I woke up this morning and I remembered... it was five years ago today.
I’ve always been one for remembering dates. I love to look back at the journey You’ve led me on. It always leaves me in awe. This morning was no exception.
I remember being so awed on my baptism weekend at the ways You had worked in my heart up until that point. I remember telling a dear friend that I felt like a different person to the little girl I’d been a few years before. You were changing my selfishness into a love for right… my self-dependance into a recognition of my need for You… my little world of pretend missionary exploits into a realization that I could actually serve You in real life. I remember the surealness of that day and wanting to pinch myself into realizing that this was really happening… that You had really given me the courage to stand up and tell the world what You’d been doing in my heart in the years preceding. I remember the conversation around the piano that evening and how we had somehow started looking at our globe and the many countries that didn’t know anything about You. I remember listening to my friends’ excitement about how we could share our love for You and determining deep down that I wanted to be a missionary— whether that was here in the states or abroad. It really was the most special Sabbath of my life.
This morning I went back and watched the video of that day (if you want a quick glimpse click here). And again I was awed as I looked back. Five years ago I was amazed at the ways You had changed my little heart. Honestly, today I am even more amazed at the way You have changed my heart since then.
How could I have ever known that You would allow trials to come a few months later that I didn’t understand or know how to deal with but that in the darkness I would learn a deeper level of commitment than I ever could have learned in the light?
How could I know that our move away from everything that was familiar would stretch me far beyond my comfort zone but cause me to lean on Your arm in a way I had never done before?
How could I have expected the joy and love for people I would find half way around the world ministering with my family when sickness had half of us in bed?
What would I have thought if I had known that after my prayers to go deeper than ever I would be surprised with an illness recurring from when I was little that would leave me utterly exhausted and often in pain for seven months but teach me a trust in You that endured the most painful of days?
How could I have understood the contradictions of pain and joy that ministry would bring… of emptiness and fullness… and the ways You would lead me so gently to understand Your real purpose for me and that being a missionary didn’t mean half the things I thought and a hundred things I didn't?
How could I have ever dreamed of the way You would win my heart and my love beyond my wildest imaginations and that life would turn into a beautiful journey with my best Friend?
Truth is, I couldn’t know. And I’m glad. I think it would have been a bit much for my 14 year old mind to comprehend.
One thing I know now. Your plans were perfect and I wouldn’t have them any other way.
I look back and it strikes me how much I didn’t know. How much I hadn’t experienced. How much of Your heart I didn’t even know existed.
And I have to wonder where I’ll be in five years time. How much of You there is still to find that I don’t know about… how much deeper there is to fall in love than I could even dream right now.
I don’t have to know. I’ve seen enough to know I want to sign up for every last little bit of it.
That while my future may remain unknown, I can look at my past and see so many fingerprints of grace that there need be no fear for the future.
Whatever storms come…
Whatever valley floors…
You see them. And You see me. And You know. I don’t have to.
So Jesus, sign me up. Your ways are beyond my understanding. That you would want to take a little rascal and turn her into your little princess is beyond me. Of everything you have done in the last five years, your wild love and friendship to a girl like me amaze me most. I don’t understand it. Or why you chose to pursue me. But I love it. I love you. And you’ve won my heart lock stock and barrel. Here’s to another five years… to a lifetime together… no matter what darts the devil throws.
Because you first loved me.
Forever your little girl.
I’ve always known priorities are important. I’ve grown up hearing it— and seeking to live it. But then there’s those times when I’m taken off guard and I realize how much I still have to learn.
This summer was one of those…
Our schedule this year has been more full than any other year I remember. It's been exciting and crazy all at once. After being away on ministry trips for almost the entire spring, we set off for six weeks of ministry interspersed with family time. Little did I know how much I would learn about myself and my priorities along the way.
