Everyone went with me to take the oldest to play practice yesterday. As we pulled up to a stop sign in our neighborhood, I looked to my right and the sky was dark and stormy. Then I looked to my left and the skies were blue and the sun was shining bright.
As we continued on, I was overwhelmed with the extremes and struck by the immense beauty of the contrast. The striking difference between the view out the left side and the right side of our car caused a stirring of wonder in me. The dark skies somehow made the sunshine more breathtaking.
As we looked toward the lake, we could see the streaks of rain in the sky, but instead of turning on my windshield wipers, I put on my sunglasses. And since sermon illustrations seem to follow me, I couldn’t let this one pass by. I told my kids that this is where we live, in between the storms and the sunshine.
The difficulties of life weigh heavy and sometimes it’s all we can do to hang on. We can’t see the sun. Dark clouds stretch as far as we can see. We feel hopeless.
Other times, life is joyous and everything seems touched by brightness. We can’t imagine the storms ever chasing us again, because we feel so happy.
But most days, we’re in the in between. The storms are looming AND the skies are blue. But when we recognize this, that life is hard AND full of delight, the darkness actually makes the light more vivid and stunning. Our struggles, our storms have a way of working in us a deeper and abiding joy than we ever could have imagined.
A song that has been particularly meaningful to me is “In the Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson. Perhaps it will encourage you too!
“When the solid ground is falling out from underneath my feet
Between the black skies, and my red eyes, I can barely see
When I realize I’ve been sold out by my friends and my family
I can feel the rain reminding me
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm”
Whether you find yourself in a season of storms or in a time of joyous sunlight, I pray that you would rest in the Lord’s goodness. He is faithful to walk with us in the storm and in the calm. May our response always be “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21
Sometimes you just need one person to believe in you.
Our family has a plethora of traditions that we look forward to every Christmas. Picking out the Christmas tree, decorating while listening to Christmas music and eating Buttermilk Cookies, reading through The Advent Book, and a Christmas light viewing adventure complete with hot chocolate are just a few of our favorites. But we also love watching movies and one of my favorites is “Rise of the Guardians” which is not technically a Christmas movie, but one we enjoy watching annually at Christmastime.
Jack Frost is my favorite character in the movie. If you haven’t seen it, Jack has no idea what his purpose in life is. He creates frosty adventures for children and havoc for adults, but he doesn’t know where he came from or why he is able to do what he does. The most painful part of this for Jack is that no one believes in him. He discovers this when he first wakes from what should have been an icy death and as he tries to talk to people in the nearby town, they walk right through his ghostly form.
The movie traces Jack’s personal quest to find his purpose. “North”, aka Santa, explains it as “finding your center”, the thing that gives you pleasure, meaning and purpose. As Jack joins the guardians to fight against a darkness that threatens to take over the childlike delight and wonder in the world, he discovers that his center is bringing joy and laughter to children. It only takes one child to believe in Jack Frost and to see him. With this new purpose and the knowledge that he is seen, Jack is able to stand up to fear and of course, save the day.
I feel like this year I lost my center. It’s not that my identity in Christ has been shaken or that I don’t have purpose, but I have felt like I am living under a cloud of fear. It has caused me to question all that I do. I find myself second guessing everything and as you can probably imagine this has stifled any shred of creativity in me. I have started many blog posts that have never been published. I have written countless emails that have never been sent. I have cried rivers and have found myself drowning under the weight of heartbreak, wanting desperately to set things right, but feeling completely incapable of doing so.
One of my gifts this Christmas was not under the tree, but in my inbox; a link to the Kindle edition of “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson. The gift was accompanied by a note from my husband, a reminder that he cares about my writing and his hope that this book would spur me on.
It only takes one person to believe in me.
I finished reading my new book this morning and it has inspired me and challenged me in exactly the ways my husband intended and ultimately in the ways I believe my loving Heavenly Father purposed. In the book, Peterson talks a great deal about the importance of having “resonators” in your life, those who understand where you’re at, who see you, and who get you (he mentions that C.S. Lewis was a resonator for J.R.R. Tolkien and I love this!). I resonated with so much of what was said in the book, because the fear of being irrelevant, of my words being silly and obvious, is something that haunts me and keeps me from stepping into my purpose.
This quote especially jumped out at me- “I confess, a mighty fear of irrelevance drove me to this vocation, a pressing anxiety that unless you looked back at me with a smile and a nod and said, ‘Oh, I see you. You exist. You are real to me and to this world and we’re glad you showed up,’ I might wither away and die.” He claims that this is not a noble reason to share your creativity with the world, and I certainly resonated with that, but what I’m realizing is that this uncertainty is what keeps me falling before the Throne of Grace. What little I have to offer! How weak I am! But what a good and gracious God I serve who has given me purpose and meaning and who promises to give me strength in my weakness.
