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.

How to Believe in Forgiveness

Out of one of the most violent acts that can be done against any person, God provided the simplest way for us to have eternal life with him. However, as seen over and over again, it doesn’t seem to be as easy as it sounds.

God says by grace you will be saved because of your FAITH and not because of the good things you do (Ephesians 2:8-9).  That faith is based on the belief that Jesus was put to death on a cross to take the punishment for our sins so we don’t have to take that punishment ourselves.  But why do we struggle to believe that it is that simple?  And that we need to follow good practices in order to earn our way into heaven?  Since we feel as though we need to do something to earn acceptance with God, the simplest solution – to just believe – is difficult to put into practice.

No matter how hard we try not to, we all do things that are offensive and most of the time we struggle to accept the fact that forgiveness could just wipe away those offenses and still earn us the right to eternal heavenly peace. How do we understand and accept God’s free offer of forgiveness and then release ourselves from feeling as though we still owe a debt? And then, how do we grasp the concept of a gracious God that would save us even though we falter in our behavior every day?

The best analogy is the parent-child relationship. The love that a parent has for a child has to be the deepest love I have ever encountered. There is nothing my daughters could do that would make me stop loving them. This is manifested in the fact that I would lay down my life for them or give anything to take away their pain.

God’s love is so much more than we could ever express through these mortal bodies. So imagine a love greater than our earthly parent-child relationship coming from God who describes Himself as our Heavenly Father. He uses the parent-child analogy by telling us that He would not give us a scorpion if we ask for an egg, or He would not give us a snake if we ask for a fish (Luke 11:11-12). So, as our Father, why wouldn’t He extend grace towards us if we ask for forgiveness?! If that’s not enough, He is a Father who created us and knew us before we were even born! (Psalm 139:13-16). Wouldn’t you take special care of something you created?

Meditate and take hold of the fact that God is your Father and believe that He will love and forgive you — no matter what.  All you truly need to do is believe that He will forgive you because Jesus already paid that debt on the cross!

 

Comfort For The Soul

I have talked in past blog posts about serving the poor by providing food, clothing and shelter but this is a story about the need for spiritual comfort.

Below is a message I received about the Ebola outbreak from a friend that we met during our 2007 Liberia mission trip…

“Yesterday we experienced a terrible and serious situation in Johnsonville. Saturday morning about 10 am, we saw a convoy of about a dozen vehicles driving in from the city. The convoy of Armed Forces of Liberia, The ministry of Health, Internal Affairs, Justice, Police and Red Cross ambulance. We were caught by surprise. We were asked to go indoors. They told us to stay indoors because the convoy contained dead bodies of Ebola victims. We went indoors but later came out. Little did we realize that the district commissioner and the land Inspector had given permit to the Ebola team to bury dozens of dead bodies which were being carried in a KIA Motor truck. A chain caterpillar began to fix the damaged road. Following that, a long convoy apart from the first started approaching. They came to bury all the dead bodies collected from various hospitals in Monrovia. Villagers protested and refused to let the government officials in. A heated argument ensued and this resulted in the firing of guns for several minutes. They beat residents wounding several and then buried the bodies. As I write, there are a few among residents that collect water from unprotected wells.

There is complete fear upon us as there are lot of gun men around. Today, the faces I saw in church made me cry. Our people are in complete desperation and suffering. They cannot do their normal activities for fear of catching the Ebola sickness. We are thinking about providing relief and continue to feed hungry children who are cracking kernels for food. Tell the world that we need help. Our country is falling apart.”

Not being able to help someone in a tangible way is a bit disheartening and requires us to be dependent on God for his mercy.

I know we can’t all serve in missions, but we should all try to understand; and therefore, have compassion for those in need around the world. The reality is that the poor will always need our help. We need to respond when we can whether that is moving our hands and feet locally, sponsoring a child, sending someone who can go overseas, sending any form of encouragement, or praying. To help us understand the suffering of the poor who have no voice, this would be a good time to ask ourselves “what would we do if the government wanted to bury bodies with deadly diseases in our neighborhood?”

Are People Listening To You?

Are you feeling as though people aren’t hearing what you say? To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, the greatest compliment anyone could pay me is that someone would ask what I thought and will then listen to me. My goal is to be the one that listens.

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That, however, would need to be true undivided attention, without distractions. The kind that can be seen in my eyes. Not forced attentiveness with a goal to just win friends and influence people.

Of all people, even when Jesus was being pressed in by the crowds, he still took the time to give undivided attention to the woman who touched his robe (Mark 5:30-34). He didn’t have to. She had already been healed. He could have kept on walking.

