Family

FullSizeRender-1

The world just outside the mission house.

I don’t think my experience in Belize is something I will “process”, and then move on with my life. Instead, I think this this trip, the people I met, the work I did, will become more and more meaningful as I continue to grow.

I cannot fully describe what this trip means to me, how it has affected me, because I’m not even sure yet. What I can do, is share with you how grateful I am that it happened and how God used me and blessed me while I was there.

···

My Team 

Team

Team Belize 2015

 

I’ve known 10/11 other members of my team for many years, but going to school and playing sports with people is hardly living with them.  Being with them nearly 24/7 helped me get to know them better and love them more. Truly, I learned so much from each of teammate.

In addition to working at the school together, we also enjoyed going on several adventures, some as simple as star-gazing in the back of a pick-up truck and jumping fences, and others as jaw-dropping as snorkeling in the Caribbean.

We have an endless list of inside jokes that will live on for years to come.  The influence of late-night conversations, when we challenged and encouraged one another in our faith, will always be with us. I got to know each of them on a more personal level, and I look forward to developing those relationships now that we are home.

The Kids 

In the weeks leading up to our trip, my team members who had previously been to TCA, told me that the kids would love me instantly. I figured they were exaggerating; but on Monday morning, when I walked into the cafeteria to greet the  kids for the first time, I was quickly swarmed by smiling kids. By lunch time I had a small gang of little girls who followed me around requesting piggyback rides.  I could not refuse.

IMG_3870

My faithful buddy from day one.

Each school day I led devotionals in the Standard 3 (5th grade) classroom. The first day was a bit rough. I couldn’t tell what the kids thought of me, and I was pretty sure they thought I was completely nuts; but after that first day, things got progressively better. I enjoyed getting to them a little better each day.

I also had the opportunity to get to know their teacher, Louisa, and am hoping to keep in touch with her through e-mail and social media. She’s a special young woman and I learned from her as she interacted with her students. It was neat seeing someone only a few years older than me, taking on something as challenging as teaching 5th grade. I was inspired.

IMG_3787

Four of the five girls in 5th Grade.

My last morning with the class, I talked to them about gratitude. I shared what it means to be thankful, and how to show others love. I had them shout out things, people, and experiences they were grateful for and wrote them up on the white board. Their activity was to write a note to their teacher, telling her why they were grateful for her.

Before they hopped on the bus that afternoon, they all ran up to me with notes they wrote for me. It meant a lot to know I had touched them, even if my impact was small.

New Family 

Yesterday I was texting with a friend who asked me to summarize my trip in one word. Several descriptive adjectives flashed through my mind—incredible, amazing, life-changing, fantastic, stupendous. None of them would suffice. I came very near to simply giving up, telling my friend it couldn’t be done, and writing a summary sentence. Then I found my word: Family.

My whole life God’s been telling me about my brothers and sisters in different countries around the world. I’ve met many who have visited my church and enjoyed dinner in my home. Some family have even stayed with us for a time.

Last week I met some of my Belizean brothers and sisters for the first time. I worshiped with them, I heard their testimonies over meals and in classrooms, and I heard their life stories while doing dishes and riding down dirt roads. I enjoyed playing volleyball with them and sitting down over coffee sharing our prayer requests. 

IMG_3811

The team and the teachers playing volleyball.

Then I had to leave. 

I had to leave family I had just met. I don’t know the next time our paths will cross.  It could very likely be Heaven, and it just felt wrong to leave so soon. This isn’t a foreign feeling to anyone who has had to leave church family. Connecting with people through the bond of Christ creates strong, powerful relationships. It’s no wonder leaving fellowship is painful; yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s hard … because it was good.

···
I’m not done writing about Belize. There are individual tales and lessons I am sure to write about very soon.
Advertisements

• Belize •

SubstandardFullSizeRenderMy passport just came in the mail, and I couldn’t be more excited!

About a month ago my friend and I stood watching our brothers play basketball. I was sharing with her that I would love to write the stories of overseas missionaries—what they’re doing, how the Lord is moving in and through them and reaching the hearts of individuals. I would love to use stories to connect God’s family.

After sharing this with my friend she simply asked,  “Do you want to go to Belize?”

