Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions for 2014

On January 1 a year ago, I shared my goals and the areas where I wanted to focus on growing.  With another new year beginning, it's time to reflect, reevaluate, and make a new list -- not of resolutions, but of the things I want to accomplish and ways I want to grow in 2014.  So yesterday, I sat down with my Bible, my journal, last year's goal list, and a blank sheet of paper.  I wrote the word "INTENTIONAL" in bold across the page, because that's the theme God began to press on my heart last December, and He has continued to emphasize it through the year.

After some thinking, praying, list-making, doodling, and basically writing down everything that came to mind.... I've compiled it all into a neater set of 6 focused goals.  In the spirit of authenticity and accountability, I would like to share that list with you.  

Honestly, I know that I've slacked in this area lately.  So the goal is to get back on track and get back into the Word.  This has two parts.  First, I want to find a good study to do this winter and spring -- maybe Beth Moore or something similar.  Second, I want to set out a good reading and devo plan to follow while I'm at camp this summer, when there isn't time each day to do a deep study.  

Last year, I had 3 books I wanted to read in 2013.  I read ONE of them.  Yeah, fail.  But in my defense, I actually read THREE other books that were not on my initial list!  :-)  
For this year, I first want to finish the three books that I've started reading and haven't finished yet:  Love Does by Bob Goff, Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge, and The Ascent of a Leader by Bill Thrall et al.  Then, I'm hoping to read through two others this year:  Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg and Enjoy the Silence by Duffy and Maggie Robbins. 

Regular exercise was a big one on last year's list, and something I want to carry into the new year.  Currently I'm taking a yoga class and a Zumba class weekly, but want to get back into walking/running and weights, all of which I've neglected since going to Alaska!  This past year has also been a journey in learning to enjoy eating healthy, another goal to carry forward into 2014.  

As a counselor adviser at Echo Ranch Bible Camp this past summer, I had many opportunities to pray with counselors and my fellow staff , on occasions when they were weary, exhausted, stressed, broken, and overwhelmed, and it was my place to minister to them and to help them rise up and keep going.  As I think about going back to camp this coming year, this stands out as one of the areas I know I need to improve in.  More boldness.  Less self-consciousness.  Deeper love.  Stronger words.

Simply put, I'm aware that there are a couple of specific relationships in my life that I need to work on forgiving and mending this year.

Several goals that I wrote down initially all fall into this category, and I think this is going to be my biggest focus/theme for this year.  Bob Goff writes in Love Does, "I get the invitation every morning when I wake up...to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day.  Turning down this invitation comes in lots of flavors.  It looks like numbing yourself or distracting yourself or seeing something really beautiful as just normal.  It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful.... Accepting the invitation to show up in life is about moving from the bleachers to the field.  Simply put, Jesus is looking for us to accept the invitation to participate."

My version says:  Practice being engaged in life and loving people well -- listening, being all there, asking good questions, being approachable and open, giving generously of myself, soaking in the beauty of life, getting out of my comfort zone, and being willing to look stupid sometimes!

I'm very much an introvert by nature, which means sometimes I just want to be alone and not participate, or I prefer to stand back where I feel safe and let someone else have the spotlight or do the talking or look ridiculous.  But at the same time, I'm realizing that I don't want to waste these days God gives me and the people I have the chance to reach out to, by being reserved and not fully participating in life.  It doesn't mean I have to become an extrovert.  It just means I want to "show up to life" and to live and love well.  Another quote from Bob Goff: 
"Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.  It's about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light.  That's what I want my life to be about - full of abandon, whimsy, and in love.  I want to be engaged to life and with life."  

So there you have it:  my vision for 2014.
Thank you for reading!  Happy New Year to you and may it be full of huge blessings! :-)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bridging two worlds?

Today I worked my "occasional job" at the Events Center, where there's a Christian youth conference happening this weekend.  The kiosk I work there is situated in the hall right outside the doors of the main auditorium, so we could hear the bands playing -- loud and clear! -- and could step inside and hear the speakers whenever we weren't busy.

Being a Christian youth conference, it definitely had the Christian/church atmosphere.  That was a lot different from the last event I worked, which was a secular, business event.  And today I realized, it's different from what I'm surrounded by lately.

I've grown up in a "Christian bubble," and even the majority of my adult life has been spent in that bubble.  Up until this year, I'd never worked a secular job, but always worked at Christian camps.  I went to church, worked at camp, went on mission trips, and all my friends were believers.  My "mission field" was the kids who came to camp and the people I served on mission trips.

