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.

Who Gains the Most from a Missions Trip?

Why would anyone want to use their vacation time to go overseas to live among the poor and risk their health and safety? That is a question I actually get more often from those that I go serve rather than friends and family at home. The question always surprises me. I’m usually thinking “why not?” I feel as though my reward is sometimes greater than those I am serving but those I am serving are so humble that they do not readily understand what they have to offer.

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Serving on a mission, whether locally or overseas, is the best way to learn and understand compassion and put your unconditional love and selfish desires to the test.

I am about to go on my eighth overseas mission trip and I’m looking forward to getting away from the endless busyness and responsibilities of American life and focusing on serving as Jesus’ hands and feet. We will be going to the Dominican Republic to teach children, do construction, lay cement floors, help with gardens, and the best part of all, visit homes and look into the grateful eyes of those who do not have the means to do all of this for themselves.

I also look forward to once again learning how to increase my faith from those who rely on God at a deeper level than I’ve ever had to. It is indescribable to be a part of such spirit-filled worship in the midst of environments that make you think there is nothing to celebrate. On the contrary, their faith is in abundance and they have so much to teach me! For instance:

In Cebu Philippines, I learned that kids are the same no matter where they are and orphanages can be beautiful when run by people who truly love and want to rescue children of all abilities. I also learned a deep respect for squatters who live in cardboard houses and yet dare to dream and work hard to get an education so they can change their futures.

In Eastern Germany, I learned the importance of building relationships to strengthen and encourage fellow Christians, especially those who are struggling to serve in an atheistic society.

In Haiti, I witnessed the spiritual joy and strength of the elderly even when all they have is their one room shacks. I also learned about the ministry of touch. Rubbing lotion on sick and dying patients was one of the most realistic manifestations of Christ’s love that I have ever experienced because I wasn’t there to just solve a need, I was there to comfort and touch the untouchables.

In Mexico, the Church taught me how to apply and prioritize spiritual disciplines, which included audible prayer walks before sunrise.

In Liberia Africa, I witnessed a Christian culture that takes the Bible literally and one of the ways they apply it is by demonstrating respectful speech and hospitality. My favorite experience was when waking up in a mud house to the sound of a sweet voice singing right outside my window. By the way, did you know roosters crow at night!?

That is why I go on these trips. God has created and called me to experience so much more than my small world has to offer.

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

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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!

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