Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's All About Love

Have you ever experienced something incredible, but struggle to put it into words?

Lately, that is how I feel when trying to talk about my relationship with God. When asked to share my testimony, I can talk for hours but still feel like I left out a boatload of critical information. Thinking about it, it does make sense in a way. God is indescribably wonderful in so many ways, and so it fits that I have a hard time detailing all his work in my life. 

I have come to believe that reflection is good— powerful, even. So in light of this fact, I am seeking to look back over the last couple years and see what God has done through one overarching theme: 


It sounds so simple, and yet so complex. For years I struggled with the concept of loving God, because I really didn't. Love God, that is. If you had asked me during that time if I loved God, I would have retorted defensively, "Yeah! Of course I do! Would I be involved in ministries A, B, and C, and doing all these (insert "Christian" activities") if I didn't?"

That was the heart of my love problem. I defined my relationship with God based on what I did, and not on an actual thriving love-based relationship. The reason I would answer so gruffly was because deep down in my soul, I knew that I didn't love God as I should. My outside actions were an attempt to fill what was missing in my heart. For some reason I lived under the misconception that doing things for God would somehow bring me close to him. 

Praise be to God, for he didn't leave me in that place. He saw me in my self-made bondage of pride and self-righteousness, and he loved me anyway. In the depth of my confusion, he met me through a Bible study and a book, Crazy Love

Sitting on the swing in my backyard, I came to the realization that I didn't love God, and probably would never be able to love him as he deserves. In the moment of recognizing my utter inadequacy, I cried out to God, asking him to give me love for him.

This is the part that is so crazy to me. God loves us wretched, broken sinners, while knowing that we don't even have the capacity to love him as he is worthy to be loved. Yet, he is faithful. He heard my cry of helplessness and he answered. 

Over the next few days, I started to sense something I never had before—a desire to spend time with God in his word. One day I just sat there, crying because I longed to be face to face with my God. As I grew closer to God, studying his word and praying to him, everything else started to fade a little bit. The things that used to annoy me weren't quite as important any more. My self-esteem and self-righteousness seemed petty in the presence of a holy God. 

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, he is changing me. No longer do I have to muscle my way through the fight against sin. In loving God, I have learned to repent and be healed. Most of the time I don't even see the changes in my heart until they are already done. Like the time when a friend said I was "encouraging." I was totally taken aback, because I know myself to be a harsh, sarcastic person who cuts people down with her words. All I could say was, "It must be you, God." 

Because of God's work in my life, I now love to spend time with him every day. He has given me a joy in his word that I have never experienced before, and I go to sleep at night excited to be with him the next morning. God's work is truly miraculous, and I can say with absolute certainty that "his love is better than life."

There is so much more I could say on this topic, but I think God is telling me to leave it here.
I must ask you, though: Do you know the love of God? Don't answer right away. All those verses you have memorized, the sermon notes in a stack by your bed, and the many hours you spent in children's ministry may say nothing about how in love you are with God. 
Dear brother or sister, don't feel defeated if you know you don't love God as he deserves. Just come to him, ask him, and he will show himself faithful. We serve a gracious and loving God. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Seven Tips for Teaching Kids

Over the last five years, I have spent a lot of time working with children, whose ages ranged from six months to 16 years. Through hundreds of incidents of trial and error, I have learned a few tips and tricks to help kids do the right thing. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather some things I have learned along the way.

1. Be Consistent
This is by far the most important tip. If you don't follow through with what you tell the kids, they are smart and they will not listen to you. Sometimes this means you have to be consistent over and over until they finally get it. To give a couple examples from my life, sometimes kids have trouble holding on to the wall in swim class. This is a safety issue, and it is really important that they hold on to the wall. I give them a warning or two, and then tell them that if they take their hands off again, they will go in time out. For most kids, it only takes one time in time out for them to remember to keep their hands on the wall, but if I didn't follow through with the consequence, they never listened to me. Giving warnings is fine, but it only works if you are consistent with the consequence you set up in the first place. Although giving consequences may seem harsh, it really is the most loving thing you can do for a child. I had a four year old that I worked with at church who spent the first four months screaming at me and kicking me whenever I didn't do what she wanted. But over time, after many trips to time out and my being calm and consistent, she realized that I wasn't going to bend to her will. Then she began to settle in and accept that she wouldn't get her way all the time, and for the rest of the year, she was really sweet and kind. Kids need consistency, and they thrive in an environment when they know what to expect.