This fall I started my first retail job.  Suddenly I find myself immersed in the real world -- the world where people don't go to church on Sundays, where curse words pepper every conversation, where coworkers talk bad about each other behind their backs, where partying and fake ID's are perfectly acceptable.....and where, unfortunately, I don't talk about Jesus.

So today, being at work but in a church-like setting was a bit disorienting.  I heard Christian music blaring from the auditorium all day.  I saw people -- customers -- walking through the hall singing along to those worship songs.  People were friendly and kind and they were carrying Bibles with them.  It was the kind of atmosphere where Jesus is "the norm."  And it was almost weird to be surrounded by that again, in a place other than church or camp.

So the question is, what is the bridge between these two worlds?  In the atmosphere I worked in today, it was normal and expected for everyone to like Jesus and talk about Him and live morally.  In the atmosphere I normally work in, at my regular retail job, that's not normal and expected.  In fact, that's pretty much just me.

But does that mean I should keep my beliefs to myself and not speak about Jesus?
Does that mean these two worlds -- work and Christian life -- should be so very different?
How do I bridge my faith and my faithless workplace?
How do I bring Jesus to work with me....without being a "typical Christian" and turning people off?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Diet (cue tragic music)

I'm hungry.
So, a visit to the doctor this week informed me that I have a little bug hanging out in my body -- a parasite that I probably picked up somewhere in my world travels.  Hard to say how long it's been around, but we found it; that's what counts!  Finding means we can get rid of it.

And as for how to get rid of it?  Well apparently, the natural way to kill a parasite is to starve it.  So in addition to taking some medicine, I'm supposed to stick to this diet for a couple weeks:
  • No sweets
  • No grains (flour, bread, pasta, rice, cereal....etc)
  • No fruit after 3:00 pm
  • No food at all for three hours before bed
Yikes.  Okay, so I was already on a low sugar diet anyway (because let's face it, sugar is terrible for you).  But this is HARD.  Basically, I can eat meat, vegetables, nuts, and cheese.  For two weeks.  (also coffee. I wasn't specifically told not to drink coffee, and I didn't ask. I'm just drinking it.)  Those restrictions are hard, but not awful.    I'm trying to get creative with combinations, and find some good recipes, like crust-free pizza and sweet potato nachos!  So that's actually kind of fun.... but the moments throughout the day when I'm hungry and sick of eating meat and vegetables... those aren't fun.

I think the hardest part is not being able to eat for 3 hours before bedtime.  Okay okay -- I'm addicted to my late-night snacks!!  (I think I should hashtag "first world problems" here..?)  Seriously, though.  This rule of the parasite-killing diet has made me the most grumpy so far.  Going to bed hungry is just not fun.

And that's the statement that stops me in my complaining tracks.

Seriously.  How many people around the world and even in this county are going to bed hungry tonight -- and not for temporary health reasons, but because they have no choice?  It's estimated that 21,000 people die of hunger EVERY DAY.  That's a hunger-related death every 4 seconds, all day, every day.  Seriously?  And I'm gonna eat a great meat-and-veggies dinner and then complain about not getting to have a late-night snack?  Talk about a perspective change.

The timing of this is interesting, because I just finished reading Seven by Jen Hatmaker.  In the course of her "experimental mutiny against excess," Jen went on a month-long fast where she only ate 7 foods.  She chose chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, and apples.  Only those foods, for a month.  In the book, she shares not only how difficult -- yet strangely rewarding -- this was, but also how it helped her identify with the poor and hungry.  A fast does that.  It's a change in our routines and habits that creates space for God to speak and perspectives to change.

I would hesitate to call what I'm doing a fast...I guess it is, but I'm doing it for health reasons, not spiritual reasons.  But one of the wonderful things about our God is that whatever "reason" we have, He has bigger purposes.  I may be grudgingly dieting to get rid of a parasite, but He can step in and do so much with that -- urge me to be more thankful for what I have...remind me that poor people suffer hunger daily...cause me to be more focused, more diligent in my food choices, and more dependent on Him...and bring this Scripture to mind:

"Is this not the fast I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

By the way, it just recently jumped out at me that this verse says, divide YOUR bread with the hungry.  But that's a whole 'nother blog post.
For now, I'll end with a quote from Jen Hatmaker:  "A fast is not necessarily something we offer God, but it assists us in offering ourselves."  That's good stuff.

So I'll try to keep the complaining to a minimum for the rest of these two weeks.  After all, God created a pretty wide variety of meats, vegetables, and cheeses.  And I can still have my coffee.  That's reason to rejoice, right?
And before I go to sleep tonight, may the little discomfort in my belly remind me to pray for the millions around the world, hungry for food and hungry for Jesus.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

where I am.

