5.10.2013

No Excuses

After I graduated from college, I was a teacher for seven years.  My first year was in Van Buren County and the other six were at White County High School.  The majority of my time at WCHS, Mr. Charles Dycus was the principal.  I don't remember which year or every detail, but there was an inservice that Mr. Dycus spoke with the faculty at the start of the year that really made an impact on me.  He came up to the podium and held up an index card with the word "excuses" written boldly with a sharpie.  He then explained what excuses were and how much better of a faculty we would be if we eliminated them.  Excuses about why we were not at school on time, why our grades weren't completed, why we couldn't get paper work turned in...etc.  He said if any of us began to make "excuses" to him he would hold up that index card to them.  I'm not sure if he ever really did that, but it really made me consider if I was guilty of making excuses myself.  I knew I didn't want that index card held up to me.

I quickly realized that, yes, I was guilty of making excuses not only at work, but in other areas of my life as well.  I thought about times when I didn't get something finished when I was supposed to at work or home, my first tendency was to blame someone or something else.  There can tend to be an external reason why we don't do what we are supposed to do.  What is the point of this reaction?  Is it to save face with others or not make ourselves look bad?  It really is a pride issue.  I have since learned to be more aware to own up to my errors and just be honest with myself and others.  Not that I do this every single time, but I have caught myself having to make a conscious decision to take responsibility for myself before I am about to blame someone or something else for something I know it was all on me. 

There are genuine reasons why we can't get something completed that we say we are going to do.  Sometimes life gets in the way and real things come up over which we have no control.  Yet many times, it is just because we put other things ahead of it or we are just being lazy.  However, we should strive to keep our word and let our "yes be yes, and our no be no (Matthew 5:7)."  And, when can't follow through, we need to own up to it and be honest about why we couldn't.  One of my biggest problems is that I overcommit.  I have a hard time telling people no when they ask me to do something.  I then spread myself too thin and get stressed out.  I am learning and working on this one, but I still find myself in situations that I ask myself, "What was I thinking saying yes to this????"

I am studying the book of Exodus right now and even though the story is very familiar to me, there are still details that stuck out to me when reading this time.  I love reading through the Bible in order, rather than just by story.  Anyway, I am in just the first few chapter where Moses is being called to go back to Egypt and lead God's people out.  I knew that he made excuses, but I didn't realize how many he made to God. 

Almost everyone knows the about Moses and the burning bush.  Here is this scene from The Bible Series on The History Channel:
In a miraculous way, God called Moses to do a mighty job that could only be accomplished with God's help and power.  Moses' reply was, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?"  God's reply was, "Certainly I will be with you and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain." (Exodus 3:11-12). 

Moses felt inadequate with the task God called him to do, and he most certainly was.  However, God audibly spoke to Him through a bush that was on fire and not burning up accompanied by many promises and assurances of His help through it all.  He gave explicit details about what he was do to and how people would respond, including Pharaoh. 

Moses' response to this, "What if they don't believe me?"  To this question, God allowed Moses to use turn his staff into a serpent and back into the staff again.  He also turned his hand into leprosy and then completely restored it.  God then said that He would allow him to take water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground and it will become blood. 

Moses' reply to all of these miracles was, "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.  He was trying to get out of the task that God had called him to do.  He was afraid and perhaps had a problem with insecurity.  I would imagine that speaking to a large group of people would be the last thing a person with a stuttering problem would be eager to do. 

This made me think of Lazaro Arbos, a contestant from American Idol this season.   He had a severe stuttering problem, yet when he sang, he didn't have trouble at all.  He had to overcome many obstacles and was inspiring to see his bravery to be willing to even try out, much less go on television for all the world to see. 

