• 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 

Advertisements

College Decisions

I was homeschooled from my first day of Kindergarten at age 5 to my high school graduation at age 17.5. That is thirteen years of getting really good at answering the,“so where do you go to school,” question—I know how unconventional answers about education can throw the conversation.

collegeboundI was under the impression that no conversation about education could be more awkward than telling people that I was homeschooled. Then, in my senior year of high school, I chose to take dual credit classes and begin testing out of some courses to get ahead with college; all the while intending to transfer those credits to a school and finish my bachelor’s degree online. I was so wrong. Answering questions about distance learning and online school is much more awkward than homeschooling questions. Much.

This post/article (or whatever you’d like to call it) is for the purpose of informing anyone who would like to know some of the reasons why I chose to seek my Bachelor’s degree through a long distance/online program.

1. Financial Stewardship 

imagesBorrowing money that you can’t pay back is generally not a good idea. You would think that would be fairly obvious. I mean, it’s kind of common sense, right?

Well, according to the College Board, the average public four-year in-state college is charging (for the 2013-14 school year) on average about $8,646 a year for tuition plus $9,171 for room and board for a total of $17,817.

$71,268 for 4 years + food and transportation

The average public four-year out-of-state college is charging about $21,533 a year for tuition and $9,171 for room and board for a total of $30,704 a year.

$122,816 for 4 years + food and transportation

The average private nonprofit four-year university is charging about $30,094 a year for tuition and $10,823 for room and board for a total of $40,917 a year.

$163,668 for 4 years + food and transportation

Those are only averages. Plus, once you tack on those food, transportation and textbook expenses….the cost goes up by a few thousand.

Anyone who knows my family even remotely well understands that my parents are not wealthy. They never have been and I doubt that they ever will be. I mean, my dad’s hope is to go into full time ministry someday; pastors are not exactly known for having money. Long story short, my parents could not afford to send me to a 4-year university unless they went into a serious amount of debt to do so. There was absolutely no way that I was going to ask them to do that for me.

Well, I wasn’t interested in tying myself down with a bunch of debt either, and I didn’t want to go to the community college, so I started looking at other options.

That’s when I found CollegePlus! CollegePlus is a Christians business that services college students who choose to go the distance learning/online education route. For the last year my parents and I have paid a CollegePlus “coach” (basically an academic advisor/mentor) to help guide me through the process of getting my college education by helping me form a degree plan, signing me up for classes, giving me assignments, communicating with the online school I want to transfer to (Thomas Edison State College) etc.

By choosing CollegePlus I will complete my bachelor’s degree within a period of about 3 years for less than $17,000 dollars. That sum includes a coaching fee, tuition, and books. I will be getting my BS for less than the 1-year tuition kids are paying at a public university. And yes, it is a legit degree (more on that later).

$17,000 is doable. Thanks to a flexible schedule, I am able to work part time in order to help cover my school, living expenses and transportation costs, as well as help around the house so as not to be a burden to my parents.

 2. Making Good Use of the Time:

 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17

God has called me to be a good steward with the time I have on this Earth. I want to be as effective as I can possibly be for furthering His kingdom, and I don’t want to waste any time. Part of the reason I chose to go through CollegePlus is that I will graduate 2 years earlier than if I had gone the traditional four-year route.640px-Antique_mechanical_clock

I graduated from high school 4 months ago and am now about to complete my Sophomore year in college. It’s not that I am any special kind of brilliant; I am simply taking the advantage of an education that allows me to condense my studying into a shorter period of time. As a result, I am accelerating my entrance into the world beyond college.

In addition, I did not want to put my life on hold while I earned my bachelor’s degree. Because of the flexibility that an online education offers, I am able to work part time, stay involved in ministry at church, (hopefully) coach basketball, write, read, and have a social life. I have the ability to simply run with whatever God-given opportunity comes my way without putting my education on hold.

