Monday, September 16, 2013

God's Light Doesn't Use Batteries

I have the incredible privilege of serving in the kids' ministry at Sojourn, though honestly, some Sunday mornings I need to remind myself that, yes it is indeed a privilege to serve.  More often than not God shows up in great big ways during our time with the kiddos and by the end of the morning I leave feeling rejuvenated and reminded of why I love working with children.  I've been teaching in the elementary class since January, and this has allowed me to get to know a lot of the kids and, to some degree, invest in their young lives.  There's seriously nothing better than a child experiencing God's love in powerful ways so their lives are forever changed.  I'm so blessed that I get to witness that!

This past week I was sitting with the elementary kids in the back of the room where we have all the classes gather for assembly time.  Each week one teacher presents the lesson, and we have a (rather exuberant) time of worship with the kids.  This week the lesson was about walking in God's light, and the teacher started out by walking around pointing a flashlight at himself.  The kids all started giggling, then he told them how he'd read in the Bible about walking in "the light."  Kids love any opportunity they have to correct a teacher so one little boy blurts out, "That light runs on batteries!  God's light doesn't use batteries!!"  It was at that point that I lost it.  Kids crack me up, and I absolutely love their straightforwardness, especially when it comes to what they're learning about in scripture.

Children have a way of seeing some things so clearly that adults see dimly.  It's as if their hearts are more permeable to God's truth and they can hear his voice more clearly since their senses haven't been dulled by years of jadedness that so often plagues the adult population.  There's a reason that Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children.  Every week I'm reminded that kids have so much to teach us about following and loving Jesus.  They ask good questions and don't follow blindly, but their faith is so strong in ways that allude me.  There is an innocence to their belief that I wish I had.  They just get it.  So let me just say that as much as I love teaching and encouraging the kiddos in my class, I feel like in many ways they are doing so much more for me!  And a little child will lead them indeed.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life with Baby Bump

I know I'm not great at posting updates on Facebook about my pregnancy, but I want to avoid being one of those people who post updates on ever detail of their lives.  Besides, I'm more or less going on the assumption that if someone really wants to know about our baby, they'll ask.  I'm not one to post weekly pictures of my ever-increasing gigantitude, and I think posting pictures of the inside of your uterus for the entire world to see is just, well, weird.  But trust me, there will be plenty of baby pictures abounding once our little guy arrives.  In the meantime, I thought a blog update would suffice.

Overall this has been an easy pregnancy.  (Friends who've had it rough please don't hate me!)  Prior to getting pregnant I was convinced that I would spend nine months in misery basically wanting to die, but it's actually been quite pleasant.  I'm currently 23 weeks along and everything is progressing normally.  We've gotten to see the baby at every appointment, usually with a handheld ultrasound, so no printouts, but it's been fun to see him grow each month!  It's hard to believe how quickly the time is going, and he'll be here before we know it!

Last week we received a package from John and Sarah, our dear friends in Okinawa (and future missions partners).  In it were tons of adorable baby clothes, books, and even and Engrish shirt to remind us of our incredible years in Japan.  (If you are unfamiliar with Engrish you should check it out.)  As I held up each little onesie I tried to imagine the child that will be wearing it in a few short months.  Honestly it still seems a bit too good to be true that we're actually having a baby!

Recently I've started to feel him move a lot more, and in fact there are some nights it feels like he's practicing parkour in there.  He seems to be most active when I'm trying to fall asleep, which I suppose is his sweet little way of preparing me for what's to come.  (How thoughtful of him!)

I've had lots of friends ask if I've started getting the nursery ready, and I feel a little guilty every time.  I can barely bring myself to go into the office (aka: the pit of despair) that will eventually be the nursery.  It's become our catch-all room, and I don't even know where to begin.  As something of an organizational freak, this is quite embarrassing to admit.  I keep telling myself there's plenty of time...  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summer Recap

I must say, the summer of 2013 has been a blast!  We've had loads of time to spend with lots of good friends, some near and some far.  And besides a weekend trip to Virginia we've pretty much stayed put, so it's been a restful time as well.  Here are a few of the highlights...

