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.

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.

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

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 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 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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

A Journey to the Philippines – part 1

I am glad I kept a journal of our two week mission trip to the Philippines because so much happened every minute of every day that even the best memory would not be able to recall all the life changing encounters we experienced.

Our flight to Cebu, Philippines took off July 9, 2000. Jessica and Rachael (16 years old at the time) had never flown before and this was my first international flight. There were 30 people on this mission team. We were traveling with 30+ suit cases, 30+ carry-ons, and 30 seventy-pound boxes of supplies. As you can imagine, traveling to the other side of the world with that many people and that much baggage was quite an endeavor. To complicate things more, our very first flight was overbooked and we were 40 minutes late taking off. Therefore, we delayed every flight we were on thereafter.  We had to run from one connection to the next but what really delayed the planes was transferring those 60+ pieces of luggage from one flight to the next. Although we had to wait a couple hours for our luggage to catch up with us in the end, it was amazing that every piece of luggage made it to our final destination.

To keep costs down, we had four stops along the way and it took almost 27 hours to get from Minnesota to Cebu, Philippines. I still have a hard time figuring out the math with time changes and traveling from East to West against the rotation of the earth. All I can say is that we lifted off from Minnesota at 4:55pm Sunday July 9th and landed in Cebu, Philippines, at 8:40am Cebu time Tuesday July 11th (that was 7:40pm MN time on July 10th). Therefore, we lost 13 hours! To make it even more adventurous, we had to endure turbulence from the first flight to the last. I found out later that my husband was closely watching the weather during our flight because we were flying behind a typhoon and a couple other weather systems. God had us covered but what an experience for first time international travelers!

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Manilla was the extremely strong smell of mold. That is when we first heard that the typhoon had just gone through. This was the heaviest humidity I had ever had to inhale. There was so much moisture on the windows of the plane and airport that it was as though we had landed inside a huge greenhouse. The newspaper was full of stories about the typhoon, crooked police, and a garbage slide in the squatter’s village.  Jessica’s first words after that final take off from Manilla to Cebu was “and we have to do all this again in two weeks!?”

When we arrived in Cebu, the diesel pollution combined with the smells of mango, lye and sewage were nauseating. By the end of the trip, we were used to the smells only enough to stop complaining about them but not enough to be numb to them. To this day, when I smell diesel, my mind goes back to the Philippines.

The coolest thing to me about the eight bedroom guest house we stayed in was the banana tree right outside the porch windows. I was surprised to see that the inside of the bananas in the Philippines are more yellow than the ones we get in the States. And, even though the smell of mangoes permeated the air and mixed with all those foul smells, I still fell in love with their sweet smooth flavor. It is disappointing that the mangoes are just not the same here in the States.

After unpacking, we went to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu to meet the kids and drop off some of the supplies. The kids at the shelter were so welcoming and excited when we arrived. Considering the children we saw on the streets, I was surprised at how happy and well adjusted the kids at the orphanage were.

That evening, we needed a distraction to stay awake and get acclimated to Cebu time. Therefore, we climbed into our hired Jeepneys and headed for the mall. Jeepneys are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. They are made from US military jeeps left over from World War II and are known for their flamboyant colors and crowded seating. Here is a picture of the outside and inside of the two Jeepneys we used during our 11 days in the Philippines:

The pollution was so bad that when we rode in the open air Jeepneys, I got dots on my glasses and, in the evening, when I wiped my face with an astringent pad, it was black. From the first day of the trip to the last, I had problems with my eyes. By the end of the trip, my eyes felt like sandpaper and I could barely keep them open.

Our trip to the mall was an opportunity for us to get some good old American fast food. But when Rachael and I approached the Pizza Hut, we had to step back trying not to cringe from the smell. It seems they use goat cheese on their pizzas. Therefore, we ended up going to the good old reliable food chain — McDonalds.

