My Story of Hope

The reason I started this blog was to tell you how God has been moving in my life ever since the day I was born.  That story can be found under the “My Story” category. I invite you to join me in my 9-part story by starting there.  Please feel free to leave any comments about your story as well.

Dying Words Are Not Wasted

Remembering the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday makes the reality of his resurrection even sweeter on Easter Sunday. As Pastor Chris Icenogle of Brookdale Covenant Church reminded us tonight: If it is true that “truth sits on the lips of dying men” (Matthew Arnold), then how much more significant are the last words of Jesus.

From the cross, Jesus said:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus leaves us with words of mercy and compassion.

“Woman, here is your son. Son, here is your mother.” Even up until the end, Jesus could be trusted to take care of his mother, which means He can be trusted to take care of us.

“Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus again gives the promise of eternal life.

“My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” This is the moment when Jesus, who was sinless, expresses his agony in that he became sin for us.

“I am thirsty.” God, in Jesus Christ, was fully human. This reminds us that he knows what it means to be thirsty and to feel pain. Therefore, he can have compassion towards us.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Even Jesus, being God in flesh, prays during his final hours. What a great reminder for us to remember the significance of prayer.

“It is finished.” Jesus wasn’t proclaiming defeat but triumph! Sin and death did not win. The resurrection of Christ overcame the power of sin and death!

John 19:26-30
Luke 23:34, 43 and 46
Matthew 27:46

Encouragement Changes Lives

We’ve all heard that kids need someone to look up to. Well, sometimes that’s not enough. They also need encouragement to know that they too are capable of being good, responsible and able to achieve great things.

This isn’t something they can do on their own. Teens especially need someone to believe in them so they can believe in themselves. Someone they do not want to disappoint.

They need someone who values them and expects great things from them. Not all teens have healthy parents to give that to them. I didn’t. I had to learn healthy behaviors through my friends and their families.

In my teen years, I had a family who stepped into my life, believed in me, and encouraged me to learn and grow. They had so much love and compassion in their approach that it bolstered my self-confidence. I did not think I was smart enough to go to college but they kept asking me about it and kept bringing up the subject as though it was an expectation without question. Because I felt it was an unreachable goal, they even suggested the easiest and; thus, most comfortable first step for me – Community College. Once I finally believed it was possible, I registered and was off. I achieved my grades which proved to me that I could do it and in turn kept me going until I finally graduated and launched into my career.

Is there a teen in your realm of influence that needs confidence and the courage to make good choices? Someone you can believe in so much that they don’t want to let you down? It doesn’t have to be complicated, you don’t need all the answers. and you don’t have to have special giftedness. Open your heart and show them unconditional love and give them words of encouragement. You could be helping someone just like me and we will be truly grateful.

Experiencing Joy and Freedom

Oh how I love those moments of pure joy when I fully understand and can celebrate the forgiveness I have received. If you have ever heard the testimony of someone from Adult and Teen Challenge, you know what I’m talking about. How does someone achieve that kind of joy?

The only times I can feel that type of pure joy is when I fully understand the extent of what I have been forgiven. In other words, when I am honest with myself and acknowledge that what I did is wrong and that I need forgiveness. If I don’t admit that what I’ve done, or thought, is wrong, then how can there be any appreciation, joy or relief from forgiveness?

We are surrounded by so many accepted bad and inappropriate things that I can talk myself into rationalizing certain thoughts and actions; and thus, hoarding them like little possessions and not fully giving them over to God for forgiveness. It is no wonder then that I don’t always feel the freedom and joy that He intended for me when Christ took those sins and put them on the cross.

So, this is a reminder to myself as much as anyone else to not make excuses for the bad things I say or do, but to acknowledge them so I can move on by letting Christ remove them from me. Then I can be free to forgive myself, experience joy (Galatians 5:20) and try again.

