Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fish, Sunsets and the Creativity of God

"Let all that I am praise the Lord.  O Lord my God, how great you are!  You are robed with honor and majesty."  
~Psalm 104:1 
This past week I had the privilege of going on a much-anticipated vacation with several college friends.  For a year, we have planned and dreamed about this week where we would celebrate our 40th birthdays that will all happen within the year.  I expected it to be fun and relaxing, but what I wasn't anticipating was for God to blow my mind with His beauty.
There were several moments on the trip when I just stood in awe and wonder of God and His creativity.  The first was on the first evening of our cruise, when we stood on the ship's upper deck and watched the sun set.  Granted, I've seen a lot of sunsets in my life, and many have been beautiful.  However, I've never seen one from the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.  The sun began its decent, and it looked to us like a gigantic yellow and pink beach ball as it hit the water's edge.  I stood there holding my breath until it disappeared.
The second awe moment I experienced was during a snorkeling adventure.  I was the only one who wanted to snorkel, so I put on all of my gear and jumped into the beautiful, blue water.  Almost immediately, I was surrounded by fish.  They seemed to be coming up and greeting me.  As I swam deeper into the reef, I began to see the creativity of God expand before me.  The fish!  There was a black fish with blue glowing dots and a black fish with bright yellow stripes.  I looked on in wonder.  And then God really made me laugh.  A fish swam by with leopard looking spots and horn-like skin over its eyes.  I began laughing out loud, which was not the best idea with a snorkel mask on.  A bit later, God made me laugh again as I was looking at the reef floor.  All of a sudden, it began to move.  A round shape had lifted up off of the floor and started moving.  It was a fish the exact color and pattern as the reef.  It was just unbelievable.
God really floored me with His creativity on this trip.  My snorkeling adventure proved to me once again the absolute existence of our creator God.  He created these wildly colorful and funny fish that in many cases no one will ever see.  Just because He could.  Because He is just that creative.
I know that because this creative God created you and I that He will continue to work creatively in and through our lives.  He may even do it with a little humor.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Faithful Adults

Photo by Steven Van Loy
This has been a really up and down kind of week.  I found out on Friday that one of my best friends growing up lost his father to a heart attack on Thursday.  This hit me really hard, one because I know how hard it must be for my friend, and two because his family was like my own family.  I grew up in a small church in Painted Post, NY, and the moms and dads at the church became like our own moms and dads.  I spent a lot of time over at Fran's house during my high school years.  My friends Kelly and Nick and I would hang out and eat chips and talk and play board games.  Mr. Gasparri would welcome us and joke around with us and treat us like one of his own kids.  Mr. and Mrs. Gasparri were another example to me of what Christian parents should be.

In high school, my friends and I were lucky enough to have lots of loving Christian adults surrounding us.  Our youth group was small, and none of our youth leaders had a theological degree or got paid for what they were doing.  They just loved hanging out with us and talking with us about God.  Our youth leader, Mr. Grace (I mean, really??!), showed us God as he allowed us to ask deep questions and work out our faith as we went through the challenges of growing up.  I remember one time when we were all at a youth conference, and he was so tired that he had fallen asleep while we were all in the room jumping up and down, listening to music and talking and singing.  We had worn him out!  We wore out our youth leaders on many occasions, as our favorite thing to do was have sleepovers at the church.  Mrs. Gasparri would join us every time, reading a book as we ran around, eating Pixi Stix and playing games.

For me, it all began in 3rd grade.  My Sunday School teacher, Miss Dew, prayed a prayer with us to accept Jesus into our hearts.  I remember very clearly sitting in the tiny chairs with our hands folded, heads bowed, praying the most important prayer of our lives.

In middle and high school, we were blessed with so many amazing adults, including Mr. Grace, Jill and Tony, Michelle, Pam and Doug, among others.  They cared about us, forgave us, and taught us through their lessons of faith and life.  Most of the time, we'd just be hanging out at the Gasparri's or the Morehouses' home and we'd get into a deep discussion of faith that they may not have been expecting.  They opened up their homes and hearts to us, and reminded us that, along with our own parents, they were there for us.

When Mr. Gasparri passed away last week, it was sad on many levels.  Sad to lose an extended "family" member and sad to think about the fact that four of my friends and I have lost parents already, before our 40th birthdays.  One friend has actually lost both of her parents.  It doesn't seem right.  As I approach 40, it has also added to my "mid-life crisis." I'm realizing that if I died at their ages, I only have about 20 years left to live.  If I live to an older age, I've probably lived about half of my life or a little less.  This scares me.  Not because I've lived a bad life or because I'm scared to die, but because I feel like I have so much more to do here on this earth.  I want to share Jesus and live for Him in big ways.