We don't know if his stuttering problem was to this extent, but God's reply to him was profound, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind?  Is it not I the LORD?  Now then go, and I, even I, will be your mouth, and teach you what you are to say." (Exodus 4:11-12).  However, Moses asked God use someone else.  At this point, "the anger of the Lord burned against Moses." (Ex.4:14).  Even though God was angry at him for continually making excuses of why he could not possible do what God wanted him to, God told him He would let his brother, Aaron be his mouthpiece.  So, finally, he obeyed. 

Moses went to Aaron, then to the people to tell them that God has heard their cries and has not forgotten His people.  He and Aaron went to Pharaoh just as God commanded, but it didn't go well.  The Pharaoh made their work more difficult and required the same amount to be completed as before. The Hebrews were angry at Moses because they blamed him for their worsened conditions.  Again, Moses questions God, even though God told him from the beginning how Pharaoh would respond.  God spoke to Moses again and told him what to do.  He obeyed, with no excuses this time.  However, this time, the people wouldn't listen to him.  This would be discouraging for anyone, but for Moses, who had already had such a struggle to do what he was told to do, I am sure he was completely defeated. 

He went back to God and asked how Pharaoh would listen to him if God's people wouldn't listen to him.  He blamed himself for it all because he was unskilled in speech.  He took this personally, even though it was GOD who had hardened Pharaoh's heart.  It had nothing to do with Moses' speech.  God had some leaders from the tribes of Levi to go with Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh, but Moses was still complaining to God about being unskilled in speech.  (Ex. 6) 

At this point when I read this, Moses' excuses were getting a little exhausting.  I just wanted to say to him, "man up".  God is right there and He is going to do great and mighty things right in front of your eyes.  Of course, I know how it ends and I'm not right there in the midst of the battle.  I then tried to apply this to myself.  How many times have I made excuses to God of why I can't do something He wants me to do?  Like I said earlier, I know I have been guilty of making excuse to others, but God is the One I should be most concerned about.  God chooses the unexpected to work through in order to show Himself and His power.  If Moses were eloquent in speech, then he might be tempted to think it was because of what he could do and not God. 

There is hope, though, even if we find ourselves feeling completely inadequate, afraid, or insecure and making excuses to God.  Look what He did through Moses in spite of his many reasons why he could not do what he was called:

God will always equip us to what He calls us to do.



5.08.2013

NYC Girls Trip

This was the first girls trip I have taken since I have had children.  I didn't know if it would actually happen, but I was so glad that everyone was able to go!  We all had such a great time and made memories for a lifetime.  If I went again to New York, I think four is a good number.  Any more than four would be difficult to get around the busy city and keep together. 

I have been to New York four times before, but always with a group which has a strict itinerary.  It was nice to get to pick out what we wanted to do without the rigid schedule.  Even though they all said I cracked the whip on our schedule.  There was too much to do in a little amount of time.  Before we went on the trip, we met and all said the things we wanted to do while we were there.  We made a list and a plan in order to fit in everyone's requests.
We made it...barely.  We didn't realize that we were so close to missing our plane.  As soon as we boarded the plane and buckled up, we took off.  Oops!  We thought we had plenty of time.
 
When we got to New York, there was a limo driver waiting for us.  Our husbands surprised us with a limo to the hotel.  It was SOOO sweet and it was a great way to start our trip!  We all thought perhaps they were worried we wouldn't be able to make it to our hotel.  haha.
Our hotel was in a great location, right on Times Square.  We were dropped off right in front of the hotel, however we walked right past it.  This was the beginning of many mishaps directionally speaking.  ☺
In our defense, it was difficult to see the entrance because of the construction work in front of it.  After we checked in, we walked around Times Square.   Even though I have been before, it is still a culture shock.
Jamie kept us laughing the entire trip.  She is also the ONLY of us who has any sense of direction.  If it weren't for her, I would have been crawled up in fetal position in an alley sucking my thumb.  haha!!  Seriously though, she was our fearless leader and navigator of the trip.
Our first stop...Macy's!
Julie loved the wooden escalators.  We later found out they were built in 1902 and Macy's is the first building to have modern day escalators.  It's amazing that they are still in use today.
Our view of the Empire State Building when we came out of Macy's.  Beautiful!
Times Square where the ball drops to ring in the New Year.
 
