Banging on a Trash Can for Jesus

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Eccl. 9:10.

Ali Gilkeson of Rend Collective Experiment // Photo by Robin McCoy

Ali Gilkeson, Rend Collective Experiment Photo by Robin McCoy

I saw the band Rend Collective Experiment in concert a while back. If you’ve never heard of Rend Collective — as I hadn’t before this night — they’re an Irish Christian band that’s heavy on the use of percussion and strings and other unique instruments.

Unique instruments like, oh, I don’t know  … a metal trash can.

I was far enough back that I couldn’t see at first exactly what the girl (Ali Gilkeson) pictured above was doing. I’d see a ribbon go flying up and then hear a “boom.”

I said to the person next to me, “Is she banging on a trash can?”

Yes, yes she was.

It was beautiful in a way I can’t describe, but I’m gonna try.

Banging on the can itself was not the beautiful thing, nor really what it added to the music, although it added something to be sure. What was beautiful to me was this: this girl was using whatsoever her hand was doing — even making music with, of all things, a metal cylinder made to hold garbage — to the glory of God.

Colossians 3: 16 & 17 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus ….”

Some may be skeptical or critical of using a trash can in praise to God, but I think beautiful also is the word picture this affords us.

If a cold metal cylinder intended to hold the nasty waste of our world can be used to bring glory to God and encouragement to others how much more can He use us? Sometimes we may feel as nasty as a trash can — I have felt that way — but when put to use for Him, even a trash receptacle is beautiful.

It’s the same with us. When put to use for Him, we become more beautiful too because He redeems — gives value — to us and our trash.

I don’t make music with trash cans, although I’d love to. If the music director puts out the call for a trash can player for our church band, I’m on it. The “whatsoever I do” are things like write, volunteer, knit, read …. I try to write as unto the Lord and He gives it value. Knit as unto the Lord, volunteer as unto the Lord … you get the idea.

Say “yes,” do it as unto Him, and He will give it value.

Struggling to Surrender

My high school Latin teacher Mrs. O’brien used to stand at the front of the classroom and read a devotional each day before class. (Note: I attended a Christian high school.) Her favorite was a devotion called “Let Go, Let God.”

She was sincere and at times seemed to be pleading with us to grasp the concept of letting go and letting God.

I didn’t get it.

I still don’t, not completely at least.

As a teen, I didn’t even know what she meant. It seemed like the sentence was missing something. Let go of what? Let God what?

Now, I at least get that I’m to let go of my life, my wants, my selfishness, my _____ and my ______ and my ______. Let go of the word “my” even. And I’m to let God handle it.

But finally getting that what Mrs. O’brien was trying to teach us was surrender doesn’t mean I have any clue how to actually successfully do it.

Years ago a Bible study teacher talked about taking all of our mess, our sins, our worries, our everything and laying at Christ’s feet. That’s part of surrender. But  as this teacher pointed out, what a lot of us do is pick it all back up and keep carrying it around with us. That what’s I do, apparently.

I’m struggling right now with surrender, with truly surrendering my preferences, my expectations and my wants into God’s hands to do as He pleases. I want Him to do what I want Him to do and I want to help him do it. He doesn’t need my help, and really anything I do outside of what He tells me just gets in the way and messes things up even more.

I often come up with things I can “do” or “say” to help God do what I want. I’m a fixer; I want to fix it rather than wait for it be fixed. And I’m constantly feeling his Spirit tell me “no,” “wait” “let me handle it.” When I don’t listen, things get all squirrelly and I find myself thinking shoulda listened, shoulda waited, shoulda, shoulda, shoulda ….

Surrender is hard, thus why I’m struggling with it.

It sounds so simple, summed up in four short words — Let Go, Let God — and it’s a good thing when I make the choice to do it and stick with it. So why then is it no easy to do.

In the Civil War, at the Battle for Fort Pulaski, Confederate Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, surrendered the fort to the Northern troops in the interest of saving the fort and saving the lives of himself and his men. He had the wisdom and intellect to know he couldn’t win and to know that a loss would be more devastating than a surrender. What he gained with surrender was greater than what he would lose if he didn’t.

Now if only I can put that consistently into practice in my own life.

I’m trying. I’m struggling, but I’m trying.

Good Friday

For Good Friday, the boys and I hiked to the large across on Monte Sano Mountain.

It wasn’t much of a hike. The trail is paved pretty much the whole way, and it only took about 30 minutes to get from the start of the trail to the cross. The point was to discover this unique icon in our city and to experience being at the foot of the cross on the day on which we remember Jesus’ death.

I’m so thankful I can look at the cross and be humbled by the death that occurred there but then also see it as a symbol of hope and victory and grace. Let us not forget either of those this Easter season.






Rightly Renewed

I experienced a miracle this past weekend.