For now, I'll take a deep, trusting breath.  I'll lean in to God, knowing that He knows what He is doing.  He put some amazing adults on my path and He will continue walking with me for all my days.  Let's be those faithful adults for the teens and children that come across our paths.  We may be the only Jesus that they see, so let's make Him known through our love.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Moses...and me?

Photo by Tyler Callahan

I got a C on my talk.  There, I said it.

I had never gotten a C in my life.  I had always been a straight-A student, due to my perfectionistic tendencies and the fact that I simply loved to learn new things.  The C threw me, and it shook my self-esteem.  I don't think I've ever fully recovered from it.  Although, thinking back on it, I probably deserved a C, because it was actually a pretty bad talk.

The talk was for a youth ministry class in college.  We were supposed to give a talk to our class as if they were teenagers.  I'd never really given a quote on quote, "talk," to teens before.  I'd led a lot of Bible studies, worked with every age group at camp, led songs and small groups for students, began a drama ministry...all of that, but never a full-blown "talk" per se.

You see, I'm not a speaker.  At least that's what I've always been told, and have continually told myself.  Others in my class were great speakers.  Others became good speakers after many years of speaking to youth and adults.  Some even went on to speak at large events, including the Creation music festival.  But, not me.  Did I give many talks at youth group?  Sure.  Did I lead lots of Bible studies, definitely.  Did I take the Dale Carnegie course and improve my speaking?  I did, and I improved a lot.

However, if you had asked me 20 years ago, or even 5 years ago, if I'd ever be a speaker at a conference, I would have said no.  I probably would have laughed in your face and then turned away and ran.

So did Moses.  In The Message version of Exodus 4:10, it says that "Moses raised another objection to God:  'Master, please, I don't talk well.  I've never been good with words, neither before nor after you spoke to me.  I stutter and stammer.'"

Well, recently, God asked me to do just that.  I have been writing/editing curriculum for preteens through for the last couple of years, after having worked with preteens for about 11 years.  The director emailed me, knowing that their online conference for preteen leaders was coming up.  He said, "I was thinking of who to ask to speak, and your name came up."

My first thought was "No."  "Absolutely not. I'm not a good speaker."  But, instead of letting my initial reaction take over, I waited.  That afternoon, I turned the page in my calendar, and this is what it said:
I stopped and stared at it.  Just a few days before, I had been praying for God to use me in big ways in 2019 and to help me to accomplish great things for His Kingdom.  When I read this message, I knew I had to consider speaking at the conference.

I sat down and wrote out some possible ideas for what I would speak about, and the ideas came pouring out of me. That was when I realized that I had to say yes because I really did have something to say!  A couple of weeks later, God confirmed my decision as our pastor talked about living a purposeFULL life. To do this, we needed to do the one thing that God has been asking us to do, but we've been avoiding.

"Ok, God, I get it!"  I thought to myself.

As I wrote the talks for the two breakout sessions that I would be leading, I realized that I really did have a lot to teach others about the two topics.  So, why would I not want to share what I had learned, so that other preteen ministries could benefit from my experiences?

Well, last week, I did.  I spoke at the 2019 Preteen Leaders Conference.  Here I am! I took a photo of myself on the screen.  Not so I could brag about it later, but to prove to myself that I actually did it!  Who'd have thought that I, Alisa Laska, would actually be a conference speaker?  It just goes to show, never say never.  Especially to God!

During the conference, God was speaking to me as well.  Isaiah 43:19 was our theme verse for the conference: "See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."  (NIV)  Our theme was "What if...?" and we talked about how to think about things in ministry in new or different ways.  One of our opening speakers, Ryan Frank, said that we should start by understanding who we are as individuals.  To become acutely self-aware about how God has wired you and to be ok with that.  Don't compare yourself to others.  You bring a special gift to the kids you minister to that is uniquely yours.  Embrace and celebrate who you are and how God has wired you to serve him.  Another speaker, Jim Wideman, said that we shouldn't ask what others are doing that is working, but instead, we should be wondering, "What is God asking ME to do?"

I know, as Moses did, that God might not have wired me to be an amazing speaker.  I'll never be Billy Graham or Barack Obama.  But, I'm ok with that.  I've learned from this experience that God wired me to be uniquely me, with passions, gifts, and skills that only I possess.  I have experiences in ministry that I can teach others, who will then teach their preteens.  I decided to say yes to God, because he can equip us, through the Holy Spirit and His work and power within us, to do anything He asks of us.

What is God asking YOU to do that you are hesitant to commit to?  Say YES to God and you'll be amazed at all that He can accomplish through a willing heart.  "See, I am doing a new thing!"