First of all, Holly was home for three months, and it was fabulous getting to spend so much time with her!  There was plenty of reminiscing about our time in Zambia, and of course we loved hearing updates on how everyone there is doing.  We're hoping we'll get to see Holly again in December when our baby boy makes his appearance!
Our friend Chris' band Harpeth Rising was in town, and, since Patrick and I are pretty much band groupies we had to be there.  And added bonus was getting to see Chris' daughter Nancy!!
I'm so excited that not only did ToniMarie get to come visit for a weekend but she's now moved to Lexington!  After 13 years of a long-distance friendship we finally live in the same state!  I'm so excited to get to see her way more often than every 3-5 years!
Our community group, which meets every Tuesday, night has continued to be one of the highlights of each week.  We are so blessed to have such wonderful friends to fellowship and study God's word with!  Not to mention, sometimes we get a little crazy...
On a recent girls' night we discovered that if we dressed up like cows we could get free food at Chick-fil-A.  Who could pass that up?  It was the one time you wouldn't be offended if someone said you looked like a cow.  Haha!
Patrick and I had another reunion with Shane and Melia, two of our closest friends from South Carolina.  It seems to be becoming something of a tradition to meet a Chipotle in Lexington while they are driving through on their way to visit family.  Hanging out with them is always a time of encouragement and excessive laughter.
In July we said goodbye to two dear friends, Stacy and Andrew, who faithfully led our community group since last spring.  To send them off well we had a huge pool party and BBQ.  Rarely do you meet people who make such a lasting impression on your life, and I'm so thankful we had the opportunity to get to know them this last year!  They are such a blessing to us!
On our way to Virginia a few weeks ago Patrick and I stopped in Asheville to visit the legendary Biltmore Estate.  It's the largest home in the United States, owned by the Vanderbilt family.  My favorite room, naturally, was the library with over 10,000 books!
Our trip to Virginia was actually for the second reunion of our Okinawa Bible study group this year!  We all came together again to celebrate Penny's baby shower, and what a fun time it was.  Emily did an excellent job of hosting, and it was wonderful to get to spend time with all of the girls.  Despite being scattered all over the country we do a decent job of staying in touch, and whenever we get together it's as if no time at all has passed since our last get together.  I thank God daily for these women!
Pete and Emily were gracious hosts and opened up their home to us while we were in Virginia.  We absolutely adore their two boys, and I can't wait to meet boy #3 soon!
My summer wouldn't be complete without getting to spend an afternoon with one of my best friends Melissa!  Our tradition is to have lunch at Olive Garden and coffee at Starbucks.  It was exciting to get to see her 1-year old daughter MaKenzie who is now walking!  Kids seriously grow up way too fast.

As I look back at so many pictures with so many dear friends I'm reminded again of how good God is! I'm so thankful to constantly be surrounded by such amazing and loving people!

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Word of Encouragement

My dad once asked me how it is God speaks to me.  He was actually asking it sarcastically since, in his mind, it's ridiculous to think that God is truly concerned with us personally.  But the longer I walk with Christ the more ways I discover that God reveals himself to me whether it's through reading scripture, speaking with friends, or during times of worship.

As I wrote in my last post I've been experiencing some discouragement about our future plans for missions.  I think a lot of it stems from feeling so settled here in Louisville, and really loving where God has placed us currently.  The thought of giving it all up is, well, unsettling.  It's easy for me to forget the grander plan God has for us when I allow myself to dwell on all the people and things we'll be leaving behind.  So last week I was being completely honest with myself and with Patrick when I said that there is (at present) only a small part of me that even wants to go back overseas.  As hard as it is to write it and admit it, I think it's important for you to know that the decision to obey God is usually not an easy one, and is one that I still struggle with.  (So if you're in that same boat, you're not alone!)

At Sojourn last Sunday we sang a new song during worship simply titled "Psalm 126."  This was one of those moments when I felt like God was speaking directly to me through the words of the Psalm.

When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who  dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations
"The Lord has done great things for you."
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.

When I went back to my Bible to re-read this Psalm after church I realized I'd had most of it highlighted, but I had never thought of it in such personal terms.  I always wondered why the people were going out with tears and weeping.  Isn't it always pure joy to serve God?  How can they be crying when doing God's will?  I think now I have a better appreciation for what the Psalm writer meant.  Yes, there is joy in obeying God, but that road isn't always easy.  Thankfully I am reminded that those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy.  As we go out as missionaries we will experience trials and hardships, but sowing the Word of God will bring a great harvest for the Kingdom.  It is not for our own glory that we sow but so that the nations might say, "The Lord had done great things for us."  There is an eternal significance in following God's calling!

My prayer right now is that I would set my eyes so firmly on Jesus that all worldly things would become dim; that I would be so focused on sharing the love of God that material comforts would be of little value.  And I pray that God would continually speak to me and remind me of the wonderful plan of redemption he has for his people and the great joy and reward we will experience for walking in that plan.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Called to Something Crazy

At this point most people know about our vision to serve in South East Asia on the mission field.  Over the last 3 years God has given us a heart for the nations and a passion for seeing the gospel go to the ends of the Earth.  Patrick and I are excited about an upcoming trip we're taking October where we will visit the capital city of the country where we will live.  We'll meet up with the rest of our team there as we meet and partner with some of the local missionaries who are already busy in ministry.  Our goal is to find out how we can support them long term as we move and minister alongside them.  In a way the purpose of our trip is twofold: one, to learn more about the culture and how we can fit into ministry there, and two, to feel more confident that I will literally survive there.  (Thus far my track record of being healthy in developing world cities isn't stellar.)  So this trip should give us a better idea of what life will be like for us in a couple of years.