Hello friends.
I'm writing today from a Starbucks in my Tennessee hometown.  Sipping a tall vanilla latte and enjoying the quiet sounds of the coffee shop, I'm feeling like writing something, so I decided maybe I'd give this blog some of the attention it's been lacking.

I've been home from Alaska for three and a half weeks now.  It's been pretty warm and humid here in east TN, but this week it's actually starting to feel like fall -- 61 outside right now.  I guess I'm still kind of "acclimated" to Alaska weather, since I think it feels great while my family is wearing jackets and saying it's too cold.  After wearing jeans, sweatshirts, and rain boots for so much of the last 6 months, I'm hanging on to my warm-weather clothes as long as possible!

It has been good to be home.  I've really enjoyed catching up with family and friends who I hadn't seen since April.  Hearing real Southern accents again is nice.  And though I'm job-hunting now, God was super gracious to give me a season of just resting and reflecting for a couple of weeks.  I really, really needed that.  It's been beautiful to have essentially nothing needing my immediate attention, and to be able to spend as much time as I want just being quiet with the Lord -- reading, journaling, writing letters, praying, worshiping, dreaming -- as well as spending good time with my family and friends.  I realize that's not how life can stay, nor would I want it to, but it has definitely been a peaceful blessing.

So now I'm looking for the elusive answer to that always-present question.... "what's next?"  A job. An apartment. Ministry. Travel. Fundraising. Back to Alaska. All the things that are running through my mind as possibilities.  I feel torn in different directions and flustered by the decisions.  Part of me wants to just stay in that quiet place, but I know that I'll continue to abide and enjoy time with Him and "be still and know," even as life gets a little more busy.

The question is, what is going to fill my days between now and April, when I plan to go back to Juneau?  I want to be intentional and purposeful about that, not just "let whatever happen."  This is such a strange in-between season.  An "off-season," in a sense.  Off from the busyness -- and the purpose -- of full-time ministry.  I miss that.  The sense of purpose.  The energy and drive of continual ministry.  The community.  And Alaska.  I miss Alaska, too.

And probably I should stop writing now, because this is turning into a novel of all my feelings and woes!

I'm grateful for my life.  Really grateful.  It's a good life.  I love being a missionary, even if it's not full-time yet.  And this off-season will hold good things, too.  One day at a time, right?

God reminded me this morning, "You have enclosed me behind and before; and laid Your hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5).  Zechariah 2:5 echoes this thought:  "For I, declares the Lord, will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst."  Beautiful.  He's got me.  And He's got you, whatever season you're walking through.  Don't forget it.  You're beautifully loved and held.


Friday, September 27, 2013

on homesickness:

I am a very sentimental person.

I'm the type of person that, before I leave home on a lengthy trip, I'm very aware of the "last time" I'll see this or do that, and try to soak in details that I want to remember.  Leaving Tennessee to come up here to Alaska for 5 1/2 months was no exception, and it was even heightened because it was the longest stretch of time I'd ever been away from home.  I was excited about the adventure and opportunity, but was emotional about leaving my home and family for so long, knowing there would be limited communication from camp.

Once I got to Alaska, I was really homesick for probably the first time in my adult life.  I've been across the globe more than once, and while it can be lonely and I've missed certain people, I don't ever remember being actually homesick or missing my family as much as I did for the first few weeks I was in Alaska.

When we saw the Smoky Mountains on a movie one night, my heart hurt and I just wanted to be back home.
I felt out-of-place among all the new people I was meeting and really uncertain about my new job/place at camp.  My introvert personality wanted to hide from the newness and the pressure to "fit in."
For several weeks -- or maybe more -- I cried every time Carrie Underwood's song "Don't Forget to Remember Me" came on my iPod.

A few days ago, I began to realize the magnitude of the change that took place over the last several months.  As I sat talking and laughing with a group of my camp coworkers, I remembered how, sitting in the same restaurant with the same people back in April, I had felt so uncomfortable and out-of-place... but now felt so at home, part of the family.

And to think that in April, I wasn't even sure that I wanted to be in Alaska, and missed Tennessee so badly.... now my heart ached to think about leaving Alaska.  It captured me.  I fell in love with it.  Now the homesickness would be reversed.  Now I'd be homesick for Alaska.

I have loved every place I've visited on mission trips.  Coming home is always a hard process.  It feels harder this time -- maybe because I was there for so long and it was such a life-altering experience.  Or maybe because God has more planned for me there.   Maybe it is home, in some way, though Tennessee will always be my home.

All I know is that this quote is entirely true:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Time for some gardening...