Often we think of priorities as choosing to put God, family, and ministry before other less important matters. But what about the times when we have to choose between giving our greatest energy to God or in ministry to people? What then? Is it more important to pour ourselves out on behalf of hurting humanity until we are spent, or to give our Jesus our freshest energies? Is it selfish to take time to talk to God about the little things that bother us when so many are fighting for life? How does one balance between taking time to “be still and know” and fulfilling responsibilities that seem to increase exponentially? Might there be a difference between real loving service of our Jesus and the load we so often place on ourselves of doing everything we think others expect us to do?
Hard questions that call for hard answers.
I’ve always known that I want Jesus to be priority number one. Over and over He has reminded me that He comes before school and work and any of my own plans. I think I’d finally begun to learn that one. And then He reminded me last fall that He comes before even my closest friends and family. That one is a little harder to learn, but when I began to grasp it I started to experience the beauty of loving Jesus most of all.
But our enemy is never content to see Jesus exalted. And sometimes he catches us where we least expect it.
For me that was in putting ministry before my own deep connection with Jesus. Sure, I didn’t consciously lay Him aside for something else. In fact I spent many hours seeking Him and trying to understand why His face seemed further away. But when it came down to sharing the deepest corners of my own heart with God or running off to seek to fulfill the needs around me, I chose the latter. I’m the type who hates to say no... who finds it easier to run myself dry in the hopes that someone else will be spared emptiness themselves. After all, isn’t that what it means to be selfless?
When we choose to put the needs of the hurting before our own intimacy with God we neglect Him and prove to be far less of a blessing to the very people we were seeking to serve.
When Jesus does not come before absolutely everything else, everyone suffers.
When we allow ministry to come before Jesus we cheat Him of the devotion He deserves. And not only that… we cheat the world of seeing a life who loves Him above all else.
Maybe it’s not real selflessness that puts ministry before our own intimacy with God. Maybe it’s a warped perspective.
When I see the needs of the hurting and think that I must jump to be all things to all people I miss the place He designed for me as His friend and coworker, and end up trying to do His job for Him. When I don’t choose to resist feeling guilty for not touching every heart I see, I miss the opportunity to live in real contact with His. When I try to spread myself too thin, there is nothing left to invest more deeply in the people He specifically wants be to touch. Really, when I think I have to reach the whole world I miss the unique opportunities He has handpicked for me.
Maybe saying no is actually saying yes to something greater.
What if the greatest ministry is only found in loving Jesus with the whole heart and then willingly accepting any cross He gives us? No less. No more. He already carried the cross that saves the world. Maybe my strained efforts to carry a cross I was never meant to lift not only hurt me but the heart of the One who already bore it. Isn’t it a diminishment of what He has already done to think that I must reach the whole world?
After all, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
I can’t claim to have learned all these lessons yet. I’m still getting there. Letting Him change old thought patterns and our natural nature doesn’t happen overnight. But it can happen. It will happen if I let Him. My Jesus never gives up.
We’re heading out now on our fall season of travel, and I go with a fresh recognition of how desperately I need Him to be my priority.
We fly and I look down on the lights of the city below and I remember that He holds the whole world in His heart. I don’t have to carry that weight... I simply have to carry Him in my heart and be willing to go wherever He leads and love whatever He asks me to love. This is life.
I share because I know I’m not the only one who struggles to give Jesus His rightful place. I don’t know what it is that blocks you from the deepest intimacy with His heart, but I know that if He can begin to teach me, He can teach you.
Nothing, nothing in all the universe is more important than Jesus.
Everything but Him is merely ashes. And honestly, anything that steals our heart from Him is our idol.
I don’t want to make an idol out of anything. Not even the things that seem innocent— like ministry. I want Jesus first, last and best in everything. Even if that means I lay down some of the things I think are so crucial.
I want to be all He created me to be-- His friend. I want that for you.
And maybe it’s only when we learn to love Him best that we learn to love the hurting world like He does.
Maybe it’s only then that our ministry carries the power to shake the world.
Written May 7 (not posted till now for a lack of internet that will actually load a webpage. :))
We live in a broken world. A world full of people aching to be noticed... to be worthwhile... to be loved.
