Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's the Little Things

Yesterday was a really bad day. Thankfully, through some funny stories from my roommate, much of the frustration bled away by the end of the night. Then bright and early this morning one aspect of yesterday's rough day jumped right out at me. I felt deflated, frustrated, hurt, and like I'd rather go back to sleep than face the day. I sat with my coffee and breakfast staring at my Bible not sure what I was even reading. Then, a truth that one of my sweet friends so frequently it's almost become her mantra popped into my mind.

God is sovereign.

I started praying that, knowing he knew about my days and wouldn't allow anything to destroy me or my relationship with him. I was still hurt, but kept repeating said mantra in my mind.

I got in the car to head to work and realized how tired I still was. We didn't have enough coffee for another cup and I didn't have time to brew another. And I HATE our coffee at work, it tastes like burnt something and we only have powdered creamer...yuck. I decided to swing into Starbucks for the $1.50 brew (or whatever it costs).

But to my most wonderful surprise PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES ARE BACK!!!! This is my most favorite drink in the whole world ever. Even though it's pricier than I planned, I couldn't pass it up. I was so excited to get my hands on the burnt orange, spicy goodness!

I thanked God for a simple gift and what these drinks represent. Yes, I recognize it's just a cup of fancy coffee, but to me it represents the beginning of my favorite time of the whole year. It's the start of a new season. This simple drink reminded me God is sovereign and cares deeply about my bad days for "he who began a GOOD work in me will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6
Now, I will have to exercise great discipline as I can easily go crazy with the pumpkin since it is my favorite. :) But for today, I say thank you most holy Lord for using a seemingly dumb thing to remind me of how much you love us. And thank you for creating the yumminess that is pumpkin spice lattes and giving me the means to enjoy every once in a while, and for the beautiful season that is to come.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
And I now give you permission to poke fun of my love for the pumpkin. :)

Monday, August 23, 2010


Today my sweet small group girls begin their last year in high school. I can hardly believe how quickly these last five years have passed and fervently expect great things this year.

I was blessed yesterday to have lots of encouragement and reflection from the Lord. The sermon at church centered around making disciples and at leader’s meeting I looked out at the crowd of leaders and thought how strange this ministry has changed from the days of meeting at Braun’s house. Yet I was greatly encouraged to think through the ministry I’ve been blessed to take part in and to know what these leaders have in store if they continue to press into the Lord and give beyond what they think they have.

Braun also shared about how God would use this ministry to change us. How incredibly true. I started five years ago, ready to make a commitment and yet timid and full of unresolved hurts/sins. Through many women in this ministry, God began to soften my heart and change me in ways I could hardly have dreamed. While I have a lifetime to continue changing, he has given me a new pair of eyes and a renewed heart to see his Word and pour myself out for others. He truly does fill us up immeasurably more than we could have dreamed as we pour ourselves out for him.

After leader’s meeting I spent time working on my small group curriculum. I read the all familiar 2 Timothy with fresh eyes as I understood the heart with which Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy. My heart was beating so fast as I prayed then and this morning for God to continue to expand my vision for my dear girls, and to expand their visions for their lives beyond just the worldly concerns. I pray they will know they carry a good deposit in them, a gift of God, a prize worth protecting and sharing with everyone they encounter. I have committed myself to them for the rest of our earthly lives into eternity and greatly look forward to seeing the radical, unfathomable ways God uses them.

Although Paul was writing from a place of knowing his life was soon coming to an end, I thought about his words in chapter 4:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

In Leviticus 23:9-14, the drink offering is given as the Israelites give their first fruits to the Lord. It wasn’t simply a cup of water poured on an altar, it was a portion of their harvest, the first part, poured out as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. They gave this offering before doing anything else with the harvest, requiring their trust in the Lord to provide, especially in years of bad harvest, so it hurt. In these years, I have had times of doubt and questioning what impact I was making, wondering if these girls were getting it. By God’s grace alone, I persisted. In his strength, I’ve had hard discussions, cried when their hearts were broken, lifted up prayers pleading for the ones who were straying, served when I felt like complete junk, led when I was exhausted, and loved until my heart felt as though it would burst from my chest. I don’t say this as a “yay for me” one bit. I say it as I see so clearly the strength of the Spirit shining through me. When I was oh so weak and literally couldn’t pull myself from my bed, the Lord gave me the ability to love, serve, and be faithful through his Spirit, his Word, and his people.

