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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• 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.

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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.

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!

Girl on the Beach

Friday night I stood with my back to a fire pit, keeping warm in the cool breeze coming off of the ocean. The crackle of burning wood and the powerful waves hitting the shore provided a calming soundtrack. As the sun left the realm of sight people began to empty the beach. Light from the lampposts along the wooden pier reflected off the dark water.

That night, as I stared at all of the beauty around me, I had no intention but to think through the thoughts of my heart and try and get my worries “sorted.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young woman standing alone on the wet sand, clutching a cup of coffee and letting the water wash over her feet. Almost instantly after noticing her presence I felt the Spirit give me the urge to go talk to her. contentment-praying-woman-ocean-465x300

Not now, Lord, please?! You know I’ve got so much on my heart right now. 

Exactly. Get over yourself and focus on someone else. Go. Now. 

My legs started moving away from the comfortable, warm fire and towards the ocean. Instead of approaching the girl directly, however, I ended up about 10-15 feet away from her––up to my calves in sea water trying to come up with a good conversation starter.

I tried about 20, but my personal favorite was, “Hey! I noticed You’re drinking coffee! Funny thing because I drink coffee too! So have you ever heard of Jesus?” Yeah, no.

Eventually I decided to wing it, and stepped towards with my hands shoved nervously in my hoodie pocket. “Hi! So, um, I know this a awkward [nervous smile], but I noticed you were standing by yourself and looked a little lonely. I just felt like I should come over and say, um…something. Are you okay?”

The girl laughed and replied with a, “Oh, do I really look lonely? No, I was just looking. It’s all so beautiful. I love to simply stare and pray.”

She prays, God…she prays! 

Yes, I know. 

The girl had a lovely smile and an even lovelier heart––full of praise and worship for our mutual Lord and Savior. Our conversation led us to share our (condensed) life stories, our dreams for the future and how the Lord was moving in our lives. We discovered that we were in the same relative period of life––discerning how God would use our gifts to bring him glory.

Not 5 minutes into our talk she pulled her well-worn Bible from her purse in order to share a passage of scripture to encourage me as I wait for the Lord. I could not stop smiling and I struggled to keep down tears of joy at what a blessing the whole meeting was becoming.

I believe that the two of us probably would have talked for hours, but it grew late and my family called me away to leave. The girl and I exchanged contact information and left each other with a hug and the promise of meeting again––if not in this life, then in the next.

I had expected it to be a short and awkward interaction where I would try and pass along a few words of truth to a lonely girl and then leave not knowing whether or not I had touched her. Instead, I received much more than I gave. I had the blessing of meeting a sister, the encouragement of her insight, and the knowledge that the Lord knew that I needed that meeting.

Earlier on that evening, around the fire pit, I prayed that God would reveal himself to me in multiple ways, that he would show me how much he loved me and give me something to smile about and hold on to.

He did just that, but first, I had to trust and obey.

Not Drowning

I am a horrible swimmer. When I am immersed in water I would describe my movements as  ‘not drowning’ rather than ‘swimming.’ I don’t really mind this fact when I am in a pool––predictable conditions and reasonable depth. But when I get myself into the ocean, things get a little more interesting for me––unpredictable waves and depth.

For the last few months I feel like I have been going through my life ‘not drowning’–keeping my head above the water and trying to avoid getting slammed by surprise waves. drowning

It’s not like I haven’t been enjoying my time out in the water, quite the contrary. I rode in the waves of my job, graduation, fun classes and my 18th birthday pretty smoothly. But the minute I got back out I got hit with the waves of stress from managing a job, school, family responsibilities and ministry; keeping up friendships; writing; and worrying about the future.

There are ideas, dreams and realizations that seem to be hitting my mind and heart all at once. Some of them correlate with my personal life–job, writing, school, relationships–while others are on a more broad scale–my country, the impending zombie Apocalypse (just kidding…sort of), news items, pop-culture.

Those thoughts are all up there, making it a rather difficult job to focus on just one thing. I write in order to think, and right now I have countless documents all with a few unfinished sentences and underdeveloped ideas spread out over the page; I cannot seem to figure my thoughts out much less finish a blog post on it.

Not drowning.

I am flailing my arms to try and keep my head above the water where I’ll get a gasp of air––clarity––only to get dashed by another wave of question.

“You cannot find time for prayer, you have to make time for prayer.”

Water in cupped handsThat word of encouragement, that challenge by a speaker  (Josiah Cruz) on Sunday night really touched my heart. I have been realizing that it is completely and totally impossible for me to “figure out” everything going on in my mind and life on my own. It takes the power of God, the clarity of the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus to bring my mind into focus.

I have been shoving prayer to the side. I have been ignoring the person who knows how to best help me sort things out. As I talk with Jesus, he directs my focus to the things that are actually important, and he gives me the insight I need in order to figure out what to think and do as a result.

Swimming.

“Let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

 Psalm 32:6-8 (ESV)

I am cutting through the choppy water with direction, successfully ducking through waves and learning how to time my breathing.

I am going to make the time for prayer. I am going to stop avoiding my wise Father in Heaven. I am going to trust that it is through his wisdom that I will make it through these unsure waters.