Here Comes the Sun (la da de da)…

Anyone who knows me well knows I think analogously. For every concept, skill, story, person, place, etc. I have an analogy or how it relates to another. I have a difficult time remembering and understanding things I have no parallel for. If I cannot relate the unknown to something known, I am utterly lost. It is not surprising, then, that I continually relate sights and experiences in my daily life to bigger ideas rolling around in my head. So, as I was walking next to the canal on our unseasonably warm day on Tuesday, I was not merely soaking up sun rays; I was processing the deeper significance of how the weather relates to my own life.

Ohio had an unusually brutal winter. This season seemed it would never end and I honestly began to give up hope I would ever enjoy the outdoors again. For the past five months I have been frozen to the core, blasted by winds and snow, and held captive by the never ending darkness without any hope that spring would ever come. I felt as if I was in Narnia before the White Witch was vanquished. It was always winter, but never Christmas. I could literally feel my entire being crying out for warmth and sun. My few days long trip to Florida at the beginning of March did little to calm this desire. If anything, the few days of sunshine ignited the embers of that desire into a roaring flame. I was feeling absolutely desperate for spring, but winter prevailed.

Saturday we were hit with another snowstorm. I wasn’t aware we were expecting any snow, let alone the 3-4 inches that awaited me as I exited the mall wearing ballet flats with bare feet. As my mom, grandma, and I made the difficult trek home that day, we passed car after car fruitlessly spinning their wheels in an attempt at forward motion. Strangely, I found myself relating to these vehicles and their drivers. As is my constant M.O., I began to relate the sights around me to the stirrings in my heart. Right now, I feel I should be going somewhere, but no matter what effort I put forth, I feel as if I am only spinning my wheels. It is as if I am stuck in a never ending winter, and the path to my future is so iced over I can’t make any progress. My surrounding fit the tone of my heart, and I felt quite melancholy the rest of the ride home, brooding about the winter I am enduring, both physically and spiritually.

Then, Tuesday came. I know I should never be surprised by the wild swinging of Cleveland weather, but somehow I always am. Snowstorm on Saturday, 70 degrees and sunny and Tuesday, what a crazy area I live in! Anyways, I took FULL advantage of the nice weather that day. I greatly enjoy going for walks. I am not much of a runner. It is true I am not in great shape, but I also choose not to run because of my love for strolling along and taking in my surroundings. When I run, I don’t see the flowers, abandoned bird’s nests, frogs hopping into the water as I approach, or nuances in nature that herald the arrival of spring. My mind also is not as free to think when I run, so I choose to walk. As I was walking this day, I was deeply moved by the promise of spring. Whereas the winter seemed it would never end and my hope of enjoying the sun seemed impossibly foolish, here I was outside in April without a coat! The Lord used this to minister to more than my craving for sunshine. He skillfully used the promise of earthly spring to speak to the deeper places of my heart. Emotionally and spiritually, I still feel in the middle of a blizzard. Looking out from the windows of my soul I see only desolation and ice, no end to this winter of my life. I must remember, though, just last Saturday I thought there was no hope of change in the weather. I saw no sign around me that spring was near, yet it was only two days away! This gives me hope for the current winter in my heart. Right now, I see no signs that anything new is on the horizon. All I see is another storm I do not desire, nor am I prepared for. What an amazing thing I have in Christ, though. I have hope that God can and will surprise me. I have hope He has great things in store. I have hope that, even though I can’t even see a small glimpse of the sun at this moment, there is a springtime coming for my heart, and I will be able to enjoy every minute of it once it arrives. I have no idea when this winter will be over, but I know my Jesus will keep me warm until it ends, continually whispering in my ear His promises never to leave me or forsake me, and to complete the good work He began in me.

So, here I sit. The storm may be raging, but I can sit here with my Savior and enjoy the coziness of resting in Him as, together, we wait for spring.

Lessons in youth ministry

I have been serving in the middle school ministry at my church for nearly four years now. It is hard to believe it has really been that long! I was blessed to lead the same group of girls through their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years, and now I have come full circle to begin with a new group of 6th grade students. I have learned so many things throughout these years about both middle schoolers, and myself. If I were to write them all down, I could probably fill a book! One of the biggest and most humbling things I have learned is how I have much less influence than I would like to believe.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not think I am unimportant or that I have no influence at all. I truly think girls in this age category need older women to mentor them and be another voice besides mom and dad speaking truth into their lives. We female leaders are such a valuable asset in the lives of these young girls, but we can talk and model as much as we’d like, but ultimately, we cannot make them into the young women we wish them to be.

Last night I was reading through Proverbs 4 (I am reading a Proverb per day this month) and the latter part of verse 4 stood out to me.

“Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live.”