We Can’t Do It All Ourselves

When your hands are completely full because you are trying to take care of everything yourself, you are not able to reach out for God’s help. And when your heart is so weary that you do not have the energy to lift your hands for help, relax and rest in God’s arms.  He will carry you.

I had to do just that this past year as I spent time watching God:

Protecting the heart of a child,

Providing a job for my husband,

Healing friends,

Providing the information and direction I need to lead a healthier life,

Leading and providing for my children as they mature,

Moving us to a place of worship that is helping us grow,

And the special way He lined-up circumstances and repeated messages to give clear direction,

All to teach me more about His Grace.

To my friends and loved ones who are hurting and overwhelmed, please find a way to close down some of the busyness in your life so you can find God’s hand reaching out to you and so you can hear how He is leading you.  Then test what you feel God is telling you against His words in the Bible so you will know if it is truly from Him.  And don’t forget to respond.

Struggling with the Meaning of Lent

Last night was my first Lenten service.  And, yes, the first time I received the ashes on my forehead just like the prophets of old who threw ashes on themselves as a sign of repentance.  While the pastor talked about using Lent to remember the ultimate sacrifice Christ paid for our sins, I wrestled with the tradition that I should give up something (sacrifice something) for Lent as well. As I considered giving up TV, food, my favorite drink, or shopping, I asked myself how much meaning is there in giving those things up. Would the “sacrifice” really make a difference in the way I commemorate this season of preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection on Easter Sunday or would I just get caught up in what I couldn’t do? 

None of the sacrificial options seemed to be enough to make the season more meaningful for me. It felt as though I would be doing it just for tradition’s sake. Then in the quiet moments we had during communion, I realized that although the reason for Lent observance is repentance and sacrificing self-indulgences, God actually prefers obedience over sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). So, the ultimate purpose is to draw closer to God by giving up any of the self-indulgences that have been distracting me from Him. For me, that means I need to give time back to God!  Therefore, there are a lot of self-indulgent distractions in the evenings that I can give up so I can do an in-depth Bible study that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.  It’s amazing now to see how busyness has distracted me from what’s important. 

Hopefully this will also get me back to responding to the promptings God puts on my heart to write these blogs again.

Asking God to speak to us and show us the way is one thing.  Being quiet enough to hear, accept and respond when He does, is another.

Who’s Battle is it Anyway?

When I started working for a Christian organization, I assumed living a spiritual life would be less of a struggle because I would no longer be limited by what I could do or say during the majority of my day.  Like most people, I thought it would make life less stressful.  Little did I realize I would be challenged to be more responsible and proactive about my spiritual growth than ever before. Considering the nature of what we do at KTIS, I realize I need to be accountable to practice what I preach and be able to talk about and understand what I believe.  I have also come to realize that since I have taken this job, satan has tried to make it difficult by distracting and discouraging me with hardships all around me.

I have found myself  in the middle of discussions lately talking about the fact that it seems as though satan steps up his attacks when people do God’s work, speak boldly about their faith or volunteer to serve on His behalf.  That may be true, however, the conversation shouldn’t end there.  I have also been reminded that, although there is an unseen battle raging around me, as a child of God, I am already on the winning side.  Therefore, why should I be afraid?  As I have done all my life, I knew it was time to go to my Bible to define the truth…

God promises to take care of me and hear my prayers as He warns me that I  “will face many trials and sorrow” (John 16:33). That is why He tells me to prepare for and fight against evil with faith, the salvation that comes through Jesus, doing what is right, and to stand on the peace and the truth that are found in His Word  (Ephesians 6:14).

So why do I have to still suffer when I am a child of a loving almighty God? It is not because God rules with an iron fist.  It is to prove my faith (1 Peter 1:7) and build endurance, character and hope (Romans 5:4).

While I have enjoyed serving through the ministry of KTIS and have experienced personal hardships, God has used these times to draw me closer to Him and experience His intervention in my life like never before.

