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Connected

Six years ago Andrew and I moved to Cedar Park, Texas from Prague, Czech Republic and we didn’t know anyone.  Our closest family was three hours away up in Dallas and we’d been married for about a month.  

Six years later we no longer have any family in Texas, and yet, as we prepare to move closer to them once again, we also feel like we’re leaving family behind.

God has been so good to surround us by an incredibly loving and supporting community here, and it’s hard to say goodbye.

Since we moved here in 2007, we have bought our first house, which we basically gutted so we could replace or re-do just about everything; started our family with the birth of Aurora in 2008 and Milo in 2011; we’ve suffered through tragedy and accidents; made plenty of mistakes; and learned what it means to be married and what it means to be a family, and we couldn’t have done it without the love, guidance, and timely help of the complete strangers who now feel like our family.

We talk about how disconnected the world is becoming, as single family units live in their single family homes and avoid eye contact with their neighbors as much as possible.  We live in a society driven by individualism.  And yet Andrew and I, who moved here knowing no one at all, have not been alone.  God does beautiful work in our lives through relationships, and God has supplied so many beautiful relationships with friends and mentors throughout  our time here.

My theory of community is to be as open as I can about my broken neediness, and to gratefully accept all help that is offered.  I decided that if I was willing to call someone and ask them for help, it might make them feel that much more comfortable calling me up to ask me a favor when they had a need.  I realized that I couldn’t do it by myself and made a deal with myself that anytime someone offered me help I would respond with either, “yes, please!” or “that would be awesome, thank you!”  My goal is to never say, “oh that’s alright, I can do it by myself.”  Because, quite frankly, I can’t.  Why do we feel like it’s polite to say that we can?  I’ve been guilty of it myself, despite my intentions to the contrary.  

Whenever I can, I try to pour into other people’s lives as much as they’ve poured into mine.  I remember coming back from my father’s funeral after he died unexpectedly from a sudden heart attack.  Every evening the doorbell rang as someone brought us dinner and dessert.  Grieving people evidently need heavy doses of dessert.  And yet one morning a few days after our return I found myself on the doorstep of a complete stranger handing over a breakfast casserole.  Their daughter had recently committed suicide.  And while in my own grief I could barely cook for myself, I could cook for them.

I think God designed us to be needy, not only because it draws us to our creator, but because it draws us to each other.  Our neediness unites us and as we pour into each other we discover that our family is much bigger than we ever realized.

Preparing to Sacrifice

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and I’ve signed up for World Vision’s Re lent less acts of sacrifice this lent.  Our first assignment is to define what sacrifice means to us and think about what we want to/are willing to sacrifice over the next 40 odd days.  They even had some pretty awesome videos you could watch for inspiration.

When I think of sacrifice I think back to the old testament, when sacrifice was an intrinsic part of life.  Every time you received anything you gave some of it back to God.  The food you had, your family, your home, they weren’t the result of hard work and careful planning, something you took credit for, accepted as your due, or took for granted.  They were gifts from God.  Fragile gifts that could be taken away, so you gave back, you said thank you, you gave praise and honor and glory to God, and you trusted Him for the future, even when you lost everything (a la Job).

The whole trouble with Cain and Able started over a sacrifice.  Egypt was saved by the blood of sacrificial lambs.  Abraham walked up the mountain ready to sacrifice his and Sarah’s only son.

It’s obedience.

It’s part of life.

It hurts.

When it comes down to it, you need to be ready to make the sacrifice, and you can’t hold back the good stuff.

Sacrifice is counted to you as faith.

Andrew and I have signed on with venture expeditions to raise money for world vision’s act:s to end Malaria campaign.  This July we’ll be climbing to the summit of five mountains in the Sangre de Christo mountain range in Colorado.  To do this we’ve already sacrificed some of our very tight finances, and there’s more fundraising to do (support letters should be forthcoming).  But there’s also a physical aspect to preparing for something like this, and to get me started I’ve signed up for an indoor triathlon at the gym.  A triathlon that’s going to take place the day before Easter.  So I’m sacrificing my time, sleep, energy, and body to train.  Every day of lent (remembering to take a sabbath).

