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First Thoughts Blog

Author: Whitney Alexander, Associate Pastor of Missions

God's Hand Was in Everything: Uganda, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon

My most recent trip to Uganda, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon was truly one of the most encouraging mission trips of my life. I saw God’s hand in everything; from the moment I landed in Entebbe to the walk into the classrooms of the new Bethany Centre School. 
Every detail at the new Bethany Centre School has been carefully considered for the nearly 100 students attending high school and the 600 students in kindergarten through 8th grade attending the primary and middle schools. Upon arriving, Claire Wilson and Cheryl Tyler were welcomed with traditional African dances by the Bethany students. They in turn, presented the school with a beautiful giving quilt created by the children of First Presbyterian Church. The quilt’s squares depict gifts God has given the children they can share with others. The ladies also delivered special gifts created by students of Gardere Community Christian School and planted much needed trees on the Bethany campus. It is a beautiful partnership between First Presbyterian and Peter Kiwanuka and his family. 
The next opportunity was visiting Kevin and Jena Smith and their daughters, Lincie and Eden, in Jordan. It was a beautiful time as they shared how their Arabic studies have gone very well and they are excited to move to Lebanon in late summer continuing mission work with the Syrian refugees in Beirut. The highlight of my stop in Jordan was a trip to Petra, one of the modern wonders of the world. It was a beautiful experience to hike to the temple carved out of the mountain.
The Partnership and Prayer Conferences at the Beit el-Wadi in Egypt were the most inspiring I have ever been to. One hundred churches in Egypt were invited by Kasr el Dobara Evangelical Church to come pray together with more than six thousand people attending. It was truly an amazing privilege to participate in this time of prayer with Egyptians.
The final stop was to encourage our missionaries in Lebanon on the front lines sharing their faith with Syrian refugees. It was a powerful time to pray with them and be with them in their homes.

What Does It Mean to Keep the Sabbath Holy?

There is a kind of hurry that is a form of violence exercised upon time that is detrimental to our health, to our families, to our communities and to our relationship with God. Living under pressure is part of life and we must be careful not to rationalize. God didn’t make mistakes in creating time and he made enough of it. When we cannot find enough time and, as the psalmist says, find ourselves getting up earlier and going to bed later because we have too much to do, we can see this as a sign to make some changes in our lives.
One of the ten commandments is "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day."  Today, there is a lot of confusion about what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy. For the most part, this commandment is simply ignored. As Wayne Muller points out, “we have turned a commandment into a lifestyle suggestion.  More and more, it’s business as usual on Sundays; many of us are obliged to work on that day, church attendance is declining steadily, and we are living increasingly pressured lives.”
What does it mean to keep holy the Sabbath day?  It means more things than we imagine.  It is one of the key practices of our Christian faith, and yet, it is ignored. On my Sabbath day five years ago, I had scheduled three pre-marital appointments with couples in New Orleans, but I never made it. Due to fatigue and exhaustion, I closed my eyes momentarily and awakened to the biggest lesson I learned in my whole life.
For the next seven months, I had many opportunities to cry out to God and learn that the Sabbath day is an important part of my life. Unless we pull back from our normal lives regularly to rest, we will lose perspective on what is ultimately important and become compulsive and driven people.  It’s no accident that as Sabbath observance is slipping today, we find ourselves feeling ever more trapped and more pressured, always behind, never able to rest deeply and less able to delight in the deep joys of life.
Last summer, this loving congregation gave me a precious gift: a sabbatical.  A sabbatical is not a vacation nor is it time away as much as it is an opportunity to become all that God has called me to be. I ceased to work and intentionally chose to give good energy and focus to my family. This was carefully planned so that Phyllis, Andrew and Patrick received this investment. I am forever grateful to this congregation for investing in our family during my sabbatical.
Sabbath is a gift we are to share with others. God gave us the Sabbath. Jesus taught us that we weren’t made for the Sabbath but that the Sabbath was made for us. In the coming months, I plan to share with you what the Lord is teaching me on how to keep the Sabbath holy. I am still learning every day what it means to keep holy the Sabbath day. This is a lifelong journey for me and I am deeply grateful to be one of your pastors who is being led by the Holy Spirit to learn what it means to rest and take the Sabbath seriously.