Usually the reaction I get when I tell people about this trip is, "You'll be HOW many months pregnant?!"  That's right, we're traveling to one of the largest, most polluted developing word cities on the planet and I'll be seven months pregnant.  Most people balk at this and call me crazy (or worse).  And maybe I am crazy, but honestly this is the life that God has called us to, and being obedient to that calling is a way of putting our complete faith and trust in Him.  God is good, and we believe that he will provide for us and put a hedge of protection around us and our baby.  And if He doesn't?  God is still good.  But we aren't the types to obey God only when it's convenient or safe.  Where in the Bible do you see Jesus promising safety?  Oh wait, nowhere.  So why should we assume that in everything we do we have the right to be safe and healthy 100% of the time?  A huge part of obeying God is about forfeiting our rights to things that we never had a right to in the first place.

When Jesus calls people to follow Him, He calls them to a life of submission.  He also calls them to follow Him even when they're not entirely sure it's safe or that they're going to come out unscathed on the other side.  God doesn't promise us health and prosperity, but he does promise that those who trust and obey Him will be blessed.  And He very well might call us to do some things that seem crazy to people who don't know Jesus, but our goal isn't to look like the rest of the world, it's to be transformed into the image of Christ.  As a mother-to-be I want more than anything for my son to grow up seeing  his mommy and daddy following hard after Jesus and submitting our lives to Him daily.  I want our baby boy to grow up knowing the blessings that come from obedience to God rather than the fear of what other people might say about it.

In Matthew 21 Jesus tells the parable of the two sons.  A father, who owned a vineyard, went to each of his sons asking them to go work the fields.  The first said he'd go but never did, and the second said he wouldn't go but eventually changed his mind and got busy working.  Jesus then asked his hearers which son did the will of his father.  The answer is obvious: the son who went to work in the vineyard.  It's easy to give lip service to the will of God.  It's easy to sit in church or in Bible study or in our quiet time and tell God we want to serve him and follow him.  It's an entirely different thing to get out of your seat, or off your couch and go.  If we merely say things that we think God wants to hear, but we never actually obey his commands, what kind of followers are we?  Are we truly loving and serving God if we only obey so far as it is convenient for us?

Patrick and I want to obey God even when from all angles it looks impossible.  We are fully aware that the road ahead of us is a long and hard one, yet we believe that God is equipping us for the tasks He's called us to.  So rather seeing yet another incredulous look from someone we've shared our vision with, we need friends and family to be supportive and encouraging of the mission God has called us to.  Rather than hearing people say, "Wow, you're crazy" we need them to say, "Wow, that's going to be tough, so I'm going to commit to pray for you everyday."  We need people on our side who will support us and encourage us and help remind us of the Truth of God when we forget it.  Without the support of our friends and family, this road would be much harder, so I hope those of you reading this will choose to be one of our encouragers!!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Forget the Checklist

Awhile back a good friend of mine asked me why Patrick and I would want to move to the other side of the world to do missions.  This is a question we need to think about and be able to articulate, so I appreciated my friend asking.  After all, if we can't answer the question of "why" then we probably shouldn't be going in the first place.

My friend aptly pointed out that the people living in our country of interest already have a religion, so why would we want to introduce something different?  Let me be clear that missions has nothing to do with us wanting to go overseas to proclaim that we're right and they're all wrong.  This is about loving people enough to want to share the truth with them.  Yes, the world is filled with religions that are all striving for the Truth and seeking a way to get to God.  But that's just it: all religions are focused on what we do that makes us worthy of God.  Religions are works-driven, and while many people find some sense of fulfillment in doing things to please God, God is not interested in a checklist.  We can't pray, fast, do enough good works, or even love enough to make us worthy of God's grace. We simply can't earn a right standing before God.  It just isn't possible.  I know that sounds depressing, but keep reading.

On the other hand, following Jesus is entirely about what God has done for us and the fact that everything God requires of us (basically perfection) has been accomplished by Jesus.  When we recognize that we can't earn God's love and finally submit our lives to Christ, all his righteousness is transferred to us.  This is the beauty of grace.  We have a right standing before God not because of anything we do but what God did for us out of love.  Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  People who sin (which is everyone including you and me by the way) don't deserve God's love, nor could we ever in a thousand lifetimes do enough good things to earn it.  God's grace is simply that: grace -- something we don't deserve but are given freely anyway because God loves us.

So we want to do missions because there are millions of people around the world who have never heard the Truth of God's grace.  They are constantly toiling under religious systems that demand the impossible, and they are daily crushed under the reality that they can't earn their way to God.  What we want to do is simply point them to the awesome truth of God's grace.  We want to see people set free from the oppression of religion and help them begin a real relationship with God.  The way I see it, that's not a bad thing to commit our lives to!

Friday, June 14, 2013

And Then There Were Three

Yep, that's right, I'm pregnant!  Patrick and I are so excited about becoming parents, and I'll be honest it's kind of surreal to think about how much our lives are about to change.  Baby Steward will make his/her appearance around December 21, so that gives us a few more months to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, and in late July we will find out if it's a boy or girl.  So far everything has been going really well, and I've had two ultrasounds and we've heard the baby's heartbeat.  So far so good!

The more I think about it the more I realize that nothing I do could ever fully prepare me to be a mom, yet somehow I know that bringing children into the world is one of the purposes God has given me in life.  Stepping into this new season of life is going to stretch us and challenge us more than anything else we've done, but I know that God will walk with us each step of the way.  I'm reminded daily that the Lord never gives us more than we can handle without his strength to support us.

