Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Sabbath Experiment: How Obeying and Disobeying the Fourth Commandment has Affected our Lives

Last year while on our road trip through the Great Lakes Jon and I were walking along and happened to glance down into a Newspaper stand. But instead of newspapers, there was a book on the Ten Commandments. Jon picked it up and over the next few weeks read through it. After finishing he revealed that he had been convicted of not being faithful to follow the Fourth Commandment: that is observing the Sabbath and keeping it Holy. He had done his best to take one day a week (usually a different day each week) to "not work" that is, not to make any money from labor. But as the demands of marriage, school, rent, bills, and preparing for a child were suddenly burdening him to increase his hours at Ruby Tuesday (where he has been serving and bartending for 5 years), the Sabbath slowly became a once-a-month, if at all, luxury. He knew that this book had been left for him to remind him of the Sabbath, and how he needed to incorporate this commandment into his life and his family's life, now more than ever. Not only that, but he knew that God was asking him to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day, Saturday.

Now that may not seem like a big deal, but consider Jon's line of work. Bartender & Server at a restaurant. Saturdays are the money-makers. At MINIMUM, this would mean giving up $4800 this year ($400/month). So to give that up was asking a lot and it was a large step of faith for our family. We decided to give it a year and see what happened. Here it is, one year later, and we have so much to share about our Sabbath Experiment.

At first everything seemed pretty fair. The fall and early winter came and went without fanfare. Jon wasn't coming home with superfluous tips (which we were kind of expecting...come on God!) but we were making rent, paying the bills on time...all in all we always had enough. And life was good. Then things started getting lean. After Christmas and the New Year people decided to stop eating out, so the take home pay was less. Jon was also getting poor shifts that didn't make any money. But it never even entered our thoughts that maybe Jon should pick up a shift on Saturday. Even when the bills started to pile up, we prayed through it, and we could eke by week by week (mostly by eating peanut butter sandwiches). Thanks to a bountiful tax return, God provided for us the cushion we needed to get through the spring. $9,000 is pretty bountiful in my book! Provision #1.

Around that time, it became apparent that we needed to upgrade to a larger apartment. In a few months we would legally have "too many residents" for a one-bedroom apartment. A larger apartment means larger rent. As we unpacked our boxes into our wonderful new home, all I could do was shake my head. I lay awake nights praying, "Lord, I hope you know what you're doing. We could barely afford our old place. We need you now more than ever." Also around this time, all of our friends decided they needed to get married! For six Saturdays in a row we attended weddings and stood with our friends as they united in Holy Matrimony. But what should have been times of rejoicing was actually causing stress to our family. Jon went straight from Mid-terms just before Palm Sunday through spring break doing research for his Senior thesis, through Finals, working at the restaurant around 30 hours a week, with no Sabbaths to rest. As we plowed through the spring, we began to realize that "observing the Sabbath" didn't just mean not working for pay on a certain day. I'm not saying we shouldn't have attended our friends' weddings. But we should certainly have been wiser with the time we had to rest. Jon's health took a terrible dive. He suffered unexplained pharyngitis, endured a chronic cold for 2 months, lethargy and soreness plagued him, and he developed a large lump on his neck that no amount of massage could dissipate. Our marriage was weakened as he didn't have the energy for anything, even when he had a window of free time. Looking back, we can clearly see the ugly fruit of living a life-style that overlooks a day of rest. Yet, by the grace of God, we survived. At the end of the six-week wedding marathon Jon also finished his final paper. When he clicked "print" and bound those 25 pages together, he knew this phase was over, and that we needed to change.

Exodus 31:14-15 says, "'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.'" Since Christ has freed us from the penalty of disobeying the law (as we understand in the New Testament), we don't need to fear a bolt of lightning from heaven if we don't observe the Sabbath. However, the spirit of the law still lives. We were designed to ONLY work 6 days and then to take a day of rest to become refreshed. Look at what happened to us when we stopped observing the Sabbath! May it be a reminder to us as we "make every effort to enter His rest." (Hebrews 4:11)

Okay, on to the good stuff! Summer time gave us a new opportunity to start over afresh in our Sabbath experiment. Days after graduating (when we started observing the Sabbath again) Jon's illnesses disappeared along with the lump on his neck. Coincidence?!?! We are still learning what things are good and restful and which things are stressful and laborious for Saturdays. But as our experiment was nearing its conclusion, God had a few surprises left for us!!

Provision #2: Favor with our landlords. I got a call out of the blue early in August; it was from our landlady. She asked if I would like to take on the position of caretaker for our half of the building (vacuuming, sweeping, general grounds-keeping) in exchange for a rent-credit of $350/month. Extra duties such as helping to clean the turn-over apartments, shoveling snow, and raking leaves would be paid an extra $10.75/hour. Was it a coincidence that she thought of me? Jon and I are joint-caretakers (so he can shovel in the event that I become "unable" to do so...). This means we are now paying less for our two-bedroom than we were for our one-bedroom!