Recently, words from Beth Moore's book Stepping Up spoke to me in a painful personal circumstance I found myself in.  She talked about the idea of "sowing the seed" of God's Word.  Here's an excerpt:

"The seed of God's Word can fill our stomachs and give us immediate satisfaction, and still not produce a harvest - that's when we eat it but don't sow it.  We have to get down on our knees in the hardship of our circumstances and apply God's Word to the most difficult places, believing God will bring a harvest.
If we don't see an immediate result from our acts of obedience, we often decide to dig up the seed.  Hebrews 6:12...tells us to 'imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.'  
Sowing the seed of God's Word in a terribly difficult situation is not easy!  But God absolutely promises you that if you do, you will receive a harvest... Get down on those knees and start digging in the ground of your reality and sow some seed.  He who promised is faithful." 

That analogy has stayed with me, and I contemplate it and pray about it sometimes, as I continue to deal with this particular struggle.  This morning as I scrolled through Facebook, I came across a link to a blog post called "How Deep are we Digging our Ditches?"  Funny how God ties things together.  Here's part of what Marisa wrote:

"Most of the time, not only do we not dig our ditches as if we are expecting to receive enough, but for sure not deep enough for the abundant blessing intended.  What could happen if we just give God bigger reservoirs to fill?  
..Grab a spade, a shovel, a spoon, a bulldozer, whatever you need to begin with.  Just start digging where He tells you to.  Then keep digging."  

Goodness.  As I read these two lessons, I almost feel like I literally need to go outside, find a shovel, and start digging a hole somewhere!!  The camp maintenance staff probably wouldn't appreciate that, though, so it's a good thing this is intended in a spiritual sense.  So instead, I'm asking God, what do I need to be doing in my life right now, to dig up the ground of this circumstance You have me walking through, and sow the seed of Your Word into it?  

I want to be a faithful sower....to not let Satan or the world or my own doubt steal the seed of the Word away (Matthew 13:18-).  I want to believe God's promises, and not just satisfy myself with them (being merely a hearer of the Word - James 1:22), but put the faith effort into really believing Him, and sowing those seeds into my situation.  I want to see a harvest!

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree." Matthew 13:31-32.

So, though really I'll just be praying in my room, I'm imagining myself on my knees on this soggy, sandy Alaskan ground, with mud up to my elbows, digging a hole and planting seeds...with tears on my face, because God promises, "Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting" (Psalm 126:5)...asking Him to be faithful, to let me see a harvest from this present difficulty He has placed me in.  He is good, all the time.  I believe that.

Friday, April 5, 2013

one week left....WHAT?!

From my journal this morning:

"One more week.  I have one week left in Tennessee.  That's so crazy, unreal, and getting harder as it gets closer.  I think overwhelmed is the most appropriate word for how I feel... overwhelmed with how little time is left, and how much time I'm gonna be gone.  Overwhelmed with a million crazy thoughts and feelings, and with what I need to be focusing my attention on during these days.  Overwhelmed by how fast the days are going by.  I feel unprepared and nervous.  A few weeks ago, the time to go to Alaska couldn't come fast enough.  Now that it's just days away, it's coming too fast.   

I think I feel scattered and distracted, like I'm dazedly floating and to-do-list-checking my way through these days.  I need encouragement and help from God and His Word, but my Bible studies the last few days have seemed irrelevant to where I am right now..so that's not helping.  

This morning while working out, the song 'Irene' by TobyMac came on my iPod.  So old-school! :-)  It makes me smile because of the memories of my first couple of summers at Ba Yo Ca associated with it.  Anyway, the words kinda blessed me in a strange way this morning.  There's a section that repeats 'everything's gonna be alright, everything's gonna be alright' several times, and it was somewhat calming to hear that repeating in my ears through the earbuds.  Then one of the choruses says,
Hey little girl with the pressures of the world 
On your shoulders, don't say that it's over
I heard your prayers, just cast your cares
And I'll be there so don't you fear

Matthew 11:28-30 says 'Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.'  I've prayed for soul-rest for others I love many times lately...now I need it for me!" 

Don't let this journal entry mislead you, friends.  I truly am very excited about going to Alaska and about the ministry there!!  (also, I did have a more encouraging devotion time after writing this :-) )  I'm confident God has called me there and it's going to be great.  Honestly, it would be abnormal if I wasn't kinda freaking out a few days before leaving on a mission trip.  It always happens.  Maybe it's a bit amplified this time because it's for almost 6 months -- not just a few weeks.  Anyway, I am excited.  But as you can see, it's also kinda tough sometimes.  I definitely appreciate your prayers!  :-) 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Lord surrounds His people

"As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people."  Psalm 125:2

"You have enclosed me behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me."  Psalm 139:5

"And I, declares the Lord, will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory within her."  Zechariah 2:5

These verses all came from today's lesson in Beth Moore's book Stepping Up.  It was a timely lesson that I didn't know I needed, until it brought unexpected tears to my eyes.  That third verse in particular was one I had never read before, and it floored me.  Wow, God, is all I can say.