I am zealous for this year, for preparing to pass the torch, for challenging my girls in one of the most selfish times of their lives to live selflessly. And although I am asked often what I’ll do when they graduate and have thoughts myself, will not discuss them as I do not want anything to take my eyes and focus from the opportunities I have to serve these amazingly influential girls today. What a blessing to serve; what joy pouring yourself out like a drink offering brings.

Here are a few pictures over the years. It's amazing how tiny they were back in middle school!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cinq a la Piscine et L'Ecole

This picture makes me laugh. A lot. Although at first glance you may think it's of a snotty teenage girl, it's not. It's my funny little five year old niece, McKenzie. My sister in-law, Heather, wasn't sure what she was doing, but with Kenz, who knows. She's a silly one!

McKenzie starts kindergarten soon and I can barely believe it. She's so big!! Below is a picture of her in my birthday present (thankfully it fits!). I don't know why, but corduroy jumpers are the opitome of kindergarten girls' attire to me. And of course, since it's Kenzie, she has princess hands. :)

Yay for the sweet big girl!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Spent Extravagantly

Last week I discovered this blog completely on accident as the author is not a friend of mine or anyone that I know. I read this entry and was overwhelmed as I understand it and feel myself churning in this direction:

Those of us who spend our time focusing on the poor, the oppressed and those who serve them are sometimes confronted with grim realities. The fact is that there are too many problems out there...there are too many children that need help...there are too many women and children who are stuck in sex-trafficking and too many people starving. So, you read a book or you adopted a child or you went on a trip and you were overwhelmed with poverty and injustice. You never imagined that things were so bad. You couldn't believe how cheap it was to solve individual problems - medicines for less than $10, mosquito nets for $5, school fee that are less than your monthly starbucks budget. You thought to yourself - I have to do something - I am GOING to do something.

You return to America or you finish your book and your mission begins. You start telling your spouse or your best friends. This is unbelievable - we have to do something now. We have to act. Some of them seem interested but most of them try to wait it out hoping you will get over this latest obsession. But you know in your heart this is not an obsession - it's a calling. It is a new awareness that the kingdom of God has to extend out from you and reach the least of these. You keep going.

Your friends initially tolerate you and then some just quietly phase you out but you are undeterred initially. You press on KNOWING people will want to make a difference. You start reading the Bible with fresh eyes and asking yourself why you had never seen that or read that before? Why did I not hear this in church? You listen to sermons with fresh ears and you hear the repetitive beating of a drum that seems to resound with a self-centered rhythm. It isn't supposed to be all about me is it God? Why are we only focused on making our great lives even better when kids are starving, when young children are being prepared for sexual exploitation every two minutes? I guess that will all just go away if I can truly develop the purpose driven life right? Or if I just keeping doing more bible studies with my accountability group?

For some of us, the hard reality is that we simply need to move on from some of our old ways and old friends into the fullness of the gospel. The true religion that we know He is calling us too. You won't be popular but quite frankly neither was Jesus among the religious crowd. You may find yourself test the patience of some of your closest friends who would just rather plan their next big vacation and not hear about the sexual exploitation of children or starving kids or children who are alone and without love or hope. That stuff is just too hard and depressing and doesn't fit with the trajectory of my life that God is making so pleasant and easy.