I have learned in my job that actively listening to people and asking about their stories can help you grow in understanding and give you the kind of joy that comes only by emotionally connecting with another human being. But that requires face-to-face interaction.

It also requires discipline and intentionality. That will more than likely require putting our phones away, limiting our TV viewing, and committing the time to visit with family and friends. I know this is not easy. I have to remind myself to be intentional about it all the time. That being said, I’m glad that the one TV series I allow myself to watch has ended for the season.

So, as we remind ourselves to “love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other,” who is willing to give genuine listening an intentional try with me? (Romans 12:10)

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The Perfect Mission Trip

What makes a perfect mission trip? The perfect combination of service, relationship building, rest, and team camaraderie. Kudos to David and Lisa McCarty from World Servants and glory to God for making last week’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic a perfect one. 

After a good dinner Saturday evening, we went right into our first 24 hours of building relationships by walking up and down the mountainous hillside visiting the people of  San Cristobal.  me visiting

Then on Sunday evening, we enjoyed sharing worship and stories with them during their church service.  DR Church

When Monday came, we split into four teams to begin our projects and show love to the people of San Cristobal by getting our hands dirty…

We had the privilege and joy of restoring a couple tin roofs and laying concrete floors in the homes of those who could not afford to do it for themselves. One of whose owners was in the hospital because the mother had just given birth so it was a joy to know that we were creating a new, clean environment for mom and baby when they returned home. One of the things that was special about this trip is that we were not laying floors all by ourselves with the Dominicans looking on. Instead of us coming in and showing them the American way, the Dominicans worked hard alongside us showing us several techniques for mixing mounds of sand and cement and teaching us how to level and spread a concrete floor using string and two-by-fours.  cement lines

blog laying cement

As I said in my last blog, we receive just as many blessings from these mission projects as we give.  But there was something new about this trip that I hadn’t expected…  Our team ministered and enriched one another as a by-product of reaching out to and serving the Dominicans.

 

 

 

 

This was the most impactful team I have ever been apart of.  None of us could have laid seven concrete floors, built a community garden, or conducted kids programs for hundreds of children in just one week without the help of every other member of the team. For instance, mixing the mounds of sand and cement required several people at a time, it took a bucket brigade to move the concrete to the floors, and several people at a time to spread and smooth the concrete in the houses. It was very rewarding to achieve so much while working side by side with new friends.  mixing cement with me in background

Sure, it was hard work. However, the hot working days were only seven hours long and when you were exhausted at the end of the day, there was the option to go to bed as early as 8:30 and get up at 6:30 in the morning.  And yes, I did that a couple times.

Then there was the garden that we helped plant for the school so they will have food for school lunches when the kids start attending full days next year. The project started on Monday on the side of a hill where one of the teams had to break through hard ground and pull brush. Then they had to cut down trees and make a fence for the entire area.breaking ground for the garden

By the time my team got there, they needed us to clear a path to lay PVC pipe so they could direct spring water down the mountain, we had to rake up the rocks, and then the donkeys had to carry more bags of black dirt up the steep mountain side so we could finish adding the top soil.me raking garden

It was amazing that within five days, we were planting seeds.planting seedsIt will be a joy to see pictures of fresh vegetables during harvest time!

My favorite part of any mission project (whether it is here or overseas) is spending time with the children.  Each of our teams went to a different school to tell a Bible story with drama, sing songs (that we learned in Spanish), play games, face paint, make balloon animals, and do a butterfly craft.  DR school teaching

Then when there was a break in construction at the homes, I would pull out the “Spot It” game and work with the kids to find the matching objects. me playing with the kids

This is the closest I have come to understanding how Jesus felt when he told the disciples to “let the children come unto me.”  Their love is unconditional and they are so eager to enjoy all you have to give them.  me with the kids

This is my new friend Jakela.  Isn’t she adorable?  me with Jakela

Not only did the team camaraderie and working side by side with the Dominicans make this a very rewarding trip, but the times of encouragement and sharing in the mornings and evenings were inspirational with the devotions centered around the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (Mark 6).

We were of all ages and total strangers. The majority of the team came on this trip alone but we all left as lifetime friends. We had to trust one another and be there for one another. Never before has it brought tears to my eyes as I think about my mission friends. I love you guys:  Pat, Patti, Heather, Heidi, Denise, Barb, Amy, Joy, Loren, Nan, Howard, Brian, Andy, Julie, Jason, Amanda, Danny, Haley, Erica, Jadee, Jolee, Steven, Jennifer, Dave, Lisa, Katie Johnson and Katie Jorgenson!group at the garden

Who Gains the Most from a Mission 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, such as the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, 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.

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