Monday, May 28, 2012

Enough Already!

The other day Patrick and I were watching "No Reservations" on Netflix, the episode where Anthony Bourdain goes to Sweden.  In one segment of the show he was talking to a couple of Swedes asking what is typically Swedish.  Their reply was the word lagom.  Although there is no direct translation in English, the closest equivalent words in our language would be "enough" or "sufficient."  The Swedes in the show were explaining how Americans are all about being number one and always pushing the idea of always wanting more.  Lagom alludes to a sense of being content with "just enough."

Today I was thinking about what the world would be like if more people adopted the notion of lagom.  Not necessarily in the sense that they don't care to be good at what they do, but in the sense that they are satisfied with what they have; that they are content with just enough.  Part of the reason lagom seems to foreign to us is because it is contrary to the American Dream, and idea that endorses constantly striving for more.  We're brought up believing that more is better, and this makes it rather hard to be satisfied with what we do have.  In the constant struggle for more we rarely take on a grateful attitude.  Not only that, but we often miss out on the one thing that really is enough for us.

Paul writes to the Philippians in 4:11-13 saying, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength."  Here Paul makes it clear that it is possible to be content even when we are lacking in material wealth.  What bring true contentment is knowing Christ.

Please understand that I think it it wonderful to enjoy God's blessings, whether material or otherwise.  God has blessed us richly in many ways, and we are grateful for those blessings!  But let us remember that even if all the material things of the world were stripped away, Christ alone is still sufficient for us.  When we have Christ in our lives we truly have all we could ever need.  He is enough!  As someone who tries hard to follow Christ I want my life to be a continual demonstration of this fact.  I do not need more stuff to fill any void in my life, because I have the ever-present, completely satisfying love of Jesus!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Destination: Southeast Asia

You all know by now that Patrick and I plan to move to southeast Asia within the next 3 years or so to do full time missions among Muslims.  As part of our preparation for this we'll be taking several short term trips to the country to be involved in ministry and to meet other missionaries.

Our first such trip is coming up soon.  We'll be in southeast for two weeks, and our purpose is twofold:  
  1. Meet up with another missionary, who has been in country for several years, and learn how he does ministry and if he is someone we'd like to partner with down the road
  2. Stay among Muslim villagers and share our love for Christ with them
I know that we still have much to learn about full time ministry among another people group, and that's why I'm looking forward to this trip.  Our team (three friends still in Okinawa, and us) has been preparing for many months now, praying together, studying God's Word together, and planning for what kind of ministry we will have someday.  We've spent a long time preparing for this short term trip, and it's exciting to see it all come together!  We know that above all this will be a learning experience for all of us, and we excited to see what God has to show us.

Patrick and I have been so blessed by the financial and prayer support of friends and family, and we are so grateful for everyone who has caught the vision of what God has called us to do!  We really want this trip to have a foundation in prayer, and there are several things you can pray for:
  • Pray that God would give everyone on our team a humble, teachable heart
  • Pray for the people we will encounter with whom we will share the gospel
  • Pray that God would give us a love for the people in this country
  • Pray that we would constantly be reminded that our work is not about us but about the love of Christ and how the Holy Spirit is working through us.
Recently I was telling someone about our call to missions, and she said she too would love to be a missionary but had no idea where to start.  That's the beauty of what we're doing, at first we had no idea either!  This whole process has been Spirit led, and I think that's what will make it a successful ministry.  It's easy to think that people who go into missions always have everything figured out, but the more I learn, the more I realize that's not true.  Missionaries are normal people like me and you who are willing to be obedient to God's call in their lives.  They aren't spiritual superheroes, they are just people who love Jesus and want to make his name great among the nations.  All we have to do is be willing to let God use us, and the Lord will guide our steps through the process.  After all, after giving the Great Commission Jesus said, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20).  Amen!

It's doubtful that we'll have internet access while we're overseas, but I'm looking forward to posting more updates about our trip when we return so stay tuned!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Change You Can't Help but Notice

Lately I've been reading through the book of Acts, and I love reading about the ministries of the apostles, and the incredible ways that God used them through the working of the Holy Spirit.  The church was so alive, and I wish I could have been there to see it all firsthand.  There are many accounts of people who were healed and instantly began praising God, because they recognized that it was by his grace alone that they were made well.

The other day I read the story of a man who was crippled from birth.  He had to be carried every day to the temple gates so he could beg for money.  One day as Peter and John were going up to the temple they stopped at the man and looked directly at him.  I believe that they were able to see not just his physical needs but his spiritual needs as well.  (Some people just have a way of doing that don't they?)  The man expected a hand out, but what Peter gave him was much greater.  Verse 8 says, "Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.  Then he went with them into that temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God."  Here's the part I really love.  Acts 3:9-10 says, "When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."  