Proverbs 4:4b

I have read this chapter more times than I can count, yet there were no markings on this verse yet, and no notes along the side of the page. For this reason, I know I have mindlessly skimmed over these words in the past, but with what I’ve learned over the past four years, this verse nearly jumped from the page. Solomon here does not say, “Let your mind hold fast to my words.” or “Let your heart consider my words.” Let your heart. hold. fast. This is precisely what I have seen over and over again in the lives of my students. Let me explain.

Let’s consider the example of modesty. I purpose to be modest myself, and I speak to my girls about modest dress, conversation, and behavior. Many of them intellectually agree with what I say, but when they are confronted with their sinful desires to dress or behave immodestly, their intellect caves to the desires of their hearts. Regardless of what I say or do, unless a girl purposes in her heart to be modest, she will inevitably fall into promiscuity at some level. Also, some girls may agree in their hearts that modesty is important and God honoring, yet they do not feel a strong conviction toward it. They hold to other things in their heart (popularity, admiration, vanity) most strongly than modesty, so they succumb to the pressures of the world to show themselves off.

I have seen this scenario play out over and over in the students I have ministered to over the years, whether it is modesty, purity, cleanliness of speech, dedication to spending time in God’s word, discretion in media choices, or any of the ways we try to encourage the students in righteousness. The students who follow the training and encouragement we offer are the ones who internalize and personalize the information; their hearts hold fast. Those who merely entertain the concepts we preach will, time and time again, stray from the path set before them and wander about in worldly passions.

So, what are we to do? As I said above, I believe adult leaders are a vital part of youth ministry, but how do we reach our students and encourage them to believe for themselves the things we preach? Here is my list of the best things we can do in encouraging our students in righteousness.

1. PRAY!

Ultimately we must recognize each and every child is in the capable hands Jesus, and this is not merely an earthly fight.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:12

Prayer is our most valuable resource. Beg the Holy Spirit to be at work in the hearts of your students. Ask God to reveal Himself to each one of them in a way that is real and personal. Pray for sensitivity in the spirits of those present each night you meet. You can accomplish nothing in the hearts of your students; Christ alone can change hearts. Pray fervently.

2. Recognize you are a tool in the Father’s hands, not the craftsman.

It is so easy to think we are really doing something amazing for God. We tend to think we are accomplishing so much for God and may even tell Him our plans, merely asking for His help and blessing. When we have this mindset, we set ourselves up as gods in our own right. We think we can save kids. We easily and subtly believe we have all the answers, that we are God’s gift to teens, that our power to influence is great, and we are the ones changing hearts. Brothers and sisters, this is such a wrong view! God can choose any means He wants to accomplish His work. We know His Word does not return void, that Jesus will not lose even one of the sheep the Father has entrusted to Him, and that He alone is wise and powerful. We are lost sheep, just like our students. We are not the shepherd, potter, or master of their lives. All we can ever be is a tool in the hands of our amazing Redeemer. He can use us to guide and admonish at HIS bidding, not our own.

3. Continually bring your students back to Scripture.

Of these three guidelines, this is the one I am most apt to fail on. It is so easy to get caught up in sharing my heart with the students, all the while forgetting to share with them God’s heart. Most of the time, our hearts as leaders are very much in line with that of Christ. Our words, however, do not have the power to save. Whenever possible, take your students directly to the Bible when answering their questions. We need to show them Scripture is vitally useful and important. The Bible is not just a story book or rule book, it is useful in every aspect of our lives. Knowing who God is changes us, and we learn who He is through His Word. We must show our students we are not asking anything of them that we do not require of ourselves. Each and every one of us is under the authority of Scripture and benefit from spending time each day with our Savior. Making sure your students clearly understand they should obey their parents, guard their hearts, build others up, etc. because GOD said so, not because pastor so-and-so or leader whomever said it, is SO important. These kids will not always have a leader or pastor with them, but they will always have the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to run to God and His word is the most valuable thing you could ever do, and is a life lesson they will never lack the need for. We also need to model this. Honestly share with your students how you handle problems and situations. When they see how we run to Christ as our refuge, we show them in a tangible way what we preach with our lips.

 

This list is by no means exhaustive; it merely scratches the surface. Even if we do everything perfectly (ha ha, yeah right, like that could ever happen), we may not see the fruit of our labor. Hearts are complicated things which Christ alone can manage. I will leave you with this verse which is simultaneously a comfort and challenge, and pray God does a mighty work in the hearts of the students in this generation.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Galatians 6:9

Obedience

As I type that word, I can’t help but hear the old Sunday school song playing in my head.

“O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E. Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.”

It is often funny to me how theologically rich children’s songs can be. When I was small, I loved singing church songs, but when I became a teenager, tunes such as “Jesus loves me,” and “He’s still working on me” became as horrifying to me as the Barney song. *gasp* Now that I am older and past the stage of being embarrassed by everything, I realize anew how much I love these songs and the truths they planted deep in my heart. Anyways, I didn’t start this post today to talk about children’s songs. I wanted to write about obedience and what God has recently been teaching me about this subject.