Exhilarating and Exhausting

Thank you for the sabbatical and vacation time this summer. It was an exhilarating and exhausting walk across Northwest Spain May 24-June 1 on the Camino de Santiago with six friends from First Presbyterian and Abounding Love Ministries. Charles Goebel, Annette Lamond, Milt Witty, John and Carol Norwood and their son-in-law Josh all participated in this incredible walk. It will be a cherished trip for as long as I live. I arrived at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral on the fifth anniversary of my terrible car accident. 
Much of my time during sabbatical was spent reading the book of Revelation in preparation for leading 20 men in two different Bible studies this coming year. The month of July specifically focused on reading Ruth Haley Barton's newest book, Embracing Ryhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. I also attended a retreat in July on Discernment: Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God at Transforming Community in Wheaton, Illinois.
I had the opportunity to vacation with Phyllis in Colorado, be with Andrew for Father's Day weekend and see Patrick in California at the end of my sabbatical. The rest was needed and I am excited to return and serve again at First Presbyterian. 
Thank you for caring for my family and especially allowing me a break after my many years serving Christ here. 

Malachi Dads

God is transforming men’s lives in our prison population.The Malachi Dads program (started at Angola) is a faith-based program helping men develop skills to reconnect with their children using Christian principles. 
Malachi Dads is a structured program designed to take men through the basics of Christianity. Groups of 12 men (called families) meet weekly to discuss the lesson. In these sessions, men learn the Christian skills necessary to meet the challenges of life and reconnect with their kids. 
The joy of participating in Malachi Dad’s Bible Study is establishing relationships with the men. Many friendships have deepened and we have seen the release of both George Gillam and Keith Morse within the last three years. Both men are employed at FPC part-time and work with fathers and sons in north Baton Rouge (70805 and 70802)! It is a joy for us to continue pouring into their lives in Bible Study outside of Angola prison. 
We have an opportunity to provide assistance to inmate facilitators for a growing number of inmate participants. No formal training or preparation is required. Please consider getting involved. You will be blessed seeing God’s work in our prison population. Get in touch with Whitney, Hans Othmer, Jerry Stovall, Bill Barkas, Brian Kinchen, Charles Goebel or Gee Gee Hargon. Thank you for your support of missions at FPCBR! 
Posted in: Missions

Joyful Relief

One of the joys of hurricane relief is spending time with homeowners as we work on repairs. One of the families we met in March was Angie and Tim Brown from Iowa, Louisiana. We were tasked with repairing the patio soffit and then priming and painting fascia boards all around the home. Our team of volunteers replaced the broken soffit and continued to put two finish coats on the exterior of the Brown’s home over the course of four weeks. The contractors working on the inside of the home are hoping to complete the interior by Memorial Day. The move-in date is set for June 1. Our church family will help them move in. JOIN US.
We are asking the FPCBR congregation to come alongside the Brown family and help us restock their pantry by donating a pound of rice, beans, canned goods, paper products or maybe a gift card for supplies we do not know they need. If you are interested in blessing Angie and Tim’s pantry and home, please drop off these items in the gym on the Hurricane Relief tables labeled for the Brown family by June 1. Please put all gift cards in an envelope labeled, “Angie & Tim Brown” and bring to Laura Shaw’s desk in the church office. This is another beautiful opportunity to care for a family in need. 
Beginning May 10, a team of skilled sheetrock hangers is coming from Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN. The goal is to sheetrock six homes in five weeks. Our church will purchase the sheetrock and all that is needed to complete this project by June 14. If you desire to make a donation for this ongoing work in Iowa and Lake Charles, please go online to and look for Hurricane Relief. Our church family has spent sixty days since Hurricane Laura came onshore on August 28, 2020 helping and assisting with hurricane recovery. If you are ever interested in joining us on Wednesdays and Saturdays, please SHOW UP! If you have any questions, please call me at 225.810.2607. THANK YOU for all your help and support the past eight months!
Posted in: Missions

A Brighter Christmas!

The outpouring of love from everyone has made for a brighter Christmas for the children in Iowa, Louisiana. We have blessed 600 families with gifts that included bicycles, Barbie dolls, sports equipment, puzzles, books, board games and a variety of toys. The love continued with the purchase of food for 75 Christmas boxes which were delivered to the poor in Iowa. These residents were overwhelmed with your generosity this Christmas. Thank you from everyone in Iowa and especially for supporting all of our efforts the past four months in hurricane relief cleanup. A huge thank you to all of the volunteers who have traveled with me since August 30 and to our First Presbyterian Church family for donating money and resources to help our brothers and sisters in southwest Louisiana after two hurricanes! Relief work resumes January 6. Anyone is welcome to join us. We leave the church parking lot at 6.30 am sharp. Bring sturdy work gloves!