Sometimes I think we forget that there are hurting people right here. When we think of a mission field, we think of starving little children living in a mud hut in Africa... little Indian girls being trafficked... wounded families in Katmandu... people on remote islands who have never heard the name of Jesus...
Thing is, there are people here who have never seen the love of Jesus. They know He exists, but they have no concept of what it means to be loved by Him.
It's easy to stand by and say that they should know better... that they should believe the promises. But really, aren't we partly responsible for their struggle to believe if we have never shown them love?
You imagine trying to explain water to someone who had never seen it? Like, how do you even start? And yet we do much the same thing when we indifferently charge people to just believe that God loves them while ignoring our own duty to love them the same way. Sure, God can do miracles to show broken people what it means to be loved by Him when they've never been loved by anyone else... but ultimately, He has placed the responsibility in our hands to show His people what love means.
A failure on the behalf of the hurting to believe that God loves them is often a reflection of the failure of His people to reveal that love to the world.
And just this week... the quiet "no" of a precious child of His in response to my question of whether or not they thought God loved them, has been reverberating through my mind ever since.
No one should ever have to say no to that question. Our love for His children should be so strong that they will have no question in their minds as to His love.
As long as there are broken people on this planet, we will have work to do. And really, what could be better than loving His hurting children with the love that He's loved us with?
Before we rebuke a dying world for having no concept of a the face of a beautiful Jesus, we have to ask ourselves what kind of concept of His face we are showing them.
Because you may be the only Bible some people ever read... the only real Christian they ever meet. Who will they think He is when they look at you?
Few pics from UKFR... (Photo credits, Eden Hanson-Bartholomew, Jehlise Woodburn, Caleb Rayne, and yours truly)
It seems like just yesterday that I gazed out my car window watching landscape speed by... moments ticking down until the first Family Retreat of the year would begin. My expectations were high, and so was my realization of my dependance on the only One who would give me grace for another season.
And almost before I knew it, I found myself on a plane headed home from the last FR of the year, amazed at all that God had done in the hearts of others and in my own.
It's been a year of blessings too numerous to count. And as my mind drifts back over all the avenues He has led me down in the process, I am filled with gratefulness for a God who is far more incredible than I could ever deserve.
Sometimes in the moment it's hard to see the gift that I have to be a servant... to travel, share, sing, pray, serve, listen, and love. But retrospect always makes that privilege more distinct, and my heart swells with thanksgiving.
I have a hundred special memories and beautiful faces etched on my heart...
The last six months have left me with a deeper realization of the pain in a hurting world... and yet, beyond that, I see even more clearly the power and beauty of hearts that will love the world the way He did.
After all... there is nothing the world craves more than love.
Addictions... crazy busy lives... obsession with fashion...
So often it is a cry for someone to notice, to care, to love.
And sure, we can tell them that Jesus is enough-- and He is--but aren't we to be His hands and feet? Aren't we to be the ones who demonstrate His love to the world?
How can they ever understand a Jesus that loves them so much He would give His life for them until they see our hearts beating with a love for them that is so great that we give our lives for them?
It's not an easy path-- to love the world like that. All of a sudden my neighbor's pain is not just his, but mine too. The griefs, losses, and joys of those we love become our own.
But when did He ever promise an easy path?
Not easy... just rich and full, and more abundant than our highest expectations.
And isn't that better than an easy life anyway?
Jesus, give me a heart like Yours. Fill it with love for a hurting world. And when I have no more to give, break me, and make me sustenance for a dying world. I just want to love like You...
I sit here on the plane and finally have a few moments to put some of the last two weeks on “paper.” It’s hard to know where to begin. God blessed abundantly and poured Himself out like we knew He would. I praise Him for His ever present strength. He is an incredibly good God.
He was at work at UKFC again this year. It is such a joy to our hearts to see families hearing and getting excited about their potential to live closer to each other and God in a way they never have before… To see the joy and happiness in families who were once on the brink of disaster. If anything spurs us on to travel for weeks of the year, it that right there. Nothing beats seeing lives changed.
