Category Archives: Sincerity

Beauty from Ashes

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Ashes. The rubbish left after devastation. The wasteland remaining after tragedy. Nothing left but to sweep it up and toss it to the wind. No one wants ashes. No one cares about what is left. The focus is only on what is gone, all that is lost to ruin.

My soul is in ashes. I have pummeled it and beaten myself down to nothingness. I have come to believe no one cares because I am not worthy of the concern. The wildfires of despair and pity have ravaged my body and my heart, leaving behind only ashes. A pile of worthlessness detracting from beauty.

But what if it could be different? What if I could be different? What if all the years, all the failed attempts to save myself from the slavery of my sinful habits could be wiped away, allowing me freedom to grow in beauty and strength? What if?

I’ve all but given up hope. All but. I have one last chance to salvage this body of mine, to allow the forest of my soul to flourish and grow fresh, renewed, beautiful as my Creator intended.

But fear holds me back; I am afraid of the fires of failure. They lick at my heels, whisper to me that today doesn’t really matter, I don’t really matter. Fires of unforgiveness against those who lost hope in me and unforgiveness for losing hope in myself. Those fires consume me, weaken my core until I am too afraid to put down my roots, stretch to the heavens, and cry out to God for His salvation.

Can I do it? One more try? You, Oh Lord, have given me hope, one more option, support for the trials. Can I block the flames of insecurity, gluttony, and pity to give You room to heal me to the core?

Can we, together, create in me beauty from the ashes?


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Get Out of My Way

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“Happy New Year, now get out of my way.”

In a surprising and disappointing turn of events, the usual uplifting welcome to the new year has taken an ugly downward spiral. Rather than sharing positive efforts at change, more and more people are complaining about the “resolutionaries” in their way. All the treadmills at the gym are occupied, there were too many people on the trail, the grocery store has been sold out of baby spinach for a week (really, it has!). Folks who once made a change themselves are now irritated at others seeking self-improvement.

To the naysayers, I ask: When did you become an athlete? Were you always an expert chef? Have you ever had a lapse in your routine? Did you pick up sewing as a child or learn to knit as an adult? … When you started, or restarted, what kept you going?

Everyone needs a shot at making a change, learning a new skill, quitting a bad habit. It doesn’t matter what the start-date or motivating factors are. And everyone needs encouragement along the way. Not negative, behind-the-back criticism.

Next time you notice all the treadmills are taken, look at the guy struggling through his first mile and give him an encouraging nod, remembering a couple years back when you huffed and puffed around the block. He is starting, just like you did.
When the customer in front of you is asking too many question about which knitting needles to purchase, offer to show her what worked best for you when you first began.
If you, the novice runner, pass a svelte athlete on the trail, give her a thumbs up. She may be faster and more fit than you, but she needs encouragement to reach her goals, too.

Rather than complain about the newbies who are slower, clumsier, sweatier, and just plain in the way, let’s all reach out to encourage them. You never know what might happen. Perhaps you’ll end up with a new running buddy, a pretty scarf made by that talented seamstress, a delicious healthful meal when you’re down, or a friend who has similar interests. Or not. Whatever happens, do not get in the way of someone else’s dream.

Happy New Year to Everyone.

Signed,
A Resolutionary.

You Are the Resolution

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The post-Christmas cleanup has begun. Torn paper is stuffed into garbage bags, boxes are crushed for recycling, ribbon twists and twirls its way under sofas to be discovered later. Children play with their toys, testing out then quickly discarding each as they move to the next. Sweet treats and cookies, over which we labored for weeks leading up to this day suddenly look stale and wasted. Unlike Thanksgiving, when we create meals around leftovers, the remaining Christmas treats are scowled upon and easily tossed in the trash as we anticipate healthier eating in the new year.

The new year, with its promises of punctuality, organization, menu planning, exercise routines, exchange of bad habits for good, financial control, quality time, and goals of ultimate perfection looms around the corner. We anticipate scraping off the old, dead skin of last year for a fresh start to life. Leaving behind all that we dislike of ourselves for better versions, improvement, more perfection. By sticking to our resolutions, we can be that which we believe we really should be.

Because, what we are, how we act, what we eat, say, and do isn’t enough, right? Who we were in 2013 was not all that we were meant to be in this world. The old version of yourself needs to change – eat better, exercise more, journal daily, save money. Yes, the new you, the 2014 version will be the person you want to be. Healthier, thinner, more introspective and assertive, friendlier, wealthier. Out with the old; in with the new.