My hardship may not be a hardship to someone else and vise versa. At the same time, the rewards and blessings I receive at the end of those hardships are unique to my growth and experience with God as well. But one thing is true for all of us. God promises that if you follow His lead, He will guard you from evil.  As David said when he killed Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s”!

Experiencing Easter In New Ways

In my job, I meet with people from all denominations and I am learning a lot from their spiritual stories and experiences.  Their stories inspired me  last year to attend Easter services with three different denominational churches.  By doing this, I learned about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in a new and refreshing way. I attended a Catholic Church, my daughter’s Covenant Church and then my own Free Church on Sunday morning. 

Ever since I attended the Catholic school in third and fourth grade (see part 2 of “My Story”), I have been intrigued by the beautiful depictions on the wall of the stations of the cross.  Therefore, I have always wanted to go through a ceremony with the stations of the cross.  I found an opportunity to do that the Friday before Easter last year.  I love the reverence that the Catholic church shows toward God and the opportunity to kneel while I prayed in church.  During the stations of the cross, you pray through the story of the crucifixion.  Because the story was told in a new format, I was able to pick up on details I did not pay attention to in the past.  The experience also inspired me go back to my Bible to look up details; such as, where did Veronica come from in the sixth station of the cross.

That next week, I was sitting at the Covenant church on Good Friday.  They had a cross beam laying on the altar along with two-inch nails that looked like miniature spikes.  At one point in the service, the Pastor sat down and people went up to the altar, picked up the little spikes and started pounding them into the beam.  I was shocked.  Feeling a bit self-righteous I thought “no way!  I am not going to do that.  That would be like crucifying Jesus all over again!”  Just as fast as I reacted with that response, an overwhelming impression came over me and I knew… “but I have already done that!”  I was humbled.  Jesus did not die just because the people of that day crucified Him.  He chose to die because of my sin as well.  Jesus says in Matthew 26:53 that God could have sent down the angels to save Him but He did not because Jesus knew He had to die in order for us to have a way for salvation. What Jesus did on the cross for me became more real in that moment than it had for years.   

God has created so many different people and uses all denominations in which He draws each of us into a relationship with Him.  I am going to step outside my box again this year and my goal is to attend a Maundy Thursday and/or Easter morning sunrise service.  I challenge you to experience the reality of the resurrection in a new way this year as well.

God cares about the little things

Do you ever wonder if God cares about the little things? I have been thinking about this over the last couple weeks because I have had some pretty interesting conversations about God’s Will and prayer.

It is clear that God controls all things but He also tells us over and over again to pray at all times (Ephesians 6:18, Luke 11:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and about everything (Philippians 4:6). My favorite example is the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18. Verse one starts out by saying “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

I love the moments when God becomes real in my life by specifically answering my prayers. Last weekend, I lost the R key from my iPad keyboard when I was in Wisconsin. I vividly remember telling myself to put it in my zippered coin purse so I would not lose it. When I got home, I went to my coin purse to get the key but it was not there. Then I proceeded to look through all the zippers in my purse, suitcase, and toiletry bags. I spent the next couple days trying to figure out how it could have disappeared from a sealed container. Not having the key was a problem because I do all my writing using my iPad

As I thought about what I could do to find the key, it made me wonder “does God care about the little things in my life? Would He answer a prayer about a lost key?” I have prayed and He has helped me find things in the past but I have always taken it for granted. This time, I stopped and made a conscious and deliberate effort to pray. Then I watched to see if God was concerned about my little problem. My prayer was that He would help me find the key in such a way that I would know He was the one that lead me to it. Therefore, every time I had a hunch of some place it could be, I followed through on that hunch. However, I followed through on a couple of those hunches to no avail. Then, Friday morning as I was loading my car to go to work, I made one more deliberate prayer saying “God, reveal the key in some way that doesn’t make sense so I know you answered my prayer.” I finished that prayer just as I was leaning over the driver’s seat and setting down my bags on the passenger side. I saw the rail under the seat and thought “would it be there because it fell out of my purse?” But it wasn’t. Then without moving, I shifted my gaze down just a little further and, to my amazement, there was the black R key sitting in the bottom of the black cup holder! All I could do was stare at it and laugh. I could imagine God got a kick out of it as well. How it got there is beyond me.