Provision #3: Favor with the University of Minnesota. Jon is returning to the U this fall, this time as a grad student. We had hoped that he might get a Teaching Assistantship, which would likely decrease the amount of tuition we'd have to pay. But it was becoming apparent that the opportunities were not available to first-years. Then one happy day in mid-August, Jon got an email from one of his former professors saying that the class enrollment for a particular class was much larger than expected. And even though it wasn't big enough for the University to automatically assign a TA, they opted to let the professor assign one anyway! And who is the first person he thought of? Was it a coincidence that he thought of Jon? The job will automatically wipe off 50% of his tuition for this fall and will also decrease his health insurance premium by 50%. On top of that, it will ALSO pay $17.50/hour for the work he'll do correcting papers and showing up for that class. Even though he won't be doing about 10 hours of work a week, they will still pay him as if he were. That amounts to about $3500 over the course of this next semester.

After soaking all this in, we did the calculations. We decided Jon "lost" $4800 this year by giving up Saturdays to observe the Sabbath. The blessings of God's provision for this year (and the year to come) totals near $20,000 so far. That's five times the amount we sacrificed when we took the step of faith a year ago. Jon even calculated that he actually earned $390 each Sabbath that we observed.

Hebrews 4 tells us that the promise of entering His rest still stands. The penalty of disobedience is gone, but the blessing of observance is still there. We have been richly, richly blessed, and now we give Him glory. I hope we can always look back on this year that tested our faith whenever times are lean and say, "I will yet praise Him, because He cares for us." I hope you are all encouraged by this testimony, and will remember us when you follow the steps of faith God is asking of you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NEW Adventures in the Life of Brenda #10: A Salute to the Mommies-To-Be

It's happened to all of us. That phone call or text from an unknown number or even someone off the street starts having a conversation with you without disclosing their name or how they know you leaving you dumbly staring trying to trace their tell-tale mole or squeaky voice to a particular era of your life so you can remember their name. What do you do in this situation? Do you stop them and say, "Sorry, but I have no idea who you are. Who are you? Are we enemies? Why am I on this wall? WHERE'S BUTTERCUP?!" or do you carry on the conversation with the hopes that dropped clues and a really good educated guess will bring you to the correct conclusion? I chose the latter yesterday morning when I received a text from someone who wasn't in my Caller ID. The text message was, simply:

"I'm pregnant!"

Oh dear. This is someone I know well enough that she'd text me telling me she's pregnant. And the AREA CODE! 713. Where the heck is that? After a quick Google search I find it's in Houston, Texas. Yikes. Who do I know in Houston?!

"Jon! Where do the Roys live?"
"Are you sure they don't live in Houston?"

Shoot. Well, let's play along. Maybe she'll mention her husband's name...

"Congratulations! Are you excited?" I text back. That's pretty safe...
"Yes! We've been trying for 3 months!" texts phantom mommy-to-be.
"Well, may God bless your pregnancy!"

Oh geez. WHO IS THIS?! "Jon, who is this??? How can I find out who it is?" I plead. "You could ask her." he replies in all logic and reason. "Nooooooooooo, but I caaaaaaaaaaaan't. I've already pretended like I know who it is!" I give him my pleading face which is really probably not very flattering. He chuckles and says, "Well, then you'll just have to wonder!"

Fine. I fume to myself. How could I have let myself get into this pickle. I should have just asked from the beginning. I text her back, "I'm sorry, but I thought I knew who this was, but I'm not so sure...who are you?" I don't know why this was so humiliating. Poke my pride with a stick and watch me sputter around like a deflating balloon.

OOooooh! It's Martha from college! I'm glad I didn't start calling random friends asking, "Are YOU the pregnant mommy-to-be?"

All this talk of pregnant ladies got me to wondering just how many bellies I currently know! So I made a collage! (Unfortunately I had to leave one friend out because my collage could only have 9 heads. Sorry, Danielle!) Here's to expecting mothers!! Amber, Audra, Becky, Betsy, Joelle, Luda, Martha, Missy, and Molly. (I wonder who will be next...???? It could be YOU!!)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Abigail Carin Gill Turns One!!

On August 9th, and then again on August 16th, Abigail Carin Gill celebrated her first birthday commemorating one year of beauty, growth, grace, and baby bliss! Her real birthday was on August 11, but since half of her family lives very out of town, we celebrated on the weekends. It was like a birthday party sandwich :-) Here are the pictures you've all been waiting for!

Jon made this sign for Abi by coloring in each letter meticulously!