This was our first of four mornings working with the kids at the Children’s Shelter of Cebu.  We sang together, performed puppet shows..,

tutored them on the computers, played games, and did crafts.  The kids loved the attention and learned quickly.  Here are photos of Jessica and Rachael with some of the kids:


In addition to the orphanage, we worked with the local churches to reach out to families in the squatter’s villages. Wikipedia defines squatters as: “extensive slums or shanty towns consisting of self-constructed housing built without the landowner’s permission. There is no sewage system, drinking water must be bought from vendors or carried from a nearby tap, and if there is electricity, it is stolen from a passing cable.”

That night we went out by twos among the shanties to hand out fliers and invite the people to a gathering the following evening.
In my journal I wrote: “The children, stray cats and dogs, roosters leashed to poles, and mothers cooking over open fires were just like the pictures I’ve seen on TV.”

There was one particular girl who captured my heart because she reminded me so much of myself. She was a young teen intently watching everything we did and with a trail of the little ones behind her. Her name is Michelle. Here is a picture of her standing behind the pole:

The hardest thing about a trip like this is that we left part of our hearts with the kids.  Michelle is still a part of my memories. Unfortunately, I will never know where she is or what she is doing now but I am thankful that I can trust God with my prayers for her.

After our morning with the kids at the children’s shelter, we went back to the Cebu Alliance Church in the squatter’s village. One hundred children responded to the fliers we distributed the day before.  

They were awed by the puppet show so much so that even the adults watched with their mouths hanging open. We each brought a relational activity to help us interact with the kids which included butterfly gliders, bubbles, balloons, wipe boards, jacks, jump ropes, and beaded bracelets.

Around dinner time, we lined up the kids and sent them home with care packages that we had brought from the States. The packages contained rice, soap, a wash rag, candy and other things donated by the church.

As this happened, more people came out from the shanties. It was difficult to stop the distribution but we had only 85 packages to hand out to this group. We had to save the remaining 200 packages for the other three villages that we would visit over the next seven days.

After the children left to bring their packages home and invite their parents out for the evening video, we rested and enjoyed our dinner from Jolli-Bees which consisted of two pieces of chicken (the chicken in the Philippines is much leaner and less meaty than that of the United States), a mound of rice, container of gravy, mango pie, and coke.

That evening, the villagers responded to the flier invitations and filled the church… 

It was standing room only so our team had to wait outside. While their parents watched the Jesus video, we entertained the children with nothing but our bodies serving as monkey bars and entertainment for two hours. Here is a photo from that night:

By the end of that evening, we had pushed ourselves to stay up late again and we were 30 very tired, crabby people still suffering from jet lag. However, to remind us of the importance of what we were doing, we noticed that some of the kids were digging through the garbage and eating any leftover chicken they could find from our evening meal. Therefore, it feels like an oxymoron to say that this was one of the most fulfilling nights of my life. We had served (as many as we were capable of reaching) the orphans, physically ministered to and fed the poor, and ended the evening by providing for their spiritual needs.

After a morning at the shelter, an afternoon of socializing and ministering with a group of college students, and riding on man powered tricycles back to the guest house,

we went to the Cebu Evangelical Free Church to help them reach out to the squatter’s in their area.

No one arrived for the 7pm start time so our team once again walked the streets and invited people to come see the Jesus video. By the time our team returned, people were streaming in, we started singing, and we were able to start the video at 8pm.  Here are some of those kids:

During the movie, I had a conversation with young man named Angelo who believed his ancestors and tradition would get him to heaven. After some discussion, however, he was very interested in the fact that he could actually talk directly to God himself. That evening Angelo prayed and asked Jesus to be his savior and we gave him a Bible. Afterwards, Angelo looked as though he could use some refreshments but the kids had already taken all the juice and snacks. Thank goodness I had a bottle of Gatorade in my backpack so I could give that to him. After assuring him it was okay to accept it, he downed the entire bottle faster than I had ever seen anyone do before.

As I write this and reflect on the fact that I kept saying in my journal “the Filipinos are very friendly and eager to become friends,” I wondered if that observation was real or just my perception because I was experiencing gratitude from the people we were serving.