2. Offer an Alternative
To kids, adults can sometimes come off as "fun-killers," constantly saying "don't do this" or "you can't do that." When you offer an alternative, it can take the child's mind off of the forbidden activity, and direct them to something better. While lifeguarding last week, I had to constantly tell kids to stop trying to twirl around when they jump in (they are at much more risk of hitting their heads when they do this, in case you were wondering :). At one point, after telling them they couldn't twirl around, God gave me the idea to add, "but maybe you could see who could make the biggest splash when they jump in." Suddenly, the kids' faces turned from disappointed to excited, trying to figure out how to make the biggest splash. Offering an alternative can help kids to make a good choice for themselves, so that you don't have to constantly tell them no.

3. Recognize the differences between rebellion, fear, and immaturity
It may seem tricky to gauge the difference at first, but there are some defining characteristics that can help you figure out if a kids is scared, angry, or just really hyper. I know that, for me, there is a distinct difference between the kid who glares at me and tries to take his hands off the wall every time my back is turned, and the kid who is really excited and his hand keeps slipping off the wall while he tries to practice kicking. Both kids are doing the same wrong behavior, but with a very different heart attitude, and this can impact how you deal with the situation. I would be more likely for me to give an extra warning to really-excited-swim-kid or missing-mama-toddler than to the kid who clearly is mad at me and knows exactly what he is doing. But this is a situation where you have to ask God for his guidance in what to do, because that screaming kid may not have slept well last night, or may be having a rough time at home.

4. Don't be Scared by Screaming
This one is very counter-intuitive. When I have a screaming child, the thing I want to do is get them to stop screaming. No one wants to be "that" teacher, who has the screaming child that distracts all the other children. But in most cases, kids scream and throw a fit to get a response. So when you are unfazed by their screaming, most of them will stop after a little while. If you have a system in place (like screaming = time out), be consistent with it, but don't stress it if the kid won't stop. Sometimes, though, just getting down on their level and talking to them is enough to help them work through it. On multiple occasions, I have had kids in swim classes who were clearly not having a good day. It wasn't that they were scared of the water; they were just plain mad. So I took them through the water, screaming and all, and praised the good things I could find: "Good kicks, Xavier! I can see you are paddling with your arms, keep going!" This tends to stop them in their tracks. I had one kid who screamed the first half of class, but then started to calm down and participated fully at the end. You can set the tone of the class— if you stay positive, chances are that the kid will calm down eventually. It is hard to stay mad at someone who only says nice things to you.

5. Point out someone who is doing the right thing
"Oh, look at how Tyler is sitting criss-cross applesauce. He is doing such a good job! Can you all sit like Tyler?" This way, rather than giving attention to the child doing the negative behavior, you are giving attention to the one doing the right thing. Everyone likes to be praised, and most times the other kids will try to do the right thing too, in hopes that they will be the one to be recognized next time. 

6. Help them practice doing the right thing
Learning new things is hard for all of us. I read once that if you want to memorize something, you have to be able to repeat it from memory perfectly seven times. If I were to want to perfect a piano piece, I would have to play it a few hundred times to get it in my muscle memory. The same is true for helping little kids learn to do the right thing. I once worked with a three year old who just couldn't remember to keep her hands on the wall. She was put in time out over and over, but she couldn't get it. So we started to practice. I put my hands over hers on the wall and we counted to ten together. Then we celebrated and I praised her for keeping her hands on the wall. This not only helped her remember, but it showed her that she could do it.

7. Tell them the Moral Reason Why
This is an important factor if you want to teach a child to do something long term. If you were to tell a child "no" without saying anything else, they might obey that time. But on another day, or if you're not around, chances are that they would do the same naughty thing again. Telling them the moral reason why helps them understand why they shouldn't do something. "Why don't we run into the street? Because the car and very big and fast and we don't want you to get hit." Or to share an experience from my life at the pool, kids are not supposed to shove their kick boards underwater because the kick boards pop up and hit people in the head. Pretty simple, right? But in one preschool class, the teacher just told his kids "no" but didn't say why. About the fourth time he told them to not push them under water "because the lifeguards will get mad." I nearly laughed out loud when I heard that. It's like telling kids to be good or Santa won't give them any presents. So as I was lifeguarding, the next time I saw the kids shove their kick boards under the water, I asked them: "Do you know why we don't push our kick boards under the water?" They looked up at me, puzzled, and shook their heads innocently. "If you push them under the water, they can pop up and hit someone in the head," I explained, "and that would really hurt. So we are not going to push our kick boards under the water, okay?" They nodded, and set their kick boards up on the deck. Not only did they stop putting their kick boards under the water, but they decided I was their friend and waved at me every time I came by. This goes along with offering an alternative, but telling the kids the reason why lets them see that you are a person too, and not just someone there to tell them "no" over and over.