But more than that, as I dig into God’s word and push my body physically I want to sacrifice my paradigms and preconceived notions.  I want to be made new in the image of Christ.  I don’t want a knock off version of faith.  I want to strive for authenticity and obedience when it hurts.

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
p.s. if you’d like to support Andrew and I in our mountain climbing and fundraising endeavors, and just can’t wait till you receive an official support letter follow this link
and select our names from the participant name tab.  You can also shoot us an email at aestr8@gmail.com and we will keep you in the loop with updates, things that inspire us along the way, and all the news that new and improved.
May you dwell richly in Christ this season of Lent.

Milo’s Baby Dedication

Milo’s baby dedication was last Sunday.  I wanted to post a copy of the prayer we read for him, and a picture of the quilt I made for him.  It’s hard having so much of our family and so many of our friends so far away, but we know you were all with us in spirit.

 

Dear Father in heaven, may you guide our son and teach him to be a Man after your own heart.  May he run hard after you all the days of his life and never grow weak or weary.  Protect him from selfishness, apathy, and passivity.  May he love you above all else, with all of his mind, body, and soul.  May he lead others with courage and humility.  May we as his parents not cling too tightly to the gift you have given us in this child, but remember always that he is yours, not ours.

Help us to be good and faithful stewards as we raise this child to honor you and reflect your glory in a dark and sinful world. We know that you know every hair on his head, for you placed it there.  You know each day of his life, for you have already numbered them.  You know his strengths and weaknesses far better than we ever will.  So today we dedicate this child to your loving care.

Our greatest desire is to help you complete the work that you have started in our son.  Our greatest fear is that we would somehow hinder this work.  But we know that you work all things for the good of those who love you, so we have no need to be afraid.  May Milo truly be a merciful soldier, a blessed peacemaker.  May he shine like a star in the universe, a light in a wicked and depraved generation.  May he be an imitator of Christ.  May he speak for those without a voice and stand strong where others have fallen as he serves you in all things, and praises you in all circumstances.

We praise you that neither height nor depth nor anything in creation will be able to separate Milo from your love.  We celebrate today that the cost of our son’s salvation has already been paid by your son, hanging on a cross.  You sent your holy and perfect son to this sinful earth, he sacrificed himself as an atonement for our sins, and three days later he rose from the grave, destroying the power of death.  Our hearts overflow with gratitude for these facts.  To look into our baby’s eyes and know that there is already a place for him in heaven brings us peace and joy beyond our ability to express it.

May the light of your word be a path to his feet so that he might run this race with perseverance.  Lift him up when he stumbles, renew him when he is weak.  We pray that out of your glorious riches you will strengthen Milo with power through your Spirit in his inner being, so that Christ may dwell in his heart through faith. And we pray that Milo, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that he may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The other night I had a dream that I was a Zombie.  This did not seem all that strange to me.  What did seem strange to me was that I also existed in the dream in my non-Zombie form.  Zombie me was running around tricking people into thinking they were interacting with real me.  In one poignant scene zombie-me got into a convertible with Andrew and drove away laughing while living me ran out of the house at the last second and was left standing helplessly in the driveway.

As Andrew kissed me goodbye in the morning I murmured groggily, “I dreamed I was a zombie.” (The things I say in a half awake state must be a never ending source of amusement for him).  But the dream stuck with me and I felt totally perplexed.  How could I be a zombie and not a zombie at the same time?