Then I think about the Filipinos I have met, and worked with, here in the States. I can confidently say that the Filipinos are naturally friendly and hospitable. That being said, however, I have to admit that we encountered a few people who did throw brief angry comments and attitude our way. We were told that some of that was coming as a result of “unwanted Americans from the nearby naval base.” However, these encounters were far and few between.

This trip was so moving and life changing that it pains me to leave out so many details but it would just take too long to describe everything here. However, I would like to invite other team members to help out by posting their experiences and comments as well.

Since this account is already getting so long, I will post the second week of stories about visiting the school and other squatter villages in my next post.

Wrestling with Contentment

Over and over again people tell me they are waiting for God to do something significant in their lives and most of them are usually dreaming and hoping for something specific. It breaks my heart when they do not see how God is already working through the everyday circumstances of their lives and all they need to do is join in.

We sometimes look and pray so hard for God to do something big through our lives that we do not see what He is currently doing through the people and circumstances around us. I have come to realize in my own life that God was preparing me for what I am doing now and I can only assume He is still preparing me for what He wants me to do in the future.

I also had a dream and prayed hard for it. It was to work in ministry full time. I was tired of working for the perpetual business dollar. However, no matter how many jobs I applied for in the church and with other nonprofits, I could not seem to get an interview. I ended up working at the Star Tribune for twelve years and those who knew me best were the first to say I did not fit in.

I kept busy by working through eight jobs during those twelve years and focused on doing the best work possible. While I continued to pray, all I could do was live my values, serve unconditionally and wait for that ministry opportunity. When I became discouraged or frustrated during times of inequities, I reminded myself to focus on doing the job as if I were serving God — not man (Colossians 3:23). I painfully had to make decisions based on my values instead of what would help me gain favor in other people’s eyes or get that next promotion.

I remember one instance when I was applying for a supervisory position but the hiring manager was confused when I told him I had a servant leadership managerial style. Needless to say, I did not get the job.

On November 30, 1993, I wrote in my journal: “I need to be content in whatever situation I am in rather than always looking for God’s Will in something else. Instead of looking elsewhere, I need to look around at what I’ve already got. Where I am now IS God’s Will. God put me here.”

In the meantime, to ease that discontented feeling, God provided ways for me to serve Him in the church and on overseas mission trips. Although I did not realize it at the time, God used those years of experience in business and volunteer work to prepare me for the job I have now. He even provided a situation where I could finish my Bachelor’s degree and the only thing I had to pay for were my books.

It was June 2007 when the Star Tribune offered their first voluntary buy-outs. I did not accept it at first but woke up the following Sunday to the realization that God had provided the opportunity for me to get out of the trap I had been in. I did not recognize it at first because I had assumed it would come in the form of a new job offer. This open door required me to step out in faith. It meant that I had to quit my current job before acquiring another one.

One week after accepting the buy-out, I received an interview at Northwestern College and within one month, I was working at KTIS meeting with donors, listening to their stories, getting their feedback, answering their questions and making sure their needs are met. God had been waiting for me to let go and then He provided the opportunity.

I, like most people, knew I had finally landed my dream job. It is much easier now that my work matches my values and I can openly live out my faith. Only months after I had started, when I ran across former Star Tribune colleagues, they commented that I looked happier and they could tell that I had finally found the place that was “a good fit for me.” At the same time, I soon found that there are expectations and responsibilities that come with full time ministry. Now, more than ever, I need to strengthen my knowledge of the scriptures. In other words, I need to read more and serve deeper than I ever had before. However, this is not rigorous work. It is who I am so it fits my life and I can live it 24/7.

Every person I meet and every concert I attend challenges me in my faith and understanding. For instance, here are photos from “The Story” Christmas concert this past year with Stephen Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, Selah and Natalie Grant. This is one of those times when pictures cannot begin to describe how inspirational it was.