A few weekends ago, I watched a family of five children from the ages of 8-15. I never thought I would come away having learned some really valuable lessons (amazing how God surprises us, isn’t it?). The biggest thing God showed me is what obedience truly looks like. I dearly love this family, and I enjoy spending time with their children, but they are NOT obedient. Most of the time, their disobedience is not noticeable. They are relatively well-behaved children and naturally make good choices that would appear to be obedience. As soon as their desires went against what I said, however, their disobedient hearts came rising to the surface. This was seen most vividly after telling the 8-year-old she must eat her hamburger before I would give her Doritos. Because I was telling her to do something her heart did not naturally want to do, this caused a fit lasting nearly an hour which involved ripping curtains down, throwing the ladder off her bunk bed, knocking over the toy kitchen, hurling toys across the room, screaming, kicking, punching, and more. I am, in general, a compassionate and accommodating person (or at least I like to think of myself that way). When it comes to children throwing fits, however, I stand my ground and have little sympathy. I let her scream it out. I intervened at moments I was concerned for the well-being of her person or the house, but I did not budge. I simply told her I was willing to talk when she was done throwing a fit, but until then I was going to be helping her sister with homework in the next room. After around 45 minutes, she began to calm. A few minutes after the tantrum ceased, I noticed a sheepish little face peaking around the doorway into her sister’s bedroom. I invited her in and sat and talked with her about the sin in her heart. I explained that I still loved her, but that she must obey me. I was not asking anything difficult, wrong, or mean. She was finally ready to submit, so we went to the kitchen where she gladly ate her hamburger before enjoying her long-awaited Doritos.

As I sat there watching her eat, I was convicted about disobedience in my own heart toward God. My disobedient spirit does not always present itself, just as the disobedience in these children is often masked by good behavior. Often I trick myself into thinking I am obeying God when I am doing the “good” things my heart already desires to do. For example, I have no desire to get drunk. Does God say not to drink in excess? Yes! But is my sobriety really obedience to God? Not really. It is my obedience to my own desires which just happen to be in line with God’s desires. True obedience is when we do what God wants and we adamantly want something else. If this little girl had wanted to eat her hamburger first, and did so without question, it would not have been submission and obedience. Eating the hamburger when it was the last thing on earth she wanted to do, but submitting to my authority and complying, is what true obedience looks like.

In response to this lesson, I have been asking myself what true obedience looks like in my own life. I find it is hard to put my heart’s struggle succinctly. I have a deep unrest and desire to be done with this stage of my life. My spirit longs for some change. I don’t want to work where I work, do what I do, or live where or how I live. I am bored. I don’t know specifically what I want to do differently, but I find myself telling God over and over that this is all wrong, and I’m ready for what’s next. I often feel like a kid in a car asking, “Are we there yet?” and “How much longer?” over and over with increasing frustration. I know deep down I am where I am supposed to be, but it doesn’t change the fact that some days I feel like tearing curtains down and chucking toys around the room. Submission is a daily battle, but I must focus my heart on the task at hand. I must eat my hamburger (my life now) before God blesses me with Doritos (the life I want). So here I sit, munching away, trying (with the help of my Jesus) to find joy in each bite. At times this seems an impossible task, but just as I was not unloving or unreasonable with my little friend, I know God is not unloving or unreasonable with me. I must trust, really trust, and believe God has my best interest at heart. So here I remain… just me, my God and my hamburger.