There is a small school, Toledo Christian Academy (TCA), in the Yemeri Grove/Jacintoville area of Belize. The school, run by Belizean and American staff, accepts children in the pre-school age group all the way through middle school. The school is supported, primarily, by churches here in the States and relies on frequent short-term mission groups for the upkeep of their grounds and facilities.

The purpose of the school is to give students a foundational education, grounded in Scripture. Each school day is begun with a devotional time, and teachers use a biblically-based curriculum for the students’ subjects. The children have a full day of classes, sports, and fellowship with their classmates and teachers. (If you would like more information about the school, you can follow this link to their website: http://www.tcabelize.com/.)

May 2nd-10th I will be going to visit TCA, with a small team, to teach/help in the classrooms with the staff, lead devotionals in the mornings, work on building/painting projects, play with the kids, meet the parents, and fulfill the needs of the staff in any way we possibly can. Our primary goal is to be yet another group of believers, living Truth, in these kids’ world. (If you would like to keep up with my team in the weeks leading up to the trip and while we are in Belize, you can follow this link to our blog: www.teambelizeblog.wordpress.com.)

Part of the vision God has given me is to encourage and inspire believers to grow in their personal relationship with the Lord, and to speak truth into the lives of the lost. My goal is to take every opportunity God gives me to use my gifts to fulfill that vision. I firmly believe that this trip is an opportunity to put my vision to action in a specific way. 

Please be praying for TCA, the staff, the students, and the churches supporting them. They are doing good work in Belize as they touch the hearts and lives of children and families for the glory of our Savior.

Please also be praying for me as I seek to trust God even more. Ask him to put me in situations where I am compelled (yet again) to acknowledge that I live entirely by his faithful grace to me. 

“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”- Romans 15:13, ESV 

Cultivating Gratitude

I channel my inner type-A personality even in my relationship with the Lord.

For example, this whole sanctification thing frustrates me to no end. Being more like Christ is a lifelong process? Nah, I just want to check the box marked “perfect” and move on.

Cultivating gratitude, like I wrote about last week, is a part of the lifelong pursuit of being more like Christ.

Cultivate is a verb. It requires action to make it happen. Gratitude isn’t going to somehow happen all on it’s own. To cultivate means to develop, which takes time and intentionality.

There are plenty of books, sermons, articles, podcasts, tweets and blog posts about how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Some of them are very idealogical, though. Here, I want things to be simple and practical.

I hope this helps.

IMG_2760

Just stop. Look.

Stop

When you catch yourself complaining (outwardly or inwardly) or feeling discontent, just stop. Don’t let yourself continue until you have a self-evaluation session. Ask yourself about your own expectations. How do I want things to be different? Do I have a right to feel this way? Am I in need of an attitude change? Find perspective and refocus.

Seek

Just like anything in life, if we want results then we have to be intentional about our pursuit. Start by seeking help from the one who asks you to be grateful in the first place. God is faithful to be present and active when we go to him in prayer. Ask for direction in how to be more grateful, and for what to thank him. Then, when he speaks to you through the Spirit and in his Word, LISTEN (1 Thess. 5:19).

This lifestyle of gratitude is anything but a footnote in Scripture. The phrase “give thanks” is in the Bible 73 times, “thanksgiving” 42 times, and about 50 other word/phrases involving “thank.” We are not lacking in examples of how to be grateful, or direction in what to be grateful for. It’s one of the things about which God is incredibly straightforward.

FullSizeRender

Part of my stockpile from the last 6 years.

Stockpile 

There are going to be times when a feeling of thankfulness is overwhelming, and then there are going to be times when life feels like a desert. When we’re in the desert, we need a sip of water, something to keep us going until the next oasis. In those times of plenty, stock up. Journal about what God is doing in your life, keep an ongoing list of things you’re grateful for, write blessings on slips of paper and keep them in a jar, or all of the above!

Recently I have struggled with finding satisfaction in Christ. I have been discontent with where I am, what I am doing, and who I am. I’ve been in a desert. But I looked back over some of my old journals, I remembered God’s faithfulness during times when I learned to find fulfillment in him alone. Write it down. Remember.

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Col. 2:6-7 (NLT)

Unfortunately, I can’t check the “always grateful” box on my list. Developing a relationship with God is labor intensive. Growth starts at the roots. It’s ugly down there in the dirt. But as it is fed and cared for, the plant fights through the grime and breaks into sunlight. And slowly, everyday, the plant becomes more and more like the flower it was meant to be.