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that everything we do will have an eternal impact in the lives of individuals and it matters. Your small choices can make a big difference in the lives of the hurting. The bad news is that you will not be popular, it will not be easy, you will lose friends, people will tire of you constantly beating the drum for the cause of justice. People will avoid you and criticize you and tell you to lighten up. But, I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to be a louder voice than you have ever been. I want to challenge you to scream for those who have no voice. I want to challenge you to ask God to use you in places and in ways that others don't want to. I want to challenge you to fight against the apathy that plagues our churches and society. I challenge you to be His hands and feet to the least of these. I challenge you to allow your life to be a seed - which falls to ground and dies and in so doing it produces much fruit. I challenge you to swim against the current of our church culture that seeks to find comfort in a personal gospel and personal salvation and passionately pursue God with a reckless abandon for those that are helpless. I pray that we would have the spirit of a warrior that has counted the cost and said with boldness - Lord I give you my life today - ALL of me - spend me extravagantly on the poor and the oppressed.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Now That I Have Seen

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:23-24

I’ve heard this passage of Scripture many times, but honestly never thought Jesus could be talking about me. I’m not rich. I don’t live in a mansion, jet set around the world, own multiple houses. Based on the American definition, I’m not rich.

The sad part is, I’m ridiculously wealthy. Did you know:
80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day
24,000 children die each day due to poverty (and that doesn’t include adults!)
1.1 billion people have inadequate access to water and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation
1.6 billion people (one quarter of humanity) live without electricity
Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century without being able to read a book or write their name

And these are only a few statistics. Man, I am wealthy.

In Brazil, we saw poverty, people living without much of anything. And the crazy part is, some of these poor Brazilians we met would be considered rich compared to others around the world since they at least have a roof, although leaky, and water, although not always good water, etc. But nonetheless, they are poor and in need, much more so than me.

If you haven’t guessed yet, one of the lessons I spoke about discussing further is poverty. One morning while we were traveling, I sat looking at the tiny huts we passed, most of which were awfully dilapidated. Tears came as I questioned why I was born in America, in a middle class family. Why were these people born here, to live in huts and rely on the weather for their crop to succeed. It was a weighty realization that I am the rich man Jesus spoke about.

In one village we visited, the guys had an opportunity to share with some of the men in the village. They were all farmers and said they couldn’t not believe in God, as they had to rely on his provision for their crop. They didn’t know much more about him, other than he is Creator and Provider, so our guys were able to share. They shared the highlights of the whole Bible in about an hour. The men asked them how they’re supposed to know these things? It wrenches my heart that they do not currently have access to discipleship to learn about God’s truth. Thankfully Pastor is working to plant churches; praying for his ministry.

I couldn’t help but think later, though, how I’m almost jealous of these people. It is easy in America to make it through the day thinking I can do it on my own. Yes, by God’s grace he breaks me of that and does show us through hurts, pains, etc, that we are not capable of doing it alone. But I was still struck by some of these Brazilians’ simple trust in him as Creator and Provider, and encouraged by their reliance on him. Most definitely a lesson for me as I am wrecked apart from him, and no less dependent than they are.

In America, I feel like there are too many distractions. Too much materialism and idols screaming for our attentions, saying they can satisfy. Lies! They may provide a bout of enjoyment, but will ultimately leave empty, broken hearts. In Proverbs 30 it says: Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. How true. I am distracted by my things. Distracted from the true satisfier of my soul.

I also thought about the weight of my responsibility while watching those huts pass. Too often we think “how can God allow this poverty? This starvation?” and completely forget that he has blessed many with more than enough. He has blessed me with more than enough so that I may give of what I have to those in need. And how much cooler is that? It is a GREAT blessing to give of yourself to someone else; be it tangible things or your heart. It’s such a bizarre concept as I hold tightly to what I have. I’m afraid to let go, but it is NEVER joyless to give for the sake of sharing God’s love and truth with others. Never. Last week I was blessed to see the members of our team seeping with joy as we poured out every single bit of ourselves for others. As we endured crazy heat, weird food, sickness, uncomfortableness, language barriers, and everything else Satan tried to throw at us. And instead of complaining or breaking down, we pressed into God’s love and shared him and ourselves. What joy.