In our initial meeting, we decided that we didn't want to focus on restaurants and eating because there were so many sites that we wanted to see.  There was only one restaurant that was on our list.  However, that quickly changed once we got there.  We ate some GREAT food!!  We were all miserable by the end of the trip.  Our first meal in NYC was at John's Pizzeria on 44th Street.  We all agreed that it puts all other pizza to shame...even my beloved Goosepond Pizza from Linton, IN.
 
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The next morning, we ate a recommended restaurant for breakfast.  IT. WAS. AWESOME!  The French Toast was seriously amazing.  My mouth is watering right now as I type about it.
Kathryn (we decided to change her name) is good now that she has her coffee!
Meanwhile, Jamie is sleeping as we are speaking.  She didn't sleep well the night before.
 
We had a full day planned for Friday.  We first took a double decker bus tour to get us around our first location.  We were headed to the Central Park area.  Here are some of the sites we got to see on our bus tour...
I love this building.
The new World Trade Center.
 
While were on the bus tour, we made various stops along the way.  We were told we were at the last stop and we had yet to come to Central Park where were going to get off the bus.  They announced that it was the last stop and we all had to get off at Battery Park.  Note to self, ASK before you get on the bus where you are going.  We looked on the bus tour map and I thought the two different tours overlapped and we would cross somewhere close to Central Park...wrong!  So, we got off the bus and waited for another one. 
This was salvaged from the attack on the World Trade Center.  It was in between the two towers.
 

We waited for a long time, then we decided to take a subway to Central Park.
This was a first for me and I was clueless how they operated.
Kathy wasn't thrilled about riding the subways to begin with.  We ended up missing our first stop and they announced we were on the last stop and everyone had to exit the subway.  We then hopped on another subway because we didn't think we were at our stop.  After a while, we were told we were at that last stop as well.  We got off the subway hoping to be somewhere near Central Park, but instead we were eleven miles away...in QUEENS!  We decided we would just take a cab back since we had reservations for lunch that was now only less than an hour away.  However, we saw NO cabs.  We ended up asking a local in a shop for help.  She helped us figure out which way to go, so back on the subway we went.  At this point, Kathy is about to have a panic attack.  She was already nervous about riding the subway to begin with.  When we got back on it this time, she just broke down and started crying.  Julie and I were trying to talk to her and get her mind off of everything.  Meanwhile, Jamie (our navigator and only one with any sense of direction) is sitting next to her asleep and oblivious of the meltdown that is taking place.  This is funny now looking back. 
 
We finally made it to our destination for lunch (only about twenty minutes late).  This was one of my requests.  One of my favorite movies is Serendipity, so I wanted to come to the restaurant.  It was just lovely!
Frozen Hot Chocolate (sounds oxymoronic doesn't it?)  They were amazing!

 
After lunch, we went to a candy store....Julie's favorite.  She said this is why she has had four root canals.
It was a very cool candy store.  There is actual candy in the steps and in the floor.
 
We finally made it to Central Park. 
It was beautiful and it is neat to see where some favorite movies are filmed.
It's hard to see, but Kathy and I are on the bridge.
 
The Plaza Hotel, view from Central Park.
 
This reminds me of You've Got Mail.
 
We went that evening to see Wicked.  Amazing!  We saw it in Nashville but I loved it so much I didn't mind to see it again because Jamie and Kathy hadn't seen it.  It is one of my favorite musicals of all time.  Defying Gravity gets me every time.
 
Dinner
 
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Saturday was also a full day with much to do on our list.
They wanted their picture taken with a NYC cop.
I would like to come back and ice skate here with the boys.
 