How amazing to know that my God is all around me, protecting me, and fighting for me.  We are comforted by believing that God is with us....and He is.  But today I'm faced with the truth that He's not just with me.  He's before me, behind me, all around me, within me...and He's for me.  And I stand in awe of that, and of Him.

The photo above is not of the mountains surrounding Jerusalem.  It's actually of the mountains surrounding Juneau, Alaska -- where I will be in less than 3 weeks from now.  As this journey gets closer and closer, I'm very excited, but also nervous and at times, even afraid.  It's so unfamiliar.  And so far.

Today I'm incredibly thankful that wherever I go on this earth, my God is with me.  As the huge, strong, immovable mountains surround Jerusalem -- and Juneau, too -- He surrounds me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

hold all things loosely.

Abraham knew without a doubt that Isaac was from God -- that God had given Isaac to him (Genesis 17).  Yet then God said, sacrifice him.  Give him up.  Let him go.  He was the promise child, the answer to their prayers, the gift of God.  And God said, let go of him.  Abraham's response was obedience.  It was "God knows what He's doing," and trust in Him.  Abraham was committed to obey the Lord.

The result... it was a test of Abraham's faith, loyalty, and obedience.  It strengthened his faith!  It demonstrated his commitment.  And Isaac remained, because God stepped in.  "Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son."  (Genesis 22:12)

"Until God had Isaac, He did not have all of Abraham there was to have."  --sermon notes

Sometimes God finds it necessary to loosen our grip on certain things, things we may be holding too tightly.  He might, in His sovereignty, take it away completely...or He might, in His lovingkindess, let it remain.  But we have a tendency to keep too tight a grip on the things we care about -- a job, a relationship, security, money, our plans, etc.  We want to hang on, because we're scared if we let go, God will take it away.

But clinging isn't pretty.  Neither is God having to literally pry it out of our white-knuckled hands.  Surrender is hard, but beautiful.  The story will be much better if we loosen our fists and let God do His thing in His time, and trust that the results will be His good and perfect will.  "Hold all things loosely."

Monday, March 4, 2013

on house-sitting, Alaska, and Keith Urban.

I'm sitting in someone else's recliner, in a house that is not mine, after cooking dinner and cleaning in an unfamiliar kitchen.  The country music TV channel is playing, which is nice because we don't have this channel at home.  A strange cat is sleeping now after following me around for most of the afternoon.  Two teen girls are in the other room doing their homework -- girls whose well-being I am responsible for for the next 3 weeks.  I'm getting sleepy, and need to figure out where clean sheets are kept, before going to sleep in an unfamiliar bed.

I also have quite a lengthy list of things I need to work on before leaving for Alaska in 6 weeks, so I'm hoping to get a lot of that done during this time I'm house-sitting and staying with these girls.  That is... if I can stay focused and motivated to be productive... why are TV and Pinterest so distracting?!

Did I just say that I leave for Alaska in 6 weeks?  Yeah, I did.  Six weeks from today, I will be on a plane with 2 friends who are also working at Echo Ranch... flying west.  And north.  Northwest.  Three thousand miles.  To stay for 5+ months.  Is that crazy, or what?

I really don't know what God's got in store for the next 5-6 months.  I know it's gonna be something amazing, because I have full confidence that He's the One leading me to this place.  Some moments I'm scared silly, and other moments I'm crazy excited.  One thing I know -- okay maybe two things -- A) this is going to be a God-sized adventure. and B) God has been teaching me so much in the past few months, just in the waiting and preparing time.  Big stuff.  Stuff about Him, and about trusting Him.  A word of encouragement if you find yourself in a waiting season..... waiting is frustrating.  It stinks.  But open your eyes and heart to what He wants to teach you in the midst of it.  It's not without purpose.

And a random thought to close with:  I just found out tonight that Keith Urban is from New Zealand.  Who knew?  Okay.  I'm going to find a snack and clean sheets and go to bed.  Thanks for taking a few minutes to read my little musings.. :-)

Monday, February 25, 2013

the dominoes, the journey, the countdown

"Have you ever thought that if one thing hadn't happened, a whole set of things never would have either?  Like dominoes in time, a single event kicked off an unstoppable series of changes that gained momentum and spun out of control, and nothing was ever the same again.  Don't ever doubt that a mere second can change your life forever." 