In loving memory…

It has been ages since I’ve written a post. Somehow, writing keeps falling lower and lower on my list of priorities, but today I felt the deep need to express myself in words. Last weekend was a difficult one. My physical circumstances were ideal. I fully believe my loving Savior arranged my weekend beforehand to allow me time to pray, journal, and process the feelings in my heart, and also to give me fun times to distract me from the brooding I’m prone to. Despite these accommodations and blessings of schedule, my heart was put through the ringer, so to speak.
On Friday morning, I learned one of my classroom translators from my mission trip to Taiwan took her own life. I had seen a concerning post on Facebook the night before, but was hoping something was missed in the translation from Chinese to English. Friday morning brought the confirmation of that initial post, and my heart broke at the news. While she and I were not extremely close, she occupied a space in my heart that is now left aching from her death. Cindy was such a joy; she was beautiful, kind, compassionate, loving, funny, encouraging, and the list could go on. In the week I spent working with her, and the following months I’ve kept in contact with her, she has blessed my soul in so many ways. My heart is heavy knowing she couldn’t see what I saw in her. I mourn the fact that she felt she was so unlovable, unworthy, unimportant, or unwanted that she felt she was better off dead. My only joy in this is that she is now with Jesus. For the first time, she is able to see herself as she really is. She now knows how loved she is. She knows how valuable she is. She knows what a blessing she was to us all while she was here on earth. I regret the conversations I wasn’t able to have with her during her life, and I regret never scheduling that Skype date we planned so she could share with me her entire testimony. I regret a lot of things, but I take comfort in knowing my God is still in control.
It is easy in situations like this to think the enemy has won. God seems small and powerless, while the devil seems victorious. The Holy Spirit has been counseling me, however, that everything is more than surface deep. At first glance, it looks as if all hope is lost. Cindy is dead. God was unable to save her from herself and the lies Satan fed her. I must remember, though, that death has no power. God has the power, and my God is in the business of making beautiful what seem like hopeless situations. This is not the end of the story! Just as The Father used Christ’s death to bring about salvation for many, I trust He is able to do the same with Cindy’s death. I am not saying Cindy’s life can atone for sins, that would be utter blasphemy, but what I am saying is God’s work is not finished. How great a testimony of God’s power and grace that not even suicide could snatch her from His hands? The salvation Jesus offers is not dependent on our performance! We all fall into the lies and traps of sin. Each and every one of us make mistakes that break God’s heart. Some mistakes are irreparable, but that doesn’t mean they are unforgivable. As Cindy’s many unsaved friends and family are left reeling from her death, I pray they find the love of Jesus. I pray God is magnified in this dark time, and that we see the salvation of many in response to the loss of Cindy’s life. I pray this tragedy would be used as a tool in the lives of all who knew her to mold and shape us into the image of Christ.
I am thankful that even now, so soon after Cindy’s death, the Lord has been using it to reveal sins in my own heart and lies I believe. Her death has been a constant reminder that I cannot listen to the voices in my spirit telling me I am worthless, unwanted, and unimportant. I am counseled that I must hold every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. I am reassured that my Savior loves me, flaws and all, and He did not give His precious life to save something of little value. Even though I fail daily and feel my situation is hopeless at times, I know (and must continually remind myself) that God will complete the good work He began in me, He loves me deeply, and has a wonderful plan for my life.

Jesus, thank You for Cindy. Thank you for saving her and for giving me the great blessing of knowing her. Thank you that You have won the ultimate victory over sin and death. Thank You for loving her and for now wiping away each of her tears. Please be near to all those who love her here on earth. Be the wonderful counselor You are, and use this tragic situation for Your glory. May Your Name be magnified.
Amen

For such a time as this…

Alistair has been preaching through the book of Esther for several weeks now. I am continually amazed and blessed by his ability to take something so familiar and help it come alive to me in new ways. I know it is not solely his doing, that apart from the inworking of the Holy Spirit, both in his life and my own, his words would fall on deaf ears, but God uses his teaching in my life and heart, and for that I am so grateful.
One main point he has been stressing as we make our way through Esther is the doctrine of providence. The name of God is not mentioned in the entire book, yet we see him between every line of the story. This is easy due to our knowledge of the end of the story. If you stop for a moment, though, and put yourself in the shoes of Esther or Mordecai, I’m positive this providence would be much more difficult to see (much like it is in my own life).  This past Sunday, we read the line:

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, ESV)

These words penetrated a new, deeper part of me than ever before. Having just returned from a missions trip to Taiwan, I am doing some serious soul searching. The Lord showed me glimpses of Himself and who He created me to be in so many little ways over the 10 days we were gone. I have had a soft spot in my heart for missions for a number of years. I continually wonder if the Lord is calling me into full-time foreign ministry. Despite these thoughts, and my ultimate desire to see the name of Christ be lifted high throughout the whole earth, I have very big reservations and a list of excuses I tell God about.

I have dietary restrictions, I can’t possibly function in another culture.

I am a home body, I would miss being home and being with my family entirely too much.

I am introverted, I would be totally spent and useless after a short amount of time on the mission field.

I have school debt, I have to wait until it is all paid off before going anywhere.

I’m single, I don’t want to go alone.

I just don’t think I’d be happy, yet again, I’m called to be holy and obedient, not happy (so I guess I would go…maybe).

These are just a few of the list of excuses that run through my mind when I think about going into missions. The Lord used this trip in my life, despite all my many reservations, to open my heart up more to the idea of going away to serve Him. All of the issues listed above were put to rest in really neat ways. My wheat intolerance was barely an issue as rice is the primary grain in the Taiwanese diet. I didn’t yearn for home like I usually do after being away (even for a few days). The Lord gave me His strength to continue on, even though I was spent from constant extroversion, lack of sleep, and sensory overload. One of the missionaries we worked with is still paying off school debt but is able to do so because of the good pay Americans get for teaching English. The community at the church we were working wouldn’t leave me feeling as single or lonely as even my life here does. Most of all, I was HAPPY. I was filled with love and joy. I felt I was utilizing the gifts and passions the Lord has given me in a way I am unable to do here. I could actually picture myself doing that, teaching English and working with children.