Isn't this a picture of what our lives should look like?  Before we encounter Christ we are like the crippled man on the street; desperate for hope.  But then Jesus comes in and brings glory into our lives and we can walk again!  We can run and jump and dance and praise God!  Jesus changes people.  That's just how He works.  Jesus is all about coming in to people's lives and turning them upside down (for the better.)  And don't you know that people notice that kind of transformation?  There's something contagious about the joy that Christ bestows on those who put their trust in Him.

I want my life to look different because I love Jesus.  Honestly, there are plenty of times when I don't think I reflect the light of Christ the way I should.  I let the worries of the day cloud over my joy in the Lord, or I find other ways of putting my lamp under a basket.  I'm constantly praying that God would show himself to me in new ways every day, and that I would experience him afresh every morning.  And let me tell you, when I do, it's incredible!  I might not be healed physically like the man in Acts was, but the change in my heart can be just as drastic.

I really believe that our purpose on this earth is to glorify God.  We all have different ways of doing that, of course, but our purpose is the same nonetheless.  When we give our lives to Christ, we should look different...changed.  And through our transformation we can bring other people into the fold of God.  How incredible is it that God uses us to bring others into the family of believers?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Just a Minute to Change a Life

Today I finished reading Wess Stafford's new book "Just a Minute."  Stafford is the president of Compassion International, and his passion for kids, especially those in poverty around the world, really resonates in these pages.  The main idea of the book is that it can take just a minute to change the life of a child, for better or worse.  We often take for granted our impact on the kids around us, whether we're tuned into their needs or not.  This book is a compilation of stories from Wess and others who were greatly impacted by adults during their childhoods.  Some of the stories are of kids who were encouraged and uplifted and were able to reach great heights because of a caring adult who believed in them.  Other stories tell the tragic tale of the devastating words of a parent or teacher who tore down the self confidence of a young child and left them scarred for years afterwards.

Very often children are looked down upon in society or thought of as "the least of these."  They might come from homes were affirmation of them is lacking.  They may be growing up in an environment that is telling them they don't matter.  It might take just one person to turn that around by taking the time to tell them they are important, to smile at them or offer a word of encouragement.  How hard is that really?

As someone who works with and loves kids I think the message of this book is one we all need to hear and be reminded of often.  The children we see around us really are our future, and we should be investing in them!  The great thing about this idea is that it's really not a difficult thing to do.  We can all take one minute out of  our busy days to lift up a child who comes across our path.  It might very well just change the course of their life!  So maybe today you can look for opportunities to encourage a child around you.  You have no idea the affect you might have on them!

"I invite you to join me in making this cause for children your own passion, to fight the battle child by child and minute by minute, being alert and willing to step in and make a memory that just might transform a life, heal a wounded heart, or lovingly send a child on their way.  In the heart of a child, a moment can last forever.  It is my prayer that a grassroots movement will arise, millions of us dedicated to recognize and seize these moments to breathe hope, joy, faith, and love into the little ones God has entrusted to us --maybe in just a minute!"  (P. 209)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Waiting Well

Do you ever find yourself just waiting for the next phase of your life to come along?  As though you are begrudging the pages of your calendar for not flipping fast enough?   This has characterized my life in many instances.  In middle school I couldn't wait for high school.  In high school I couldn't wait for college.  In college I couldn't wait to get married.  This waiting game continues today as I look forward to the time when we move overseas and into full-time missions.

The other day I started thinking about the importance of waiting.  We might not always understand why God calls us to wait for certain things, but He certainly has a plan for us during those times.  Waiting doesn't mean a lack of activity...quite the opposite I think.  I'm starting to see that when God calls us to wait, he's actually calling us to prepare.  We might feel called to something but we might not be spiritually, emotionally, or even physically ready for whatever the task at hand is.  When God gives us time to wait, he continues to shape us and mold us into his image and get us ready for what he's called us to do.

The next few years will be anything but boring for us.  We have a lot to do to prepare for missions work in another country, and I'm excited to see the changes that take place in our hearts and minds during this time.  We're hoping to go on several missions trips to southeast Asia to learn and experience more of what it's like to minister in the specific community we're called to and share the love of Christ with people who have never heard his name.

There are going to be many things in my life that God calls me to wait for, and I want to wait well.  I don't want to waste those times in inactivity, but to seek God's guidance in how he would have me prepare for the next steps in my life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The End of an Era.... and a Fresh Start

Today was a day long in coming, and it was a bittersweet day for sure.  Today was Patrick's last day in the Marine Corps.  It's hard to believe that after 6 years of service, plus many more in preparation, we're no longer a "military family."  Today I drove on base for the last time as a Marine Wife, and I must say, I got a little teary-eyed.  In a way, a lot of who we are has been wrapped up in the Marine Corps.  When Patrick and I first started dating we knew that he would serve as a Marine, and ever since then it has shaped our lives in many ways.