One person has believed in me and so I am prepared to fight back against the fear that has threatened to consume me. I have found my center. My heart has been redirected back to my life verse, 1 Corinthians 15:58.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
My center is knowing that my labor in the Lord is not in vain. He will use my efforts for His glory when I am abounding in the work of the Lord and seeking His will.
And so, my One Word for 2020 is STEADFAST.
I can’t wait to see what this new year holds!
I have had the privilege of being a part of eight short term missions trips in my lifetime. Each one has been unique and has taught me many important lessons, so I knew our planned mission trip to Ecuador this summer would be the same.
From the very beginning, it seemed like God had a lot he wanted to teach me. One big lesson was in the area of trust. As individuals began to commit to the trip, I had some concerns as there were health issues for some and timing issues for others. At one point, everyone who had committed to the trip was under the age of 21 except for me.
But God is always faithful to put the exact people He intends to go on a trip and as I trusted, I saw His plan come together in an amazing way. Our final group of nine consisted of two “older”adults (and I include myself in that number!) and seven who were under the age of 27.
As I looked at our team, my excitement began to grow. After all, it was on my very first missions trip to Australia when I was seventeen, that God stirred in my heart and gave me a desire to serve Him with my life- a commitment that I continue to seek to be faithful to follow. For four out of our seven young ones, the trip to Ecuador would be their first missions trip. Adding to the excitement for me personally was that two out of those four first timers were my own children! I knew that the lessons learned through our time in Ecuador would likely be more for my teammates than for me and the joy and privilege of that was not lost on me!
In addition to trusting God with the team He would put together, there were challenges with getting passports and airline tickets which would become another area of trust and of humbling for me. A travel savvy friend helped me with ordering tickets, but the process was grueling as we entered names and birth dates for nine people over and over again. We had found the perfect itinerary that would allow us to fly out of Rochester, NY (our hometown) and arrive in Cuenca, Ecuador (our final destination) all in one day. This would eliminate the need for a hotel or an in country flight, but every time we tried to get these particular tickets, we were told that one of the flights was overbooked. Each time a message would pop up saying hurry there are 9 tickets left! which was exasperating as we needed nine tickets exactly! We were so sure that these were the best flights and so we kept trying. After entering all of the information three times with no success, one of the flights on the itinerary changed slightly. We prayed that this might be the flight that was causing the issues and entered our information as quickly as we could. This time, our booking was confirmed! We were so excited.
And then I looked closely at the information we had entered and I had spelled MY name wrong!! I felt my heart sink, because I knew that this would not fly (sorry, can’t help myself sometimes!). The next day, I tried to work with the travel site to fix the issue. Two hours and $75 later, the error was fixed. It was humbling for me and incredibly frustrating.
As the team leader, I felt the financial burden for our team and this was compounded by the burden of sending three family members on an expensive trip. We had a benefit concert to raise funds for the team and it was a wonderful success. We worked together as a team and the strengths of our group encouraged me. Our church family and friends were incredibly generous. But after all of this, I still felt a bit stressed. I knew God would provide- He always does!- but I also knew that we had a lot of work to do. One of the beautiful lessons for me was watching my kids work hard to raise money to cover their own expenses. We had many conversations about how we need to trust God to provide, but we also need to work hard with wisdom and integrity. They both did a great job!
And then we were off! All of our hard work in preparations paid off, because our day of travel was wonderful. But when our final flight arrived in Ecuador, we discovered that our bags had not been on the last flight. This was a big disappointment for us after a long day. The lessons learned were to pray and remain calm (our mantra for the entire trip was the Spanish word tranquilo!). As we attempted to use our limited knowledge of Spanish to figure out how to get our bags to Cuenca, I felt a nudge to take a picture of our baggage claim stickers that the airport worker took from me. This ended up being the most important picture that I took in Ecuador! When our bags did finally arrive a day and a half after we did, one of our team members bags was still missing. This caused a lot of frustration for him and a ton of work behind the scenes to find the missing bag. Having the baggage claim information was important, so I am grateful that the Holy Spirit prompted me to get that picture!
There were many moments like that along the way when we could see God’s hand at work. Most of our team traveled from the airport over the Andes mountains and to our final destination (about three hours) in a van, but I was able to go with another teammate and two of the missionaries that we would work with the rest of the week in a car. This would end up being one of my favorite times as we were given the gift of being able to hear about the ministry in Ecuador first hand. The next day, we discovered that three of us from that car ride had read similar passages of scripture in our devotional time that morning and we were all encouraged, knowing that God doesn’t do anything by accident!
Our team stayed with six different host families and we were all blessed by this time, feeling like God had put us exactly where He wanted us to be. Not only is He a faithful God, worthy of our trust; He is a loving God, sweet and compassionate.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was watching how each team member had the opportunity to serve out of their strengths. Many of our team members were hard workers and some were skilled workers. As a result, we were able to contribute to the work projects at a property that is being prepared for a new church plant. We also had multiple opportunities to share Christ’s love in parks in partnership with Iglesia Bautista La Fe in Cuenca. We loved getting to know the people of La Fe and working alongside the missionary families who love the Lord! One of our team members is a nurse and he brought a first aid kit with him. We were all incredibly grateful for his contributions throughout our time there as we faced allergies, stomach issues, altitude challenges, cuts and jammed fingers. Besides having to take an unexpected trip to a chiropractor himself, our nurse was able to remove stitches on two of the missionary’s daughters!