Then, the sermon on Sunday. For such a time as this. Just as Esther was put in the perfect position to be able to save her people, we Americans have been put in the perfect position to save the Lord’s people from around the world. Esther, out of none of her own strength, ability, planning, etc., was made queen of Persia. When she became the queen, though, I am sure she never thought so much would be required of her. She enjoyed her lush lifestyle. She lacked nothing and didn’t want to rock the boat, even when an entire people group, HER people, was going to be executed. Then, at the urging of her uncle, she agreed to give up her life, her riches, her comforts, her marriage, her everything for the sake of her people. As I sat and listened, I could see many similarities to my own life. I have been born into privilege. I am a U.S. citizen, I am a native English speaker, I was raised in a Christian home and belong to the Lord Jesus. I have more money than most of the population of the world, I have been given a heart for people and a love of discipleship, and the list could go on. What if I have been given all this for such a time as this? What if, as was the case with Esther, my blessings are not simply for me to enjoy? What if I have been given this place of influence and this comfortable life in order to use it for God’s glory and for the redemption of His people? We don’t realize what doors are open to us as U.S. citizens. Our ability to travel, to teach, and to be supported financially is incredible. People desperately want to learn English, so much so that they are willing to send their children to a church for a week to practice speaking the language, even though they are being taught things diametrically opposed to their own Buddhist beliefs. We have so many doors open to us. Why aren’t we going through these doors in masses?

I am still thinking and praying through all of this. I feel I am finally surrendered to God’s will, even if it means leaving people and a place that I love. I am waiting for God to put the next step before me, begging He makes that step very clear. It is a scary thing to follow God into a foreign land all by yourself, but I know He will bless me in ways I can’t even fathom from where I stand now. As I stand on this precipice, waiting for God to say, “jump,” I encourage you to search the heart of God for His purpose for you.  What has the Lord blessed you with and what does He want you to do with it? My friends, we are not meant to be merely consumers, we are called to be fishers of men, laborers in the vineyard, and obedient servants of Jesus Christ. We must never forget.

Big Church, Small Church

I am the recipient of the undeserved blessing of being raised in the Church. My parents both love the Lord and have trained me up in righteousness. I understand being raised going to church ultimately does nothing for your own salvation, but the Lord has used it in my life to bring me into a personal relationship with Him.

Growing up, my family attended a small to mid-sized church. We were involved with many ministries which resulted in our knowing pretty much everyone in the congregation. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but we had a stellar local Body of Christ. We experienced true Biblical fellowship and community with people from all walks of life. Even though I was a child, I benefited from this church. My life was influenced by so many people. There were elderly people in the church who knew me and loved me. I think fondly back on a sweet old woman, Grandma June as she was called by all the children, who taught Sunday School, volunteered with the Cubbies group at our AWANA program, and was an ever present figure in my life. I also reminisce about a middle aged man who made it a point to call each person on their birthday. Every year I knew I would get that call. It was something I could count on as much as I could rely on turning another year older. I didn’t have much contact with him aside from that, but it meant the world to me to know I mattered. Even as a small child, I was part of his faith, his congregation, and more importantly, his life. I also think of the blessings I received from the Shepherds Class, which was a fellowship for the mentally and physically handicapped. Every Sunday I remember walking down to the end of the hall where their class met, just to say hi to the members there. Even though these people had Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus, and a myriad of other developmental difficulties, they were still a part of me. One man in particular, I believe his name was James, was a favorite of mine. Even though he had Down’s, he was so joyful, kind, funny, and really loved Jesus. He made a lasting impression on my heart just by being there to say hello and give me a hug each week. My list could go on and on of the amazing and diverse relationships I experienced there. Because the church was on the smaller side of things, I was able to have a relationship with people from all walks of life. This was an amazing blessing, and I wish I would have realized how special that was while I had it.

When I was twelve, my family moved two states away to the town both my parents grew up in. We ended up attending the church they had been raised in, the same one my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins still attend. This church had the same feel, though not the level of love and community as the church I had come from. Even still, I knew old people, people with special needs, all the babies, toddlers, etc. all the way up to youth group. I knew every kid in junior high and high school, as well as all the college students. I knew and was known by everyone. This felt like church. That is, until the politics came to the surface. This church was a bit smaller than the one I grew up at, and most of the people had been attending their entire life. This created a little bit of a problem. The church wasn’t so much God’s anymore as it was theirs. Families had feuds with other families, yet those were never addressed. Everyone knew about patterns of sin in some members lives, yet nothing was ever said or done to help that brother or sister. People felt they owned the church, getting personally offended if you rearranged tables or suggested Sunday School classes switch rooms. The same people were nominated and elected to the deacon board every year, just because that is the way it was. The church wasn’t horrible, and if anyone who attends the church reads this, I am in no way trying to bash it. I dearly love the people there, yet the impression I got was that everything was more about “this is the way we do things” and less about passionately loving, proclaiming, and serving Jesus. The church was too small, too clique-ish, and stuck in a rut.