And there you go— seven tips for teaching kids! I realize this was a bit more of a practical post, and perhaps not as reflective or funny as some of the others I have written, but I hope these help you out in your endeavors with kids. Remember, kids are just little people, and treat them the way you would want to be treated. Be consistent, help them out, and explain why you want them to do something. May God bless you as you work to point these little hearts to him!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Perfect Timing

The Lord is writing a beautiful story encompassing his plan for the world and his individual plans for each one of us. Sometimes, I get a little glimpse of one part of His story, and this one was just so good that I have to share it with you.

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you will know that during high school I was involved in a program called Bible Quizzing and that now I am helping to lead my church's branch of the ministry. I absolutely love this program and grew closer to God in so many ways through the Scripture I learned, the teaching I heard, and the friendships I developed.

Last spring, as I was graduating high school, God put it on my heart to coordinate some sort of service project for our quizzing district. It was at a point in my life when I realized that a true relationship with God makes real impact in the lives of those around the believer. Bible Quizzing focuses on raising disciples for Christ, so it seemed like the perfect fit for those disciples to find a way to serve.

Right around this time, our church did a meal packing through Children of the Nations. We raised money for and packaged 40,000 meals to send to third world countries. The packing itself was a lot of fun and it was a tangible way to serve people around the world. God placed a desire in my heart for our quizzing district to raise money and pack meals for the needy in the next year.

Getting it all set up wasn't easy. I consider myself to be selectively detail-oriented, meaning that I can do detailed school projects and assignments well, but I am not great at communicating with multiple people and tying up loose ends to make an event happen. It was a growing and stretching process for me to have to think through and work out all the details.

God made it all come together, and throughout the school year we collected coins to raise money for the meal packing. We tentatively set a goal of $1,000, but were waiting on God to see what he would do. We ended up raising more than our goal: $1,125 which enabled us to send 4,500 meals to those in need. It is so encouraging to see God's people coming together for a common goal, and this was even more evident on the day we actually did the packing.

We all met at the church, and everyone had their own job to do, whether it was filling the bags, weighing them, packing them, or sealing up the boxes. Laughter and chatter filled the room as we set about the task.

While we were packing the meals, I got to talk with the director of the branch of Children of the Nations in our area. He told me that our group was the last meal packing taking place in our state, and possibly in the whole country. The ministry is shifting their focus, working on enabling their partners in country to grow crops, raise animals, and fish for food. They are excited about this change and look forward to see what God will do with the ministry.

I was struck most by one thing he said: "When we spoke about this meal packing, I had no idea it would be the last one."

But God knew. He knew how much both ministries meant to me, and He gave me the passion and desire to make it happen just in time. None of us could have known that the opportunity to serve in this way would not come around again, but God planned everything perfectly so that it could take place. He is good, and I am continually amazed at how carefully he works out everything.

We truly serve an amazing God.

Father God,
I thank you for your plan that is worked out among us every single day. I thank you for caring about the ministries of Bible Quizzing and Children of the Nations and making it possible for this partnerships to take place. Thank you for working through me to bring our district together in this common goal and for imparting a heart of service to all the kids involved. I pray that the meals we packed would be a true blessing to those who receive them and that they would know how much You love them. You love them so much that you gave an American teenager a crazy idea to organize a service project just in time so that they could get a meal to eat. May your love become real to all involved in this process, from those who raised the funds, to those who packed the meals, to the organization and finally to those who will receive them.
You are amazing, God! We praise you!

Love, Abby

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen." 
- Ephesians 3:20-21

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Words I Used to Hate

"I don't know"

That simple sentence can be utterly terrifying. Any student finishing high school is familiar with the barrage of questions they may face every day:
Where are you going to college? What is your major? Do you have a job? Where are you going to be working?
As life goes on, the questions may get even harder:
 When are you going to get married? Where are you going to live? How are you going to pay for that? What do you believe about ______?

We all know that we are expected to have answers. Seriously, we are smart, capable, responsible human beings, so we must have the next 10 years of our lives planned out, right?

I fit right into this mold. I am a planner. I love to have a checklist, a five year plan, a career strategy, a list of "do's" and "don't's." Without a plan, I feel lost. So if you would have asked me, say a year or two ago, any of these questions, I would have had solid answers.

My "perfect" graduation picture

I knew what college I was to attend, how I would pay for college, what degree I would get, what my major would be, how I would start my career, how just at the right time I would find the perfect guy, settle down and have some kids, and find a way to work every once in a while. I had it all planned out. It was going to be perfect.

