Black Umbrella

It was a warm summer Sunday. My family was out to lunch with another family at our regular place: McDonalds. This was back in the day when my brother and I shared a four count Chicken McNugget Happy Meal, his nuggets would be peeled from their breading, and I was all too happy to eat those unwanted golden brown morsels.  Our parents would sit at one table, and we kids felt grown up and oh-so-important sitting without them at our own. As was the routine, the adults would sit and talk for a while after we finished eating, and we would try our best not to get into trouble as we played amongst ourselves.

This meal was progressing like so many others, but soon after we finished eating it began to rain. This was not just any rain, mind you, but one of those torrential downpours which pop up in Midwestern summers. The clouds rolled in quickly, the rain began coming down in sheets, and the world seemed to turn upside down in a moment. We, being the inquisitive children we were, ran to press our greasy faces and ketchup covered fingers against the windows to watch the rapidly changing skies and feel the rolling thunder rumble through our bodies (sorry to the poor employee who had to clean up after that!). The weather couldn’t hold our attention for long, however, so made our way back to our table, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. We all started to clean up and gather by the door. I watched as my friend’s dad made a mad dash to their car and pull it up to the awning so the rest of them could get in without event. As we were waiting for my dad to do the same, I noticed a man wearing a trucker hat, button up plaid shirt, and suspenders sitting on the other side of the dining room. He looked very worried and was muttering to himself. Even as a girl of no more than six, I could tell he was mentally disabled. Though he was a full grown man with whiskers and a potbelly, he carried himself in a way which seemed more like a child. He was there all by himself, visibly distraught about the storm, and had no one to comfort him. My little heart broke and I was filled with compassion for him. I knew I wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do. Thankfully I have two wonderful parents who noticed the same things and went over to check on him before getting leaving.
I shyly hung back and watched as my dad spoke with this man and asked if he was ok, comforting him as tears threatened to fall like the rain. I saw the compassion in my father’s eyes as he tried to find out where he lived and how he was planning to get home. I witnessed my mom ask if he knew his phone number so we could call someone to pick him up, and heard both their sincere voices offer him a ride with us in our station wagon. We learned he lived in a group home not far from the restaurant and had walked there by himself, but he was well trained not to talk to or take rides from strangers, so all offers of help were turned down. He planned to walk home by himself, but the rain showed no sign of letting up. We needed to get home, and this man was clearly not going to let us help him, so my dad ran across the blacktopped parking lot to our gray Mercury Sable, backed out of the parking space and pulled up to the awning for us to get in. Much to my surprise, I saw him emerge from the driver side door and come back inside with something small and black in his hand. With face still dripping, and soaked shirt clinging to his shoulders, I watched as my dad walked over to the man and gave him our umbrella. Though he didn’t respond with gushing gratitude, and still seemed just as distraught as before, I knew we had done something good.  I also knew we only kept one umbrella in the car, and that giving it to him meant I would be very wet in a few short minutes, but I didn’t care. Seeing such kindness and Christ-like love played out before me was such a blessing. I think I would have willingly swam through a lake to get back home if that’s what it would take to help this poor man! Even as a young child, I knew this was the way Jesus wanted us to live, and I was encouraged to see it lived out. My little, broken, compassionate heart prayed for him the whole way home, and thanked God we were there to help him.

It has been over twenty years since that day, but the events of that afternoon are still vivid in my mind. My heart still squeezes in my chest remembering how upset and hopeless that man seemed, and seeing the umbrella under his chair as we left the restaurant still makes me smile. I may never know what his journey home that day was like, but this practical act of love has forever shaped and impacted the way I live. The best part, in my mind, is this wasn’t a one-time deal. My parents consistently displayed this type of selfless love and servant’s heart throughout my childhood. Whether we were helping Bosnian refugees settle into a Chicago apartment or cleaning out and old hoarder’s house and helping her settle into assisted living, buying dinner for a family begging for money, or buying groceries for a family going through a layoff. My parents consistently modeled for me what it truly means to love and serve the least of these. I don’t often enough recognize what a gift this is, but some days I catch myself doing the same things without a second thought, much to the amazement of those around me. I realize the immense blessing it has been to watch the Gospel played out in word and deed every day, not just on Sunday morning. I hope with all my heart I can do my parent’s and my savior proud by loving like I’ve been loved, and share the Gospel with each breath and action.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “

Matthew 25: 35-40


Blessing and Sacrifice… on living at home as a 26 year old woman

Lately I’ve been feeling restless. I’ve been done with school for over four years, and nothing much has changed in that time period.

I am in the same position at work.

I am still very single.

I still live with my parents.

I still feel very stuck…

Because I am the type of person who over-thinks EVERYTHING, I’ve been thinking a lot about living at home. When I was 21 and living at home, it was great. When I was 24 and still living with mom and dad, it was pushing it. Now that I’m 26, I feel like a classic case of “failure to launch”, which, I might add, is very difficult for an idealistic perfectionist such as myself. The Lord is as gracious as always, though, and He has been good at showing me over and over in very clear ways that I am exactly where He wants me. I’ve had lease papers signed and ready to go when my would-be roommate backed out, leaving me to deal with the angry realtor who vouched for us and had the landlord hold the property as we ironed out a few details. I’ve been met with mortgage lenders and realtors in the process of purchasing a house, only to be overcome with the knowledge that it was NOT what the Lord wanted for me at the time. Over and over, in so many ways, God has shown me I am to be living at home… even as a 26 year old woman. Knowing I am exactly where I’m meant to be doesn’t mean it’s necessarily sunshine and rainbows. My mulling and stewing over the past few months has taught me this: living at home is a sacrifice, but it is also a blessing.

The Sacrifice

  1. I am confined to a 100 square feet bedroom. This is fine when you’re a child, but I am a grown woman with documents to be filed files, books, crafting supplies, exercise equipment, etc. Also, I have a life! I want to have people over, sit over a cup of coffee and chat, host guests for the weekend, etc. This is all difficult, if not impossible, when your life is contained to a bedroom.
  2. 2. I must put my dreams of being a homemaker on hold. All my life, that’s all I’ve really wanted to do. What that looks like right now is wanting my own kitchen where I can cook whenever I want, not have to deal with other people’s dirty dishes, and not be bothered with the pantry and cupboards not being organized how I would like them. It means wanting the ability to decorate and arrange furniture to my style, not my mom’s. It means hosting parties, out of town guests, and Bible studies. All of which I am not able to do, because this home is not my own.
  3. I have to deal with the judgmental comments and glances from others, and the belittling feelings which accompany them. Honestly, this is probably the worst thing about living at home. Many people look at me and think I’ve got it made it the shade living off mommy and daddy. They do not see the sacrifice and choose to lash out. I have been told on more than one occasion that I “have no bills” since I live at home, even though I am financially independent from my parents. They don’t see that rent in my area is 50% of my income. They don’t see that my parents had to use all their savings to keep the family afloat during periods of unemployment, leaving me to pay for college on my own. They don’t see my living expenses, or the fact that I have medical conditions which require me to eat in a way which is not entirely cheap, and take medication and supplements I must pay for, on top of the co-pays for visits to specialists a few times a year. They don’t know I have allergies to all the cheap soaps, laundry detergents, and cosmetic products. They speak from ignorance, yet their words still sting. In the past, comments I’ve made about grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking have been met with shock from people who assumed my mom still did all my shopping for me, cooked my meals, and packed my lunches. I have been made to feel like a failure since I obviously can’t get my life together enough to move out of mommy and daddy’s house and establish my own life. I have been admonished by well meaning Christians who must think I live with my parents out of a spirit of laziness and attachment to adolescence, rather than the Lord’s direction and provision.

As with most things, however, the sacrifice is only a part. Living at home also comes with great blessings.