We went this year with the realization in the back of our mind that because of financial concerns this might be the last UKFC. To be honest, that was not something I wanted to think about. So many lives have been touched at that camp over the last six years. I hated to think of it closing down because of money. I knew God could supply if it was His will, and I trusted that He would do what was best.
Last year God did beautiful things in the hearts of the people and in our own at that camp. I know that when the plane carried me home I left part of my heart in that country. And through all the business of the year, part of me was always eagerly anticipating our next visit and the when we would see all the dear people who had crept into my heart. Going back this year was so rich… so beautiful. I treasured the moments. Even being down with a sinus infection for the second half of the trip couldn’t spoil the privilege I felt at being back for a little while.
And it struck me again this morning in a deeper way… Might what I felt about that country be just a little part of what my Father feels about being separated from His beloved children on earth? Could it be that He left part of His heart here, and that He will never feel whole again until we are with Him? Might everyday apart hurt Him? Could He be looking down on us with longing for the day when we will be ready for Him to come and take us home? Isn’t the separation far harder for Him than any separation we have ever experienced here?
It makes me pause for a minute. My little mind just can’t grasp the depths of a Love like that.
I wonder at how we can be satisfied here when He is not satisfied to leave us here. How can we be content to let day after day pass without making vigorous strides toward that glorious reunion? Why aren’t we doing all we can to hasten that moment?
Just to think that there is a part of our Father’s heart that won’t stop hurting until we’re together…
If the joy is anything like what I’ve felt in being reunited with so much that I love these last two weeks… it will be beyond anything I can imagine.
I want to end the pain in His heart.
I want that reunion to come soon.
I want to go home.
God worked in marvelous ways this year and provided the funds for next year’s UKFC. He works in ways that are beyond our imagining. The dates are booked for next year’s camp. There will be another year to watch God change lives… I praise Jesus. That puts a song in this heart.
And since I can’t really sum up the last two weeks fully in words… here are some pictures from the trip. After all— a picture paints a thousand words.
Miles pass under my feet, as I sit back in my comfortable (or not so much :)) plane seat and try to get the necessary sleep for the next few days. I'm never a very good sleeper on these red eye flights. And actually, I'm thankful for that. When the plane is dark and quiet and sleep evades, it's the perfect time for prayer.
I've felt my need of it in a special way of late. Something seems to drive me to my knees-- not as an obligation but as a necessity. And I realize more and more that it really is a necessity. Seriously.
Somehow we've had our eyes blinded to think we can live without it. And not just that... we've somehow come to think that there is a limit to the size of our requests. "Like I couldn't ask God to start a fire of revival that would sweep across the world, could I?" Why not?
I believe in a big God. One who speaks worlds into existence. I believe nothing is too big or too hard for Him. And if I really believe that... I won't be afraid to ask for big things.
Journal entry, April 30
Not for myself but for His cause... His children.
UKFC starts tommorrow... I'm praying for lives revolutionized. I'm praying for Him to start a fire in the hearts here that will not only change us, but that will be a witness to the onlooking universe and the world.
Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:17)
I do believe in a big God.
I look back on OKFR with a heart full of gratitude for the blessings God poured out... He never fails to come through.
I praise Him for the privilege of service and of being His hands here on earth... for every precious individual He placed in my path to bless (and to bless me)... for every ounce of strength He gave... for all the smiles I saw on the faces of His children... for every song sung from the heart... for giving grace and words at the moments needed... for reminding me of His glorious plans for those yielded to Him... for proving yet again that He is faithful and true...
And most of all, for showing me afresh the joy of faithfulness, even in the hard things...
Friday afternoon found me sitting on a log overlooking the lake behind the cafeteria, and pleading with Him to give me the strength for the upcoming task. I was on for the next message and my topic was the beauty and power of trust even in pain.
I knew when I started planning this message several months ago that He wanted me to share the experiences I had been through with Lyme disease... and from the start, I had struggled with the thought of being so vulnerable as to share that with a whole congregation.