Now, all of those things said I’d like to highlight a few portions of that verse in Ephesians, Paul says to “walk not as unwise but as wise” and “to understand what the will of the Lord is.” I prayed a lot about my college decisions. I am confident in my understanding of what the Lord has called me to do—this is it. I am not in any way saying that everyone should do it this way. Not at all. In fact, based on certain career pursuits, interests and personalities I would actually discourage people from going the CollegePlus route. So please do not take my statements out of context.

 <<<<<>>>>>

mythsBefore I wrap up this [very long] post, I’d like to debunk a few unspoken misconceptions that some might have about my college education.

1. That my parents made me do it—Hardly! I heard about CollegePlus through a friend of mine and started to ask questions, do my research and go to seminars. It took some time for my parents to get on board with the idea. But the more that they looked into the program, the more they loved it.

2. This is simply an extension of homeschooling

You have no idea how much this one bugs me. How I am doing school (living arrangements, classes etc.) is no different than the kids who live at home and go to the local university.

3. I am getting a paper mill degree.

I challenge you to watch this video about a young man who earned his bachelor’s degree in law at the age of 17 (through CollegePlus), received a scholarship for a prominent law school and took the bar exam at age 21 and is now a practicing attorney.

You could also watch this video explaining a bit more of how CollegePlus works and why it has jump-started students for success. Sometimes testimonies are a little more powerful than statistics.

<<<<<>>>>>

So there you go! That is the short (ish) version of why I chose to earn my bachelor’s degree through the CollegePlus program. I am enjoying school, I am looking forward to my future classes, I am grateful for the spiritual mentor I have found in my CollegePlus coach and I am excited to see where the Lord is going to take me with my education.

 Feel free to ask me any questions! Oh! And I will be doing a follow up post on why I chose English as my major and how I am planning on using it.

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!

Organized Mess

My life—composed of school, work, family, friends and ministry—is relatively busy, but it is not half as busy as my mind is. To be sure, my mind is busy because of my life, but my point is that there is a lot of thinking and growing going inside my person that is not necessarily visible to the world outside.

I am making life decisions, not about school, work etc., but about who I am and who I want to be as a person.  It’s really not as deep as it sounds. Essentially, God is walking me through many lessons about self-control, patience, trust and strength. Like I said, a lot is happening and I have a lot to process.  It is good; I am growing so much.

Currently, I have a list of about 10 blog post ideas (all related to the things I am learning in life right now) in an Evernote document on my computer.  My plan is to begin writing on each of these ideas in the coming weeks—one at a time. It will be my way of learning to articulate the mess of thoughts that seem so organized in my own mind.

Oh, one of those lessons I’m learning is how to follow through on my own goals. *cough* I guess we’ll see how this goes!

Me? An Artist?

Insecurity is one of the most difficult struggles of my life. My heart has to fight against the temptation to find security in the affirmation and acceptance of people around me, rather than in my relationship with God. I have to refute the lies of inferiority and ungifted with the truths of loved and purposeful that I read in Scripture. It is by His grace that I am where I am—secure and confident in Christ—because of His Word, observant parents, and loving friends who have chastised and prayed for me over the years (and continue to do so today).

Well, even as I have grown significantly over the years, I believe that God has been gradually showing me that there are still parts of my self-image that need tweaking. To be specific, He is addressing my negative and disparaging thoughts about my own writing.

About 5 months ago I sat with my two friends/mentors Rich and Sarah. We were discussing art and my utter lack of talent in that arena. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly call the shading on my stick figures inspired. Essentially, I have never considered myself an artist, and I’ve always been self-deprecating about it…while feeling a little stupid that I can do zip.

Well, as the conversation progressed Rich told me that my writing is a form of art work. First I laughed at the fact that he called blog posts an art and then second that he called my blog posts artwork. I asked sarcastically if he had even read any of my posts lately. He gave me a “look” and then told me that if I couldn’t see how my writing was art, I needed to get my eyesight fixed; and if I still denied it, I was under false humility.

Ouch.