The Blessing

  1. I am able to practice selflessness on a daily basis. One of my fears about remaining single has always been that I would become very self-centered. We can all probably think of people in our lives who never married, and as a result, are very selfish. They never had to put the needs of someone else over their own. Their life, home, schedule, opinion, wants, emotions, etc. has always been the priority. Living at home is a good deterrent for this. I must continually consider the fact that this house does not belong to me. What I do, when I come and go, what I leave laying about the house, and much more all have an impact on more than just myself. My life issues aren’t the only one that matters. Living at home means I hear about problems going on with my dad at work. It means washing the dishes or folding laundry for my mom to lighten her load. It means cooking 50 pounds of pasta, loading it in roasters, and carting it to the dinner theater her students are performing for their spring play and helping plate the food and serve the hundred guests. It means watching what someone else wants to watch on TV and being genuinely interested in the WWII documentary you never would have chosen to watch in a million years. All these things are ways to practice dying to self every day, and that is a gracious provision of the Lord.
  2. My parents are gracious and accommodating. The Lord blessed me with two of the most amazing people in the world as my mom and dad. They see the struggle and sacrifice of living at home. They see how my heart longs for a home to call my own. They see the way the Lord has given me a heart for hospitality. They notice how cramped that 100 square feet has become. In all these ways, these gems of people have chosen to love me and sacrifice themselves for me. I have inherited a “craft closet” in the guest room where I can keep my sewing machine, fabric, yarn, ribbon, etc. I am able to host a Bible study every Thursday in the basement family room. A few times a year, they graciously go somewhere for the day or overnight so my middle school small group can come over. These things may seem small to some, but they bless my heart so deeply. My parents keep showing me what sacrificial love looks like by giving these things up for me.
  3. I am able to bless others financially. It is true that living at home is cheaper than having an apartment by myself. This does not mean, however, that my money is hoarded. With living at home comes financial flexibility. I am able to sponsor a child who lives in India, helping to send her to school and teach her about Jesus. I am able to support missionaries who are proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to the dark, postmodern world of France. I am able to take the 7th grade girls in my small group out to coffee, lunch, or dinner, or even host sleepovers. I am able to take my cousins out for coffee and buy them whatever they want. I can throw baby showers (or at least try to) and pay for the decorations, food, etc. I know that moving out on my own would put an end to all these things. My budget would be very tight with no room for these extras. That day may come, but for now I’m thankful I am able to bless people in this way.
  4. I have a home to come home to every night. I am a homebody through and through. I am an introvert, but I don’t always love being alone. I love being able to come home to someone who loves me each day. I love being in a home where there is love, laughter, and learning together. I love being able to decompress from my day and having Godly wisdom spoken to me as I recount situations I encountered at work or church. I love having someone notice if I made it home safely at night, or bringing me medicine when I’m sick. These things are such a core part of who I am. I am blessed that even as a single woman, I am not alone in this world, but am surrounded by people who love me.

Along these lines, living at home means my living place is constant. I HATE moving. Packing up my life into boxes and destroying my safe haven in this world goes against the very fiber of my being. Financially, I can’t really afford to live by myself. Ideally, I would need a roommate. Throughout the past several years, I have attempted to get an apartment with multiple different people. In retrospect, each one of those roommates would have lasted a year at most, leaving me with the task of moving again and again each year. The Lord has been so gracious in protecting me from that. He knows as well as I do how that would have been my undoing. He sees my end from the beginning and leads me beside the still waters.

So now what?

I am currently looking to go back to school full-time to get my RN licensure. While I am really excited about this opportunity, I know it probably means living at home for another two years. This fills me with disappointment and anxiety. If people think it’s bad for a 26 year old to be a home, what in the world will they think when I’m 28? I know I can’t let the thoughts and opinions of other people to cloud my judgment and prevent me from seeing all the blessings I have been given. I cannot allow vanity and pride to cause me to disobey the clear instruction of God in my life. The Lord has been faithful to give me grace to continue on this road He set before me. I know He will continue to provide the grace, strength, joy, and blessing to keep following the path He. I do not need to see ten steps ahead, only one. He will provide all I need to take each step as it comes. I need only trust His plan, and rejoice in the tender love of my blessed Redeemer.