In some ways the military is like a family.  We all speak the same acronym-riddled language and understand what it's like when friends or friends' spouses are deployed.  You form bonds with people just because you go through so much together and there is a strong sense of solidarity.  I'm going to miss that sense of community!

This afternoon Patrick had an EAS (End of Active Service) ceremony, and shortly after 1:00 PM his Marine career was officially over.

Last night I finished my 15th journal notebook, and it seems really appropriate that today I start a new one.  There's something really exciting about starting on a fresh page, and today seems like the perfect day to start fresh.  As I flip through the blank pages, I can't help but wonder what life experiences will fill them.  The next few years will be completely different from anything we've done before.  For so long our life has been about the military, and now we're excited to shift our focus to missions.  I can't wait to see what God brings about in our life over the next couple of years.  I've written before about how interesting it is to go back through old journal entries to see how God has shaped my life, and how I've grown in my faith over the years.  It's also fun to think forward a bit and wonder how I will continue to grow and change over the next phase of life.  I love that God is never finished with us, and that he continues to mold us up until the very end of life.  So here's hoping that this next notebook will be filled with new insights and experiences that will bring me closer to the Lord!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Six Month Plan

 The more I think about it the more I realize how crazy the next few months of our lives are going to be.  In an earlier post I think I mentioned that Patrick and I have dubbed 2012 as The Year of Living Out of Suitcases.  In case anyone is wondering what Patrick and I will be up to, I thought I'd sort of outline our plan for the rest of the year.

As many of you know, Patrick and I are planning to begin long term missions in southeast Asia within the next three years.  This June we are going out there for two weeks with our long-term team to meet up with some missionaries who are already working there.  We're hoping to check out some potential ways in which we can partner with them to spread the gospel of Christ to the outlying islands and villages.  We're so excited for this trip not only for the wonderful ministry opportunities we'll have, but also the chance to spend some time with our dear friends whom we haven't seen in a year.  (The other members of our team were friends we met in Okinawa, and they're all still there.)

Only a week after we return to South Carolina we will move back to Kentucky.  Talk about a whirlwind week!  We've already begun making lots of plans with friends in Beaufort so we can spend as much time together as possible before we have to leave.  My Dad (though he lives in Canada) still has a house in Louisville and has graciously said we can live there while we're in town.  I'm excited to make that house our home!

Our plan is basically to drop off our stuff in Louisville then travel around the country visiting friends and family we haven't seen in years.  We hope to visit Colorado, Missouri, and Michigan, and possibly a few other places if time (and our budget) allows.

In the fall we're flying out to Zambia to spend a few months with Holly, Patrick's sister, on the mission field.  I'm hoping to teach in the orphan school, so I'm already busy preparing ideas and materials to take with me.  I know it will be such a blessing to get to teach there and work with all those precious children!  Patrick and I are really looking forward to spending a large chunk of time out there and getting a true feel for what it's like to be a missionary.  And I have a feeling it'll be really hard to leave at the end of our 2-3 months out there.

We're hoping to be back in Kentucky by Thanksgiving, but who knows for sure.  We'll then have some time to prepare for Patrick to start his Masters degree at the Southern Baptist Seminary.  At that point I'll also be looking for a teaching position.  I'm not sure what kinds of opportunities will be available at that time in the year, but I know that God is preparing a place for me somewhere.  The program Patrick plans to do will take about 2 years so we'll stay put in Kentucky for at least that long as he finishes school and we start raising support for our ministry overseas.

And for the record, yes, we do plan to have kids, potentially even next year.  On several occasions after telling people about our plans to move overseas they have said, "Oh, so you're not going to have a family."  I have no idea where the notion came from that missionaries don't have kids, but it's not true.  Children are a blessing in the mission field, and actually open up many new opportunities to minister to families.  I know that raising children in that part of the world will be full of challenges (and potential dangers), but we are trusting in the Lord in all things, including raising kids!

Well there you have it.  Our lives will be full of changes in the coming months, and we're excited to see what God has in store for us!  I'll be posting a lot (hopefully) about our upcoming travels so stay tuned!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Delivered from Our Enemies

Lately I've been reading through the book of Psalms, and in it are some of my favorite verses telling of God's love and sovereignty.  There are also many Psalms in which the David cries out to God for protection against his enemies--those who wish to do him great harm.  "In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.  Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me.  Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.  Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men." (Psalm 71:1-4)  To be honest, I had never really been able to identify very well with some of these Psalms, because I've never been in a place where I had enemies that were out to kill or even harm me.  I always thought of the "enemies" David refers to as entities such as Saul's army who was out to destroy him.