I've thought about this many times, actually, and it's so true.  It's crazy to trace life events backwards -- events that maybe seemed insignificant at the time, but one thing led to another and as a result, your life is totally different than it might have been if that first little thing had never happened.  

And God is orchestrating all of it.  Every encounter, decision, roadblock, conversation, trial, surprise, and turn-of-events, He is orchestrating for our good and His glory....making everything beautiful in its time.  

I can't wait to see what beautiful things He is planning down this path He's leading me on!  It's less than 50 days until I set out on the actual trip to Alaska, but the journey has already begun.  And this is one of those things that I can look back on the past few years and see the "dominoes in time" that have led to this moment. 

He's making everything beautiful in HIS time and I'm crazy excited. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Alaska Story

Hey friends!  So, I shared on Facebook yesterday that I'm going to serve at Echo Ranch Bible Camp in Juneau, Alaska this year.  Some people have asked how I found out about this opportunity, and other specifics.... so I thought I'd share a testimony of how this came to be.  It's really a God thing.  Here we go.

It really started over a year ago, in December 2011, at the Christian Camp and Conference Association's national convention.  I knew then that I wouldn't be working at Camp Ba Yo Ca much longer, so while at this conference, I was on the lookout for new job opportunities.  The previous year at the conference, I had met this guy named Nick who worked at Echo Ranch (you meet lots of cool people at these events!), so at the 2011 conference, we met up again, and he brought up the suggestion that I should come work at Echo Ranch that summer (2012).  It sounded like a cool opportunity, and I strongly considered going.  We talked details on the phone a few times after the conference ended.  But in the end, I decided not to go.  It wasn't "the right thing at the right time."  I didn't have peace about it and neither did my parents.

As it turned out, that was the right choice.  I spent summer 2012 serving at VBS and going on mission trips to Kenya and Romania.... and knew I was *exactly* where I was supposed to be!  It was an amazing summer of growth and ministry.
But I was frustrated, because by the end of the summer, God still hadn't revealed any direction about my next job or long-term ministry position.  I'd been diligently (sometimes desperately!) searching and applying for ministry jobs for months!  That pattern continued after the summer, but I kept running into closed doors.  And at this point, I hadn't really thought about Echo Ranch Bible Camp in months.

On September 15, 2012, I attended a Beth Moore conference, where she spoke about asking God for the desires of your heart and living a bold life for Him.  During one of the breaks that day, I wrote down a prayer in my notebook-- "God, I don't want to live a small, safe life. I want to live an abundant, audacious life for You. A faithful and faith-filled life - adventurous and bold and joyful.  Oh Lord, how I want You to call me to something huge, something frightening, something beautiful. What will You call me to?"  Another significant moment of that day, looking back on it, was a line from Beth Moore's prayer for the conference attendees.  She prayed for me and the other ladies there, "Awaken anything that has died an unnecessary death in her."

Fast forward, continuing to search for a job, etc.... in October, Nick happened to be in town, and we got together to catch up.  The subject of me working at Echo Ranch came up again.  No pressure, just a suggestion.  So I began to think and pray about that again.  As I prayed about it over the next couple of months, God began to show me that this was where He was leading!  Answered prayers, conversations with people, etc, confirmed this for me.

And it was confirmed, too, by the enemy showing me he did NOT want me to go! The devil began to throw all sorts of fears and accusations at me to convince me I couldn't/shouldn't go serve in Alaska.  He brought up past [false] feelings of failure and inadequacy to make me question, not only my ability to serve at ERBC, but my qualification to serve in camp ministry at all.  This wasn't a "holy hesitation" from God; this was straight-up fear and doubt from the enemy!  There's a difference!

On the day I was ready to submit the application -- a Sunday afternoon in mid-December -- I knew it was what God wanted, but was afraid to hit the "send" button.  I went and sat in my bedroom floor and prayed.  I have this thing saved on my iPod from that same Beth Moore conference; it's a compilation of several pages of Scripture verses about fear and courage.  I sat there and read through every one of those verses and prayed through them, until God gave me peace.  With that peace, He brought to mind Isaiah 30:21, "This is the way; walk in it."  That was my answer.

And that brings us to yesterday, when I got the "congratulations on being approved to serve at Echo Ranch" email.  I am so excited to see what this season will hold, and how God will allow me to serve the campers and staff of ERBC!  Thank you all again for your support.  Please pray for me as I start fundraising (all ERBC staff are self-supported missionaries) and prepare physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for this summer of service in Alaska.  God is really, really good, and I know He has good things in store :-)

Monday, February 4, 2013

the unadoptable have names.