There’s so much more that I’m thinking as I press into this further, striving to evaluate my life and everything I have for Kingdom purposes. But I don’t know exactly how to put it into words, or if I did, it’d probably take up volumes, so I’ll stop here. I just know I can’t go back, I can’t be the rich man who is afraid to give it all away and lose Jesus. To see the starving and the hurting and keep walking as though I saw nothing. To be thankful I’m “not them” and complain that “I don’t have enough.”

On my way home from the airport last Saturday, a song by Brooke Fraser shuffled its way into my iPod that she wrote following a trip to Rwanda and immediately after it started playing, I started crying (yes, I’m a cry-baby:)). I'll end with it:
Now that I have seen, I am responsible, faith without deeds is dead…I will tell the world, I will tell them where I’ve been…

Monday, August 2, 2010

Oba Jesus Mi Ama!

We are back from Brazil! We arrived home on Saturday and I have basically rested, started processing, and missed Brazil since then. I know I want to blog about the experience, but honestly am so overwhelmed by the number of things I learned and the amazingly awesome ways the Lord blessed the trip, that I think I’ll do so in pieces so as not to be all-over-the-place. This will also help me process and can follow Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:4-8 to remember what the Lord has done.

Today, I’ll start with a cursory overview of the trip interspersed with a few pictures. I’ll share more pictures, too, but know they also are all on my facebook page along with some videos.

Friday, July 23rd
The 25 of us headed to Atlanta and then Manaus. I didn’t feel so hot on the plane from Atlanta to Manaus, but thankfully it eventually subsided. Praise God all of our bags of family packs and supplies made it to Manaus unscathed, even with our delay in leaving Atlanta. We arrived on the boat at about 3am to quickly crash in our hammocks to get a few hours’ sleep.

Saturday, July 24th

On our trip, we partnered with a pastor in a village along the Amazon who is working to develop church plants in villages, with the goal of creating discipleship. More on that in another post, but apparently this is different than the previous student ministry trip. We arrived at his village in the morning of the first day, so we got to start ministry that afternoon! I was in charge of kids’ ministry (VBS) so we jumped right in that afternoon inviting kids to join us. Our VBS translator, Camila, was AMAZING; so incredibly gifted with the kiddos. I was most definitely hesitant my first day not having any experience and with having Mel and Braun (the leaders of the trip…David Marvin, aka DMarv, was there, but he also was a Brazil newbie) in an adjacent village (they split the team on the first day). More on this later, too. All-in-all, our kids did a fabulous job and we made it through day one.

That night, we were invited to join the church in a revival of sorts. God taught me so much during this evening; the first being to rip apart my view of right worship. This poor church (as in not a lot of money) worshipped in a very imperfect manner according to the world’s standards…out-of-tune and old guitars, less than perfect sound quality, and a bit of puppet ministry. As I sat confused listening to more and more songs being sung in a slightly cheesy manner, God convicted me that it is NOT about perfection, it’s about our hearts. That the Brazilian’s hearts were for him as they worshiped with everything in them. This lesson continued throughout the week, leading to the last day when I realized how much I love Brazilian praise and worship. And Braun gave the church his guitar; what a sweet, sweet gift.

Sunday, July 25th

In the morning we returned to the first village to play with the kids more, share with women and men. It was sweet to see the kids seeking out their new friends in our students and celebrate with them. In the afternoon, we traveled to a neighboring village. It was shocking and disappointing at first, as there were so few people there. Apparently they had a giant party the night before. But God was FAITHFUL! A few folks shared their testimonies, including Mel, who has a story seeping with God’s perfect love and grace. After she shared and we distributed family packs, a man asked Braun and the Brazilian pastor (whom we will now refer to simply as Pastor, which we did the whole trip :)) to come to his house and pray with him. He was touched greatly by Mel’s story of grace and, after Braun and Pastor told him he has not done anything too big for Jesus’ forgiveness, he accepted Christ!! It’s so like God to take us to a little village where we were expecting tons of folks to then use a story of grace to impact the heart of another. Praise Him. That night we returned to the first village for a final service.