Posted in: Missions

Called to Serve

In our country I see many churches are filled with godly, loving people. I give thanks and rejoice that the Lord has blessed his people here. But we have to come to grips with something. If we continue only to drink in blessings and neglect to give them out, we will face what happened to the church in Jerusalem. After the blessing of Pentecost, the believers there grew comfortable in their fellowship.
The book of Acts says the believers went from house to house eating together and sharing their experiences. What happened to the early church? The Lord sent persecution and that Spirit-filled church was suddenly scattered. The people ended up going to the nations preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, making disciples and establishing new churches.
I thank God for all the mission activity that takes place in First Presbyterian Church. The Lord’s goal is that every member of this great church becomes a missionary and that includes you.  We are all called to participate in local missions (i.e., Buchanan and Gardere schools), regional missions (i.e., Hurricane Laura recovery in Lake Charles) and global missions (i.e., short-term missions in Lebanon, Romania and Colombia).
Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Christ’s command here is spoken to every one of us with no exceptions. Everyone is not called to go physically. Please be assured God is looking for volunteers. We are to be about the work of praying for the harvest and God is touching people everywhere because of our faithfulness to pray. One example of this is the family of Jena and Kevin Smith who are being called to serve in Lebanon with World Outreach of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
When you know God’s heart, you won’t be able to restrain yourself from the gospel mission. You’ll find yourself concerned for the needy in your neighborhood (i.e., Open Air Ministry with Pastor Moore). The nearer you are to Jesus, the more you’ll reflect his compassion for all creation. Our missions conference was a month ago and we were blessed to hear how God called Katherine and Brian Miller to Colombia and Ashley and MacGregor Magruder to Africa a decade ago to serve Jesus Christ.
Are you resisting a call? It’s never too late to sign up to go to the nations or to the hurricane ravaged city of Lake Charles. Every Wednesday and Saturday, a group of believers meets at 6.30 am to serve Lake Charles. If you’re open to being sent out and you’re diligent in prayer about it, God will open every door. He will place you exactly where he wants you to serve. Then you will find your life being fulfilled as never before.
Posted in: Missions

But God . . .

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. But what does Jonah do? Does he respond, “Yep, I’m going that way!” No, in fact, he goes to Joppa where he hopes to catch a ship going to Tarshish instead of going inland to preach the gospel. Scripture says, “He is fleeing from the presence of God.”
Have you ever heard God calling you to do something but you hesitated? The world will always have a ship ready to take you anywhere you want to go. Jonah was doomed in his disobedience and you always have to pay in full to ride a ship of the world. It costs a lot to not do the will of God. Jonah was disciplined for his disobedience, yet we still have a tendency to think that we can run away from God. God’s Word tells us that we cannot hide. God is calling you and me on a journey. There is a journey that leads to Nineveh and a journey that leads to Tarshish. In what direction are you headed? Are you going toward the presence of the Lord or are you going to make an excuse, “But God . . . ”   
This fall, we have the opportunity to serve the Lord here in Baton Rouge at Gardere Community Christian School as a mentor with Kid’s Hope or at Buchanan School as a Reading Buddy. The list is endless how we can serve the Lord. Just do it! 
Buchanan Volunteer Coordinator: Laura Shaw
Kids Hope USA Director: Annette Lamond
Posted in: Missions

Presents or Presence?