This afternoon, I went shopping to buy gifts for our sponsor girls in Kenya.  It was a blast... I got them some clothes, hair things, nail polish, and a game for the girls' dorm (orphanage)... it's so much fun choosing things for them.  And now I just wish I could be the one to go and deliver the gifts!  I miss them, and all the kids, so much.

Orphans have been heavy on my heart for the last couple of days.  Orphans and foster kids -- especially the "unadoptable."

Yesterday I was talking with a couple of friends, one from Russia and one who does extensive mission work in Kenya, and we had a lengthy discussion about adoption.  Adoption is extremely difficult and almost impossible in both of those countries, as it is in others, too.  You might know that Russia has recently closed off American adoptions.  Guatemala did the same thing a few years ago.  And Kenya's laws are so limiting that they make most Kenyan children unadoptable.  All of these laws and rulings are trying to protect the children from "adoptions-gone-bad."  I get that.  But in the process, they've sentenced thousands and thousands of children to life in an orphanage, in poverty, and with a bleak future, if they live that long.  Just being honest.

You've probably heard the statistic that if every Christian family adopted a child, there would be no more orphans left in the world.  That's an amazing thought.  But one of the ladies I was talking with yesterday brought up this point -- that's a great statistic, but even if all the Christian families were willing, a huge percentage of those children can't be adopted because of their country's laws.  They are in the hands of their government, stuck right where they are.

That breaks my heart.  It really does.

I think it hurts me more deeply because I can put faces and names to this tragedy.  I know these children, these precious, unadoptable ones.  I have hugged them, kissed them, played games with them, painted their nails, taught them songs, wiped their tears, heard their stories.  For some of them, I'd be the first in line to welcome them into my home and call them my own...if it were only possible.  But it's not.

And even here in the United States, while we don't necessarily have the same laws, too many children are deemed "unadoptable," because of age, health needs, behavior, or a combination of those.  Seriously, who gets to decide that these children don't deserve a loving family just as much as a younger, healthier child?!

It makes me want to cry.
And I ask God, what can I do?  But so far, there's no answer.

Hosea 14:3 says, "In You the orphan finds mercy."  And Psalm 68:5 says God is a "Father to the fatherless."  I take comfort in knowing that He sees and loves every single one of those children, and has plans for each one.
But we also have to remember that He says "Pure and undefiled religion [is] to look after orphans and widows in their distress..."  (James 1:27)  So if you can foster, foster.  If you can adopt, adopt.  If you can volunteer in an orphanage, volunteer.  If you can raise awareness, raise it.  Do what you can.  It's God's calling.  It's our responsibility.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Extreme Makeover Blog Edition

My blog got a makeover!  What do you think?  I'm really liking it, myself :-)

Do you know the song that my blog is named after?  It's "What Faith Can Do" by Kutless.  It's a few years old now, but still one of my favorites (I have a LOT of favorites ;-) )

Have YOU seen dreams move mountains?  Hope that doesn't end?  Miracles just happen?  Silent prayers get answered?  Broken hearts become new?  I have!!

Okay :-)  So ya like the new look?

Monday, January 21, 2013

all the days of my life!

Read this today in an article on BoundlessLine.org (website for Christian young adults).  

As a woman, God designed you to be a helper. In marriage, that means using your gifts to help your husband carry through his leadership. In all of life, including dating, it means living out all the 'one-another' verses in Scripture, as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to help one another grow in godliness. That's no less true when we're dating or hoping to date. His godliness...should be your primary motivation.

Love that last statement, "his godliness should be your primary motivation."  Years ago, I heard a devotion on the Proverbs 31 woman -- I don't even remember who it was by, but I remember the emphasis on verse 12, "She does him [her husband] good and not evil all the days of her life."  I probably remember it so well because of this note I still have written in the margin of my Bible:  "I am to love my future husband and seek his highest good all the days of my life, even before I know him."  

How I pray for him.
How I relate to other guys.
How I prepare to be a good wife/homemaker/mom.
How I take care of my body and health.
How I grow as a Christian and a godly woman.
How I practice purity and faithfulness.

All these things and more will have effect in that future relationship.  Are you and I making decisions that seek our future spouse's highest good even now? 