And we get the beautiful experience of cultivating the growth of gratitude in our own lives.

Afraid to Fail

Last week my professor challenged me to write both a vision statement (where I want to go) and a mission statement (how I am going to get there) for the next 2 years of college. The foundation for these two statements was the list of strengths, motivations, and spiritual gifts that I have been finding in myself over the last few weeks of the course.

Where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign. – Victor Hugo

Creating those two statements was not too difficult for me. I know some things I want to do, so the planning and dreaming is fun! For some reason, though, my next assignment has me terrified. This week I am supposed to write two goals— one long-term and one short-term—based on that mission statement. I have to actually back up my plan with action. 

I have never thought of myself as being afraid of failure. How could I? I have failed so many times I thought that I might be immune to the fear of it. But here I am—fearful that my dreams and ideas won’t work the way I want them to.

These dreams of mine are not secret or radical. In fact, a few of you have probably even heard me talking about them. But that’s all it was: talk.  Behind the scenes, for almost the entirety of 2013, my best friend was trying to get me to actually go start something [*hint* write something].

I always had an excuse—an obstacle that I created for myself to postpone action. I knew that starting something would require me to put time, energy, and creative effort into something that might flop.

Yeah, no more excuses.

 <<<<>>>>

 Want some more background? I suggest reading my last post, College Decisions, here.

And yes, my post on being an English major is coming within the week.

Me and My Roommate

Photo on 10-20-13 at 2.59 PMThe adorable one on the right is my little sister (the picture is in black and white because  the lighting in our room is horrible). Both of us are holding a ball of yarn and crochet hooks. A rather normal state for two girls to be in, I suppose. Only, not the girl on the left—I don’t crochet. In addition, I cannot knit, sew, mend, or do needlepoint. My creativity is best applied elsewhere….I also just have no patience to learn or finish those kind of projects.

So why am I holding a ball of yarn and a crochet hook? Because this afternoon I asked my sister to teach me how to crochet a specific (a.k.a easy) kind of scarf. Did I have any wild desire to learn? No. Will I ever make a scarf again? Eh, probably not.

The reason I asked my sister to teach me is because I recently recommitted to being a better sister. Let me rewind and give some background here.

I mentioned that I am learning a lot right now. The neat thing is that all of these lessons are reinforcing each other. It can be rather overwhelming sometimes, but I am getting used to it.

About two weeks ago I talked with one of my mentors who helped me formulate a life mission statement—a few sentences that describe my heart, my passion and my desire as I seek to live for the Lord. Within that statement I describe my heart to invest in other people and help them dig deeper into their relationship with the Lord. My mentor challenged me to start thinking of ways that I want to apply that desire.

That night, I felt convicted that the person I needed to start with was my little sister, Judy. I love Judy very much. She is a perky little bundle of smiles, laughter, joy and beauty that I have always enjoyed being around. But in the 13 years I have known her I have not truly invested in a real, solid relationship with her.

As I prayed over that mission statement I began to realize the powerful influence that I have on my sister’s life—negative and positive. God showed me that the words I say and the actions I take do affect the young woman she is becoming. To think that I have that kind of influence on a person’s life is simultaneously terrifying and humbling.

I resolved to start—that night—being a better sister to Judy. I actually went and gave her a hug, told her I loved her and said I was going to start making a better effort. She looked up at me and I wondered how many times I had said this to her and then never followed through. Too many. This time had to be different.

The next day, I listened to a sermon in which the pastor challenged Christians to stop feeling convicted or resolving to change and actually take action. TAKE_ACTION_SIGN_movivational_and_inspirational_signs__54610.1337457936.1280.1280

BE a better sister.

Over the next week, along with just loving on Judy by talking with her about her devotionals, asking her about her day, lots of hugs, helping her with her hair and put together an outfit, I wrote out a few principles for myself to follow:

  • make an effort to talk with and listen to her
  • create time to be with just her
  • follow through on my commitments and plans

Photo on 10-20-13 at 2.58 PM #3So that is how I ended up crocheting with Judy this afternoon. I found something that she is good at and enjoys doing, I told her I wanted her to teach me, I created time to learn from her, and I followed through on our plan to do it.