Parenting is one tough job and not for sissies or the fainthearted. Giving birth is a snap compared to parenting and being the biological male sire is by no means the same as being the parenting father. It is kind of like the fact that weddings do not necessarily result in marriages, if you get my drift.
The world doesn’t honor parenting. It never has, and a lot of lip service is given but like the saying goes, “words are cheap.” The world has pulled mother out of the home under the guise of liberating her to equal status with men. By what standard are we measuring this worth? The world’s standard? Money? As for men, they have never been encouraged by the world to put as much energy into parenting as they do their labor for the almighty dollar.
Parenting takes more time than money. It is really true. Just look at the number of boarding schools and children’s homes that have been built for the purpose of kids being put aside while parents pursue their careers. If you ask children what they desire, their answer will be, "To be at home with their family." Toys and entertainment (i.e., Play Stations) don’t make up for the longing for home in their hearts that shows in their eyes.
Children want presence not presents. Oh, we have taught them well; that like us, they are supposed to like presents. It is the material way. The American way. But I’m not sure it is God’s way. Please don’t get me wrong. We do have to live in this world and we do have to have real material bread for the journey. The economic status of many single mothers and couples dictates that both work. But even if that is the case, the economic necessity doesn’t reduce the missed time of presence for both parent and child.
What is the answer? I’m not sure, but this much I know: children need parents present as much as possible. That means not just in their rooms but also paying attention and participating in their world. Quality time is vital and there needs to be a lot of quality time or else there will be no parenting going on. Take time to reflect for a moment on how we adults long for God’s presence. And guess what? He shows up! 
The Gift of Presence
How can you give the gifts of presence to your family? One step at a time. The following suggestions will help you get started:
  1. When you come home, give yourself thirty minutes, if possible, to unwind and change gears before you enter into the family dynamics. (Maybe you can do this in the car on the way home or maybe each parent can give the other thirty minutes of alone time before everyone comes together).
  2. When you enter the family, give each child thirty minutes of your undivided attention. Children want to know that that you are present and interested. At the end of that time, they will have had enough of you and will go off to play on their own. (However, if you come in, listen with one ear, watch TV or read the paper with both eyes and just say “uh huh” a lot, they will pester you all night to try to get you to really notice them).
  3. Plan family time and possibly a family meeting each week. Family time is a time when everybody plays or talks and listens together. Family meeting is when everyone gets to put their two cents worth in, knowing it will be heard and considered, even if not acted on every time.
  4. Have a “date” with each child at least once a month.  Mom and Dad can each do this. (When my boys were young, I took them to breakfast on Wednesday (Patrick) and Friday (Andrew) mornings before school: we had 100/breakfasts per year x 10 years). 
  5. Praise your children for who they are --- their humor, their smile, their ability to think, their insights, their gifts and talents. You cannot bless a child’s being too much.
  6. Correct their doing and don’t attack their person.
  7. Let siblings work out their differences whenever possible. They don’t need to get you in the middle.  They are better arbitrators than we give them credit for sometimes.
  8. Love your spouse! Stand together! Discuss your differences in a private space away from the children and then come out as a united front. Don’t let the children split you up.
  9. Take some time for yourself. You cannot give all the time and not run out of juice. Batteries run down, and you will too.
  10. Take time to be a couple, if you are not a single parent. Make some memories together. One day, the children will be gone and don’t live through them.
  11. Be present. Be present. Be present as much as possible. Children just need to know you are there and that they can get to you when they really need you.
  12. Sometimes when the culture is cheering us all on to our death beds (both culturally and individually), we just have to listen to the still, small voice of God inside us. Get still and listen. I believe God will let you know a lot better how to do this parenting thing than the world would lead you to believe. But remember: to hear God will take the same thing it takes to be present – presence! Be present please, Mom and Dad. And God says, “Be present please, children; I want to enjoy my children, too.” 

Prayerful Listening

At a Young Life Staff retreat at Windy Gap in 1991, Henri Nouwen asked, “What is it like for you to be in the presence of God? What images come to mind?” Almost immediately, the answer came from deep within me. It’s like visiting my grandmother. Every Saturday from age eight till 18, I would take three buses across the city to clean her home and enjoy a Saturday lunch that was incredible. My grandmother desired spending time with me, and I loved the adventure to get to her home. After cleaning her home and having an amazing lunch, we would visit with one another, sitting in the quiet of her home playing a few games of “crazy eights or canasta.” I would speak about my life and ask her about hers. Grandma listened and I listened. There were times of silence, and there was no sense of hurry, except she wanted me on the bus by 4.30 to begin the trek home to uptown Nola.  
Even when I got busy with other things and came less often, Grandma didn’t scold me for not coming sooner. She always greeted me as though I was the best part of her week. I don’t recall her telling me she loved me or that she was praying for me, though there was no doubt that both were true. She gave me an image of God that was accepting and loving and spacious. She helped to listen my soul into being, and she pursued my heart since I was born.  Grandma Thelma was my only living grandparent when I was born, and we remained very close until her death on November 15, 1989 (the same day our son Andrew came into our lives). The irony of this gift was that the Lord Jesus was in charge of the timing.
Perhaps Grandma guided my vocational life without ever speaking of it or planning it. Maybe she had a desire I would become a priest or pastor, but grandma helped to prepare me by which my spiritual life has been nurtured.  Throughout my adult life through listening and talking in small groups of people, I have been seeking to deepen my life in God. These small groups have often been formed through the church and youth ministry, and became known as breakfast clubs with young men and adults. Since 1976, it has been a joy to listen to God and to others, and this has been a precious gift. It is called prayerful listening. 
Henri Nouwen on this Young Life staff retreat shared of the healing that is available in prayerful listening. “Healing means, first of all, the creation of an empty but friendly space where those who suffer can tell their story to someone who can listen with real attention. Healers are hosts who patiently and carefully listen to the story. Our most important question as healers is not, ‘What to say or to do?’ but, ‘How to develop enough inner space where the story can be received?’ Healing is the humble but also very demanding task of creating and offering a friendly empty space where strangers can reflect without fear, and find the confidence that makes them look for new ways right in the center of their confusion” (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, p. 67-68). 
My grandmother, in her own limited situation, without knowing the larger impact of her faithfulness, pointed me to God, who is always ready to listen, to heal, to love and to invite us into deeper places. Without a doubt, grandma was prayerfully listening to every word that I shared and our Heavenly Father does the same.