Above all else I want to raise godly children who will love Jesus more than anything else in the world and will have a strong desire to praise and glorify him!  To that end please pray for us and our growing family!  I know that there are many challenges that lay ahead, but I am so excited for this journey we're about to embark on, and I know that our lives will never be the same!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Derby Festivities

Springtime in Louisville means one thing: Derby.  If you're not completely horse, steamboat, fireworks, and parade-obsessed then you just don't quite fit in.  Only Louisville could take something otherwise not that exciting (a 2-minute horse race) and turn it into something spectacular.  For firework enthusiasts such as myself, the best part of the Derby festival is Thunder Over Louisville, one of the biggest firework displays in the world.  This year we went with our friends Stacy and Andrew.  We found a great spot to watch from and not get stuck in hours worth of traffic.  
Waiting for the fireworks to start
Steamboat Race
No Derby Festival is complete without a Derby party, and this year we had one at our house.  I remember going to Derby parties as a kid and wanting to be able to throw my own someday when I grew up.  Funny the aspirations we have as kids right?  Well, this year my dream finally came true, and it was a blast!  We celebrated Holly's birthday the same day and had a delightful house-full of people.  Despite the rainy weather we went out in the field next to our house to play Ultimate Frisbee (horse and jockey style.)  Let me tell you, that was an experience!  As a special birthday treat for Holly we even got to Skype with some of our friends in Zambia!  All in all, and great way to celebrate!
Watching the "greatest two minutes of sports"

Skyping friends in Zambia

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Desert Land

Recently I have felt like I'm going through a spiritual desert.   I have been discouraged, because I haven't been able to feel God's presence as strongly as I usually do.  This has made it hard to focus during my quiet times with Him when I've tried to pray or read the Word.  For several weeks I've been mired in the muck of my own apathy, and I'm more than ready to get past it!   Last week during our community group the girls discussed whether or not we are desiring God and/or desiring other people to know God.  It occurred to me that I desperately want others to know the joy and peace God offers, but I haven't been pursuing the Lord with that same kind of urgency.  There's something seriously wrong with that.  After all, how can I reflect Jesus when I'm not seeking Him constantly?  How can I serve God when I'm not pursuing Him?

I'm sure that for some, seasons of spiritual dryness such as this are enough to make them give up on God altogether.  It's a very human response to want to call it quits when we no longer feel God's presence, or when we can't point to specific ways we see him working in our lives.  But faith is about so much more than how we feel on any given day.  (And thank goodness too, because otherwise no one would have a truly committed relationship with God!)  The words Jesus spoke to Thomas came to mind a few days ago.  He had risen from the dead and appeared to the disciples, but Thomas missed out on that first meeting and didn't believe the others when they told him they'd seen the Lord.  Later when Jesus appeared to Thomas he tells him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  I started thinking how those same words can apply to these times of dryness; blessed are those who don't experience some tingly feeling and still believe.  It's wonderful when we're able to point exactly to where God is showing up in our lives, but sometimes that's not how He works.  Faith is about believing that God still is who He says He is, even when we have no evidence and no warm fuzzy feelings to back it up.

Our community group has been studying 2 Corinthians, and Paul's words in chapter 4 have been very encouraging.  He says, "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."  Yes, there will be times like this when God seems distant, but we can't lose sight of the fact that He still is.  We won't always know exactly why we experience these moments of dryness, but we can rest assured that God will never forsake us.  "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

Sometimes I picture God as a loving father who is teaching his child to walk.  He must let go of her hands so she can take steps on her own.  So at the moment it's as if God has let go of my hands as I take a few tentative steps on my own.  And so I find that I have a choice: walk away from God or stumble toward him with outstretched hands?  I think I'd take stumbling toward my Heavenly Father over walking in my own way any day!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Being Kingdom Builders

Our women's Bible study is going through the book of Mark, and right off the bat God is opening my eyes to Truths that I'd never thought of before.  Last night we were reading Mark 1:15 where Jesus says, "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!"  We began asking ourselves: what is the kingdom of God?  We see that phrase so often in scripture, and Jesus spent a good deal of time teaching about it, so clearly it's something we need to try to wrap our minds around.

Jesus made it very clear that he didn't come to Earth to establish a physical kingdom as many Jews of the day assumed.  His was and is an eternal kingdom; a kingdom he calls us all to be a part of.  But the question is: what does this kingdom look like right now?  I believe the Kingdom of God to mean everything that is submitted to God's sovereign authority, and we become part of the Kingdom when we are united with Christ through faith.

Our next question was: what is the purpose of the Kingdom?   I believe it's tied to our purpose in life on this Earth.  We were created to worship God, to glorify him and enjoy him.  John Piper once wrote, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."  So the purpose of God's kingdom is that we would live in obedience to Him and worship him in everything we do and with everything we are.  But worshipping God is far from the drudgery that many people may imagine.  Psalm 37 says, "Delight yourselves in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."  God doesn't call us into a kingdom and a life of sameness and boredom.  He call us to an abundant life where we find delight and joy in relationship with Him.