Fast-forward a few years, and I am an active member of a very large church. I love my church. The preaching is challenging and helps me grow in my knowledge of, and faith in our God. Because the congregation is large, you don’t have those few “ruling families” or loud voices making sure church is done their way. All the stupid politics of my old church are non-existent. There really is no place for them since there are so many people. No one has “their pew” that they get grumpy if someone sits in. No one locks you out of the church at 12:15 because they want to go home. No one hates you just because her mom and your mom had a fight when they were in middle school. I can go to church and just enjoy being in the company of hundreds of people praising God with me. But, then I look at my life. I am sorely lacking elderly couples to love and mentor me. I don’t know any of the members of our special needs class by name. There are hordes of small children running around who I am a stranger to. There is no sweet older man to call me on my birthday. That is what I miss about a smaller church. I love where I am. I love the opportunities the large congregation brings. I love that our young professionals ministry has more than five people. I love that we are able to send missionaries all over the world. I love so many things, yet there is that part of me that misses being part of a family and knowing all its members. Maybe someday the Lord will have me go somewhere else, but for now I am committed to continuing to make this big place smaller and smaller.

A few words

99% of the time, I am 100% okay being single. Weekends like this one, however, account for the 1%. I went to another wedding tonight, though at this one I felt like a third wheel. My friend had her new husband, my other two friends their boyfriends, and then there was me. I showed up alone, danced alone, and left alone. Tomorrow I have to go to a party where I know (maybe) two other people. Significant others were invited, but seeing as I’m incredibly single, I again will arrive and depart alone. Loneliness isn’t reason enough to get married, yet weekends like this make marriage seem a bit more appealing.

Taiwan or Bust!

I was browsing through previous blog entries, and cannot believe I didn’t write about one very important thing going on in my life! I am a member of a rather large church. Our pastor is Alistair Begg, whom many of you have probably heard of. Because of his true gift for teaching the Word of God, we have many people who attend. Being part of a large church has its pros and cons (more on that later), but one of the big pros is our ability to participate in missions work around the world. We send several short-term missions teams to various locations many times throughout the year. We have partnerships in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Macedonia, The Czech Republic, India, and many more. When we send short-term teams, we generally send them to support our full-time missionaries.

A few months ago, a blurb was put into the bulletin about a short-term trip to Taiwan in “mid July.” As soon as I saw that advertisement, I knew I wanted to go. The problem, however, is that at my work, only one surgical technologist can be on vacation at a time. This is a necessary restriction as we need to be sure we have enough staff to perform surgeries and have the department continue to run smoothly. As I sat there in church, I thought to myself, “Vacation requests were due months ago. Mid-July… there is no way any weeks in mid-July are still available for vacation. Why didn’t they decide to do this trip before?” among other doubtful, disgruntled thoughts. The next day at work, I decided to look at our vacation calendar just for the heck of it. I was literally giddy with what I saw. The second and third weeks of July, as well as the fourth week which leads into August, were AVAILABLE! I was beyond amazed.

These feelings of joy and excitement were crushed a few weeks later. I went to the first official information meeting… the meeting in which we would get more details about where we would be going, what we would be doing, and the exact dates. I looked down at the information packet as it was handed to me and nearly burst into tears. Right there on the top in bold letters was the sentence:

Trip Dates: June 28th-July 7th

June 28th?!?!?! That is NOT mid-July. It took everything within me to stay for the rest of the meeting. I had to stop at Target after I left and literally started crying… IN TARGET! I just could not understand why I wanted to go so badly and why God would give me this desire and close the door in my face. Ever single one of those days was already spoken for at work. I couldn’t get approval to take even one day off to go on this trip! This “no” answer caused me to really examine my heart and motives. Why did I want to go so badly? Was that from God, or was I just desperate for something new and exciting? Did God have something else in store for me here? But really, why did I have such a desire to go? Taiwan had never been on my “places I want to go before I die” list. Asia itself has never been super high on my list. I had missed out on countless missions trips in the past, none of which affected me like this did. Finally, I just honestly gave my heart to Jesus. I prayed He would do one of three things. 1. He would take away my desire to go and make the disappointment bearable. 2. He would miraculously cancel the vacations of my co-workers, freeing up those vacation days (I know, I know, not the most selfless prayer in the world, but hey). 3. He would change the dates of the trip.