Living Dangerously Tired

Henri Nouwen, author of 39 books on the spiritual life, shares, “We aren’t rest-filled people who occasionally become restless: we’re restless people who sometimes find rest.”
Over the past four years, I've learned to identify and name my dangerous levels of exhaustion, and the choice to begin attending Transforming Community Retreats in Chicago has begun to slowly replenish my heart and soul. Two years into these transforming retreats, my Aunt Helen had a stroke and died soon thereafter in May 2017. During that month, I traveled to be with her on ten occasions sitting and praying before she went home to Jesus. While caring for my family and others that month, I did not realize I was on the brink of disaster. On the morning of May 31, 2017, I was driving to New Orleans one more time, to prepare and counsel three couples for marriage and fell asleep at the wheel of my automobile for a moment. The rest is history.
“There are at least two kinds of tired we might experience—good tired and dangerous tired. The differences between the two are important because the remedy for each one is different. Good tired is the poured out feeling we experience after a job well done or an unusually intense season of activity. Remedies for that include a good night’s sleep, our normal Sabbath, a weekend off, or even a vacation. But the condition of being dangerously tired is not simply the result of an intense run of activity or even a crisis, as demanding as these may be. Dangerous levels of exhaustion usually accumulate over a longer period of time in which we are consistently living beyond human limits, functioning outside our giftedness, or not paying attention to the sources of our exhaustion.” Invitation to Retreat: the Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton, p 24.
When we are dangerously tired, we are unable to be our best selves. We find it difficult to make wise and discerning decisions. My body began to break down under the stress and strain of doing too much. I have learned that exhaustion from juggling so many balls so much of the time is not going to be touched by shorter times spent in solitude. When I arrive on Transforming Community Retreats every quarter, I am so grateful for rest. I literally fall down onto my bed closing my eyes for as long as possible to renew my strength.
If we are honest, many of us have given up hope that we will ever be rested. My life felt out of control and I chose to walk through it exhausted. I was convinced that being rested was not an option. But God’s invitation to go on retreat four year ago and be in his presence began a deep healing that was greatly needed. If you are struggling with living dangerously tired, please let go of all the striving for productivity and believe that in the resting you are accepting 
Jesus' invitation to all his busy disciples.
Ask yourself, where am I in danger these days? Your answer will give you insight as you quiet yourself in God’s presence and begin to get in touch with your soul.
By Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor for Missions