This Kingdom of God is dynamic.  It's not as if we do one thing to warrant admission and then we forget about it.  God invites us into this kingdom to be his children -- to walk in relationship with him for eternity.  When Jesus taught about the Kingdom through his parables, he wasn't giving us a list of do's and don'ts.  He was demonstrating that following him is about a relationship.  Jesus was never interested in starting a religion called Christianity.  He was and is interested in teaching us to walk with him daily.  I'm thankful that we don't have a to-do list of things that will make us worthy of this kingdom, because I know that in my own strength I could never earn it.  God, through his grace, allows us to come and follow his Son, and it is this unity in Christ that makes us worthy.

It is interesting to think of the kingdom as it relates to missions.  Bringing the gospel to the nations is something Patrick and I are passionate about, and pretty much everything we are doing in life now is in preparation to go overseas in the next few years.  So it's not surprising, that everything God is teaching me now is related in some way to his purpose for the nations.  Why does missions even exist?  John Piper put it well in saying, "Missions exists because worship doesn't."  I've already said how I believe the purpose of the kingdom is to worship God fully, so it follows that the purpose of missions is about building God's kingdom.  Missions means extending this invitation to people all over the world, most of whom have never heard this Truth.

I realize that people tend to get really caught up in the here and now of missions; the planning, the going, the support raising, the strategies, the harvest, etc.  This is all good, but I wonder if we're focusing on the means rather than the end.  Yesterday I spent awhile just imaging what life will be like when missions truly is fulfilled.  When the gospel has been preached to every tribe, tongue, and nation, and the people of God are united.  What will it be like when the task of missions and evangelism is complete?  What will life in the kingdom really look like?  I like how Louie Giglio describes it as an "after party for all nations."  Scripture gives us a picture of eternal life in the kingdom as seeing God face to face and worshipping him forever.  I believe this will be a time when God truly and fully give us the desires of our hearts in himself.  That is certainly a kingdom worth building!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Follow Me

Recently I've been pondering the way Jesus called his disciples.  He walked up to a couple of guys fixing their fishing nets by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and said, "Follow me."  That's all it took for them to drop everything they were doing and start walking with Jesus.  Surely they'd heard what John the Baptist had been preaching in the desert, so maybe they were curious to see if Jesus was the real thing.  Or I wonder if there was just something magnetic about Jesus that these men were immediately drawn to.  Surely there was something different about this man who was truly God incarnate.

But the thing that has really been making me thinking lately is how the disciples Jesus called didn't already have a full understanding of who he was before they began following him.  Jesus didn't have some list of pre-requisite beliefs that these men had to have before they could be his disciples.  All he asked was that they follow him; he would teach them the rest.  He would live life with them and show himself to be the Son of God through his very life.  What an incredible lesson that would have been!

In some ways I've had my thinking backwards.  For so long I've thought that to be a follower of Jesus you had to have it all figured out.  But God has been reminding me that when I first started following Christ I couldn't have given you a clear statement of theology or even fully explained why I believed what I believed.  All I knew was that Jesus was calling my heart to follow him.  Jesus says, "Follow me."  He doesn't say, "Figure out you theology and then you can follow me."  This is the beautiful thing about the gospel; we don't have to fully understand everything about Jesus to follow him.  Our lives don't have to be perfect, because as we grow in our relationship with Christ we will begin to reflect his perfection.

Jesus also doesn't say, "Get rid of all that baggage in your life first before you follow me."  Instead, he tells us that we can hand it all over to him.  He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)  I find myself breathing a sigh of relief every time I revisit this truth.  It's a very freeing thing to realize that we have nothing to bring to the table when it comes to meeting God.  All we have to offer is our sinful lives, but Jesus takes it all and transforms it into something wonderful.  He gives us a new heart and a new spirit; he gives us the ability to stand before the God of the universe and not be guilty of our messed up lives.

The other thing I love about this verse is that Jesus says, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."  He's telling his disciples that he will so transform their lives that they will be able to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.  What an amazing truth!  I get really caught up in thinking that being a witness for Christ is about what I do, but it has nothing to do with me at all.  It's about what he does through me.  Jesus will teach us and mold us more and more into the image of God, and our only job is to be obedient.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Cup Overflowing

Have you ever heard people talk about "dangerous prayers?"  You know, like asking God for patience or humility?  God always seems to answer these prayers with a swiftness that might knock you on your face.  Not that this is always a bad thing.  Often what we need is for God to use our circumstances to bring us back into alignment with his will.  But this isn't a post about dangerous prayers.  It's about how God has (yet again) shown himself to be a Great Provider.

For a couple of months after we returned from "The Year of the Suitcase" I felt like I was walking through a spiritual desert.  I didn't feel God's presence as strongly as I had while we were on the mission field, and I was seriously lacking in motivation to approach God in prayer or through the Word.    This wasn't a new experience for me, but it was difficult after feeling so close to God while we were overseas.  Not a place where I wanted to stay spiritually!