Somehow, along the way, I forgot to really consult God. Oh sure, I prayed long and hard about which school to attend, but I was so set it my plan that I didn't ever question my program or my major. I prayed about my future husband but never even considered the thought that God would allow me to live part of even *gasp* all of my life single. I always believed that "God loves us and wants to give us the desires of our hearts" so therefore: I want these things to happen—God will make it so.

Then little verses started popping up.

"Now listen you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, and trade a make a profit. Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."
- James 4:13-16

I memorized this passage. I understood it in theory, but I didn't apply it. I was getting so many mixed messages. The world says to plan, to design your own destiny, to write a checklist for accomplish great things. God just says, "Trust me."

In the rush of senior year and the excitement of graduation, God's voice got drowned out a little bit. I recited my college plans a hundred times, and was duly congratulated. It seemed so good, so perfect, so easy.

God doesn't work in the easy things.

Over the summer, as things calmed down, I learned how to fall in love with Jesus, and he drew me to the unthinkable—traveling across the world to a place I didn't know to share his good news.

I was scared. For the first time in my life, there were so many questions that I did not have answers for. How would I pay for the trip? Would it be safe? Could I survive a fourteen hour flight? How would I communicate? Would I even be able to do any good?

It was in the lack of answers that I saw God move. He provided the funding. It a miracle, but I did not pay a penny toward going on that mission trip. The Lord provided it all. He showed me his great love, so wonderful that worries of safety dissolved entirely. I am always safe in His arms. Every piece of the puzzle slowly fell together through his grace.

An imperfect, blurry picture of me taken by a 7 year old Indian boy

Strangely enough, I loved everything about that mission trip. Something I resisted for years brought me more blessing than anything I worked towards on my own strength.

I no longer believe that God wants to give us the desires of our heart. Rather, he wishes to make our heart's desires more like his own. Then they will always be granted.

VBS in India

God's work in my heart is continuous. He is taking me on a new faith adventure right now in the area of my career/college. Guess who is going back to community college to take pre-reqs for a nursing program while finishing my BA? Yep, this girl. Is this plan crazy? Quite possibly. Will it be time-consuming and expensive? Totally. But this is where God is leading me. And quite honestly, I don't know where this path will take me. So if you ask me today:

Will you be an ASL interpreter?

Will you go through the nursing program?

Will you work as a nurse?

Will you be in America or in a foreign country?

Will you ever get married?

Will you go back to India?

My answer to all of these questions right now is, "I don't know." And I am okay with that answer. The beauty is that I can see a hundred different outcomes for my life; a hundred different ways to serve Jesus. I don't know which one He will lead me on, but I know it will be good.

All God has given me right now is the next step, and I will take it.

Kiddos in India :)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Common and Uneducated

I was the girl who fought tooth and nail for that 4.0 GPA. I was the girl who worked meticulously to make sure that every stitch in my formal gown was perfect for competition. I was the girl who  stressed out when it looked like I might lose my first place position in Bible Quizzing. I was the girl who did all the right things in order to try and be "good enough" for God.  I was the girl who broke down when anyone offered me any kind of criticism. That was me.

You would think that when I got that first place trophy that I would be satisfied. That I would feel completed when my transcript held all A's. That the applause would fulfill me. After all, I worked for all these things. But they didn't satisfy. Each achievement made me only want more, each good deed caused me to feel that I needed to do more to satisfy God.

I memorized the Scriptures about freedom in Christ and about his amazing grace, but I didn't live like I believed it.

Then Jesus changed me. He brought me to my knees and showed me that I can never, ever do enough to please God or to make up for my sin. He revealed that all my perfect test scores, my medals and trophies, my moments of recognition, could never truly satisfy me.

The truth is that despite all my sin, despite my pride in thinking I could do it on my own, God rescued me. He forgave all my sin and gave me new life, life filled with freedom.

Here's the best part: I don't have to be good enough. In fact, I can rejoice in being weak because it shows just how much God is working in me.

One example of this is in piano. I always hated piano recitals because I made mistakes and thought they were terribly obvious. (I cried after one recital because I practiced for hours but completely botched the second movement)
Recently, God has given me the opportunity to lead worship playing the piano. Did I make mistakes? You bet I did. But the strange thing is, God taught me to rejoice in my mistakes, because they made it so much easier to give glory to him. When I perform perfectly, it is natural to take the credit for it myself. But when I know that my performance was last-minute and somewhat haphazard, I can only praise God when it came out beautifully.

All this ties into one verse that impacted me this year. It is from Acts chapter 4 verse 13:

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus."