I had a bad attitude about receiving John’s Navy commendation, and I had wrestled with my attitude for the whole week leading up to it. The Navy was a point of conflict for us, and I was not as supportive as I should’ve been. I often felt like the Navy took him away from me, so to now be asked to receive an award for an activity that I felt had come between us was not something I wanted to do.

After wrestling with my bad attitude for a few days prior, I woke up the morning of the ceremony and prayed Psalm 51:10, particularly the second part:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

It wasn’t immediate, I believe because I wasn’t totally willing yet to let go of my bad attitude. I wanted it gone but was still hanging on to it too. Whenever I felt it creeping up I would just say that second portion again — renew a right spirit in me.

By the time the awards ceremony was to begin, I felt some better. I was still just a little bit conflicted but much improved attitude over where I’d been.

The miracle came when, later that day, I wanted to take the award and accompanying ribbon to show members of my family who couldn’t be at the ceremony. And then the next morning I wanted to take it to church and show friends in our small group. I wanted to blog about it. I had the thought that I should take pictures of the medal and certificate and type up the inscription and mail to several of John’s colleagues who would be interested to know. I recognized these things immediately as God doing just what I had asked of Him — He was giving me that right spirit and actually inciting in me extreme pride!

I shouldn’t be surprised, really. I had faith He was going to do it. I just didn’t know what Him doing it would look like. I didn’t imagine Him filling me with overflowing pride but that’s just what He did. I know that I know that I know it was God doing it because there is no way I was going to get there on my own.

“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13

Make It Go Away


Several years ago I was struggling, and I just wanted it to go away. I was mad that this was happening to me and mad at my role in it.

I remember going for a walk/jog early one morning while John and the boys were still asleep. I talked to God during my walks, a.k.a. prayed, and at the point in my walk where I was furthest from my house I broke down crying. I’d been praying “God, please help me X” and “God, will you just X” and I just became exhausted wanting God to fix this. Certainly some of you out there have been there.

In my frustration and exhaustion and exasperation I broke down in tears and I cried out in my spirit,” GOD! Make it go away!”

And He said, “No.”

He wasn’t mean. He was calm and loving, but He said no, and I just cried even more. He said no, that I was stay where I was resist, I was to stand up and stand firm and grow stronger. It’s not going to go away, you’re gonna have to deal with it.

Argh, that’s not what I wanted to hear or not what I wanted to do.

Fast forward three years. I was walking last night, in the cool of the day, and once again expressing frustration to God over situations and wanting to know what to do and wanting to feel better … and I just reached the same point again. “God,” I cried out in my heart, “make it go away!”

I heard crickets chirping, both literally because it was evening but also on the line between me and God. He doesn’t need to say anything else. I am like the child who has been told multiple times to go put their shoes on or to brush their teeth but has yet to do it. If you’re a parent, certainly you’ve said to your kids, “I’m not gonna tell you again, I’ve already told you X-number of times, now just go do what I told you to do.”

A word from my reading this morning in Lord, Heal My Hurts: A Devotional Study on God’s Care and Deliverance:

“Living in unwavering obedience to truth, no matter how you feel, is the key to victory over any problem. Mental assent is not enough, you must do what God says you are to do.”

What is it about obedience that is so hard? I learn a lot about God and my relationship with Him from my parenting relationship with my sons. Finn doesn’t like to brush his teeth, and he starts crying at the mere mention of it. He tries to find shortcuts to not have to brush his teeth, and everything he tries just ends up making it take longer. There’s a spiritual lesson there, to be sure, that disobedience and shortcuts only make it take even longer.

I get frustrated with Finn over this issue and I scream inside, “Why doesn’t he just do it and get it done?”

Do you think God ever thinks that of us? Why doesn’t she just do it already?

Finn doesn’t “just do it” with brushing his teeth because he finds it unpleasant. The brushing, the taste of the paste, the water — he doesn’t like any of it.

He also doesn’t want to sacrifice the time away from something else, especially to do something He finds unpleasant. He doesn’t see value in brushing his teeth, even though I tell him about germs and bad breath and cavities, etc. He also probably doesn’t believe me when I say his teeth might develop severe problems or fall out.

Are those not the same reasons we try to use with God when we don’t want to obey? We sometimes find obeying God unpleasant. We don’t to sacrifice our time or our wants, especially if it’s unpleasant. Maybe we don’t see the value in it, but God does. Or maybe we don’t believe God when He says something is for our best, even when we can’t see it.

I woke up the other morning singing the chorus of the hymn Trust and Obey:

Trust and Obey
for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus
than to trust and obey

You’ll be I’ll be miserable without those two things — trust and obedience.


To Caesar what is Caesar’s, to God what is God’s

My co-worker and fellow blogger shared this article with me in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. This week’s topic is tithing.

I’m putting this topic on hold for now. It’s a topic I’m exploring personally aside from this re-thinking project, and I’m not quite where I need to be with it to formulate my thoughts much less write about them here. But I will, before the year is out.

The above was published May 7, 2010. Updated Sept. 29, 2011.

