Family

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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

Fighting for Contentment

IMG_2780I have never heard God’s audible voice while praying. I would remember something like that.

God does, however, speak into my heart through his Holy Spirit.

A couple of weeks ago I came before God frustrated and confused, not even sure what to even say to him. Unsure of where to start, I just started describing my pain. Two sentences into my prayer, the Spirit moved:

There is nothing missing from your life that will fill you up…except me. 

His message was so clear and so direct it was just as effective as if he had shouted into my ear with a megaphone.

I realized that the main source of my frustration was my desire for nearly every part of my life to be different—to do something else, to be somewhere else, to be someone else. Not this, not here, not me. 

Discontentment. 

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “content” I immediately think of stuff and how blessed my life is with physical things. I think about how I need to be happy with what I have. Well, quite honestly, I am happy with what I have. My needs are met, and so are {most} of my wants. 

DSC00100But content actually doesn’t mean happy, it means satisfied.

And while I have also been satisfied with my possessions, I have not been satisfied with the life I am living or the person I am. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Dissatisfaction with the status quo can lead to positive change. But, as I’ve come to understand, it can also lead to a negative attitude.

The problem is that I have been trying to find mental and emotional satisfaction in my situation, in my location, and in myself. True satisfaction is found only in Christ.

So how can I find that satisfaction in my relationship with him?

Well one thing I firmly believe is that contentment and gratitude are linked. How can I possibly be content in him if I am not grateful for who he is, what he has done and what he continues to do?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

If I want to root out the discontentment in my life, and seek satisfaction, then the first step is cultivating a grateful heart. If it sounds simple, it is. But simple does not equal easy. In fact, some of the most simple things are the most difficult to obtain…and the most worth it.

Envy Check

The other evening I attended a talent show/art fundraiser on behalf of a friends’ ministry and our school’s sports program. I enjoyed the evening very much. The singing was incredible, the music jaw dropping and the artwork inspiring. But as the evening wore on I could feel my self-esteem get lower and lower. I felt like an untalented blob. Apparently my friend felt the same way because in the middle of an amazing cello performance she leaned over and asked, “will we ever be able to admire something without wanting to either do it or have it?” An excellent and thought provoking question, eh? I have been pondering her thought ever since.

en·vy – a feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another.

Envy

That is an ugly word. I do not want to have that word associated with my feelings. Ever. Yet, I admit to having it when I watch people doing something that I cannot. That is a major heart problem. This enviousness is fogging my eyes, keeping me from seeing the full beauty of what God is doing through others. This jealousy and misplaced desire is keeping me from being happy for the blessings of others. It does not even matter if I do not have resentment towards others (reading my own heart I don’t think that I do), the fact that I am envious is an invisible barrier between our friendship.

Christianity 101:

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:12 (NLT)

When I play well in a game, perform nicely with a speech, write a good piece or have a new opportunity, I don’t want people to be envious of me, I want them to be happy for me! Genuine joy for others comes out of a selfless heart—a heart that is grateful for what God has done and doing.

I did not even know that this was a problem for me! Like much in life, this isn’t a one-time fix either, it’s a long process of becoming more like Christ. So it’s time for a heart check, people. Are you struggling with this too?

Gratitude

Having a “grateful heart” or an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the most significant lessons that I have learned in my 17 years of existence. My parents taught me that everything that I haveexperiences, people, stuff—is a gift from God, not an entitlement. As far as my memory can go complaining[1] has never been tolerated by either of my parents and whining was always a sure fire way to get myself a discipline and a good dose of “Madam Blueberry” (if you don’t know what Madam Blueberry is, you had a sad childhood). Mom and Dad, by drilling me to say “please” and “thank-you,”  showed me that I was to receive any service or gift with thankfulness. It is because of those seeds planted in my mind and heart by Mom and Dad that I know what it means to have a genuinely grateful heart.

Gratitude1Compared to most  in our world my family has had it incredibly good financially—we have always had a home, food, clothes and have been blessed by extra unneeded things and experiences (i.e. sports, speech and debate, electronics, appliances, books, movies et cetera). That said, it has not necessarily been easy for our family, on the contrary there have been times when we’ve struggled greatly. However, those times of insecurity made the lesson of thankfulness straightforward and very real for my siblings and I.

Really, I should not expect to get anything in this world because I don’t deserve it. What I do deserve is an eternity of Hell. Perspective, eh?

Yet, there is not a day that passes where I do not want something (not necessarily a literal possession) that I cannot have. Gratefulness is not a one-time deal. Christianity is not for quitters, and every day is a discouraging battle against my sinful self who is fighting to get me into a self-absorbed state of pride and entitlement.

How to win? Well, gratitude is a direct result of what Christ Jesus has done for me on the cross. It starts with HIM. 

