September 27, 2010

When God laughs...

There is a game my students used to love playing. It is called “I’ve never…” The premise of the game is to state experiences you have never had in hopes the other players have had them. The person with the longest list of lack of experiences wins the game. For the last ten years God and I have been playing a slightly twisted version of this game. It is called: “I will never….” Here is how it goes: I say “I will never….” and God laughs. He must be really good at this game because he is yet to lose.

In college I was a Resident Assistant in a Freshman dorm at a small Christian university. I spent many evenings counseling sobbing Freshmen girls who would come in shaking because some upperclassman, religion major told them the Almighty himself pronounced they would marry each other some day. I vowed to never marry a religion major.

God laughed…

In December I will celebrate ten years of marriage to my husband, the pastor. Being his wife has been one of the greatest blessings God has given me. The man is unparalleled, in my humble opinion.

When I graduated from college with a degree in Communication Education, my goal was to teach debate and drama. Being a native Spanish speaker, I let my advisor convince me to pursue an endorsement in Spanish as well, just in case, she said. I told her I would never, ever, ever, EVER teach Spanish. This is only plan B, I said.

God laughed… I think that time I actually heard him.

When I started looking for a job, there were no Communication jobs to be found. I taught Spanish for the better part of seven years and I discovered that teaching teenagers a new language also opens up their eyes to new cultures and a new worldview. Very cool. In the process my life was enriched by some amazing kids who shared their stories with me and still do. Even cooler.

When Matt graduated from the Seminary and began his search for a church to pastor, I had resigned myself to the role of pastor’s wife. But, I clearly told God in no uncertain terms, I will NOT sing and play the piano like the stereotypical pastor’s wife.

Guess what God was doing the whole time I was ranting?

The first church we pastored needed…you guessed it, a piano player and one more voice in the worship team. We are no longer at the same church and I am still playing the piano and singing. It is my honor to be a part of leading our congregation to worship.

As I continued my journey discovering how God wanted to use me, I have done many things and served in many capacities. The one thing I said I would not do is lead any kind of women’s ministry. Leading women, I told God, was neither my calling nor my passion.

By now I imagine tears were pouring from my Lord’s eyes, he was laughing so hard.

About March of this year our church began a Wednesday night Women’s Bible Study led by…who else? Recently I even organized a women’s retreat for our church with the help of some amazing ladies. To surround myself with these incredible women has changed me from the inside out. I, who have been an only child, have found sisters… and lots of them.

A few months ago I sat at a Starbucks with one of these sisters of mine discussing Isabel’s education. My friend and I were weighing the pros and cons of public education, private education, and homeschooling. She had homeschooled her two oldest daughters and is a big proponent. I told her I admired her and gave her the old: “more power to ya, sister” but informed her that homeschooling simply was not for me.

That time God had a laughing companion…

In true God-like subtlety he began to send my way sign after sign that I was speaking too soon. In typical Gaby-like stubbornness I began to fight him. Long story short, I’m homeschooling Isabel…at least this year. In hand-to-hand combat, God’s grace always prevails over my stubbornness. Thank you for that, Lord.

The dreams and desires God has for my life are not those he has for everyone’s life. Not everyone is called to become a teacher, a pastor’s wife, a women’s ministry leader, or a homeschooling mom. But he does say: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

I don’t think I’m done saying “I will never” to him. It is in my nature to be hard-headed and it takes me a while to learn a lesson. I think God made me this way to assure a good laugh for himself every now and then. I don’t mind. And I don’t mind losing at this game. When He laughs, I know something life-changing is coming my way. Laugh away, Jesus, laugh away.

September 24, 2010


I wasn’t going to write this one. I didn’t know if I could tackle it in a way that would truly give voice to my thoughts in the sentiment in which they are intended. But I have quickly found that when something grabs me and won’t let go, it is blog-worthy. So please bear with me as I try to put into words some thoughts brought upon by a simple game of tag.

Last Saturday I took my kids to McDonald’s with my friend J. and her two little ones. It was a cloudy, mild day so we sat outside and let the kids play in the outdoor playground. Because the day was beautiful there were several other families with children eating outside and quickly the playground was swarming with kids between the ages of 2 and 5. They were running, laughing, and having a great time, while J. and I caught up on news and chatted. As I was watching the games, I realized all the children would run out of the slide screaming and laughing, calling out for the “monster.”

“-He’s coming, hurry, run!”

“-Ahhhh….run! He’s coming!”

I was half listening to J. and half processing this game when I realized the “monster” they were all fleeing was my son, Noah. It looked like an innocent enough game but I noticed they were using his name:

“-Run away, Noah is coming!”

As any concerned parent, I wanted to make sure he was a willing participant and that he was not being shunned by the other children. I caught him as he ran past me and I asked him: “Baby, do you like being the monster?” He nodded, smiled at me, and ran away growling and making paws of his hands. Ok, no harm done yet. He obviously did not think anything of being the monster they all avoided and was enjoying the role. I silently prayed, as I watched, that he would always have that innocent, open outlook.

As I reflected upon the events of the day, I realized it is a natural thing that happened. Noah is usually the youngest, he enjoys chasing other children while growling, and he doesn’t get his feelings hurt easily. What a better combination to be nominated monster of the game? But I am, by my own admission, hypersensitive to my children’s future struggles because their situation is, in so many ways, unique. So my wheels started turning...