The God who hears

I often pray for things, yet don’t fully know what I’m asking for. Case-in-point: When I was finishing up my final year of college, my walk with the Lord had been growing deeper and sweeter. As I was reflecting on my past, I felt deep regret that I had not used a very difficult time in my life to grow closer to the Lord, but had run headlong the other way. I developed a bizarre desire for a “re-do” so to speak, and felt that if trouble came my way at that point in my life, it would only drive me closer to my beloved Savior. Seriously though, what kind of crazy person prays for a hard time? Clearly, I do. I didn’t really know what I wanted or what God would give me, but I kind of wanted a trial. In my crazy way, I expected something that would be a little glamorous, you know? Like, some trials cause people watching to really admire you and say what a wonderful Christian you are, etc. etc. etc. Deep down, this is the type of trial I wanted. Well, God had other plans, which involved me working full time in fast food while I watched all my other classmates get jobs in our field. Let me tell you one thing. There is nothing glamorous or admirable about fast food. Nothing. So here I was, stuck with this crazy thing I prayed for, feeling miserable. The Lord was so gracious to me, though, and did draw me closer to Him through it all. He taught me reliance on Himself, and what it really means to trust in Him to be my provider. Would I ever want to go through eight months of rejection from potential employers again? No. Do I ever again want to serve people French fries full time? That would be a no as well, but I am SO thankful I went through that and wouldn’t trade those lessons for the world.

Fast-forward to today. My schedule has been so full for a very long time. Between working full time and taking call, youth retreats, Bible study, speaking at a youth conference, and more, I have been burning my candle at both ends. This week was especially difficult. It all started on Saturday when I spent my morning frantically trying to figure out if anyone was coming to a baby shower I was planning, the afternoon was spent having coffee with a friend trying to hammer down details for said shower, the evening held relatives galore over the house, and the night was topped off with being called in to work after sleeping for only about 20 minutes. I didn’t get home until after 4am, didn’t sleep until closer to 4:30, and then had three hours of nursery duty awaiting me at 9:30. After spending those three hours with a group of adorable and rambunctious two-year-olds, I had to rush over to a mother-daughter outing with my 7th grade small group. Once we finished there, I had some errands to run, food to cook, and things to prep for the upcoming week. Monday morning hit and I was exhausted and SICK. I had to work through the stuffy nose and sleepy eyes for a 9 hour shift before coming home and going to bed. I had commitments after work on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and was going to be spending Friday night frantically getting the food prepped and decorations up for the baby shower I mentioned before. Man, I’m tired just typing all this out! Anyways, at my Bible study on Thursday, my prayer request was for rest and peace. With all this busyness, I have been feeling distant from my Savior, unable to maintain the level of self-control I should, and just generally rundown and crummy. As I was praying for this rest and peace I wanted, I was thinking of the prayer being answered along the lines of an unexpected day off work or to miraculously not need down time and just feel happy and refreshed as I overdo it. Again, I don’t always really know what I’m praying for when I ask God for vague things like rest.

I woke up Friday morning at 8:36, leaving me only 24 minutes to get to work (which is about 20 minutes away) by 9am. As I was frantically putting on the first items of clothing my hands touched (and thank goodness I change into scrubs the moment I get to work because these items did not happen to match) I saw I had received a text message from my friend’s husband (the friend I was throwing the baby shower for) stating the baby had arrived that morning! I had no time to process this exciting information as I was flying around the house like the Tasmanian Devil. I began thinking through the happy dilemma of what to do about the baby shower the next day while I was in the car, but didn’t have enough mental capacity at that point to make any sensible decisions. Work was brutal and I hit the ground running and didn’t stop the entire day. Through all this, I was trying to get messages to various people to figure out what to do with the party. Through all this, I was thinking, “God! This is not the peace and rest I asked for!”