By God's Grace and Mercy

On May 31, 2017, I was driving to New Orleans to do pre-marital counseling for three couples, but I was driving dangerously tired and did not realize my high level of exhaustion. As I drove about forty miles along Interstate 10, my eyes closed and only because of an angel did I awaken in time to keep from rear-ending an 18-wheeler. My eyes opened in time to slam into the right side of the 18-wheeler. The Lord Jesus allowed me to stay on this earth, but I received multiple breaks on the left side of my body. Through three operations and a day of radiation at OLOL, the Lord quietly began to put my heart and soul back together along with my broken body. I was crushed on the outside but my spirit was destroyed on the inside. I cried out to the Lord daily asking him to please help me through this pain. 
Everything I enjoyed doing for nineteen years at First Presbyterian Church Baton Rouge came to a halt in one second. I was in ICU and did not realize the severity of my injuries for about a week. When I realized that I could not walk or get out of bed, my heart sank lower and lower. Many people came by to say hello and cheer my spirits, but the loss of my freedom to come and go came to an end for a few months. I tried to be calm and cheerful, but this was difficult as I had three plates in my body along with 29 screws. The pain was incredible, and my left leg had no feeling for about three months as nerves began to regenerate after severe injuries to my hip and pelvis. I began to experience anxiety and depression. In all my days of serving the Lord and living life to the fullest, now I had to learn how to receive and rely on hundreds of others to care for my broken body and devastated heart. But God had new plans to bring me back to him in daily quiet times and through the kindness of friends and strangers. God brought my heart back to him as I cried through reading the book of Psalms and doing my best to encourage others in the rehab hospital with me.
Why did I allow myself to be so dangerously tired on May 31, 2017? I am not completely sure of this answer but the month of May was painful as I endured the loss of my 93 year old Aunt Helen as she had a stroke and died a few days later. My heart grieved the loss of this aunt and the influence she had on my entire life. Then the sudden loss of a beautiful friend who went home to the Lord crushed my spirit again. I was feeling pain and exhaustion and did not realize the toll this was taking on my heart and soul. My body was fatigued, and I was not resting properly during a more than active Spring 2017. 
As of May 31 this year, I have learned how to exercise with perseverance as I continue to go to the medical wellness facility three days a week (115 visits and counting). I have chosen to care for my body with a determination unlike any time in my life so one day I will be able to enjoy biking, hiking, and hopefully, snow skiing. I have also chosen to care for my soul in ways that I have never done before. I have read and reread Sacred Rhythms and am applying these spiritual disciplines in my daily life. I have attempted and failed in the past to do this, but God has given me another opportunity to grow closer to him. My one year anniversary of being renewed, refreshed and encouraged to move at a slower pace has allowed me to begin healing from the inside out. My prayer for the remainder of my life is to seek his face and pray without ceasing before choosing to move forward in any and all activities. 
My family has been a tremendous blessing, and hundreds of friends continue to encourage and be cheerleaders for a full recovery. Your kind words to our family have made all the difference in my healing, and we are thankful for every visit, phone call, email, card, meal, and hug given. We have felt the body of Christ surround us with love and compassion. We love each one of you deeply!


What Is Gratitude?

On May 31, my life changed forever . . . in an instant. Driving to New Orleans to prepare three couples for marriage, I dozed for a moment and an angel of the Lord woke me to see the back of an 18-wheeler within inches of my car. I pulled the steering wheel to the right and prayed instantly, “Dear God, please help me,” and he immediately did. God spared my life and I would begin to receive his gracious blessings.
I crashed into the right side of the truck, peeling the left side of my car, while breaking several bones in my shoulder, hip, pelvis and knee. Within minutes after the car came to rest in the grass on the side of the interstate, a Good Samaritan pulled me gently from the wrecked vehicle and an ambulance took me to a hospital in Baton Rouge.
For the next 20 weeks, my family was reminded of the goodness of gratitude. We have been prayed for by thousands of people, many of whom we have never met. My recovery has been because of the prayers of the saints from all over the world. We have recognized that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. The Good Samaritan, people who stopped to help move my body from the wrecked vehicle, doctors, nurses, radiologists, numerous physical and occupational therapists, hundreds of friends who stopped by the hospital, a band of brothers who stayed with me for forty nights in the hospital (you know who you are), and hundreds of meals, cards and texts kept us from sinking into despair. We are deeply thankful for the acts of love given to our family.
Our family sees this time as an emotional relationship strengthening opportunity because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. Many of our family and friends came to assist Phyllis immediately after the accident. This emotional support was key to our stability and welfare during the trauma of the first few hours.
As the outpouring of love and gifts overwhelmed us, I wondered why we received such an outpouring. I read his word often and realized the Lord’s people are generous and keep giving because of their deep abiding relationship with Jesus. One of our closest friends whispered to me, “Everyone loves your family and wants to support you in this difficult moment.”
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season, may we practice being gracious to our friends and especially our families. Gratitude brings us happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and is good for our bodies. Grateful people sleep better and if you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep. Gratitude strengthens relationships and I believe it promotes forgiveness. The past five months have taught me so much about being gracious and thankful for every person in my life. 
My favorite Scripture is Ephesians 3: 20: “Now to him who is able do abundantly more than we can ever begin to ask or imagine through the power at work in us.” God has worked through so many. My family is thankful for the awe-inspiring gratitude received in the past few months.