We all fell in love with Ecuador. It is a beautiful country and Cuenca is a fascinating city. The rugged terrain of the Andes mountains, the gorgeous rivers that wind through the city, the historic buildings, Incan ruins, crazy traffic that felt surprisingly safe, the dog sightings everywhere, even the challenges of no electricity or water at times, captured our hearts. This was because the people we came in contact with were welcoming and gracious to us over and over again. They genuinely wanted to get to know us even when there was a language barrier. It’s an incredible thing to walk into a room full of people and receive greetings from each person. They welcomed us into their homes, fed us incredible food, and became our friends.
Friendship crosses cultural and language barriers. And what I have found over and over again in all of my travels is that when there is a mutual love for Jesus and for the gospel, those friendships go deep!
I prayed often for my team members, knowing that they would likely be deeply impacted by their time in Ecuador, but I wasn’t prepared to cry on our last day when team members began sharing what God was doing in their hearts and lives. Many did not want to leave and are already preparing for the next time they will be able to go back. Everyone grew in their trust in God and their desire to serve Him!
Our theme verse for the trip rings true and will continue to be my prayer for our team..
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 Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ~Ephesians 3:20,21 NIV
I can’t wait to see where God leads my teammates, particularly my children! He IS able to do more than we can ask or imagine and to Christ Jesus be glory throughout all generations!
For all of you who supported us through prayer, encouragement and financially, thank you seems inadequate!! It felt like our team was much bigger than nine people and that’s because it was! YOU were a part of our team as well and I pray that God will bless you as you have been a blessing to us!
With deep appreciation,
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
~Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador, martyred on January 8, 1956
As we drove through the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, a breathtakingly beautiful country, Jim Elliot’s words resonated in my heart. While our team of nine from Rochester, NY made it safely home and our lives did not end in martyrdom, I asked myself often, am I willing to die for God’s glory if that is what he asks of me?
The truth is that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We don’t like to talk about this, but I have watched too many loved ones face loss recently and as a result it is ever present in my mind. We should make wise choices and seek to live healthy lives, but we don’t get to determine the length of our days here on this earth. The only foolish way to live is to strive after things that won’t last. Following Jesus is never foolish because only what is done for His glory will last.
I feel bold today. Perhaps tomorrow I will wake up to the pressure of trying to not rock any boats, to not say anything that will make others uncomfortable. But this morning, my husband preached on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (from Daniel 3) Their willingness to stand firm in their trust in God challenged me to my core as it always seems to do! In verse 18 of Daniel 3, these three young men say to Nebuchadnezzar that their God is able to deliver them, but even if He doesn’t, they still will not bow down to the statue that they were being asked to worship.
This is how I want to live. With the faithfulness to stand up for what I believe in like Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. With the willingness to lay down my life like Jim Elliot. The thread that weaves throughout all of the stories of obedience to God is the faithful God who is worthy of trust. Sometimes God takes people through difficulty and then blesses their lives immensely. Other times, faithful servants lose their lives and it’s too soon for their loved ones left behind. The question for all of us is do we trust God’s plan even if it brings heartache instead of blessing?
Yesterday, we arrived back in Rochester after spending ten days in the stunning country of Ecuador. The experiences we had there were incredible, from the new friendships we made to the work projects we were able to help with to the ministries we were able to be a part of. The way that God worked personally in each of my team member’s lives is remarkable and I am beyond excited to see what God will continue to do in our lives as we continue to step out in faith and trust him. But our time there was not without its challenges. So here are some of the lessons learned and the way I saw my teammates respond to the various difficulties we faced.
Even if our luggage does not arrive at the same time as our plane, we still will have a good attitude and continue to do what we came to do.
Even if we lose water and power and can’t get showers or host meals, we still will make the most of it and rejoice in the opportunity to get to know others even better when we shower and eat at their house unexpectedly!
Even if we are unable to communicate well due to the language barrier, we still will try hard to convey the love of Christ.
Even if we are injured or sick, we still will press on and make the most of the opportunities before us.
Even if plans change, we still will roll with the changes.
Not all of our responses were great. We were tired and out of our element and so there were plenty of times when we didn’t respond well. We were annoying or we got annoyed easily. We weren’t always kind or patient. We argued and complained. But ultimately, we sought God’s glory and I am so grateful for this.
What will God do in the lives of the nine of us who went to Ecuador? I’m not completely sure, but I have an inkling. I can seen glimpses of what God is doing in the lives of many of my teammates and I’m excited about the opportunities He has laid before me. One thing I continue to be convinced of is that when we follow God’s will for our lives, it is always good. It’s not easy, but it is GOOD!
Even if… I still will!