 To make a long story short, we serve an incredible, amazing, loving, personal, powerful, and deeply involved God. He answered my prayers, even through my doubts. The dates of the trip changed to July 12th-21st. I got the approval from my boss, and I am GOING TO TAIWAN!!!! Praise the LORD!

Now, though, my faith is being put to the test yet again. I have to raise 2500 dollars. At first I was like, “Oh, that’s not bad at all!” After doing the math, though, I realized just how much money that really is. I wrote my support letter and sent it to family and friends. Looking at the numbers, I thought there was no way I’d be able to raise enough. I know God wants me to go on this trip, though, so I am trusting the money will come through. Even if I don’t raise the full $2500, I have some savings set aside and will be able to cover the rest. I don’t know why I ever doubt God. Recently, He has been absolutely blowing my mind with His ability to provide. I am not at $2500 yet. I am not even at 1000 as far as I know, but the amazing generosity of my brothers and sisters in Christ is flooring me. I was expecting donations of $10, $15, and $20. Instead, donations of $50, $100, #150, and $200 have been coming in from the most unlikely sources. I am blown away, humbled beyond belief, and blessed more than I can express with words. Even today, I opened an envelope to find a very sweet note from one couple I know. They were married a little over a year ago, and are expecting their first child in a month. I was not expecting them to give anything monetary, and was going to be thankful for their prayers. Instead, I was blessed with a check for $100!!!! I literally got tears in my eyes and I stared down at the check. HOW GENEROUS! And just the other day, a friend of mine asked how support was going. He isn’t the wealthiest person in the world. Hes just one year out of college and just getting on his own two feet. When he asked me, I felt guilty admitting I needed money. I told him even if he would just commit to pray for me, I would be SO blessed. Instead, he said he wanted to write me a check. Again, I’m expecting, at most, $15. When I looked at the amount, I saw a zero I was NOT expecting. $150!!! I was shocked. I texted him immediately to make sure there wasn’t a mistake. Again, I literally started crying (and am tearing up as I write this) to realize how richly God is blessing me through His people. At this point, I have my hands up in surrender to Jesus. It is CLEAR He is in this and He will provide. If this much cool stuff is happening before the trip even starts, I CAN”T WAIT to see what amazing things He is going to do through us on the trip itself.

I will leave you with the verse that has been on repeat in my mind all day, and the reminder of what a mighty God we serve.

    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

Save the whales!

While I do care about our planet, and believe we are to be good stewards of this earth, I am not really one of those die hard “save the whales” people. I am constantly reminded, though, that I probably would be without the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I am naturally wired to care deeply about the bigger picture and important causes. I have such empathy for the sick, sad, and downtrodden. I want to be part of a cause larger than myself and help to bring about real change in the world. This is my natural bent. My family calls it my “save the world mentality.” This predisposition can be a blessing, but it can also be a stumbling block. How am I to know whether it is God calling me to service, or just my self-serving nature? Sometimes the fear of serving God from selfish ambition plagues me at every turn. Because of this, I think I am more sensitive to passages such as 1 Samuel 15:

1 And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

8And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive land devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

13And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” 14 And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”

We see here how Saul thought he knew better than God. The Lord had specifically commanded him to kill everyone and everything, yet Saul thought a better idea was to keep the best stuff for God. Essentially, he was doing things for God, but not with God or at the command of God. This is something I often fear in my own life. With my natural propensity to join PETA, The Peace Corps, and the like, how can I trust my desires to serve God in ministry? The last thing I want to do is all this nice stuff for God, meanwhile ignoring the tasks He truly has called me to. The foreign mission field and full-time Christian ministry may seem good to me, but saving the best that belonged to the Amalekites seemed good to Saul! I know my work for The Lord will be miserably unfruitful without the enabling power of God.

To make matters worse, I am currently thinking and praying through a really neat opportunity. A few years back, I wanted to be in full-time Christian ministry. Through a series of events and various influences, God clearly shut that door. I have been submitting to the life and ministries God has clearly called me to ever since. Recently, however, I have been approached with a potential opportunity to serve alongside a missionary couple from my church. I would be teaching English in the Country of Macedonia for roughly three months with the purpose of sharing the gospel with the students. As excited as I may be about the thought of this, I am also very reserved. God told me “no” to ministry before, who says His answer will be any different this time? What if He still just wants me to be a missionary at my workplace and serve my church family part-time? I do not have the answer to these questions yet. I am praying for wisdom and clarity. I know full well the whole trip will be a major flop if I willfully go on my own, but I also don’t want to be paralyzed by the fear of doing something wrong. I am asking God for peace and reassurance if this is the path He has for me.

The one thing I am sure of in all this is the Lord will complete the good work He began in me. He created me with specific good deeds in mind, and His word will not return void. When He was forming me in my mothers womb, He purposefully gave me the save-the-world-mentality, and He will redeem it for His glorious purposes, just as He will every area of my heart and life. The hard part, as always, is just continuing to pursue more and more of the Holy Spirit in my life, and learning to die to self daily.