The old. The late, overweight, impatient, slovenly, disorganized you who carried through 365 days of ups and downs. You, who survived the bad days, health concerns, financial struggles, rush hours, and home repairs, are not good enough to face another 365, right? Or maybe you are. You, who conquered the rough patches, family disagreements, travel debacles, power outages, and wardrobe malfunctions. Perhaps you, with all your faults, are capable of tackling another year as you are. Last year, and the year before, and the year before that each prepared you a little bit to be exactly who you are now, the truly improved you. Ready to take on another year.

Sure, you might be a few minutes late to work again in pants that are a little snug. Maybe you’ll order Chinese take-out for dinner or stay up too late. We could all save a bit more than we spend. But you are ready, not just to survive, but to conquer. Just as you did last year. So, clean up the wrapping paper piles and toss out the old cookies, then look around at your life. Your beautiful, messy life that carried you thus far and made you exactly who you are meant to be to face this, your life.

Everyday Goodness

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Yesterday, December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela passed from this life to the next. He was 95 years old and probably ready to retire his body. He had used it to the fullest, as a husband, father, heavyweight boxer, and most importantly, as a promoter of peace.

Upon his death, media outlets and social networking sites were ablaze with the news, pictures, quotes, and postings for the icon to rest in peace. People are posting about Mandela as they would a close friend, someone who intimately touched their lives. And, perhaps he did. This man who promoted peace, justice, and the antithesis of hate, Love.

But why did we wait until now to talk about him so much? If we really believe in his life’s work to spread peace, why haven’t we been sharing his quotes regularly? Nelson Mandela lived in such a way as to prove one person really can make a difference. One person can start a movement to change the way the world thinks. Several generations were able to witness his work firsthand and now we will pass his legacy to the history books. If we were to truly honor and memorialize this man, his work, his passion, we would live for peace and goodness everyday.

Isn’t that the way of it, though? When people die, we often idealize them, remember stories of how great they were, gloss over their failures and faults, and share how we knew them intimately. Why wait? Shouldn’t we treat one another today the way we will talk about each other after one of us is gone? Be it friends, family, acquaintances, or cultural icons. If you mean so much to me, I should put you on a pedestal now and tell you directly how I feel, rather than wait until you’re the very audience who will miss my message of how great you are.

If you have inspired me to live my life differently, what an honor it would be to show you by acting on it now. My dad would probably rather his daughter live a life of integrity and hard work while he can see it from this side of heaven. Instead of submitting a beautiful eulogy for the English teacher who inspired me to write, I should express my gratitude to her now. To the elderly gentleman who sings in my church choir, when you pass away, I’ll surely be sad and remember how kind you were; how good would it be if this Sunday, I look you in the eye and remind you how very loved you are.

Mr. Mandela, thank you for your message of peace. Thank you for giving of your heart and your life to bring about real and necessary change in this world. As we honor and remember you, I hope we all stand behind your words as we quote them. May peace, God’s peace, pour over this earth and reign forever.

“If I had my time over I would do the same again.
So would any man who dares call himself a man.”
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

My Sermon

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I preached it, Sister! I brought it! Okay, really, I just shared the message at my church’s services while our pastoral staff was away. This was no fire-and-brimstone, but a responsibility to share with my church family what was on my heart. Given the spirit-filled pastors I have known in my life, this was a big role to fill. What I shared is far more humble. The opportunity was a treat for me, combining two things I love: writing and public speaking. (Kudos to my high school English and Speech teachers for the gift of both.)

Since preparing for the sermons consumed most of my recent blog-writing time, it seems only fair for me to post it here. My sermon notes, if you will. (Heeheehee – I still can’t believe I got to be the preacher.) Although this was initially for my church family, I humbly submit it to you, my blog family…

Sincerity of Faith

Good morning! My name is Leslie Vorndran. I am one of your lay leaders. I’m a mother of two, a wife. I’m currently a stay-at-home-mother. I’m an avid book reader, an art lover, an amateur cook, a dog owner, a terrible gardener, a blogger. Oh yeah … I’m a Christian.

Recently, I was making plans with a friend of many years. We met long ago during college, ended up on beach vacations and at late night parties together. As life moved on, we celebrated at one another’s weddings, baby showers, and housewarmings. But on a recent weekend, she mentioned our plans might be interrupted because she would be at church. Church? All these years, we have been “friends” through life’s biggest events, never suspecting we shared the same faith, the same core values, the same belief in our redeeming Savior. But why didn’t we know this crucial detail about one another? I suspect that’s because neither of us had been brave enough to name-drop the very Name of God. Without realizing, we had not been sincere to our friendship or ourselves.