When I think about my previous post regarding simplicity and this subject of contentment, I cannot help but think about the people I have met during the foreign mission trips I participated in during the past 10 years. I have personally seen that our ability to provide for our own basic needs and buy those things that make us comfortable (give us temporary happiness), are among America’s biggest distractions that keep us from seeking and depending on God’s activity in our lives. In third world countries, they depend on God for their basic needs. In most situations, it is their next meal. But yet, they have a faith that is so strong it has brought me to tears on several occasions. They want to be like us but I want to be like them!

It is time for me to write about my life changing mission trips to the Philippines, Mexico and Africa. I will begin those with my next post.

A Journey through Chaos

It started out simple and what I thought was harmless. I told myself: “As long as I am home with my kids, why not do daycare and earn some extra money to make life a little easier? Besides,” I reasoned, “I would also be providing playmates for my kids.”

Then, after about four years of doing daycare, I decided I needed just a little more money and some adult interaction. So, I decided to sell Tupperware “just a couple nights a week.” I figured I would do paperwork during the day when all the kids were in school and hold a couple parties in the evenings. However, little did I realize that I would end up working around the clock – doing daycare and paperwork during the day and running the kids around to activities and doing more Tupperware parties at night than I had expected. I, of course, was following the carrot – the more parties I held, the more money I made. I got caught in a trap and lost my way. I was working so hard that I even earned a free van.

I finally came to a point in my journal where I said: “all I do now is fight for time, complain, worry about what people are going to do, and cringe every time the phone rings. I’m suffocating. I need to get out of the hole I’ve been sucked into.” I desperately wanted time to sit and talk with my husband and read to my children at night. I finally realized that I had to simplify my life. I quit Tupperware and started meditating on:

1) Trusting God to provide and learning to not worry so much (Matthew 6:25-34)
2) Watching out for greed and having to buy stuff I did not need (Luke 12:15)
3) Focusing on what is important. In the long run, I knew I would never feel as though I had enough money and I knew money would never satisfy me (Matthew 6:19-24)

One month later, I wrote: “I am so thankful for the time I have with my children now that I’m not doing parties, recruiting, training and interviewing. Simplicity took a load off my shoulders. It gave me freedom from worry and anxiety – my beliefs and values are finally in line with what I am doing.”

Because of these principles, we never moved out of our starter home into a bigger house. Therefore, we were able to build equity and were not affected by the housing collapse. Since we had the equity and have always wanted a cabin on a lake in Northern Minnesota, we decided to look at what was available and see if God would provide. We found the most affordable area and called a realtor. It took only two weekends of riding around with the realtor to find the perfect place for us. Since it did not have electricity, it was the only property we looked at, in our price range, that already had a cabin on it. It was exactly the adventurous getaway we were looking for. Having a place like this was a step toward simplification for us. I knew from visits to my grandmother’s cabin as a child that sitting in the middle of nature with no city noise or TV blaring would be relaxing and a great reminder of the important basics of life. Time and time again, I am in awe that God provided this place where we can detoxify from the stresses of life and sit back and marvel as His creation. This picture gives a small glimpse into its tranquility:

Over time, I came to realize that God provided during those times when I trusted Him and when I was not busy getting in the way. I have learned that I make better decisions when I stop, pray and wait for clear direction. As I outlined in my History posts, God has always provided what I “needed.” I may not see it right away but it becomes clear later down the road. Hindsight has also shown me that what I wanted is not always what I needed.

This wasn’t the end of my struggle to find simplicity. However, it was a great start because I had identified and acknowledged the fact that it was a problem so I can now face it head-on whenever busyness once again tries to invade what is more important.

Now that I have identified my worth in God and the need to trust that He will provide, next week I will talk about my journey towards contentment.

Still Waters.

Observing the Miracle of Birth

The baby I almost lost 27 years ago (see part 5) just had a baby of her own. It takes my breath away to think that our beautiful granddaughter wouldn’t be here today if we had lost Rachael back then.