I started praying that God would give me a thirst for His Word and presence, and this was one of those prayers that He answered in a big way.  Psalm 42:1 was constantly on my lips, "As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God."  And Psalm 1:2-3, which says, "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither."  Honestly I was starting to feel like a shriveled up plant, and I desperately needed God to restore my soul.

I've written a lot about my need for community, and I believe God answered these prayers by surrounding me with other people who are totally in love with Jesus who could encourage me and point me back to Truth.  I can't put my finger on exactly when my heart started to change, but over time I developed a deep longing for God.  I would ask Patrick to read scripture to me out loud and it really did feel like my shriveled-up-plant of a self was being watered.  David's words in Psalm 51 were coming alive to me; "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."

These days I wouldn't describe myself as a shriveled plant but rather a cup that's overflowing with blessings from God.  You know that fuzzy feeling you get when you haven't had enough water?  I used to feel as though there a piece of gauze wedged in my brain making it hard to think straight.  But drinking in God's presence removes the gauze, and it's as though I can see Him clearer again.

Last year I wrote about the flow of grace, and how when God pours out his Spirit into our lives we can't help but pour into the lives of others'.  That's my prayer during this time of refreshment; that God would so overwhelm me with his very presence that I can't help but share his love with other people!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Perfect Fit

A few weeks ago our community group had a "family dinner," which we do every so often as a way of just hanging out for the evening with no set agenda.  It's nice to just be together sometimes.  Our most recent gathering had a food theme of "Things that Remind You of Home", and our clothing theme was "Goodwill."  Everyone truly went all out with their food dishes, and I'm bummed that I didn't take a picture of the amazing spread.  We all were equally intense with our clothing selection...
The picture really doesn't capture the hilarity of our clothing.

Earlier in the week Patrick went to the Goodwill and found a pair of pants that were a size 60.  Adding to his luck he then came across a 5XL shirt.  The only appropriate thing for us to do was to see if we could both fit into the outfit at the same time.  Sure enough, it was a perfect fit.  Haha!
I know it's blurry, but you get the idea.
All the ladies (and Andrew being creepy in the background)
Yet again I was reminded of just how blessed we are to be in such an incredible community of believers.  We have seen over and over again in our lives just how important it is to be surrounded by a fellowship of friends who are pursuing Jesus alongside us!  I can't even begin to tell you how thankful I am for our community group!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Flip Flops in February: An Okinawa Reunion!

I think I've written before about the awesome group of friends I had while in Okinawa and the impact our Bible study has had on my life.  Saying goodbye to all of them was one of the hardest things I've done, but I knew that someday all of our paths would cross again.  That day was last weekend!  God blessed us with an incredible reunion out in California, and not only was it a much-needed break from day-to-day life but it was also a sweet time of fellowship with women I not only consider friends but family.
Christine was gracious enough to let all 7 of us crash at her place for the weekend, and we spent hours just catching up on each others lives and sharing how God has been at work in and through each of us. It was so cool to get to reconnect with them (though sadly not everyone could make it that weekend...we were still a few short from having our entire group present.)

Though we spent most of the time hanging out around the house, we did get to venture out a bit to experience a little of what southern California has to offer in February.  We spent one afternoon at the Oceanside Pier and beach.  And yes, I was super pumped to finally get to wear flip flops again!  We also went on a food tour in North Park (apparently one of the trendier neighborhoods of San Diego.)  Though the tour itself wasn't the greatest (one of the stops was, no kidding, a lesbian bar) it was a fun experience just being with the girls.  And we all thought it was appropriate that we one of the stops was a sushi bar!

If you look closely you can actually see the drool...
Our time together passed way to fast, but we've decided to make it a yearly get-together, so I know it won't be the last time I see everyone.  Here's hoping that next year we can actually get the whole group together for a reunion!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Teaching to the Extremes

I've got to say, I love my new teaching job, but I must admit where I'm working now is a total switch from where I've taught in the past.  Chance School is an independent school where parents spend more money to send their child to preschool than I spend on groceries in a year.  It's a great school where all the teachers are proud to be part of the faculty, and we work hard to offer a great education for every child that attends our school.  It's a wonderful place to teach, but I'm always staggered at just how wealthy everyone is.  Coming from the Good News School in Zambia, this is a total 180.

Sometimes I wonder if I could be more effective teaching in a low-income school.  Those are the kids who really need someone to fight for them; someone to love them and care about them.  I loved teaching in South Carolina, because I really felt like I was making a difference (though maybe small) in those kids' lives, since many of them didn't have anyone else telling them they mattered.  Living and working in Zambia was similar -- the orphans in our school had it about as rough as anyone could imagine, and coming to the Good News School was a little slice of hope for them.  It was such a blessing to teach in that kind of environment.

But now?  All my students get picked up in Lexuses or BMWs.   They go home to well-stocked refrigerators and big screen TVs.  They are guaranteed a great education and all the opportunities that come with it.  Don't get me wrong, I know kids from wealthy families have their fair share of problems, but it certainly is a different experience teaching them compared to dirt poor orphans in Africa.