Here we have Peter and John. They were not 4.0 students; they probably didn't even make it into the 3.0 range. After high school, they did the Judean equivalent of flipping burgers at McDonalds. They would probably fall into the large percentage of the public that fears public speaking almost as much as death. They were as average as they come. So when they stood up in front of the council giving a lengthy sermon about a miraculous sign God performed through them, everyone was amazed. They knew that these guys could not come up with this stuff on their own, so they thought to themselves, "What could it be that changed these men and gave them courage? It must have been that Jesus they talk about so much."

Now picture a different scenario. Peter and John were 4.0 students, scored 2400 on the SAT, attended Harvard and have several PhDs. They are involved often in public service and humanitarian aid, and the news interviews them regularly. Now if this Peter and this John presented the same speech to the council, what would the response have been like? "Wow, these guys are so smart and I have never heard anyone give a speech like that! I wonder if I can get their autograph..."

I realize that this is an exaggeration, but the point is still true. Do your actions point people to God, or just to you? I am not trying to say that you should not try your best at what you do—God says that whatever you do you should "work at it with all your heart." I am encouraging you to embrace your weaknesses and take joy in them.

One more verse just popped into my head. I memorized it years ago, but I don't think I fully understood it until this moment:

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus." (1 Corinthians 1:27-30)

I am so thankful that Jesus saw foolish, weak, lowly little ol' me and chose me out of the world. I would much rather be weak for Christ than strong for myself.

Monday, March 23, 2015

You know you're acting like a mom when....

Last spring (and by extension last fall) I crossed the magical, invisible line to adulthood. To be honest, I was completely freaked out. But now, almost a year into this new stage of life, I can say that I like it pretty fine. Of course, not too much has changed practically. I still live at home and work at the same place. Nevertheless, as I have become an adult and started working with children in more and more situations, I have begun to pick up what I call "mom instincts." What are mom instincts, you may ask. To me, they are skills or mannerisms that I have picked up from working with children almost constantly for the last year. It just means that in a lot of ways, I have started acting like a mom. So without further ado, here is my list.

You know you're acting like a mom when....

... having kids spit gum into your hand is a totally normal, weekly occurrence

... you search a church campus for half an hour looking for two twelve year old girls who "got lost while looking for a mood ring in the dark"

... you can spot a kid lying a mile away. "No, I know I already gave you snack, you have a sticker on your forehead so I am not giving you another one and you already went to the bathroom three times tonight so there is no way you have to go" (Restroom parties are quite common for preschoolers apparently. We once had to send three adults in to get some little boys who were dancing on the counter in their underwear.)

... you stop mid-sentence in a conversation to yell at the tweens down the hall, "don't hurt yourselves" when you hear them crash into the wall with the spinny chair. 

... you know and can distinguish between high fives, super high fives, knuckles, fist bumps, Baymax fist bumps, sanitary high fives, high tens, and pinky promises. 

... you are asked to set a curfew for 10 tween girls you are chaperoning (oh, yeah, I am the adult here)

... you could add "skilled in explaining the moral reason why" to your resume. (Why don't we shove kick boards under the water? Because they can pop up and hit our friends in the head. And that would not be very nice, would it?)

... you have had many children's songs such as One Elephant Went Out to Play or Bringing Home my Baby Bumble Bee stuck in your head all. day. long. 

So there you have it—my list of how I feel like a mom sometimes :) 
What things in your life make you feel like a mom? Do you work with kids a lot?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beyond my Imagination

It was so surprising to me. I expected to like it, but I never dreamed that I would love it as much as I did. I never thought that it going so far away from home, I would find another one. But I did. My mission trip to India was so far beyond what I could have imagined. 

I have been back for a little over a week now, and I have tried to wrap my head around how to put my feelings into words. At least, how to put them into words without writing a 50 page essay for you. I will do my best, however, because I know that God did not give me this opportunity for myself alone.  He has a bigger plan here, and I am waiting to see how he will bring it about. 

If you have been reading my previous posts, you will know that I have always been a homebody. I have never been anxious to travel or see the world, but God told me to go on this mission trip, and so I went. I learned once again how God's plans are always better than mine. 

Because the girl who balked at the idea of leaving her city for college now loves a place halfway across the world. And the girl who didn't think twice about missions in a foreign country now weeps for the lost who live far away. God's work is amazing. 

Go ye therefore...

I think one of the things that I love most about India is the people. So many sweet faces fill my mind as I look back on my time there. I remember the little girl in the school who asked me if I was "coming back tomorrow and next day and next day?" and I so wanted to tell her yes. I remember the laughter of the kids at the orphanage as they taught me to play "king ball" with them. I remember hearing the stories of God's power from the missionaries who started the ministry we worked with. I remember the tiny little girl blowing me kisses during craft time at VBS. I remember the joy on the faces of the women at the tea plantation when they realized that at the core, we are just like them. I remember the smiles from a little boy at the orphanage when I taught him how to use my camera. I can still hear the kids cheering each other on during game time at VBS. 