Looking around, and in the mirror, I see people who are very, very blessed. We live in beautiful homes in close-knit communities. We cheer loudly for our local sports icons, from the Little League to the professional baseball team.
Don’t even get us started on our favored political groups. Left vs. right, red states vs. blue states, the elephant vs. a donkey (?). We love to speak out, argue vehemently, and cast votes for our sides.
We are so passionate about our careers that discussing what we “do” becomes what we talk about, how we introduce ourselves. If someone asks a prodding question, we happily delve deep, talking on and on about the work we do and who we know.
Talk and talk and talk. We create opportunities for talking: get togethers for coffee, girls’ night out, book clubs, conference calls, networking events. When the spoken word fails us, we email, text, tweet, status-update and, in the all too rare case, write letters. We love to communicate, to talk about issues, resolve conflicts, catch up, encourage one another, complain.

I’m right there with you. But what are we talking about? How much of ourselves are we actually sharing with one another?

This blog is just another opportunity to “talk” more if you will, though I started it to get some thoughts out of my head and challenge myself to be more forthright. One of my blog posts ended up touching a chord with a lot of folks. I shared a personal story of a new friend I met at the pool. She and I have spent the past few summers exchanging pleasantries, chatting without ever really talking. This year, when I was stuck in a sling following shoulder surgery, she shared the truth behind some health issues she was facing. It wasn’t until she and I broke down the nice-to-meet-you barrier of our homes, jobs, and children’s activities that we found a deeper connection. A sincerity of friendship.

The response to that posting got me thinking more about it. I have found that what we don’t usually talk about in our community is our faith. The very part of us that brings us hope, that which carries us through the hardest times and binds us together in the good. Like the old children’s song, we hide our little light under a bush. Those who enter our homes, who have a place in our hearts, may get to learn about our spiritual selves, but how many of our neighbors know upon Whom we built our faith? They see us leaving the house Sunday mornings, so we assume they know where we’re headed. We certainly don’t discuss God at work, where we might lose hard-earned respect, position, even the opportunity for upward mobility. Then there’s the social networking. Do we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the blog-osphere, even Email to promote the Kingdom of God? For me, Facebook is a tool for connecting with others, be it my family, friends from grade school, or even the new friend I met last week. I used it to plan my high school reunion, announce the birth of our daughter, and RSVP to a wedding. I share pictures of my kids via Instagram; my husband filters his news through Twitter. Social networking. More talking. And another place to talk about everything, except our faith.

A couple of years ago, I went out on a limb and mentioned on Facebook something about my faith. This was a big deal to me, since many of my “friends” were work colleagues from whom I hid my faith, connections from a time of my life I had very little faith, and new friends who I knew held very different views from me. I risked ruining a lot of relationships in making myself known. But the opposite happened. Once I shared a little, I was encouraged by others holding the same beliefs, other followers of Christ. With this new confidence, I shared a little more and more over time. Here’s what happened. I didn’t lose out on any relationships, but rather I was given new relationships, deeper relationships. People I had known for years now felt comfortable expressing their faith with me. I have been blessed to watch their faith journeys, to grow along with them, to be challenged by their walks with Christ. Built on the sincerity of our faith, on our unity in Christ, my relationships have grown from acquaintances and social connections to friendships of the heart, a family with whom I pray.

In Galatians 3:23-28, Paul talks about this unity in Christ, calling us “children of God.” We no longer need to identify that which separates us from one another: religious background, social status, or gender. We are one in our faith. We need only to reach out and talk about it. But here’s the cool part. It wasn’t only Paul who spoke of our unity. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus actually prayed for us, for all believers, that we would be unified. And through that unity, that the world would know His Love.

Paraphrasing John 17:20-23 a bit, we are told Jesus said, “My prayer is not for the disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You … so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”

So, let me ask you a question: How do you define your community? In and around our town, across the country, on social networks, at work, in Honduras or Ethiopia, in your own home, or is your community in this church sanctuary? When you are surrounded by your community, do you catch yourself being reserved, hiding your faith “under a bush,” or do you speak out, share with others what God has done in your life, offer encouragement or prayer, and share His love so that others might see Christ in you? I am the first to say, I do not do this enough. Not even in my own family. I privately pray for extended family members, that they may come to know Christ, that He will soften their hearts to the freedom and joy that comes from knowing Him, but I choke with fear and timidity before I can talk of spiritual matters with them. And these are people I love; imagine how terrified I am of sharing my heart with colleagues or strangers!

But how can we ever be unified if we don’t know one another, truly know one another?

I challenge you, me, all of us in this together. Let’s speak out. Be unified in God’s love, His amazing grace. Let’s call on His strength and boldness to share His love, His name with our community: our town, our mission field (wherever that may be), our families, and one another right here in this church. Let’s pray with one another, encourage each other in Christ, and live our faith so others might see and believe the gift we have already recieved. My guess is that as you – as we – begin to live faith more boldly, more sincerely, we will find our relationships are unified in a Love deeper than we ever imagined.