Monday, July 26th

This day we traveled to what is more of a small city. It took a little longer to arrive, so the morning was spent with most kids wandering around the village with the translators and a few of us hanging out on the boat. More on what God did on the boat later. The afternoon we headed-in for VBS and had a great turn-out! The church in this village was established by Pastor, so there were some familiar and some new faces. That night we had another service with testimonies from our kids. A great day.

Tuesday, July 27th

We traveled to another city on this day that was much larger. Pastor had been trying to meet folks here, and told us we were going to help him accomplish in one day what would take his church months. We spent the morning walking around the housing area, inviting people to come to VBS and the service. This experience was SO eye-opening. Most people lived in small two-three room houses made of brick or slabs of wood, without windows, and with very little inside. Most either had wooden or dirt floors. The way you welcome people is by clapping, since doorbells do not exist. We told everyone about VBS and the service, letting them know we had items for them and Good News.

That afternoon we had over 100 kids come to VBS!!! Wow. All of those kids got to hear about God’s amazing grace and love for them. In the evening, we had a good number of attendees to the service, though not as many as we expected. Again, God is sovereign. One other thing I started to notice was the lack of male presence in the families’ lives. More on that later, but definitely broke my heart. Also this night was a precious little five year old boy who quickly became DMarv’s buddy. He followed him around, mimicking everything he did. The sad part was, he was alone and had to walk back to his house all by himself. The culture in the world of poverty is so different than here…

Wednesday, July 28th

Today, we went to a very small village. We were sad when we arrived to only find a few people there, as most of the village (I think it was 50 families?) were in the city for the morning trying to sell their goods. It was a village obviously stricken with poverty, and the few buildings looked as though they may fall over with a strong wind. That morning we prayed for people to come and be filled, while a group went on a boat to neighboring homes to invite them back in the afternoon. God was again most faithful, bringing folks to hear truth in the afternoon. Most of the kids did not know who Jesus was, and a woman accepted Christ! There was also a neat story relating this village to Pastor’s pre-walk-with-Christ life. More on that later (I feel like I’m saying that a lot :)). Today's picture is also one of my favorites from the trip.

That night we went on an alligator hunt! Our group was the only one to catch one, a baby who we named Ronald!
Thursday, July 29th
Our last day, and because we had a long way to travel and had to bring Pastor, his family, and the few folks from his team that joined us home, we only had ministry in the morning. We went to another small, very poor village. Again, most of the kids had never heard Jesus’ name and most of the men/women knew who he was, but knew nothing else about Jesus, God, and his story. It was a great day of celebration and love.
Friday, July 30th
We headed back to Manaus this day. We stopped at a little market-type-thing for some souvenir shopping, swam at a pool, and ate dinner at a Brazilian mall. Then we said our good-byes to our new friends and headed out. I did not feel well at all this evening, so wasn’t worth much at the airport.

Saturday, July 31st
We arrived back on US soil in the morning to quickly feel like America is weird. All of us were tempted to say “oi!” to passersby in the Atlanta airport instead of “hi!” And, while we were happy to be home, felt like a piece of our hearts were left in Brazil. I also felt weird sleeping in a bed instead of a hammock, and most definitely missed the sounds of the river lulling me to sleep and the sunrise being my alarm clock. Oh and, praise God, I left Brazil without a single, solitary bug bite! Granted, I fully expect my skin to fall off shortly from the amount of bug spray I applied (3-4 times a day!). :)

So that’s the trip in a nutshell. Like I said, this overview is wildly interspersed with many, many good lessons and learnings, which I will share as I process through them in the coming days/weeks. I still can barely believe I was blessed to go on this trip with these amazing kids. My heart misses them and all of the Brazilians. We serve a mighty, good, and great God who is faithful to his word. I refuse to return to my “old” ways prior to having my eyes opened to new truths and experiences. I will forever be changed by the ministry in Brazil.
You may get a little tired hearing about Brazil, but I hope instead you are encouraged by the work our God did in the lives of all of us there.
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Psalm 95:1-7