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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Every Day

Being with and talking to people is one of my favorite things to do. I am in my element and at my happiest when I get to engage others. Not only that, but talking with people is one of the ways I process my thoughts and feelings. It is not unusual for me to walk away from a conversation with a better understanding of my own mind. Often God works through my conversations by speaking encouragement or conviction through people.

In the last 3.5 months I’ve had many of those energizing, perspective-shifting conversations. I am genuinely amazed at the number of people God chose to invest into my life and how much their investment made an impact on me.

A friend encouraged me to change how I approached life by focusing on the strength of the Holy Spirit and to remember that every day is an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Two of my mentors challenged me to accept my identity in Christ, and to trust that He is using me as long as I choose to trust him.

A cousin forced me to confront fears and worries that were causing me to doubt God’s ability to use me.

A couple encouraged me to have an open heart about going wherever it might be that God calls me, be it here in San Diego, or somewhere else in the world.

My coach reminded me to pursue my vision of encouraging and inspiring others to dig deep into their personal relationships with God.

Multiple couples advised me to continually and purposefully invest time into being in the Word of God, hiding it away in my heart.

After each of those conversations I tried for hours (literally) to write about it, to share what it was that God had done in my heart through those people. Every writing session ended with me frustrated and hitting “delete” a billion times. I didn’t get it.

Well, now I do.

Two weeks ago my parents and a friend convinced me to apply for a two month Marketing Content internship with my school. I was excited to give it a shot, but honestly, I did not expect anything to come from it, but I had an interview. Then I had a second interview. Tuesday afternoon, they offered me the position. I’ll be temporarily moving to Texas in a little over one week.

3.5 months ago I would not have been emotionally or spiritually ready to move out of state to write and study full time. Today I am ready, because God used the people in my life to reveal things about both Him and me that I needed to see, to understand, to act upon.

This opportunity showed me that while those seemingly random conversations with random friends and family did not have an obvious pattern, they did build on one another and served an even greater purpose of preparing me for the next step. The reason I couldn’t write about each of those individual conversations was because the story wasn’t ready to be told yet.

The really cool thing is that I only just realized this in the last two days. Imagine how this will all piece together when I get back to San Diego in November, or in two years from now when I have walked farther and grown more!?

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded. Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 

1 Peter 1:13-16

He has given us an adventure that we get to live…every day.

Proven True

The other night my family sat down to spend some time in Scripture and pray. It was my brother Eddie’s turn to lead our time together, and he took us to Daniel chapter 2.

We all know the drill—the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, has a bad dream, his counselors cannot interpret it, so he calls in the prophet Daniel who is gives the interpretation of the dream by God’s revelation.

Instead of reading Daniel chapter 2, Eddie summarized it and then pointed out that almost the exact same thing happens in Daniel Chapter 4. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream, calls in his counselors and wise men to tell him what it means (they can’t…again) so he asks for Daniel who then interprets the dream for the King.

What Eddie wisely observed in these chapters is not how Daniel handled the situations, but rather how King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t. 

In both circumstances Nebuchadnezzar chose to go to his counselors and “wise” men to tell him the meaning of his dream. He sought answers from those who were incapable of providing him with truth. He went to the world, and the world failed him. Twice. Then Nebuchadnezzar went to Daniel, a prophet of God, who was capable of providing truth. And Daniel had the answers…twice. 

Nebuchadnezzar did not learn his lesson, and neither did his son Belshazzar who does the exact same thing in Daniel chapter 5. The reality is that those of us who are Believers—who know the Gospel of Jesus and have seen and heard the testimony of His ministry—haven’t truly learned our lesson either. As my brother asked on Tuesday evening, “How often do we go to the world for answers to our life questions rather than going straight to God’s Word?”

The world, just as Nebuchadnezzar’s counselors were, is completely incapable of giving us the answers we need in order to live life well. Yet even as those who testify to the living, breathing Truth of Jesus Christ are often tempted to find answers outside of Him.

Our lives are dedicated to Jesus, so our life-questions must be directed to Him and Him alone.

“Every word of God proves true;he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” ~ Prov. 30:5

All Good Things

I hate endings but I like beginnings. Do you see the dilemma that I have with New Year’s celebrations?

Writing the date 2014 instead of 2013 somehow feels like a betrayal to everything that I experienced in the last 12 months. In some ways I just want to hold on to those 365 days—both the beautiful memories and tears—because during those days I grew. I don’t want to leave 2013 behind. Evidently I have no choice in the matter: it is January 1, 2014.

Somehow, in my odd little mind, I have tricked myself into thinking that looking towards the future and beginning something new means denying and trampling upon the past—it doesn’t—it means building upon it. It is possible for me to reflect on 2013, remember, and still live onwards.

So, moving forward…

Image 1My dear friend gave me a glass jar and a note for Christmas. I have dubbed this gift my “All Good Things” jar.  As you can read in her note, every day of 2014 I am going to write one good thing that happened to me and drop it into the jar. On December 31st I will open up the jar and read all 365 of the little good things that happened to me.

Eventually 2014 will end too, though, and then I will have to begin a 2015 jar. Never take your life, and all that it holds, for granted. Focus on the blessings in your life, find the good, and know that He loves you.

Joy in Pain

Pain doesn’t take a break during the holidays. In fact, for a lot of people, the holidays are some of the most painful and difficult times of the year. It doesn’t seem right that in the midst of Christmas, a time when we celebrate the original coming of our Savior, people are hurting. The circumstances and the celebration don’t seem to match up, or do they?

During Christmas time we focus a lot on the joyous and awe-inducing parts of Jesus’ birth—the pregnant virgin, the star with a mind of its own, singing angels, believing shepherds, and the traveling wise men. In every Christmas carol there are lines about the peace and joy that Christ’s birth brought to Earth.

But we also need to take the time to think about what that manger/stable scene was really like—smelly, dirty, uncomfortable, and cold. Not to mention the fact that the only midwife/doctor available was a young, newly married carpenter. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ situation was hardly ideal. It involved a lot of stress, pain and discomfort.

Maybe I am just strange or a tad morbid, but Jesus’ rough start in life is actually a source of comfort and relief to me. Life, even in the midst of the joy and wonder at the Savior’s birth, wasn’t easy. Jesus identifies with us in our weakness. He walked through pain and experienced hardship. He knows and understands our circumstances.

The birth of Jesus Christ—the life that He brought into this world—gives us cause to have joy in the midst of our pain.

“Allow the truth of God’s Word to meet you in your sorrow. Remind yourself of the joy found in an absolute perfect and everlasting life in Christ.”  – Pastor Brad Greiner