Recently, however, God opened my eyes to something I hadn't thought of.  There are millions of persecuted Christians around the world who face physical danger every day for their faith in Christ. How real must these Psalms be to them, and what comfort they must bring in times of trials.  The reality of God's promises come alive in this book, and we are reminded that though God doesn't promise physical safety, He promises us spiritual safety.  Though we might endure great hardship on earth, our eternal reward in heaven is secure.  Psalm 30:4-5 says, "Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."  There is great hope in these verses that though we might suffer for the cross in this life, we will find joy with the Lord in heaven.  Praise God that there will be joy in the morning!  And what a joy it will be when we see the Lord face to face in Paradise.

I have also begun to see the "enemy" described in Psalms not just in terms of a physical person, but of the worst enemy of all: Satan himself.  When my perspective shifted to that thought, the Psalms came alive to me as never before, because I can definitely relate to being attacked by Satan.  The enemy of my soul has sought time and again to bring me captive to sin and fear, but by the grace of God I have been delivered.  "The Lord is my light and my salvation -- whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life -- of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)  Even when I feel like my whole world is caving in, I know that I'm still surrounded by God's presence.  He will always deliver us from our enemies, though it might not be in the way we expect or even want.  Sometimes we're delivered from pain and sometimes we're delivered through it.  Either way, I want to put my whole trust in the grace of God to sustain me and strengthen me when it seems as though the enemy is gaining ground.  I pray that the same would be true for you!

"I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears." (Psalm 34:4)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When God Doesn't Make Sense

I'm sure that everyone reading this has at some time faced great pain in their life.  We have all suffered loss or hurt, and at times our faith has been severely tried.  I believe that God's purposes and timing are perfect, though we might not agree all the time.  The trials we face are there to strengthen our faith and bring us into closer communion with the Lord.  First Peter 1:7 says in regard to trials, "These have come so that your faith --of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."  I believe that at times we are called to suffer so that our faith may be strengthened and our trust in the Lord renewed.  How we walk through our trials is a testament to our faith in the One who will deliver us.  James 1:2 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  

Recently my family suffered a great loss.  My aunt Margaret lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last Sunday after 13 months of fighting.  We are relieved that her suffering is over, but her death has caused many to question God's goodness and love.  We may never know why the Lord decided to take her at such a young age, but I know that we can trust in His purposes for our lives, and His timing is always perfect.

I don't claim to have all the answers to why God ordains suffering in our lives, but I do know that without trusting in His absolute goodness I would be lost.  Because of the presence of sin in this world there will be pain and suffering.  Only when Christ is revealed will He "wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)  I have hope that there will be a time when the pains of this world seem an eternity away.  Until that time comes though, what are we to do when God's plan doesn't make sense to us?  What do we do when it feels like he is a million miles away and unconcerned with our pain?

The majesty of God is incomprehensible to me.  I cannot fathom every aspect of the nature of God even though I daily seek His face.  The wonder of the Lord is too great for me.  Isaiah came to a similar conclusion when he wrote these words spoken by God, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  We are not meant to understand everything about what God choses to do.  There will always be certain things that he chooses not to reveal to us.  Who are we to question this about God?  I find comfort in this verse, because I know that God is bigger than any pain I may face in this life.  He is ultimately in control and will not fail me.

Lately I have been thinking about the terrible suffering of Job, and his decision to not curse God and die, as his wife urged him to do.  He had lost his children, his home, his possessions, and his health.  Through his torment Job seriously questioned God's goodness and His intimate involvement in his life.  God answered Job in chapters 38-41 reminding Job that God alone is in control.  Job's reply to the Lord is a humbled one.  "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You ask, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.'  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."  

God's rebuke to Job in his time of distress might seem a bit harsh, but sometimes we need a stern reminder of who is really in charge.  Sometimes we're tempted to think that God should cater to our wants, and when He fails to do that we have the audacity to doubt His goodness.  Perhaps God doesn't give us what we want because He wants instead to give us what we need.  And what we need is often perspective.  Eternal perspective.  When we look at life in light of eternity, our trails and suffering seem momentary.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  We can come through the trials of life by fixing our eyes on Christ, and remembering that He suffered the ultimate pain to bring us new life.  Our God is not unfamiliar with sacrifice and hurt.  He gave up His only Son so that we might really live.  He endured the agony of the cross so that we might find restoration and mercy.  When we walk through pain we can identify more closely with Christ.  In Philippians 3:17 Paul writes, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharon gin his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."  

Though we experience deep hurt during our time on this earth, we can rest in the promise that it is not in vain.  God has a purpose for us in the testing of our faith so that we will be transformed even more into the image of Christ.  Though we don't always understand the reasons for our pain, we can trust that God is always good, and He will never leave us.  And in the end Jesus himself will wipe away our tears and we will see at last the purpose of pain.