I know that God has blessed me beyond reason with this teaching job, and I'm sure that He has put me at Chance School for a purpose.  Maybe that purpose is to open the eyes of the families that attend there to the incredible needs of children around the world.  Maybe it's to encourage the teachers there to consider sharing their skills and talents with children in areas of our city or around the world who can't afford such a top notch education.  Either way, my prayer is that God would use me for His glory in this job and everything else I do!
My preschool classroom
My classroom in Zambia

Monday, January 28, 2013

Living Worship

This past weekend Patrick and I went to the membership class for Sojourn Church.  One of the sessions was focused on the body of Christ as worshippers.  A few weeks ago we'd heard a sermon based on Psalm 150, which is all about worshiping God, and it really made me think about what it means to worship on a daily basis.  These days when someone says "worship" most of us automatically think about Sunday morning services and praise songs.  But certainly God doesn't just want our worship for a two-hour time slot once a week.  I think he desires our full worship all day every day.

During our membership class we talked about how worship is a continuous action.  Men and women are innately programed to worship something whether it's God or something man-based.  This can be a really convicting statement.  This means that throughout my day I'm continually worshipping or giving praise to something, and if that something isn't God then I've got some priorities to straighten out!  Harold Best sums it up well saying, "We were created to continuously adore.  We were created to do this as naturally as to breathe in and out, to honor, to submit, to depend on, to fellowship with our Maker."

One thing Jeremy (one of the Sojourn pastors) said a few Sundays ago was that we live in line with what we have and what we believe.  Then he posed this question: Do you live like you have God?  This is a huge question that deserves some thought.  Is my everyday life an expression of the incredible fact that the Holy Spirit resides within me?  Are the words coming out of my mouth and the thoughts I think all reflective of the grace God pours out on me?  Another question I've wrestled with is where my mind and my heart go when they have nowhere else to go, that is, in the occasional quiet moments of life, what do I think about?  Am I thinking about and praising God?  Or am I obsessing over and worrying about eternally trivial things?  Sadly, the latter describes me more often than not.

Thankfully there is grace in all things, and because of that grace Christ is able to transform me and help me renew my mind daily.  Not to say it isn't a constant struggle, but there is hope.  Jeremy reminded us that worship isn't necessarily about doing something and putting another checkmark in the box.  Christians don't have something to do, we have something to celebrate!  Worship shouldn't be drudgery; it should be a natural outpouring of my love of Jesus and my thankfulness for what he has done (and is doing) in my life.

I often wonder what everyday worship looks like; what does it mean to live a life of worship?  A lot of it means recognizing God's overwhelming greatness and glory among a world full of things undeserving of our worship.  When we glorify anything other than God, whether it's a sports team, movie star, or political ideology, we are wasting our breath.  God alone is worthy of our praise, and He will not share the spotlight with anything else.

I've always loved 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  It's clear here that we can live a life of worship no matter where we are or what we are doing.  When we live with words of praise to God on our lips, we glorify Him.  We worship by expressing thanks to God for blessings and even difficulties we face.  Everyday I am challenged to live out daily life in a way that reflects an attitude of worship and thankfulness to God.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Finding the New Normal

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm somewhat of a home-body.  I know you wouldn't know it by looking at the last 12 months of our lives, but I do love to be settled and put down roots.  For that reason, I love being back in Louisville on a semi-permanent basis (at least for the next 3-4 years.)  Lately we've been in the process of finding our new "normal," and so far it's been a successful process. I've started two new jobs, and Patrick is working on finding piano and oboe students.

First of all, I have to say how excited I am that after years of working toward it, I've gotten a teaching job.  I'm now a preschool teacher at Chance School, and so far I love it.  My students are fabulous, and I have a great co-teacher, whom I'm excited to be working with.  I think the rest of the school year will be a blast, and I'm looking forward to seeing what is in store for me over the next few months.
My classroom at Chance
My second job is a part-time nannying position for a family with two kids.  They are some of the sweetest, well-mannered kids I've ever worked with, and so far we've had a lot of fun together.  The kids are 10 and 14, and it's nice to have an opportunity to work with older kids for a change.  My schedule is relatively full, but not to the point where I feel overwhelmed.  

I know that just as we start to settle into a new routine everything will change again.  Patrick starts classes at the Seminary at the end of the month, so new adjustments await us then.  For now though, I've enjoyed getting to see him a lot every evening and weekend.  I'm excited for him to start school, but I know what a huge time commitment it'll be to get all of his reading done.  He might actually be reading more than me for once!

As nice as it is to be settled and feel at home, I know it would be easy for us to get too comfortable and stop seeing the needs of people around the world.  It would also be easy to be so much at home here in the US that we stop feeling God tugging at our hearts to head to the mission field.  Please be praying with us that our heart for the nations wouldn't go slack just because life is cozy and comfortable in America.  I know that God has big things in store for us in the years to come during our time in Kentucky, but even bigger things await us overseas, and there's no way we want to miss out on them!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Holding Out for a Hero

Have you ever thought about the way trends in movies disclose a lot about our culture?  A few weeks ago Patrick and I went to see "The Hobbit," and as we watched the previews I noticed that the majority of the movies coming out are of the superhero/dystopian-future-hero-saves-the-planet variety.  What does this say about our culture?  If our bent toward hero worship is any indication I think it's clear: we need a real life hero.