There is so much I remember, and so much I don't want to forget. 

Strangely enough, I also loved the culture of India, the clothes of India, the food of India, and even the smells! I learned to bow or shake hands with each person I met while saying in Hindi, "Praise the Lord." I learned that Indian food is amazing, and that I actually do like spicy food. I learned that Indian clothes are beautiful and extremely comfortable. And as much as people warned me about the smells, I found that they didn't bother me at all. Moreover, I found that incense and curry powder and dust and cardamom can be a pleasant combination. 

As I am processing my time there, I come back to the point: what is pulling my heart to India? I believe it is the opportunity for ministry and the Lord's work that needs to be done there. What breaks my heart is that many of the people I encountered may never have the chance to know the joy of Christ. I weep to think that I will never see again some of these faces that are etched on my memory. 

One night, the missionaries we were working with told us stories of the Buddhist monks in nearby Bhutan. These monks renounce their families and live as beggars, all in hope of achieving salvation. The problem is that they are going to stand before the Lord of Creation and discover that all their work was for nothing. Does this not grieve you, to know that these who strove so hard in this life to do the right thing will not find any reward in the next? And all because no one was there to point them to the truth, to show them the only way to salvation and peace. 

Here is the cold, hard truth: 86% of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus do not know a Christian. 80,000 people will die today without getting a chance to hear the name of Christ or the gospel. India is the most unreached nation in the world, with 98% of Indian people unable to hear about Christ's salvation even if they wanted to. 

I don't want to sit idly by and watch these people I love be eternally separated from God. I am waiting on God to see how he leads me, but this I believe in full faith: I will go back to India. Sometime, somehow, I will see this place again.

Thank you, Lord for taking me on this journey. I can't wait to see what you do next. 

[To learn more about the unreached and global missions, I would encourage you to visit the Joshua Project]

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

You Have to Live It.

I know, I know. Anytime a sentence starts with the words "have to" or "should," our defenses go up and we start to ask questions like "Why is a person on the internet trying to control my life?" or "Why should I even listen to her?"

Today, I ask you to set those questions aside and move forward with an open mind. This is something I was convicted of lately, and the "have to" comes from someone far greater than me.

As you may know if you followed my fundraising project, I am leaving on a mission trip in a little over a week. It is my first real mission trip, and the first time I have been farther away from home than Canada. As I prepare to go, I am really trying to be open to the Spirit, and one thing keeps coming up.

Do I believe that God has work for me to do in India? The answer is, of course! God called me on this trip, he provided the funding, he worked out the logistics with my school, he planned who would be on the team. It is so obvious that it almost seems redundant to ask. So here is where I reply, "What are you getting at, Lord?" Then I get this follow-up question: Do I believe that God has work for me to do here at home?

That's a tougher one. Because if I believe that God designed me to "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" that applies in the here and now as well as on the mission field overseas. The answer to the question is easy— the application of it is a lot trickier.

Because, honestly, it is one thing to go and share the gospel with people I don't know very well, who I won't be working with for years to come, and whose negative opinions of me have very little impact on me. But in the day to day mission field, the fear of man is a lot harder to overcome.

I gotta be honest with you — I do fear. But my fear is a little different than the one I described above. I fear making God look bad. What if they see me as harsh and judgmental and assume that God is exactly the same? What if they see me as foolish and project that perception onto God? What if they see me as a crazy religious fanatic and think that all who follow God must be off their rockers?

God has shown me recently that my perception of this is all wrong.

It is not about me.

Let me just say that again: It is not about me.

Everyone together now: It is not about me.

Isn't that freeing? My pastor said in one of his sermons about healing, "I go about it this way: God, I know that nothing I can do is going to make this person well. I ask you to heal them, and because you are the Healer, I promise to take none of the credit if you do heal, and none of the blame if you do not." I think we should take this approach to sharing Christ as well. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can turn a hear to God or change a life. We are only the vessels to share his message. So if I get tongue-tied or mess up the message, God has it under control. So I have nothing to fear.

Along with this, God has stuck me with the importance of his command to "go into all the world and preach the gospel." Time is short. We don't know how many years, days, or even minutes you or I have left on this earth. We don't know how much longer the person next to us in line at the store has to live. Your co-worker who is always late could be gone tomorrow. Your family member who doesn't believe might die tonight. Only God knows the details for each of our stories.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
I read in a commentary that in this verse, Jesus set up a standard for witnessing to take place everywhere we go. Jerusalem is your hometown. Judea is your area or state. Samaria is an area near your home that has very different culture. And the end of the earth is well, the end of the earth.  As followers of Christ we are called to share his good news. Guys, we have the greatest news in the whole world, and we need to tell everyone about it.