Woohoo. One afternoon. I know, I have no room to boast (I never do). I am going to fail time and again.  But I am praying for strength—I’m not going to quit on her or on God.

Older siblings, I we need to understand that our words and actions do have an affect on our younger siblings. No matter the nature of the relationship, it will touch the younger person in some way. We have the God-given opportunity to be the strongest force of encouragement and support in our younger siblings’ lives, second only to our parents.

We cannot waste our power simply because they are difficult to get a long with or we don’t connect well. I ask you to think and pray about renewing your commitment to be a loving presence in your siblings’ lives…then go do it. Throw up a prayer or two for me while you’re at it, please!

Save The Storks

47 million children have been aborted—murdered—since 1973. 47 million. That is not just a number, it is representation of lives that were cut very short, while millions of people looked on in approval or indifference. 47 million.

I realize that the pro-life vs. pro-choice issue has become somewhat of a dead horse in the United States public arena, but that is the problem—it has become just another voting issue that Republicans use to prove they are conservative. Pro-life is a stance that we take and do not back with action. That is, aside from checking a little box on our ballot every two years. This discussion of abortion is something that is constantly philosophized about by Believers, who then focus their time and attention on making their views government legislation. Meanwhile, millions of women a year make the choice to abort their child, and no law is going to stop them from making that decision. This sounds rather dark. It is dark.

If Christians truly have the desire to lessen the statistical numbers of abortion, then we need to change our approach from legislative to relational and evangelistic. The only way clinics are going to shut down and stay down is if the “doctors” don’t have any customers. We need to address the women at a personal one-on-one level about their decision, and then pray that we can be God’s tool to leading them away from making that choice to abort their child.

Being realistic though, how do we go about this? Walk up to random women on the street and say, “Hi! Are you considering an abortion? If so, don’t do it! And by the way, Jesus loves you.”? Hardly. I really did not have an answer to the question of “how?” until I came across a ministry called Save The Storks. Save the Storks is “a  pro-life nonprofit dedicated to saving mothers and babies” that  “build[s] fleets of mobile ultrasound units (called Stork Buses) that pregnancy centers can park outside of abortion clinics.” These buses are equipped with an ultrasound machine, a comfortable, warm , welcoming set up with couches, tables a little kitchenette and a few loving people. Groups from churches and crisis pregnancy centers go and park this bus outside of abortion clinics and make the effort to reach out to girls and women before they can get to the door of a Planned Parenthood. They offer help and support by asking the woman if she would like to get an ultrasound free of charge. From there, they simply love on the woman by giving her help, answering questions and sharing the Gospel in a non-threatening environment.

That is what I love about Save the Storks—they head off the first step on the path to abortion by getting to the woman before she steps foot into the abortion clinic. Save the Storks seeks to reach the heart of a scared and needy woman who is desperately in need of someone to tell her of Salvation through Jesus Christ. In the end, that is what is going to stop the awful, gory reality of rampant abortion—more Jesus.

Christians, I am talking to you. We should know better than to go to the government to solve these sin problems in our culture. God has called us to bring justice to the fatherless (Isaiah 1:17) and to go into the world preaching the Gospel of Jesus (Matthew 18:18-20). I challenge you to take the time to educate yourselves on ministries like Save the Storks. Consider contributing to their ministry financially and/or volunteering. My personal dream is to eventually see one of these Stork Buses in my own city, in the parking lot of Planned Parenthood with people bringing life to children in need of an advocate, and women in need of a Savior.

 

Babysitting

There is a sibling set of four boys and one baby girl who I watch with some amount of regularity. Each time I get an e-mail from their mom asking if I can come over, I get excited and count down the days until I get to go and “hang out” with them. I am dreading the day they’re all too old for me to come over—I always drive home with a big smile on my face. Supervising four boys creates a time of constant movement, action and hilarity. I love it. Water and nerf gun fights, jousting with baseball bats (don’t ask who came up with THAT brilliant idea *cough*) learning how to play poker, doing puzzles, hide-and-go seek in the dark, watching wrestling matches, initiating pillow fights (my bad), and talking Lord of the Rings/Tolkien. But I also love these boys and their little sister simply because of them. It is neat how they all look out for each other, love on their baby sister, help their mom out with the house and their younger sibling(s) and are willing to listen and obey instructions/requests I give them. These are special kids, and I am blessed to spend time with them.