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It's All in the Hunt

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As Thanksgiving Day comes and goes it has ushered in the beginning of the Holiday season. This season is marked by traditions, friends and family, parties, great food, and the giving of gifts. Today, specifically, officially begins the holiday “shopping” season. We have all been blitzed by the ads highlighting the latest and greatest “Black Friday” deals and many of us are mapping out the route to take to get those deals. But in the middle of this exciting beginning to the holiday shopping weekend, we are left with a predicament. We are challenged with the idea of generosity in this time of consumerism.

The importance of this idea is understanding that the Holiday season is much more than listed above. This time of year gives each individual the unique opportunity to think about another before they think about themselves. A person wouldn’t buy a Christmas gift for themselves. The excitement of gift giving is the second word of that phrase, giving. God calls each of his people to have a heart of generosity. This is a spirit understanding that the material things we have in this world are not our own, but instead it to is a gift from God. Therefore, out of response to this gift it is our responsibility to seek out opportunities to be generous.  

Generosity is, in itself, countercultural. It is not what you will see on your favorite ad or website, but it can be a meaningful experience for the giver and receiver. Practically speaking, generosity must be a mindset. As an individual take the opportunity to have conversations with your friends or family and listen for the needs they may have. Choose one of those needs that they share and find a way to meet it. It doesn’t have to be financially, but can also involve time, just find a way to meet it. If you have children give them options with their Christmas list and challenge them that every gift they ask for, they also ask for a donation for our local food pantry.

Here at E91, you will hear a lot about this heart of generosity this Holiday season as we dive into our newest series this December. Specifically, the entire month of December you will have the opportunity to join us in our Impact Offering. The first ten percent of this offering will help to support four outreach partners (Ibero Ministries, Shepherd Community Center, Safe Families and Ascent 121) as well as continue to lead us into a season of financial stability as we move into 2017. This is an exciting opportunity to partner with E91 and the community to make a difference with your generosity.

As you head out to find the latest and greatest deals this weekend, we would like to challenge you to think generously. Take an extra opportunity to not only shop for the ones that you love, but of think how your generosity would impact your community. God is going to do an amazing thing this holiday season and we are looking forward to being apart of it all. If you would like more information regarding the Impact Offering or our Christmas series, join us this Sunday at 10:05 for our weekend services at E91 or check out our website www.east91st.org.

Seen through the blindness of dreams

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For 27 years, I chased the perfect life I dreamed of. I did everything I could to actualize my dream of owning a big house with a fenced in yard where my dog could run freely, where friends could visit, where I could be an amazing husband and someday raise a family. I put all my trust and passion into making this life a reality no matter the cost. I believed there was a God, but I was doing everything on my own, so I saw no need for Him in my life or reason to be involved in the church community. I was proud, independent, and stubbornly focused on what I had gained and where I was going.

On a sunny summer day in July, the life I dreamed of that raised me up became the weight that brought me to my knees. With anxiety boiling up from deep in the pit of my stomach, I asked my wife one simple question. After a long, agonizing, silent pause, I hoped that the answer I feared would not leave her mouth -- but almost like ripping off a bandage, my wife confessed that she had been unfaithful. All my anxiety suddenly disappeared, but so did all my emotions and sense of reality. I know now that I was in a state of emotional shock. Soon after, I discovered that for the entirety of our marriage and relationship, she had been like a wolf in a sheep’s skin. Fidelity had never had a chance. No matter how much I tried and was willing to work for our marriage, she was done with being married to me and told me that she never even wanted to be married in the first place. To no success, I tried my best to fight my way out of my emotional shock, save our marriage, and maintain the life I had worked for. It felt like desperately grabbing a handful of earth, only to have it helplessly fall between the cracks of your fingers. It was all too much for me to handle. I was drowning in a pit of devastation and barely surviving each day. I felt hurt, betrayed, abandoned, lost, weak, emasculated, purposeless, useless, desperate, hopeless, and broken.

I knew I needed to find help but could not afford it between a mortgage and high insurance deductibles. I searched online for help and support groups and came across a program called DivorceCare through a church called East 91st Street Christian Church. I decided to try it even though it was through a church, which I thought could be a little weird or feel like I was being preached at. The people were welcoming and friendly. Everyone had felt the pain of divorce or separation, and after hearing everyone's stories, I felt like I could be understood and safely talk about what I was experiencing. The meetings did help me for at least one day out of each week. Still, I felt separated from the world and my community for a long time. Then my friend Wilson passed away in a sudden car accident, and this began to pull me from my emotional shock. I was experiencing deep grief and unable to process it with anyone. A leader in DivorceCare told me about a service offered through E91 called Crucible Counseling where the cost would be based on my financial situation. Counseling eventually became a place where I could peel away at the walls and begin to trust someone with my thoughts and emotions. It was a long process of taking two steps forwards and one step back, but eventually, I was able to express my suppressed emotions comfortably and make progress through the many stages of grief. With all the grief, every day and night was filled with processing the losses, including the loss of personal confidence. When I am overwhelmed by an internal struggle, I have interpretive dreams where I confront the issue that is bothering me deep down. This is a coping mechanism I developed in my brokenness to internally express emotions and bring struggles to light. One night after I felt like I had barely made it through the day, I had one of these dreams. I was worn out emotionally and physically and was sitting with my head down at a long wooden table in the forest, awaiting a meal. A child appeared out of nowhere and sat next to me at the table and we talked: “Are you going to be okay?” he asked. “I don’t know if I can make it,” I answered. "Just take it one day at a time,” he replied with a smile.

This dream was the most vividly that I have ever experienced the presence of God, and it came when I needed it most. Taking one day at a time was what allowed me to accept, move through, and then move past all the personal challenges I faced.

The next Sunday, I decided to give a church a chance. I nervously walked into East 91st Street Christian Church and sat in the back row while I waited for the service to start. A woman named Carmen introduced herself and asked me how I found the church. After realizing I was new and a bit shy, she introduced me to Zach, who took me under his wing, introduced me to so many people and got me plugged into a life group that met near me. The life group was a place where I would slowly open up and trust in people. It was a place where I learned about Christ and where no question was too silly because everyone genuinely cared and wanted to help me take next steps with Jesus. I learned a lot about the Bible, but also about community and its role in growing one’s faith. What once felt like the end of my cold and empty story was really just the cavity that God intended to fill with His grace and redemption. A little less than a year after I first came to the church, I stood before the congregation and Zach baptized me. A couple weeks later I found myself on a mission trip in Kenya. My heart grew so much bigger there, and my faith was inspired by seeing the Kenyan people’s faith lived out on a daily basis. I learned about my strengths and weaknesses and will continue to utilize those to glorify God. The dream that I was blinded by was not the same dream that God had planned for me. God has fulfilled a new dream for me by giving me hope, redemption, and love.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

-Jeremiah 29:11

( If you are walking the hard road of separation or divorce consider coming to a DivorceCare group meeting starting up again on Tuesday evenings August 23rd from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. - For more information contact Natalie Hubartt. )