 “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.” – Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)

How to let those roots grow deep?tree_with_heart_and_roots_family_reunion_invite-r6187b0751d594f8db4872c7781aa8557_8dnd0_8byvr_512

  • Start my day with prayer, and start that prayer with thanking God for whatever comes to my heart—a friend, a family member, an experience, a lesson, a piece of his creation that touched me.
  • Read the Bible faithfully. Nothing gives me food for thought like Scripture, and how can I think of myself when I’m reading about Jesus or having the Proverbs scream at me to get out of myself!
  • Call on the Holy Spirit to convict me throughout the day.

Much joy!

Emily

 


[1] Okay, complaining is a whole other discussion that I’d love to get into some time…eventually. Quickly though, I don’t think that there is anything with expressing frustration with a situation or a specific desire or anything. It is when complaining becomes ungratefulness that there is a problem. 🙂

Not Needed…Wanted

I truly think that God has fun deciding how he’s going to reveal his message to me. I cannot help but smile when I see how he perfectly orchestrates the lessons he wants me to learn. He builds strongly on top of what he’s previously taught me by speaking to me through his Word, the Holy Spirit, my daily circumstances and words from the Body of Christ. This week, God has been using all of his “means” to show me how big he is, and how utterly small I am.

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It began with a simple prayer as I cried out to God feeling weak in my emotions. As I prayed he reminded me that life is not about me; it never has been, and it never will be. He struck me with the truth that his love for me, his faithfulness to me, his gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit are not things that I deserve. No, they are the opposite of the wrath, rejection and Hell—eternal separation from his presence—I deserve for my rejection of him. Perspective, right? While I have been given the joy of living on this earth, I must remember that “my life”—school, basketball, speech, relationships, family, books, writing, hobbies—is HIS life.

He continued his message with 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

While God was not speaking to me about glorifying him specifically within the context of this passage [go read it], it caused me to ask this: what is my mission from Christ?

Matthew 28:18-20

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Not much about me, huh? All about bringing people to Jesus. That passage brought me to grips with the fact that the craziness of my life is to be harnessed into perspective—into right thinking.

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The final reinforcement of God’s “lesson of the week,” came in the form of a simple one-liner from my dad in the middle of lunch with some families after church today:

God doesn’t need anything from you. He just wants your love and obedience.

God doesn’t need me and he doesn’t need you. He’s got it together. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. He is the beginning, the end. He doesn’t need some fragile human to love him.

No, he, in his grace and love has decided to reach out and seek relationship with me. I have the joyful privilege of obeying him out of a willing heart through the strength of the Holy Spirit. All for him.

Love Come Down

I cannot fully grasp how much God loves me.

He knew me before I physically existed. He formed me into who I am as a person. He designed me to serve him in a unique way. He gave me life…and I chose death. I broke his heart. I spit on his gift. I wandered off and tangled myself in all the sin that the world offers; and with it I inherited suffering, pain and heartache. I went the way of permanent separation from the God who loved me.

But God’s love for me did not decrease in any way. No, in his compassion for my suffering he gave me yet another gift of life—a way out of ultimate destruction. He gave me the birth, the life, of his perfect son Jesus Christ.

God sent Jesus into this wretched world to live a painful life and die an awful death so that I could live with Him in eternity. Jesus endured ridicule, insult, physical pain, and rejection voluntarily on my behalf.

Joy. Joy in the everlasting and intense love that the Father has for me, for the world.

Reading HIS Story

I have been trying to write this for about three weeks, and it just has not been coming out right. Finally it came together for me yesterday afternoon.

Ever since my cousin’s wedding I have this constant analogy of life being a story in my mind. I apply it to everything and daily I see the beauty of the picture. One of the ways I was reminded of this beauty was during my devotionals the other week. I sat staring at my Bible, at a complete loss as to what to read and meditate on. Then, in a few page flips I found myself at the beginning of the New Testament reading Jesus’ story. Reading Jesus’ story.

I have often heard people talk about “history” being His/God’s story–he wrote it, it’s his. True. But He is also the main character of the entire book, and Jesus’ time in this earth is at the center, the heart. He is whole point of God’s book.

I realized that in my daily “go get ’em” attitude I would go to the Psalms, Proverbs and Epistles searching for something that I could immediately apply in my life that day in a tangible way. Not a wrong thing to do in the least. However, I could not remember the last time I simply read thought The Gospels about Jesus’ ministry, His thoughts and His teachings, His life. It seems like a “duh” as I write this, but the obvious tends to get away from me at times. It’s like the older I get, the more I distance myself from “Sunday school” stories…when those are the most powerful. After all, that’s why Jesus spoke in parables, right?

God’s words are accessible to me in so many forms. I take it for granted. I am realizing more and more that it is a privilege to read this book. It is a blessing and an opportunity to learn directly from those who physically walked and talked with Jesus during his time on Earth by reading their personal, eye-witness writings.

When was the last time you read through His story?