I cannot wrap up my thoughts about prayer without quoting the verse that encourages me to pray: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).

It is not that God cares about the little THINGS, He cares about ME and my needs. No matter how big or small. And, He cares about you as well!

A Journey to the Philippines — part 2

SATURDAY
On our fifth day of the trip and after our final morning with the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, we took the Jeepneys into a squatter’s village near the Cebu Central Free Church. We could barely get the Jeepneys into the area because the roads were so narrow.

This was another one of those life changing moments. While they were seting up the pipes, curtains and portable radio for the puppet stage on the hard dry dirt, we took out our toys and games to play with the kids:

Before we could get started with the music and puppets, the Filipino kids gathered together in front of us and treated us to their own performance of song along with synchronized movements. It was beautiful! It turned out that they had learned the song at the Central Free Church.

Since this situation was in an open field and not confined to a fenced-in environment, we were surrounded by mobs of people and hundreds of outreached hands when we passed out the care packages. We gave away anything and everything we could find, including our pens and personal snacks. After everything was gone, they even took the cardboard boxes that once held the care packages.  

SUNDAY
Sunday was so hot that we had a constant stream of sweat pouring down our backs. We were back at the Cebu Free Church to lead Sunday school this time.  Here is Rachael teaching and Jessica showing off one of the crafts:

Angelo was there and was one of the few adults who came down to watch the puppet show with the kids. I noticed that Angelo was watching from the curb across the street when we were saying goodbye to the kids.  It was another one of those heartbreaking memories. It felt as though we were leaving one of our own behind.  Thankfully, however, he had been introduced to many in the church and it was our prayer that he would stay connected with them.

That afternoon we went to an inside Market which would be comparable to an indoor flea market here in the States. We did our best to spend all the money we had while we were there but that took some work considering the fact that pesos were 44.38 to the dollar. It took 7,500 pesos to buy $150 in souvenirs. The seven women that packed up our items and served us were giddy by the time we left. Our favorite souvenir was a hat for Randy made out of frog hides.

This was the evening when Jessica found a small lizard in the tub at the guest house. She thought it was so cute that she tried to pick it up by the tail. However, the lizard shed its tail and left the tail wiggling in her hand. Needless to say, Jessica freaked out.

MONDAY
Monday was our day to go to the beach and rest. The private beach club we went to was clean, had a cement wall around it, and was a sight for sore eyes. I did not understand the purpose of the wall until I was out in the water and looked back to see that there were more squatters on the other side of that wall. It was difficult to stay focused on a day of rest with this reminder just a stones throw away. Here is a picture of the divide.

Our devotions that day were about perseverance and how God works through trials.  We were a little over half-way through the trip and as we reminisced and looked back over the long week, people started missing their families back home.

TUESDAY
We were not sure if we were going to be allowed to teach religion in the school because, in order to do so, all the kids had to bring back their permission slips.  It turned out that they all did.  Therefore, we were allowed to go in to present a 20 minute story to each of the classes. Here we are waiting for their procession and worship of the Virgin Mary before school started.

We tried to use puppets during the first presentation but the class did not pay attention and got a little carried away so we did not use them after that. We quickly learned that the Filipino children have a short attention span and the teachers keep their attention by having the entire class repeat a lot of what they say.

Afterwards, we had to wait in the hot sun for the Jeepney to show up. As with most mission trips, it was one of many times when we had to remember that “no plans and no schedules are set in stone.”

WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY
We spent our last couple days playing with the kids and visiting with the college students. I had brought a couple pocket toys with me on the trip and it was now time to let them float away into a crowd of children to never be seen again. Here they are with one of our favorite…Mr. Potato Head

A few of us walked through the squatter’s village, bought up all the bread from the local baker, and passed it out as we walked along.  There were some very educated people living in those tin and cardboard houses.  We met nurses, teachers and a mechanic.  One of the problems is that there are just not enough jobs available for everyone.

Because our presence brought so much attention, the churches had big turnouts during Sunday services the next week.  Therefore, they set up Bible study groups to continue their work with those who were new to the church.  And, the Alliance Church was expecting to have another congregation in their area within three months. Knowing that gave us a little peace for the ache we felt when we had to return home.

We poured out our remaining energy on one last outreach on Thursday evening.  We went to the squatters who lived in a tarp covered marketplace that went on for blocks and blocks.  Again, it was quite a squeeze for the Jeepneys to get around:

We walked deep into the belly of the market and to the second floor of an unfinished cement building where a group of kids were waiting for us.  This was the foulest smelling and dirtiest place we had been to yet.  The smells of rotting food and garbage were mixed with smells of urine.  One of the children warned a member of our team to not go down a certain corridor because, as he said, “there are snakes down there.”  There was one point where we saw a rat run across the floor and we were told that the welts on some of the kids were from rat bites.  Here is a photo of these precious children:

After the singing and puppet show, Jessica, Rachael and I took out the bubbles again.  However, this group was pretty wild.  It was not long before we had to put the bubbles away because the kids were pushing and shoving so much that they started slipping on the soap that spilled on the dirty cement floor.  There was even one boy who kept dipping his hand in the soap to coat with hair.

In my journal I wrote: “I now realize one of the reasons we are here in Cebu is to be an encouragement to the churches, students, Children’s Shelter, and the people in the squatter’s villages.  I left on this trip assuming I was going to get something done.  However, it really came down to equipping the Cebu churches and encouraging them to serve and reach out to their own people.”  The Filipinos told us that because we flew all the way to Cebu to be with them was an encouragement in itself.

FRIDAY
After ten days in that moist salt air, our cameras were wearing down and even the guitar strings had started to rust. We left behind all of the puppets, equipment, supplies, and even some of our clothing with the churches and shelter.

After tearful goodbyes at the Shelter and a last minute visit into the midst of the squatter’s village to visit with one of the families, we were on our way to the Cebu airport.  Here is half of our team (and some of that luggage) with one of the Jeepneys…

This time we did not have a stop in Honolulu but had a 13 hour flight from Manilla to Los Angeles. Thank goodness we had a four hour layover in LA because it took us three hours to recheck our bags.  All of our flights were once again late.  However, because there were so many of us, the subsequent flights did not leave without us because the airlines did not want to have to put 30 people in hotels.

SATURDAY
I experienced my first episode of culture shock in LA when I saw a man standing at the airport McDonalds yelling at the cashier because he did not get what he had ordered.  This was a shock because we had just spent the past two weeks interacting with friendly and gracious people.  They were not loud and angry but instead soft spoken and gentle.

Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got home.  Even to the point that Jessica fell asleep in the hallway while petting the dog.  Rachael had a head cold that she had been battling for days and then developed an ear infection.  My eyes were so infected that it took two prescriptions and weeks for them to get back to normal.

The main thing I learned from this trip was what it means to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).  I summarized this realization in my journal by saying: “this means extending my love to other people by freely giving up my own comforts and time while having the faith to step out and overcome my fears.”  I continued by saying: “how wonderful to experience the reward that comes from seeing the appreciation and joy on the faces of the Filipinos because of that sacrifice.”

Recently, a friend pointed out something I had never noticed before.  If you read Matthew 25:31-46, notice that when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, his judgment is based on whether they fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, invited in strangers, clothed the poor, and looked after the sick and those in prison.

Do not worry about what it is you should do.  Start by making yourself available and willing to be used by God.  Just do something to extend the love God has shown you whether it is locally or overseas.

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