The table spread: chocolate cupcakes, fruit salad, and chicken salad sandwiches (thanks, Amber for the recipe!)

Here's the 2nd cake. The first cake had a little sprinkle heart shape in the middle. The little bear was on my (and my siblings') first birthday cakes in years past.

Papa "reads" the wrapping paper.

At first Abi didn't know what to do with her cake and she daintily dipped her fingers into the frosting.

But she got the hang of it! Look at that crater in the cake! Yay Abi!

Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma Miller joined us from Idaho for Abi's special day. They've been married for 55 years, and are obviously still very much in love! Also, notice Great-Grandma's eyes; those are the sparkly blues that Abigail inherited.

The Gill clan: Anita & Richard Miller, Uncle Jay, Daddy, Abigail, Papa, Granny, and Mama down in front (did I get all my teeth in the picture?)

Abi LOVES her new Cadillac of strollers from Papa and Granny.

Baby Abi in her birthday dress.

Abi thanks Granny for the Matryoshka doll that she brought back from Russia for the birthday girl :-)

Abi's second party started with a trip to the Como Zoo and Conservatory.

Aunt Michelle and her beau Tristan getting cozy ;-)

The Westerbur clan takes a nap after such a exhausting outing. Clockwise from upper left: Grandma Laurie, Grandpa John, Aunt Michelle, Tristan, Uncle Brian, and Daddy.

Abigail clutches her new sweater from Great-Aunt Marie. I think it was one of her favorite presents!

Abi flaps in response to an electronic book.

Abi hugs her new dress. She must be her mommy's daughter with her love of new clothes!

Abi didn't need any coaxing with this cake; she dug right in! Messy girl!

Thank you everyone for such a special birthday! Everyone who attended wrote beautiful blessings for Abigail and they will certainly encourage her for years to come! Thank you thank you thank you! :-)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How are YOU Preparing?

We all get caught up thinking about our futures. Jon and I have discussed our goals in life extensively and how the Lord has directed our paths for those aspirations. We have a call to be "pioneers" for the Gospel abroad, a heart for a certain people group, and even a general area of the world we know the Lord is leading us toward. And we have prayed that God would open up the proper doors at the proper times for us in those areas, but also the proper doors along the way to prepare us.

I was praising the Lord one day recounting all the opened doors we've been walking through. First there was my Peace Corps tour which introduced me to peoples and places I never even knew existed. Then Jon's schooling: he's finished his Bachelor's in Linguistics and is now working on his Master's in Teaching English as a Second Language. He has been teaching English to international grad students at the University and will be working on his Adult Basic Education license. All this to give us the proper credentials to teach overseas. The Lord has been moving in our lives financially to grow us in faith and prepare us for living in His grace and provision alone.

I was delighting in these things one morning saying, "Look how you've led us! Look how you've moved in Jon's world even just THIS YEAR!" That's when I got a little challenge in my heart from the Holy Spirit. (the third guy in the Trinity, right?) He challenged, "How have YOU been preparing this year, Brenda?" Now it wasn't a condescending, finger-wagging. See I could have sluffed it off saying, "Well, I'm raising a BABY aren't I? I'm learning how to raise children." And I am. But what the Holy Spirit was pointing out was that I am capable of more but I wasn't doing it. How HAVE I been preparing this year? I realized that I needed this year of "maternity leave" to focus on my baby, but I wasn't always going to have the time like I have right now. It is time to move on.

I started reading More than a Prophet but about 3 chapters into it, I realized this wasn't what God meant when He challenged me to be preparing. I've always been academic and I'll keep reading the book, but as far as apologetics go, it's not my ace. (It is for Jon; what a philosopher!) Well God, what DID you mean? I prayed. The answer came while we were at church in Virginia visiting Matt and Julie. It was just a simple verse that spoke right into my soul: Micah 6:8, "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." It was like He was saying, "Brenda, I just want you to sit at my feet and learn a little." Sweet. Asaph says in Psalm 73, "Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for me, it is good to be near God." How intimate does that sound? It sounds as if this guy desired nothing more than to be God's best friend. To walk humbly with his God. Again, sweet. What could better bless Jon than for his helpmeet to be walking humbly with God? How could I be better prepared for teaching and preaching abroad than to live and love justice and mercy? I already know the technical and the cultural stuff. Time to train the heart.

Now it's like I have this purpose or vision for the faith I live. The things I get involved in, are they encouraging me to live and act justly? Am I learning mercy? Will I become closer to God and His heart through this? It wasn't the path I thought He'd lead me down, but I'm sure glad He is.

So here's a challenge for you: what are the goals in your life, and how are you preparing to meet those? If you have no clue, take a minute to pray and ask God to reveal His will for your life. Even if it's just the next step. Then when that door opens, step out in faith. Sometimes we just need a little push. Let this be your push!