I get the sense that many people living in difficult circumstances are holding onto the hope that someday things will be made right; someday, someone will come along that will have the answers to all of life's questions and problems.  Someone will save us from the mess we've made for ourselves.  That's the vibe we get from pop culture, but I think it's an accurate statement about our communal mindset as well.  There's this subconscious longing for something better.

As a follower of Christ I know that our hero has already come.  We've already been given the one who has all the answers, who has the power to bring us out of desperate situations and give us a living hope.    There's a great song by one of my favorite bands, Abandon, titled "Hero."  Here's the refrain:

There He goes, a hero, a savior to the world
Here He stands with scars in His hands
With love He gave His life so we could be free
The savior the world

I love the fact that Jesus came to earth to give his life to make us free.  Isn't that what we've been longing for?  A hero to set us free from the tyranny of sin and death?  I celebrate this fact every day; that in Christ I have abundant life and reason to hope for so much more to come.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Week of Reunions

The more we travel and the more places we live around the world, the more wonderful friends the Lord puts in our path.  It is difficult to be separated from so many incredible people, but during the week of Christmas we were abundantly blessed to get to spend some time with several of our very dear friends.  Reconnecting with old friends made Christmas extra special for us this year!

First off we had a two-day visit with Pete, Emily, and their 2 rambunctious boys, Matias and Titan.  They are one of my favorite families ever, and I was so glad for the time to play with the kids and relive some of our Okinawa days.
Steward and Prikazskys together again!
The result of Titan attempting to absorb spaghetti through his face...
Patrick stole my job as storyteller 
On Christmas Eve we had a bit of time with Chris, Ruthie, and their brand new baby Nancy!  It's still hard to believe that Chris, whom I've known since before time began, is now a daddy.  Seeing Patrick and Chris together with Nancy might have been one of the most heart-warming things I've seen in a long time!
I love this!
Shane and Melia are some of our closest friends from South Carolina, and though we only lived there for a year, it feels as though they've been part of our lives forever.  We had one evening to reconnect with them, and our hearts were so refreshed as we shared what God has been doing in our lives and hearing how the Lord has been stirring their hearts as well.

It's not often that God brings such dear friends into our lives, and the fact that he has blessed us so abundantly with friends from so many places has overwhelmed me at times.  I was yet again reminded of God's goodness and his amazing love for us as he provides us with people to pour out love and encouragement into our lives.

For Christmas we were also blessed to get to spend time with my family, who had traveled from Canada and New York to spend the week with us.  We had a full house, but it was a sweet time of reunion for us all.  We especially enjoyed loving on my niece Asha and little sister Anika.  They are as goofy as ever and certainly kept us all entertained!
Valentine reunion
Christmas dinner

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Finding Jesus' Footsteps

One of the frustrations I had in Israel was that in many instances, the exact location of certain Biblical sites was not certain.  We ended up visiting three different potential sites of the tomb where Jesus was buried and resurrected.  Many of the places we visited we were told "This is where we think such and such happened, but no one knows for sure..."
Likely site of the crucifixion (where the trees are)
Likely site of Jesus' tomb
More than anything I'd wanted to spend time in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the night he was arrested and led away to be crucified.  The site most people visit which is assumed to be the place doesn't coincide with what scripture says, so it's unlikely that this place was actually Gethsemane.  Amid my disappointment at this I felt God speaking to my heart; he knew that I longed to walk in Jesus' footsteps and see where his footprints had been.  He reminded me that Christ's footprints are all over my life and my heart, and that the point isn't to walk in his physical steps but in his spiritual ones.
Traditional (though unlikely) site of Gethsemane
There were several places we visited where we could be fairly certain that we were in fact walking where Jesus walked.  One such place was Kafur Nahum (Capernum), where Jesus began his earthly ministry.  It was in the synagogue there where Jesus first read the scriptures from Isaiah that prophesied his coming into the world.  In Jerusalem we visited Caiaphais' house, which is where Jesus was first on trial the night before he was crucified.  We stood in the place where he had likely been chained and scourged.
The synagogue in Capernum where Jesus read the scriptures about himself
The pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a man crippled from birth

Throughout our time in Israel we were reminded that the important thing was not that we were standing in the exact place where certain events transpired many years ago.  The important thing is that we are preparing our hearts right now for what God wants to do in our lives.  God calls us to follow in the footsteps of Christ today, not necessarily those from two thousand years ago.  He calls us to walk in the acts of service and love that Christ modeled for us, and to continue following him even when we are uncertain where he will lead us.  This has been encouraging to my heart lately, and also exciting to think about the places we will go and the extreme joy we experience in walking the path God lays out for us!  
Shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus met his disciples after the resurrection