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.

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

 

Be Brave

A thank-you to Annabelle for sharing this story:

Our visit was quite unexpected, but we were accorded a royal welcome. The missionaries–all of them from Scotland–quickly gathered from every part of the compound to chat with us over a particularly refreshing glass of lemonade.

As we sat there, enjoying to the full this beautiful banquet of joyous fellowship, we noticed that one member of the party–evidently a very charming young Scots-woman–was strangely silent, and I once fancied that, with no apparent cause, I caught the glint of moisture in her eyes. After a while, she quietly left us.

As soon as she had gone the senior missionary explained that to the great sorrow of them all, the husband of this lady a missionary whom they had all loved and valued, had died two days earlier–a victim of the exacting climate.

“And this morning,” he continued, “an hour or two before you arrived, she received a cable from her widowed mother in Scotland. It contained just two words. Not ‘Deeply grieved’ or ‘Loving sympathy’ or any of the conventional phrases.”

The cablegram read: “Be brave.”

F.W. Boreham, Boulevards of Paradise, pg. 147-148

Be brave.

That challenge does not deny the weight and pain of reality, it gives a shot of strength to keep moving forward.

Live bravely.

Speaking Hope

I look into a person’s eyes and see all of their heartbreak materialize. I keep hoping that they will blink and that somehow all that pain will disappear from their eyes, but it doesn’t. I feel a twinge of desperation as I realize that nothing I do—listen, nod, pray, talk—can remove their pain. In one last ditch attempt I think that I might be able to hug it away, or just cry hard enough that it will disappear. It doesn’t work. That look is still there. All I want to do is fix it. And I can’t.

This world is sick, and when I see people’s hearts breaking under the weight of pain I cry out to God asking Him to send Jesus back and make it all right. Now.

Knowing the love of Christ does not instantly make everything “okay.” There is no deal written in the Bible implying that Believers will never experience hurt. But there is comfort in the hope and peace that comes from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”  Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (Lamentations 17-25)

My desire is to kill that heartbreak, but since I cannot, I am going to “weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15),” and I am going to speak those words of hope and peace into their lives.

Three Days Later

Jesus identifies with our human weakness. He understands, fully, our temptations because he lived battling against them. In Jesus’ humanity, he also endured physical pain and emotional/spiritual turmoil, just as I do. When I mentally apply that part of his human nature to the days leading up to his death I feel a heavy weight land squarely on my heart. Think about it. Think about everything Jesus endured.

He was mocked mercilessly about his identity, spit on as a liar and a maniac, convicted and killed like a criminal. Those whom he taught and healed testified falsely against him. Every soul who claimed love and loyalty for him and his message abandoned him without thinking twice. He was beaten within an inch of his life and then forced to carry a heavy wooden beam miles to the site of his murder. There, at ‘The Place of the Skull’, his feet and his hands were nailed to the cross while he was fully conscious. Yet again, as he hung there slowly dying, a crowd of people who had days before been lauding his praise as “Lord” now shouted at him to “save himself” if he was so mighty.

Jesus bore the ridicule and rejection without retaliation, as only God could. Then, “he cried out with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” He died with the world’s back turned to him.

Before his betrayal Jesus took care to warn the disciples of his coming death. He taught and prophesied in depth as to what would happen to him. They still did not understand. He even told them that their pain and sorrow would be great at his death…

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.

The world did rejoice. And for three days Satan thought that he had victory over righteousness. But Jesus’ prophesy did not end there…

You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…….So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. – John 16: 20, 22

Three days after his death Jesus fulfilled his promise. He rose miraculously from the dead. His work of salvation on behalf of a broken world was finished. I live in Christ’s resurrection—my joy cannot be stolen.

Go watch this video and then listen to this song.

I know I’m jumping ahead here, but he’s alive NOW, and I am not waiting until Sunday to celebrate!

He is Risen!