Now I knew in an hour I would be on the stage with 300 hundred eyes looking at me and expecting me to speak. And quite honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to. At least, not about this. But I knew what He wanted, and I knew that I really wanted what He wanted too. I was excited about sharing... It's just that this was out of my comfort zone-- by a long ways.
The question in my heart at that moment... Am I willing to do the hard things for my Master?
Sure, it might not sound very hard to you. And really, in comparison with the sacrifices He made for us, it wasn't. But at that moment, with the clock ticking down, and my heart beating faster, it didn't seem the easiest thing in the world to get up and share the deep things of my heart.
I knew my duty though, and with another prayer of surrender to His will, I left my quiet log, and went to action.
And I can tell you that when God requires something "hard" of us, He always gives the strength we need to perform it. He gave me so much freedom up front that I was actually surprised at myself for not being more nervous. He is good, always.
When the hour had passed and I walked off the stage, it was with a joy deep in my heart that only comes from the knowledge of obedience.
And since I'm not the only one who has ever been asked to do something outside of their comfort zone, let me encourage you...
The harder the task given, the deeper the joy when performed.
Here a few pics for the picture lovers...
for a bunch more, go here www.foreverafamily.org
His promise is the key
Freeze tag conversations are a blast. :)
Beautiful spot to pray
Singing with friends after sharing up front.
Let the little children come...
Sweet little guy.
Sweet praises from young hearts...
So harp is not a girls instrument after all. :)
400 or so on Sabbath
Thank you Jesus for another year...
Mile after mile pass outside the window as we drive. My mind still struggles to grasp the fact that another season of retreats is beginning. I'm excited. But I also feel a greater responsibility than ever before...
There's no time for playing Christianity. Who knows how many more years of retreats we have left? What if this year is the last? Will it just be another encouraging weekend with blessed fellowship, or will it be life changing? That's what I've been asking myself of late...
Because really, I believe in the One who is the ultimate Source of power. And if our faith is in Him, who says that miracles can't happen?
So often we relax our hold on that power, and leave the forces of evil unchallenged. Jim Elliot states it so well...
We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the Twentieth Century does not reckon with. But we are "harmless," and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are "sideliners" -- coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!
It's time for a change-- for action. Give us faith, Lord, that claims Your promises and acts on them. Let us taste Your power. Strengthen us to be a threat to the powers of darkness. Then we will see a year of miracles.
It was only a week ago. I lay on my hammock outside (my summer sleeping spot J) gazing up at the stars. Inside I knew my Jesus had something to say to me. Something deep. I’ll be honest, I’d been resisting it because I was worried He would ask me to do something I didn’t feel I could do. Now under the blanket of the starry sky I was ready to listen.
Child, are you willing to give up your dreams, plans, and yourself and be used up for the good of others? Are you willing to live your life only for the good of others? Will you let me use you to make a mark on this world?
Silence. Of course I had told Him before that I wanted to live my life for others, but somehow this time was different. It was if He was asking for something deeper.
And I knew He was asking for action. I am far too good at talking and dreaming, yet never doing much about it. Just a few days ago we were talking with some friends about what it is that stops us from acting on our talk. Fear of the unknown and lack of commitment. Ouch. I knew that He was asking for my answer to be more than words—He wanted a “yes” in actions. And I paused. Was I ready for this?
I looked up at the stars again. And then a thought flashed through my mind…
This little world that you call home, it is the only world that hast fallen. And yet all the riches of the universe have been poured out on it. The Maker of the Universe has trod here. Angels have poured themselves out for your little world. Do you count your life too much to be given?
My answer comes. No Jesus. No cost is too much. I give you my everything. Just pour me out for the good of others and I will be satisfied.
And this last week I have really experienced it, and it has been thrilling. He has changed my desires so that I really desire the good of others above my own good. That’s a miracle.
Sometimes we tend to think that pouring ourselves out for others can only be done in some desert Africa, but that can be a subtle deception. Sure I’d run all the way to Africa to pour myself out for all those starving people if I could. But I’m learning that there are starving people here too.
Even if the only place we can pour ourselves out is our own homes it is worth it. It is necessary. Every heart longs for love. We can fill that longing.