That conversation began God’s work in me as he planted this seed of thought in my mind—maybe what I write is art, maybe it is beautiful, maybe it is important. Then, two weeks ago, I stumbled across this video—spoken word—created by Jefferson Bethke called The Greatest Artist of All Time.

There was one line in that poem that flashed me back to Rich and Sarah’s kitchen table:

“Stop saying that you’re dirt, stop saying you’re scum of the earth. You ought to be careful what you say about someone else’s work. Because if we have trusted in Jesus, we can stop saying we’re filthy. I mean, all that is, is pride clothed in false humility.”

That video hammered the point home for me. I am His artwork, and by continuing to cut myself and my own creativity down, I am telling God that he did not do a good enough job with me. God is tired of me disrespecting his handiwork in my life. It is time to start calling what I am and what I write by their real names–art.

Maybe this short testimony and this video can bring you to a better vision of who you are in God’s sight.

“You are God’s poetry. You were created because someone else was creative. See, long ago he picked up his eternal paintbrush, dipped it in his glory, placed us in his story and said “they will live for me.”” – Jefferson Bethke

Don’t Close Your Eyes

I acknowledge that I have slacked off significantly in my dedication to writing regularly. Imagine that—an English major who does not have time to write. At one point I tricked myself into thinking that writing a blog post should be easy and effortless, but the hours I spend at my keyboard battling words and ideas would testify otherwise. So in the three weeks since I last posted, a new job, a major test and general stress has kept me at a distance from a Word doc. Then, thanks to a blog post by Cole Ryan explaining his views on writing, I felt inspired to sit down and just write what is on my mind without worrying about grammar, presentation, getting traffic or anything—just write.

~~~

I spent all last Friday in bed feeling dizzy with a sore throat and the sniffles. I woke up Saturday and convinced myself I was better and pushed myself…by the end of the day I had lost my voice. Sunday was a repeat of Friday—bed, water, sleep, TV shows. This morning at about 6:15am I had to decide if I was well enough to go into work. After a few minutes of deliberating, I chose to go in. I still felt a little lightheaded and on my way out the door I almost turned back and called my boss. I wanted to sleep so badly.

During my drive there I had a good amount of time to sit and think about how much I hated traffic, but during that time I found the real reason I didn’t want to go to work—I did not want to face life, not that I was feeling too ill to do my job. I think everyone has experienced that feeling before, we want to just hide under the covers of our warm, comfortable bed and wait for every hard and painful thing to pass by and then come out when the sun is shining. I actually like my job, but the idea of getting out of bed to push through physical sickness and emotional turmoil was not a process I wanted to go through. It’s a good thing that the Holy Spirit is alive and active because I believe that he was the one shoving me out the door this morning. I knew that no matter how much I felt like doing nothing, my feelings are never at the top of God’s priority list. God does not hand out “excuse slips” to his followers simply because they don’t feel like it. He is what my life is about and so every waking moment is to be dedicated to Him.

I’ll end with a few lines from the band Switchfoot (I heard it on my way to work this morning…it kind of hammered God’s point home).

Don’t close your eyes, don’t close your eyes
This is your life and today is all you’ve got now
Yeah, and today is all you’ll ever have
Don’t close your eyes

Moment

This is a poem written by a friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous). It really blessed me and I wanted to share it, so I received permission from the author to post it here. Do me a favor and don’t steal anything from it, okay?

Moment
 
Sometimes I live for the future
Sometimes I long for the past
But when I live within the moment,
True beauty’s within my grasp
 
A feeling of perpetual loneliness,
and pain the past may bring
Old memories of times now lost,
cutting deep, the emotional sting
 
The future, the trap, perilously tempting,
hidden within the abyss, time thought wasting
The eager bane of dreamers,
their hopes reluctantly fading
The goal, for a moment beyond reach,
a light slowly failing
 
A sense of total beauty and peace,
in the moment lies
The pattern of God’s symphony revealed,
his glory reprise
 
To live in loneliness is no life at all,
To walk without faith will lead to a fall
I choose to exist here and now,
waiting on God’s inevitable call
 
~Anonymous~