Well, I didn’t write about tithe thoughts by the end of 2010, but at least I made it by the end of 2011.

There is more than one way to look at tithing. Some look at it as an Old Testament command that is no longer required or necessary after Jesus came. Tithing is not mentioned in the New Testament yet giving is. And then there’s the traditionalists that believe in the 10 percent tithe, and some combine the tithing + giving ideals and go with God expects 10 percent but cheerful giving is giving above and beyond that.

My current beliefs are not based any one or two verses or on others’ beliefs or theories. My beliefs are not even based on what my parents taught me, which was that for every $10 of allowance I got $1 went to church. My belief is based on what I have experienced Scripture and the Holy Spirit revealing to me personally.

Around the time of this original post, in May 2010, John and I had recently started giving to church again. We had been lax about it for years. When we lived in Indiana we were faithful tithers, calculating 10 percent to the penny and then rounding up to the next closest $5 or $10, and that small “excess” was our giving.

When we moved back to Huntsville, after Finn as born in 2003, neither one of us was working for some time. No money in meant no money to tithe on. We didn’t just “give” either. Slowly we found jobs — low-paying jobs for what we were accustomed to — and now we had a baby. So it became easy to not give, sometimes not at all and definitely not 10 percent. It occasionally bugged John, and he would say “we need to start giving again” and we might give a little for a week or two or three — never back up to 10 percent but a $50 check here or there — but never consistently. Something always came up right? An unexpected bill, too much spending, etc. We didn’t trust God to take care of us. We didn’t acknowledge our lack of trust but that’s what it really comes down to.

In April 2010, I finished our income tax forms, and instead of getting a refund like we had every other year we were going to have to pay. We were going to have to pay thousands. The IRS listed suggestions for how to not have to pay in the future, one of which was to increase charitable donations. We calculated that if we gave even just $100 a week — $5200 a year — it would put us into a lower tax bracket, so that’s what we committed to. It wasn’t 10 percent. Being transparently honest — we didn’t trust God enough to give Him that much of “our” money — it’s all His to begin with right? — and we selfishly wanted our money for us. It wasn’t for the right reasons. But, we justified, it was a start.

So each week I wrote $100 a week check to the church. Two months later, when John died, I kept writing that $100 a week check. My income was now greatly, greatly reduced. $100 a week was more than the 10 percent tithe on my current income, and I had a small laugh inside when I realized — God gets his 10 percent one way or the other. We weren’t willing to give 10 percent. We were willing to give $100. So He changed our/my income to match what we/I were willing to give. Now of course I wanted to back off $100 and tithe just the 10 percent but I stuck with the $100 … for a while.

When I left my job back in April, not working and thus having no earned income made it all too easy to stop giving altogether.

So lately I’ve been wondering and praying over what God would want me to give now, in this current season. I am not working and thus not bringing money in. Do I tithe on what non-working money comes in? Those provisions are gifts from Him, so I should at least be giving back some to Him, which is the spirit of tithing and giving anyhow.

Then God sent me to the passage in Luke 21 about the widow’s mite.

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

I am not poor or poverty. God has blessed. But I used to be the one giving out of wealth, giving out of excess, giving what I didn’t even miss. If the amount got high enough that I might actually miss the money and feel the impact, that was too much. But what good is giving if you don’t even notice. The reason John and I never got back up to 10 percent is because when we calculated it, it was too much; it was more than we wanted to give up. Again, being honest, $100 was some week’s less than we spent eating out. Had we given 10 percent, we would’ve had to live differently, we would’ve have had to sacrifice (possibly sacrifice all that eating out), and we chose that was too high a price.

I don’t want to choose this life and forfeit my soul any longer (Matt. 16:26). I pray I never again not give to God, who so generously gives to us.

Origins of the Universe

In 2010, I started my “Refresh” project, inspired by an article in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. I finished most of those but got derailed towards the end of the project. I have just a few more to go and want to see it through. So, this week’s topic is origins of the universe.

Hubble Deep Field, deepest-ever image of the Universe Credit:NASA

Everything I need to know about the origins of the universe is in the book of Genesis.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. — Genesis 1:1

Was there a Big Bang? I don’t know, but if there was God caused it. Did animals evolve? I don’t believe they did in the traditional sense of the evolution theory, but each day God’s creation of animals evolved into more and more complex creatures until the apex of creation — man.

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  — Genesis 2:7

Scripture does not say “and the LORD God caused monkeys or apes to become men.” It says He formed man from dust and breathed into his body and man became alive. That’s as far away from evolution as you can get, I think.

I find all the scientific knowledge we have now though very interesting, and time after time science proves Scripture.

In the book Dr. Space (review) is a quote by Werner von Braun from a presentation about the compatibility of science and faith:

“The universe revealed through scientific inquiry is the living witness that God has indeed been at work. Understanding the nature of the creation provides a substantive basis for the faith by which we attempt to know the nature of the Creator.”