympathy card at the dollar store. Those things are so hard to pick out that I think a dollar to pay for it would just thrill me. =)

Act Of Kindness # 27 - Picked up trash along a walking trail

Act Of Kindness # 28 - Bought a gift card for a restaurant, walked in and put it on an older couple's table, said, "Have a wonderful evening," and walked out. This wasn't immediately well received, but I imagine that once they realized what it was they were happy. I have a feeling they thought I was selling something. lol!

Act Of Kindness # 29 - Took cinnamon rolls and a note of encouragement to a young mom. A friend had suggested her so I was able to hand them to her myself while staying anonymous. So fun!

Act Of Kindness #30 - Delivered cinnamon rolls to the guys working the guard shack at the Army National Guard unit. (I made quite a few cinnamon rolls if you haven't noticed by now. Lol!)

Act Of Kindness #31 - Gave cab fare to a bartender to use on the next person considering driving themselves home after a few (or more) drinks. This potentially life saving idea was Jeremy's and I want to give him full credit for that one!

So there you have most incredible birthday ever!!! I plan to make this a tradition and am looking forward to helping others carry out their own birthday projects. I really wish I could bottle the feeling that spreading joy, positivity, and God's love gave me. Since I can't, I sincerely hope that you will consider taking one of these ideas, or one of your own, and getting out there to do something kind for someone else. You won't regret it!