And when that relationship happens, I love the challenge that even then, our focus is to be on building the other person up in the Lord, helping them to become all they're called to be.  The full sentence in that article, by the way, says "His godliness, not your hope for romance, should be your primary motivation."  What girl doesn't love a little romance? :-)  But keep the priorities straight.  There's a bigger, more glorious picture to see:  a picture of two people who love because He first loved them, two people who help each other grow in faith and godliness, two people who further God's kingdom together.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I heard that faith moves mountains...

I heard that faith moves mountains
I know it moves my feet
To follow You
Maybe I'm a mountain
Because it's moving me
My faith is not a fire, as much as it's a glow
A little burning ember in my weary soul
And it's not too much
Just enough to give me hope
Because love moves slow
Your love moves slow

So, I'm in love with Audrey Assad's music.  Last weekend, my sister and I got to go to one of her shows in Nashville, and it was great.  Small, intimate setting, very relaxed and personal, and lovely music.  Afterwards, I bought her newest album, "Heart."  This song, called "Slow," is my favorite on the album so far.  I think one reason I love Audrey's music so much is that it's so expressive, and I can so identify with it.  Often it seems she puts my feelings into words!

And this song about faith....yeah.  Recently I wrote this prayer in my journal:  "I want to please You by having faith, but it's hard when you're not sure about..about anything.  When there's no evidence.  But faith IS the evidence, Your word says.  The evidence of things hoped for."  

The reference there is Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the assurance (or substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (or evidence) of things not seen."  As I was reading that verse that day, my eye caught another verse at the end of chapter 10, "But My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him."  So I added to my journaled prayer, "Lord, let me not shrink back.  Help me be strong in faith!"

And God is good, to give reassurance at times when He knows we need it, to strengthen our faith.  Sometimes faith is a "little burning ember," and sometimes He lets that ember get fanned into a flame of faith!  We need to remember that whether it feels like our faith is a forest fire, or barely bigger than a mustard seed, God can use it to move mountains....and to move us.  May we delight Him by believing Him!

"Without faith it is impossible to please God..." Hebrews 11:6

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Goals

It's a new year!  Twenty-twelve definitely held some good stuff and some hard stuff....as all years do.  I'm super excited for what 2013 will hold.  Yesterday God showed me the Scripture above, Isaiah 34:18-19, reminding me that He has new things in store, and He alone can make a way where there seems to be no way!  So bring on 2013...bring on the new!!

Okay, so I wanted to share some of my goals -- "resolutions" if you will -- for this year.  The CCCA conference I went to at the beginning of December was kind of a "re-starting point" for me.  One of my biggest take-aways from the conference was BE INTENTIONAL.  Figure out what your priorities are, what's important to you, where you want to be by the end of the year, and MAKE IT HAPPEN.  As I remain a single woman for now, I want to be intentional about my personal growth as a godly woman, as a future wife and mom, and as a leader.

One of the speakers I heard at the conference, Dr. Tim Elmore, challenged us to choose several areas that we want to improve/grow in this year, then set some intentional and practical goals to help us grow in those areas.  Dr. Elmore suggests recruiting people to mentor you in each area you choose to work on -- for example, if one wanted to improve in time management, he'd ask a friend who is really good at time management to give him advice and hold him accountable throughout the year.

So, here are the five areas I've chosen, with some thought and prayer, to focus on this year:
1. Financial responsibility/fundraising
2. Exercise
3. Courage/boldness
4. Prayer
5. Prep for being a godly wife

And here are my practical goals/things I've already started doing to grow in these areas:

1. Daily workouts!  So far I'm enjoying the workouts and feeling the accomplishment, and that's keeping me driven!  :-)

2. I've chosen a few books to read in 2013 that correspond to my focus areas:  The Missional Mom by Helen Lee (wives/moms in ministry), In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson (courage/boldness), and The Ascent of a Leader by Bill Thrall (general leadership).  Confession:  I am NOT very good at sticking with reading and actually finishing a book!!  So three in one year will be a big deal for me! haha.

3. I'm studying women of the Bible in my quiet times -- just kind of my own personal study on godly womanhood.

4. Making a priority to pray more specifically and faithfully for family and friends' specific needs.

As you can see, I haven't dived into all the areas yet, but workin' on it!
So far, I haven't really run with the mentor idea.  That's probably something I should improve on -- having people in my life that I intentionally glean wisdom from and who hold me accountable.  Hmm, something to think about!  :-)

There you have it!  The basic rundown of my 2013 goals, that really started early in December.  So far I've stayed pretty motivated and committed, but I know that could definitely wear off in the coming weeks and months, and then I'll need to evaluate and figure out how to stay the course!

What are your goals?  What five (or six or four or two) areas would you focus on improving this year?
Here's to a 2013 of INTENTIONAL growth and ministry!  Happy New Year!