When I taught high school I used to do an activity to raise awareness among my students about the ugliness of stereotypes. We would openly discuss the origin and validity of stereotypes they had heard or even believed at one point about people of other races. I loved how open and honest the kids were and I always felt that, by the end of the hour, we all walked away better informed, and more compassionate. We got to know each other more deeply and we had a more sympathetic understanding of each others’ ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and struggles as well. One of the questions I would ask is how many of them had ever been followed in a store by a security guard, had noticed people changing sides of the street if they saw them coming, or had, in any other way, been made aware that people feared them or didn’t trust them. Invariably it would be my males of color (Black and Hispanic) who would raise their hand. Every now and then I would have females of color raise their hands as well (I, myself, was followed in a JC Penny when I was in high school). Many of the kids who would raise their hands were straight “A” students, good kids who did not get in trouble. Others were kids who looked rough but had hearts of gold. Usually, they expressed dismay and hurt that this was the case.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are multiple and I’m not going to get into that. It’s just that lately, the voices of my students have begun to hit very close to home. I started to think about how cute Noah is. He has always been. When he was a baby, people would stop on the street to fuss over him. He has a dimpled smile, big brown eyes, and a winning disposition. As he grows, however, he will turn from a cute little boy to an ugly-duckling elementary school child, to an awkward, moody, teenager. And not just any teenager: a Black teenage-boy. I wonder if the same people that right now flirt with him in the grocery store will clutch their purses a little tighter when they see him coming. My little boy, a threat? My sweet little, compassionate Noah? It is a hard pill to swallow and yet it may just be his reality in a few years. It is what it is and I alone cannot change these facts. This is not a rant against society or an attempt at making any kind of social commentary. These are just the ponderings of a wistful mother.

A few months ago Isabel came crying to me because her little friend had told her they were no longer friends. My heart broke with hers but I knew what to say and how to console her: friends may be mean, they may have a bad day, they may be grumpy. She understood; she had been grumpy herself, she has been mean to others before. In a few years, when Noah comes to me hurt and bewildered because a stranger played “monster” with him and he was an unwilling participant, what could I say to mend his little heart? How do I explain that one?

September 3, 2010

The Measure of a Man

This has been a hard week. It began with the passing of a beautiful 15-year old girl from our church. She had been battling bone cancer for a couple of years and went to be with Jesus last Sunday. Matt had been spending considerable amount of time with the family prior to her passing, to be a source of comfort, strength, prayer, wisdom, and whatever else a family in such a situation needs. He was there when our little friend took her last breath, and he accompanied the family through planning the funeral, choosing the casket, and making sure all the arrangements were made.

On Tuesday he spent the afternoon and evening with them at the viewing, and on Wednesday he performed part of her funeral, held at our church, before a crowd of about six hundred people. When he got into the car after the funeral was over, he broke down in exhaustion and grief. We made our way to the graveside service, accompanied the family home for a few more minutes and left. Matt has been in full-time ministry for eight years now. This sweet teenager was the first member a congregation he pastored to die.

The next day he stayed home to rest after what had been four grueling days. Late that night he received a call from a dear friend and congregation member stating that her husband had a heart attack and was recovering in CICU. Off he went to the hospital to pray with them and be their pastor. The next morning he got up early to take me to the doctor, for I had not been feeling well for a few days. The diagnosis: pneumonia. Since I was bed-ridden and very sick he had been taking care of the children and me, visiting the hospital, going to be instructed on how to take care of two different households full of cats that we would watch over the weekend while their owners were away, and trying to squeeze the necessary work that is required to hold a Sunday morning service, including preaching and leading worship.

Last night I walked into the living room feverish and miserable, and I found him listening to a broadcast of his beloved football team playing and folding laundry. Later on he got up in the middle of the night to hand me medicine and rub my back. Sunday he will stand in front of his congregation and deliver a sermon he has carefully researched and prepared and nobody but I will notice the stress marks around his mouth or the few extra gray hairs he developed this week.

And I simply watched and marveled. Because I married the man I have a certain bias, this I know. Sometimes it is a positive bias that sees the things he does as wonderful and sometimes I can be his worst critic because I know what he is capable of accomplishing. But this week I saw a side of him I had not had the privilege to experience before. This is not a tribute to a husband or a man; this is a tribute to my pastor. I knew just how broken he was about L’s death, how much he agonized to find the right words to say that would paint the picture of the wonderful human being that she was, and how much he prayed for her family as they dealt with her loss. I saw him hop to his feet, weary as he was, and jump in his car to get to the hospital when his friend needed him by his side in the CICU. I’ve witnessed him feeding, bathing, playing and reading to our kids at the end of the last few long days, then come to our room to make sure I had water, a blanket, or a kiss. And come Sunday, I will sit in the front row as he brings us words from God to encourage us and challenge us.

You may know lots of pastors who do this on a regular basis. This is what the good ones do. I just happened to have a front row seat this week into the world of one and a pair of eyes willing to pay attention. I thought about the old cliché: “what is the measure of a man?” Matt loves his congregation deeply, his family tenderly, and his God passionately. And because he loves them, he serves them unconditionally. I thought about the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:19 when he states that “whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant.” Matt serves. His understanding of Christ is that of a loving God who takes care of his people and that is the image of God he strives to portray every day of his life. What the measure of a man is can be debated. But the measure of my pastor is love.