By the end of the day, we had decided to cancel the baby shower. Part of me was really disappointed. I really wanted to decorate the house in baby blue and white streamers, pompoms, and garland. I had been looking forward to decorating little onesie cookies, baking brownies, and setting up the food table. I desperately wanted to have a “Pinterest worthy” get together and have this perfect little world I created in my mind come to fruition. The Lord was gracious to me, as a Father is with his child, and said no. I asked for rest. He gave me the night off from baking, decorating, and stressing. He gave me the following day off from setting up, playing hostess, and cleaning up. He gave me time to watch some TV, write, and rest. I may still be disappointed, but I am also thankful that my loving Savior takes such good care of me and listens when I pray to Him. I may not know what I’m asking for when I pray, but I am blessed that God is not just a vending machine. He gives us more than what we ask for. He gives the best gifts possible, whether we expect them, ask for them, or deserve them. Praise the Lord.

Fixing my eyes

In my personal devotions I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus. Each time I study the Old Testament, I am struck by the fickleness of the Israelites. In the perfect aerial view and 20/20 vision I am allowed in scripture, I find myself becoming proud and judgmental. Sentiments such as, “Come ON people! You saw God part the Red Sea. He killed ALL the Egyptians who were chasing you and has been leading you around in a pillar of cloud and fire.” and, “He descended in a cloud with thunder and lightning and fire on top of a mountain where your leader is meeting with Him, right now, at this very moment… and what do you choose to do with your free time? You melt your jewelry into a cow, decide that IT is your god, and worship it. This very jewelry, may I remind you, God (the real God, not this cow which you just made) gave you as plunder as you escaped Egyptian captivity.” as well as the ever popular, “Seriously guys? Give me a break! How dense can you be?” can often be found running through my mind and heart. Thankfully, I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. He stops me short each time I begin down this thought pathway. “Melissa,” I hear Him gently whisper to my heart, “how many times have you turned your back on Me just moments after I showed you grace and blessing? How many times have you harbored unforgiveness in your heart even after I have forgiven you so much?” and “Do you doubt I have a plan even in the bad stuff? Is My power and sovereignty limited?” These reminders are humbling. They show me again and again that I am truly no different than the stiff-necked people I read of in Scripture. These stories shed the revealing light of God into the depravity of man’s hearts, and in that process this pure light shows so clearly what a good and powerful God we serve. Oh that I could simply rest in this thought and trust in the goodness of my God. I, however, am so prone to self-loathing. In endless ways I demand perfection from myself. I see the true nature of my heart as I study Scripture and walk with the Lord. I see my selfishness, my pride, my vanity, and my love of ease and comfort. I see all the areas I do not have victory: my poor attitude toward my boss, my lack of self-control, and my lack of faithfulness and depth in my time spent in prayer and study of God’s Word. I see my sin, and I listen closely to the voice of the evil one who tells me I’m not worth anything. Instead of looking to the cross where Jesus shed His blood in the greatest gesture of love this world has ever seen, I choose to look at myself, my poor, wretched, stiff-necked self, and I wallow. Instead of running to the arms of the one who loves and accepts me for all that I am, I sit alone with my sin, trying to make it go away. But, oh what I patient God I serve! He never gives up on me. He never stops waiting for me to lay down my burdens and come to sit at His feet, and He rejoices at the opportunity to shower me with His love. Let us all rest in this great love.

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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.

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.

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)

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.