We can never touch the hearts far away until we touch the ones closest.
By His grace, I’ll love every individual He places in my pathway. And maybe one day it will be a starving African. But for right now I’ll be content with serving the people around me.
This Sabbath finds me lying on my bed, head pounding, stomach churning, back aching, and throat sore. But I’m not giving way to feelings of frustration. If my miniscule suffering can help me relate to the greater suffering of others just a little more, then it’s all worth it.
I turn on one of my favorite songs and let the words sink in. They mean more than ever before…
There is a candle in every soul,
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold.
There is a Spirit
Which lights a fire,
Ignites a candle and makes His home.
Carry your candle!
Run to the darkness.
Seek out the lonely, the tired and worn.
Hold out your candle!
For all to see it.
Take your candle,
Go light your world.
Frustrated brother, see how he’s tried to
Light his own candle, some other way.
See now your sister.
She’s been robbed and lied to.
Still holds a candle without a flame.
We are a family whose hearts are blazing
So lets raise our candles, light up the sky.
Pray to our Father
In the name of Jesus,
Make us a beacon in darkest night!
Quiet. It’s not something I crave naturally. Actually, it’s something I can tend to shy away from because it throws me way out of my comfort zone. But I’m discovering—it’s vital if we really want to serve.
It was only a week ago that I found myself on a plane headed home, leaving the country and all the beautiful people I’d come to love so quickly. The flight was none too long for me to process the last week, and fill up the pages of my journal. And I found myself wondering why God sometimes brings us to the quiet when there is a world starving for service. Now a week later, I don’t have to wonder.
Our first, full day home found me up on a ridge on our property taking time to think and pray. It’s amazing how that spot has become special after only four days. And it’s been in that time of communion that the answer to the question I battled with on the flight home has become obvious.
Quiet is preparation for service.
David lived out his youth in a quiet valley before he was qualified to be the king of Israel. Enoch spent many quiet weeks in the hills before going down to speak to the people. Moses raised sheep for forty years in the wilderness before he could lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. John the Baptist spent his childhood in the wilderness before giving the message for which he was born. And our dear Jesus lived in a little village for thirty years before his three years of ministry. The disciple John never received the Revelation until on the lonely island of Patmos. Paul spent several years in the wilderness before going out on his missionary journeys that shook the world.
The pattern strikes me. Could it be that quiet always comes before we can do something great for God?
On my little rock overlooking the valley I’ve been doing some deep thinking. I came across a quote that says it should be the mission of the youth to give the gospel to the world in this generation. And that left me pondering… what is it going to take to make us give the gospel to the world in our generation. The answer that came really hit home. Before we can share the gospel, we need to be living the gospel. I mean, really living it—not just talking about it. We can’t share it’s changing power until it’s changed us.
And so I’m seeking to remove all obstacles. I want to be totally changed—completely revolutionized. I’m seeking to treasure the quiet, and really learn the lessons it provides. And quiet is more than just living in the hills. Because with our phones, iPods, and tablets we can bring the clamor of the city to the hills, can’t we?
We’re headed out again… but my iPhone is still in my closet at home. (I’m still blogging from my old computer, but limiting myself to using it very little). J My phone is one of those distractions that is watering down the quiet, and taking it away almost completely when we’re on the road. And it’s shocked me how even the few hours I've been without it have shown me how dependent on it I was! Far too dependent. That’s going to change. It seemed like every five minutes I would find myself reaching for it.
If it takes three weeks to make a habit… I’m going for three weeks without my phone. And if I succumb to the temptation to use it within that time… I’ll start the three weeks again. So far, it’s challenging me, but I’m loving it. I've had so much more time to think—really think.
And so on this trip I’m choosing to take some quiet with me. Jesus, you can have my phone, and all the other things that distract me from you. I’ll find my joy in some little mountain spot of communion with you.
Quiet is preparation for service.
20. Lover of Jesus. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Servant. Fan of the kitchen. Graduate of Masters of Biblical Counseling.
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