I have some friends from different cultures and backgrounds. There are atheists, humanists, Mormons, agnostics, and even some Jews and Muslims who come into the Y every so often. And I wonder. Many of them are passionate about their beliefs. I think of the Mormons, Jews, and Muslims— they work so hard on a daily basis to do what they think they need to do to get to God. They go on missions, they dress in order to follow certain rules, they abstain from certain foods, they even are willing to die for their beliefs. Yet, all of this will be for nothing when they find on judgement day that they were wrong, that they were not following God but only a man's invention.

It sounds harsh, doesn't it. Many don't like to think about it, and that is where we get the "all roads lead to God" theory. I think this truth of God's judgment should motivate us so much as followers of Jesus. These people are deceived, and the Devil wants to keep it that way.

Here is the deal: any of us could have been born into one of those families. Just picture yourself, born in a different place, different time, different family. You could be any one of those people. You could come from a broken home full of suffering and doubt the existence of a good and loving God. You could believe that God is only pleased with rituals and good deeds and exact adherence to rules. You could spend every day looking, waiting for a Messiah that came two thousand years ago. You might be working as hard as you can to do everything right so one day you can be a god yourself. You might.....  Fill in the blank.

Here is the question: if you were one of them, and someone had the truth about God, wouldn't you want them to tell you? Wouldn't you want to know that your hard labor for righteousness will all be for naught on the day of judgement? Wouldn't you want to know that there is a God who loves you and desires a relationship with you? Wouldn't you want to know that you can be forgiven and all your regret and guilt can be washed away?

This is what it all comes down to. Every person on this planet is precious to God, and as such they should be precious to us. May God's love be always evident in our actions and in the way we tell others about him and his amazing plan of salvation.

Wow, I am feeling really convicted right now. I wrote all this, and now I truly want to live it. But I really think that in this case, it was not me writing. I know I could not come up with all this on my own.

I really just want to close this post with a prayer, for you and for me. For all of us, who have let fear get in the way of God's awesome message.

Dear Sovereign Lord,
Please forgive me for letting fear keep me from obeying you. I thank you that you have chosen me out of the world. Would you place inside my heart a burning passion for those who don't know you? Give me a sense of urgency, and a desire to see everyone I meet in heaven one day. God, please rid me of the selfishness of keeping your salvation to myself. Let me act not only as your hands and feet, but also as your voice into the lives of those around me. And above all, let me remember that it is not about me, but it is all about you. You are the one true God. You are great and mighty in power, yet kind and loving. May your name alone be praised.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Great Things

I want you to know that God put you on my heart today. I had a post I wanted to write, but I kept feeling tugged in this direction. 

Here is a question for you: What is following Jesus like for you?
Is being a Christian ritualistic? Is it comforting? Is it exciting?

God has been teaching me about how simply amazing life is when I live for Jesus. And I don't mean butterflies and rainbows amazing, but hard, spiritual-battle-filled, running to my Savior kind of amazing. It is not perfect. It is not always happy. But God is always good. 

I admit, sometimes I have a habit of sugar-coating my life— and by extension, sugar-coating God.  God's love for each of us is so great, but he also knows that the trials and struggles of life are often what is best for us. But, when trouble strikes, I tend to question God and his goodness. 

It was interesting this week— I was reading in the book of Job and then heard a sermon by Francis Chan on the same portion of Scripture. Growing up, I always found Job to be a really depressing book. Seriously, Job lost everything: his kids, his possessions, even his health. And after all that, his friends thought he was crazy. I avoided this book because it scared me. Just the concept that God would give Satan the power to take everything from one of God's children is terrifying. But the more and more I experience the pain of this world, the more I admire Job. When he had lost everything and even his body was falling apart, his wife told him to give up. "Curse God and die!" she said. Yet, Job does the opposite, and his reply stuck with me: "Will we accept good from God and not trouble?"

I think this is the greatest fault in the American version of Christianity. We are so used to our air-conditioned buildings, comfy seats, and repeat-after-me prayers, that we lump God into the same category. And just like we change churches or stop going all together if the speaker isn't engaging or the sermons aren't compelling, we stick with God as long as it benefits us. But when the storms of life come and the pain is overwhelming, we may blame God or even doubt his existence. 

Who do we think we are? 