 
The Empire State Building Tour was up next.  I am glad we got our tickets in advance because it saved us a wait in line.
Our view from the top...
 
We didn't stay up here long.  For one reason, it was extremely crowded.  Also, there was a creepy foreign guy taking lots of photos of the people on the observatory deck.  It freaked us out.
 
This was one of Jamie's request.  This is the church next to ground zero where many came after the attacks.  It was moving and very emotional.
One of the first things that you see when you enter is a Pilgrimage Altar to leave notes for anyone to read as they pass through.
 
I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I turned the corner.  It got me choked up.
This was a time of such great loss, devastation, and uncertainty for our future.  It brought me back to where I was on that dreadful day.
Opened in 1766, St. Paul's Chapel is Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use - a place where George Washington worshiped and 9/11 recovery workers received round-the-clock care.
 
We then walked through a 9/11 Memorial Museum where all four of us were moved to tears.  I really could have just sat there and sobbed as I looked at all of the faces of the ones killed on that day.
The memorial that was created is really beautiful.  There are two large waterfalls where the towers stood with names of each victim carved into the sides.
The new towers are being constructed now.  This one is taller than the one that was destroyed. 
 
 
This was interesting to see while we were visiting the memorial.  These are veterans who are serving in the military that are struggling to readjust to every day life. 
 
Our next stop was to Battery Park (again) to see the Statue of Liberty.  We took the Staten Island Ferry to get a closer look.
It was beautiful at sunset.
 
When we came back through, it was getting dark.
 
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Sunday, our last day.  We had to get up really early to make it to Brooklyn for worship at the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  This was another one of my requests.  Several years ago, I read Jim Cymbala's book, Fresh Wind, Fresh FireI also read his wife's book Great is Thy Faithfulness.  They were both wonderful books, and I also LOVE their choir.  I knew if I were ever in New York if it at all possible, I wanted to go there to a church service.  I was so thankful to get to go.
After a few days of being around many rude and inconsiderate people, coming into the Brooklyn Tabernacle was refreshing.  Being here reminded me of a few Scriptures.  For the last few days, I felt like a fish out of water, completely out of my element, in such a large and busy place.  It is really like another world.  I was reminded of a verse about how Christians should feel when they are on earth.  Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God."  We are to be in the world, but not of the world.  I'm not saying that all of New York City is lost and evil and all of Sparta is saved and righteous, but it just feels as a believer, we should feel that out of place and it should be that obvious that we are different.  I felt like I was walking around the city with a neon sign pointing to me saying "Tourist right here, come and ask me for money or try to sell me Comedy Club tickets."   
 
Another Scripture that I thought of while at church was "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14).  I know this is referred usually to dating and especially marriage, but I was reminded of the common bond believers have with one another.  It was as if I was right at home, even though they were complete strangers.  However, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.   
I have to say that this was my favorite part of the trip.  As emotional as it was to go to the 9/11 Memorial, to feel the pain of such loss and devastation, this was also emotional in a different way.  As soon as the worship service started, it was as if the flood gates opened for all four of us.  I felt like Isaiah after he had experienced being in the presence of the Lord, "Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).  I don't think that true worship must be an emotional experience, but this was for me.  I am SO glad we were able to go.  It was worth getting up early!
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We had one last trip on the subway to our last thing to check of the list.  Kathy was thrilled ☺

One of Julie's requests: FAO Schwarz.
 This was the piano from Big.  Below is a video that Julie took of me playing Heart and Soul.  Another lady tried to play the duet with me, but there were other people on there playing as well. 
video
 
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We each got several opportunities to witness to people while on our trip, people on the plane, cab drivers, police officers...etc.  Some went well and others did not.  It is much easier to witness when you aren't at home.  I really want to go on a mission trip now more than ever. 
 
One last look at NYC.  In the middle of the huge buildings and thousands of people, I felt small, yet way up in the air above it all the city looks small.  It's all about your perspective...great life lesson.