Dear Sirs

I attended the wedding of a friend last night. Despite being an introvert and abhorring being in the spotlight, I love to dance. It takes me a bit to lose my self-consciousness and loosen up, but once I am comfortable, I have a wonderful time. The dancing portion of the evening began with the initial awkwardness, looking around at everyone else and realizing how lame I am in contrast. The dances were upbeat enough, however, and I was amidst a group of close friends so I was quickly in my “groove” so to speak. We were all having a blast “wobbling” and “one-two-stepping” together. After a half-hour or so, a slow, romantic, lovey-dovey song began to play through the speakers, which had previously been pounding those fun, upbeat tunes. The whole atmosphere quickly changed… so did the demographics on the dance floor. What was just a moment before a mixed group “tearing it up” and having a good time, was now a slew of dating, engaged, and married couples. Immediately all us single folks felt very alienated. Most singles made their way to their seats, some standing around waiting for a fast song to come on again. I ended up slow dancing with some elementary and middle school girls in a circle, swaying this way, and that way, dramatically going in and back out again. It was actually quite fun, but seeing all the single guys just standing around looking clueless started me thinking, and this is what I have to say about that:

Dear Sirs,

     While I realize this is the year 2013, I do not believe it is a valid excuse to disregard the social graces of years past. Throughout all of American history, men and women were expected to dance with one another. In times when interactions between genders was limited and highly regulated, dancing was still considered to be an appropriate form of connection and recreation between men and women of all ages. Romantic interest was not the driving force behind asking a woman to dance. Men and women were able to, and expected to, dance with many partners throughout the evening. Even in as modern of history as the lifespan of my parents, dancing as partners was normal and enjoyed by all, especially at such occasions as weddings. I do not know what has happened between those days and now. When did slow dancing, or dancing with a platonic friend of the opposite gender become uncomfortable and weird? Gentlemen, you may be afraid a woman would read into you asking her to dance, that she would think you were romantically interested in her when you’re not. You also may be nervous to ask a woman to dance simply because you truly do have feelings for her, and you don’t want the whole world to watch you declare your love to her by asking her out onto the dance floor. Let me give you a few tips.

 1. Ask LOTS of girls to dance. If you dance with someone new with each new song, all the women will realize you’re not asking for any romantic reasons. You don’t even need to just ask your friends, or ladies your age. If you see a woman without a partner, ask if she’d like to dance! The worst she could say is, “No,” but even at that, I’m sure she’d be glad you asked.

2. Get all your buddies to ask women to dance too! It won’t be awkward if everyone is doing it! Peer pressure can be a very valuable tool sometimes. =) If everyone is dancing with everyone else, it takes so much pressure off everyone. (and yes, I do realize the redundancy of using “everyone” 4 (now 5) times in this paragraph)

3. If you’re nervous the ladies Won’t want to dance, you’re probably dead wrong. Now, I can’t speak for all women, but deep down, most of us really like when you guys act like real men. We like when you hold doors for us, give us your jackets when we’re cold, pull the car up to the door if it’s raining, lift heavy things, and ASK US TO DANCE SO WE DON’T JUST STAND AROUND TWIDDLING OUR THUMBS BEING REMINDED FOR THE 5OOTH TIME THAT DAY JUST HOW SINGLE WE REALLY ARE!

4. Don’t be awkward while dancing. Most (if not all)  the slow dance songs these days don’t require any special moves. Couples simply sway from side to side. Some people manage to get tricky and sway around in a little circle (crazy, I know). Since neither partner needs concentrate on keeping time, leading, following, remembering the next move, etc., these types of dances lend themselves to conversation more than a traditional waltz or polka. This is where both genders can feel a bit of pressure. What we need to do, though, is just relax! If two friends can carry a conversation while sitting next to each other, there is no reason they can’t have a perfectly normal conversation while dancing. So, just take a deep breath and practice the art of conversation. You have the power to make a girl feel trapped and uncomfortable, or put her at ease and help her to have a great night. Ask her how she is enjoying the evening. Ask about the food,  or the song, or who was at her table, or what wedding traditions her family has, or even the weather! Just carry on a casual conversation!

5. I’m sure (I hope) this is a no-brainer. I am actually just putting this here so I have five points (I like the number 5 more than 4). Anyways… Gentlemen, please remember to be just that: gentlemen. Keep your hands in an appropriate place on the woman’s back. Also, do not pull your partner in so close that you’re pressed up against each other. I’ve danced with men in the past who, I’m sure, pulled me in extra tight just because of my larger bust line. No woman wants to feel used and violated, ever. Please respect the women you’re dancing with and keep it clean.

Sincerely,

Melissa