Little did I realize I would be such a nervous wreck waiting for my granddaughter to arrive. I had thought it would be no big deal since I felt as though I already knew what Rachael would have to go through. Later, however, when “grandpa” and I were talking about the experience, we admitted that we were both more concerned about how Rachael was going to handle the delivery rather than worrying about the safety of the baby. We knew God has created a marvelous way of surrounding and protecting the baby, but we are still carrying around those feelings from when we prayed over Rachael and cared for her frail little body all those years ago.

It turned out that on Friday morning Rachael woke up with the stomach flu. I was concerned that it would trigger labor, and I knew I would be of no use while thinking about her when I was at work, so I spent the day helping her. By the time her husband came home, she was dehydrated, the contractions had started, and they were already five minutes apart. Therefore, at 4 pm, the doctors said we could bring her to the hospital. After they started Rachael on IV fluids, they measured her contractions at three minutes apart and then, within the hour, her water broke. It didn’t take long and she was pushing by 8:30 pm. Because I had been tending to her needs all day, I automatically became a fixture in the room so it was easier for her to let me stay during the delivery.

Listening to the doctors encourage and instruct Rachael through her delivery brought back memories. However, this time it was more like enjoying the triumphant drama unfold in a movie without having to go through the excrutiating pain myself. When I had Christina, I decided not to have any medication and I remember thinking I was actually going to die. This was the first time I had ever seen the pain relieving benefits of an epidural and yet the side effect that makes it more difficult to push.

When the baby was finally on its way, and I wasn’t the one under a cloud of pain, it was amazing to see how the body works. From my vantage point, I could read the looks on the nurses’ and doctor’s faces and was able to watch the things a mother in delivery is too busy to see. For instance, what happens when they wisk the baby away, the fidgeting and excitement of the father, and the skill and reactions of the doctors and nurses.

At almost 10:57 pm, Zoey Lynn Zevenbergen was born at 8 lbs. 8 oz., 22 inches long and with a full head of hair! When she entered the world, she looked like one of those real life baby dolls: clay white with limp legs and arms flopping around. The doctor warned us that she might not start crying right away but when it happened, I felt as though I had a hard time catching my breath as well. To make sure Rachael couldn’t see my concern, I turned away acting as though I was reading another Facebook post and just prayed “Dear Lord, help her breath!!!” They say it was only a minute but it felt so much longer and tore me apart every time the nursing assistant glanced up at the seconds on the clock. Finally, the sound of that first cry was one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.

Once they had Zoey stabilized, I approached the warming bed and was stunned when I saw her because she was so much more adorable than I had imagined she would be. When she finally settled down, it was amazing to see how she was already looking around, as the nurse said, searching for her mother. Mom and dad finally got to meet her for a moment but because she had to be intubated to start breathing, the nurse took her away to be under observation for an hour in the special nursery.

Zoey wailed when they had the bright light on in the warming bed. However, when they finally turned the light off, her protest turned into a wimper as she ferociously sucked her hand. It was a miracle to see how she stopped crying when her father picked her up and then later when she was so content in her mother’s arms.

Is this part of that “special joy” people talk about when they become grandparents … watching life continue through your own child? The emotions are so strong and undefinable that I asked other grandparents to send me their definitions of what it is like to be a grandparent. One neighbor said: “It is a feeling of pride for your girls.” And, Deborah wrote: “Grandparenthood is special because your own offspring have produced this precious new life and, as you watch them grow, you cannot help but think of how blessed you are to be a part of that new life!!!” Then she adds: “Also, they are not all the WORK that your own children were so you can just enjoy them and spoil them!!!”

There is no denying that there is an intelligent designer when you watch how our bodies are perfectly designed to produce and deliver new life. And, if that is not impressive enough, just observe the natural process to sustain life by watching a baby who instinctively starts sucking when she is born and recognizes and finds comfort in her parents arms.

Next week I will return to my posts from my latest series of journal journeys.

One Week Photos:

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