Time was when you were dead in your sins and wickedness, when you followed the evil ways of this present age. . .We too were once of their number:  we all lived our lives in sensuality, and obeyed the promptings of our own instincts and notions.  In our natural condition we, like the rest, lay under the dreadful judgement of God.  But God rich in mercy, for the great love he bore us, brought us to life with Christ even when we were dead in our sins; it is by his grace you are saved. Ephesians 2:1-5

As I daily work out my salvation (Phil 2:12) there’s a battle going on between old sin zombie me and real alive in Christ me.  I have to remember my own duality, my own tendency to fall back into the trap of my sinful nature.  There is tension here.  My salvation is complete.  I have died with Christ and been born to new life.  I am also being transformed from glory into glory and transformation is a process.

There is a need for vigilance because if I’m not careful Zombie Elanor, with her old habits of sin and selfishness, would like nothing more than to catch me napping.

 

How Worship is like Sex

It’s all about intimacy.

1.  Where’s your head at?  I’ve heard it said that our most important sexual organ is our mind.  If you’re thinking about your to do list or really anything except for the person in front of you, you’re not doing it right.  So where’s your head at when you’re sitting in the pew?  Are you thinking about what groceries you need to buy?  Or are you worshiping a holy and awe inspiring God?  By getting your head in the game, the whole experience changes.

2.  Just go with it.  Sometimes we’re just not in the mood.  Your kid just threw a tantrum; you’re exhausted so it wouldn’t be that great anyway; life is really hard right now so it’s difficult to find the “right” emotions.  But as surprising as it is, if you let go of these excuses, allow yourself to get caught up in the moment, you’ll find that the experience builds upon itself.  Intimacy builds intimacy.  As you allow yourself to participate in the experience, the experience brings its own rewards, and what began as routine can blossom into ecstatic romance.  Just as true in the bedroom as it is with your Creator.

3.  Commitment.  In his book Sheet Music, Dr. Kevin Leman writes, “If you’re not willing to commit yourself to having sex with this person two to three times a week for the rest of your life, don’t get married.  Certainly, pregnancy and sickness and a few other unforeseen problems will alter this–but in general, to get married is to commit to a regular time of sexual intimacy.” Just like sex, worship is not optional, and it shouldn’t only happen once a week.

4.  Why not?  When I’m not taking time or energy to worship God and not in the mood in the bedroom, the reasons are often similar, and they all seem to revolve around me.  I’m stressed out and anxious.  I’m in a hurry or I know I have to wake up early the next morning so I want to get more sleep.  I’m holding onto a grudge.   Whether I’m turning away from God or turning away from my husband, it’s usually because I’m caught up in myself.

The relationship between a man and a woman in holy matrimony is a picture, a reflection, of the relationship between Christ and the church, so maybe it’s not so crazy to compare worship to sex.  It is a time where intimacy is deepened, a time of refreshment and renewal.  How great is it to let down our barriers, strip off our clothes, and be present with the one you love.  The One who loves you absolutely.  Let’s worship like newlyweds.

Advent Reflections- Light

We gather around the wreath and light the second candle.  The light has doubled now, pushing back the dark around us.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  -Isaiah 9:2

Good things are hard to see in the dark.

Imagine a handful of hungry people in a huge ballroom with no light.  Somewhere in the room there is a small table with bread and wine.  What are the chances that they’ll find it?

One of the great wonders is that our awesome and infinite God often chooses to reveal himself in the finite, the insubstantial, the easily overlooked.

The cry of a newborn baby in a stable.

Bread and wine on a table.

So easy to overlook.

And so it is in every moment of every day.  God is here, inhabiting the small and the humble.  But we hurry from moment to moment and forget to see.  We forget to dwell now, be still, know God.

But God, in his mercy, was not content that we should rush past him, so he lit a star.

The star which they had seen at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay.  At the sight of the star they were overjoyed.  -Matthew 2:9-10

This Advent we celebrate the grace of a heavenly father who sets a candle on the table that holds the bread of life.  So that we, huddled in the darkness, can run to him unafraid.  We can eat and drink and be filled.

At the sight of the star we are overjoyed.  For it is a sign of mercy, of grace, of love.  We are not left to wander in darkness.

May your light shine in each moment of each day, and may Christ be seen in Christmas.

 

A link to more blogs about Advent.

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