063     The other day this plant caught my eye. The previous day my mom had brought it outside to soak up some sunshine. When it was in the house, the flowers were quit symmetrical. They were all growing nicely toward the ceiling. Each was unaware of anything missing from their environment. The plant grew and produced lovely flowers. It gave off a pleasant aroma, and did everything a houseplant should. After one day of being outside, under the overhang of the roof, it was clear what these little pink blossoms wanted: sun. When they were inside, far removed from the light, warmth, and nourishment of the sun, they seemed not to miss it or crave it. Once they were brought near, however, they realized their desire and need for real, organic light as opposed to the compact fluorescent bulb they had grown accustomed to. Just that hint, that tease of authentic light had a powerful impact. You can see vividly how each stem is not bent, reaching for a better view of the bright sun.

     I see this as an analogy for Christians in the world. We are supposed to be salt and light.

    “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

(Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)

     As Christians, we can have a powerful impact on the non-believers we encounter on a day-to-day basis. Just as this plant had no concept of what it was missing while still inside, many people have no clue what they are lacking until they encounter someone who has been truly born again. I pray my life would be that beacon. I pray my love would cause the souls of those around me to bend and reach out for Jesus. I pray the Lord uses my influence to move the hearts of those around me, just as He used the influence of the sun to move those flowers. I challenge you all to go about your day with a renewed sense of the light you carry. The light within us is powerful and beautiful. We must continue to die to self so that the Spirit of Christ might shine all the more brightly through our lives.


In the past week, I’ve watched two people die. Well, it’s likely the first woman was already dead when I saw her slumped over her steering wheel, halfway hanging out of her open car door, but that is beside the point. The immediacy of death, its inevitability and finality, have been at the forefront of my mind.  Also, the sobering knowledge that none of us know the day of hour in which we will pass on to the afterlife. God is the one who numbers our days and holds our lives in His hands.

Friday morning dawned and I went about my daily business. I teach American Sign Language to a group of home schooled students each Friday before work. As I left the school, I just barely missed getting through a green light. After that, I got stuck behind an RV doing exactly the speed limit. In my impatience, I began to get frustrated. I didn’t want to be late for work, but at the rate things were going, I was going to be cutting it close. Then, the billboard which displays pertinent traffic information announced an accident at my exit, and subsequent slowdowns beginning a short way ahead. Again, my frustration began to rise. As I neared the back end of the traffic jam, I could clearly see the involved vehicles. I was about five or so cars back, but the traffic was at a complete standstill. I decided to get off the freeway at that point and go around. Little did I know at the time, the accident I saw was not the one causing the slowdown. This accident was the result of an individual failing to stop when coming up on the back end of the traffic jam. Her car was mangled; glass shattered, and turned the wrong way in the shoulder. As I drove slowly down the exit ramp, I turned to get a better look at the accident. I was not expecting to see the driver of the car, hanging out of the open door, clearly dead from this fatal crash. After getting over the initial shock, my day was put into serious perspective. Yes, I had a headache, but I was alive. Yes, my co-worker was pushing my buttons, but I was alive. Yes, my life is imperfect, but I am alive. Then, the most sobering thought came. God protected me. My loving and faithful father made sure I was not one of those vehicles, five car lengths in front of me. I was not the car that was rear-ended at 60+ miles per hour. I was spared by my sovereign Savior. Wow.

As if one encounter with death isn’t enough, I witnessed a patient pass away this week as well. I was again struck by our helplessness when it comes to death. No matter how much my team or the family, or even the patient willed to live, there was nothing we could do to cheat death. This individual was not planning for the pre-procedure goodbyes to be the last. That morning was not expected to be the last sunrise of their life. That was not the day they expected to meet their creator.

I sit here this morning with a heavy heart. Who will be next? I have a slew of unsaved friends and co-workers. What would I do if one of them passed away before I had the chance to share the Gospel? How would I go one knowing they are spending eternity separated from the goodness of God? I feel a renewed sense of urgency to share my faith. None of us are guaranteed our next breath. I need to make each breath count. I pray the Father uses my imperfect life and graciously uses it to draw others to Himself. I pray for boldness in the face of criticism. I pray my friends come to love Jesus even more than I do, and that God glorifies His Son through the transformation of their lives. I thank God for shaking me out of my complacency and rekindling my flame for the Gospel.