This morning, my pastor preached on Exodus 15-17, when God tested the people of Israel in the wilderness. This was right after God had done the supernatural act of salvation we like to call the "Red Sea Crossing." God defeated their enemies and walked them through great danger unharmed. It was an amazing show of his power. Despite this, just a few months later, the Israelites started asking, "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:17)

So many times, we become just like the Israelites. When life is hard and the struggle seems unending, we, in our short-sighted minds, conveniently forget all that God has done in the past and grumble at him for not doing something in the present. God is working out his story in your life here and now, no matter if you can see it or not. He is doing great things in my life, even on the days when I pray to him through sobbing, because I didn't think it could get any worse, and it just did. 

Here is where the amazing part comes in. All of this pain, struggle, hurt, and fear, has drawn me closer to God than I have ever been before. When I got news that seemed to break my heart, I ran up to my room to cry in the arms of my Savior, and he gave me strength to carry on. I read back through my prayer journal, and seem Jesus moving even in those short entries. While I may be in deep sadness and anger at the beginning of a page, by the time I reach the next I am already feeling the comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit. 

I could say far more about all that God is doing, but I think I will leave it here. I do want to share with you a song that has impacted me greatly this last week. It is called Great Things by Elevation Worship, and it speaks of God working through the hard times of life. May you be encouraged. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

For the Name

This is a little poem I wrote about what God showed me during a rough time. I hope it is encouraging to those of you who may be in the midst of a struggle. 

For the Name

A car, a road
A girl alone in the night
It's been one of those days
When she's losing the fight

Satan is pushing,
Trying to make her fall
She's leaning on Jesus
But she just feels so small

One little tear 
Slips out of her eye
Then it all rushes down
As she cries to the sky,

"Jesus, I need you
Be here tonight
This struggle is so dark
That I can't see your light

I know I can trust you
But I've done all I can do

Give me strength to continue
When I'm falling apart
Lord, this girl loves you
Be near to my heart

I'm sorry to doubt you
I know it is wrong
But one days seems enough to bear
Five years is just so long

I know you have a plan 
For all this wandering
To bring us to a Promised Land
Where our hearts will sing

But waiting is so hard, God
My heart is torn to bits
I need to know you're here
I need a sign that I can't miss"

Then her heart was lifted 
As He whispered in her ear,
"Don't you remember, darling,
What you prayed last year?

Your heart was touched
As you read of ones across the sea
Who died, suffered, risked their lives
All because of me

That very day you said to Me
A simple step of faith
'I don't care what it may cost
I want to suffer for your name'"

As her own words were said to her
Her whole perspective shifted
Tears of joy ran down her face
And her spirit lifted

Instead of being angry
For this struggle she'd been through
She praised Lord God Almighty
That she could suffer with him too

Jesus Christ and twelve apostles 
Died for God the same
Now her heart rejoiced that she too
Was counted worthy to suffer for the Name

No longer will she fear
What the enemy might do
She serves the resurrected Lord
And is glad to suffer for Him too

So she shouted out in victory
As she approached the door
"Look out Satan! 
This girl serves the risen king and has joy forevermore."

"The Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
- Romans 8:16-17

" If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore, the world hates you. 
- John 15:18-19

"And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name. 
- Acts 5:40-41

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But, take heart! I have overcome the world."
- John 16:33

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Choose Joy

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sorry for my unannounced blogging hiatus during December—I was able to enjoy some time off from school and work and spend a lot of time with my family. Nevertheless, I am glad to be back!

Thank you to everyone who is supporting and praying for me as I prepare to go to India in six weeks. I am so excited to see what God is going to do and I am amazed when I see how He has already provided. I can't get over how good God is.

As I enter 2015, I don't want to do so with philosophical ideals or major lists of goals. I have often discovered that God's goals for me in the future may look quite different from my goals for me. Knowing Him is the true adventure, as my pastor said on the eve of my graduation. This year, however, I want to focus on one thing. Everyday, no matter what happens, I want to wake up and say:

✟ ♥ ✞ ♥ ✟ "I choose joy....I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God." ✟ ♥ ✞ ♥ ✟

Choose Joy. That simple phrase can change so much in my perspective. Lately, I have been asking myself this question: What do people see when they look at me? Do they see the joy of Christ? Do they see a life that has been changed? Do they see someone living for more than the here and now?

My deepest desire is to show Jesus in everything I do. One way to do that is to show his joy. If I can depend on the Holy Spirit and demonstrate joy in the midst of struggle and pain, that is an example of a life changed by Christ.

I know it will not be easy, but when is God's call ever easy? My prayer is that through Jesus, I will live to be joyful in Him on a daily basis. May your New Year overflow with joy now and in the days to come.

Choosing Joy {and free printable}