Medical Mission Trip to Lebanon

Don Elliot (FPC Corinth, MS) and I have been to Lebanon three times in the past 18 months. Each trip builds on the previous with the 2016 medical mission trip being no exception. It was most encouraging to see the Lord working through the efforts and prayers of this year's team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, organizers and prayer warriors. The Lord is doing amazing things in the Middle East right now and we were privileged to be a small part of it. 
Engage 2025 is a small part of what God is doing in the Middle East right now. Engage 2025 is a committment of the EPC -  the Gulf South Presbytery and Central South Presbytery  in particular - to reach the Muslim refugees in Lebanon and beyond: maybe into Syria one day as well. Reflecting on how the Lord worked before, during and after the trip fills me with thanksgiving.
Before the Trip
The commitment of Rebecca and Nour (FPC mission partners living in Lebanon) is remarkable (last name purposely omitted). Humanly speaking, the trip could not have happened without their preparation, faithfulness and oversight. They are gracefully responding to their call as leaders of the first ever Engage 2025 Field Team. 
Putting together the team was a major prayer focus. We saw the Lord do new things as many team members were called from beyond the Central South and Gulf South Presbyteries.
The fundraising again was remarkable. Approximately $22,000 was donated by churches and individuals in CSP and GSP. God provided for us through his people.
During the Trip
The evening team meetings were great times of worship, sharing, prayer and preparation for the next day of clinicals. It was obvious the team members made the effort to come together. 
It was obvious that God was at work. The doctors were all remarkable and humble in their practice.
The Resurrection Church outreach on Thursday became the Lord's surprise of the week for the team. The Egyptian translators, the staff and the neighborhood were all encouraging gifts to us. We learned that the Resurrection Church is a vibrant church that the Lord is using to reach many refugees with the gospel.
The Philemon Project was the most distinctive clinic of the week. The project is a Christian day care ministry to children of refugees, migrants and poor Lebanese. Its 75 preschool students gave the team a change of pace, sitting on the floor and loving on the children. 
After the Trip
Amanda and Nick (last name purposely omitted) with their children, will be joining Rebecca and Nour to be the initial field team in the Engage 2025 vision. Their mission will be working with Syrian refugees in discipleship and church planting. 
Will there be another trip in 2017? Pray about this. We are committed to work closely with these families. 

Belonging to God Is the Truest Thing About You

God has been working deep in my heart and soul over the past 100 days during a sabbatical, a Romania Mission Trip, Fuller graduation, General Assembly and the Transforming Community Retreat.

This quote from Wilderness Time by Emilie Griffin describes part of my journey: “Times come when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.” The past few months have been healing for my soul as I reflected on Jesus’ words to Bartimaeus in Mark 10: 51: “What do you want me to do for you?” My desire is to be in God’s presence but this has been difficult over the past year. The German theologian Meister Eckhart puts it this way: “The reason we do not see God is the faintness of our desire.”

Normally shying from emotion, I have learned that it is important to let yourself feel how deep your desire goes. Desire is the fuel that drives the spiritual journey. Bartimaeus was able to cry out and throw off his cloak, get up and follow Jesus. Similarly, Jesus has invited me in during the sabbatical to help heal my heart and soul. When was the last time I felt a longing for God and a desire to awaken my soul?

God does heal us, and I have felt this process beginning. The safest thing is to be open with Jesus. I have asked myself several questions lately: Am I able to feel Christ’s compassion for the part of me that yearns for something I do not yet have? Am I able to be compassionate with myself? Who attempts to silence my desire?

Desire is the truest thing about you — desire to belong, to contribute to God’s kingdom, to live with the people you love and to live well with God. When I am in touch with desire, a myriad of opportunities begin to open up. Questions often come to my heart: What does Christ want to show me about myself if I am really honest about my desires? What parts of my desire seem to come from my ego-self or from my true self? Is there something Christ is inviting me to do in order to live out my heart’s desire? What aspects of my desires are something only Christ can accomplish? And am I really willing to keep owning my desire in Christ’s presence if I can trust in his timing?
These are questions I will continue to bring before God. Spiritual transformation is a process that only Christ can accomplish in us for the sake of others. God is the only one who can transform my heart and soul. I am learning what it truly means to be still and know who God is in my heart and soul (Psalm 46: 10). This spiritual transformation journey is for the rest of my life.

Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor of City Ministry