The Mystery

Yesterday we watched a man create a masterpiece in the park with cans of spray paint.  In a matter of less than a half an hour, he took a simple slap of a white board and used every day materials such as knives, rags, and fire to create a detailed and brilliant picture.  It was fascinating because at the beginning my friend and I had different opinions about what the picture was going to turn out to be.  Every step of the way was exciting because the artist would add a new feature and our imaginations would go wild trying to predict what he was going to create.

At one point he started blobbing all kinds of dark and ugly paint almost carelessly over the picture.  It made the person watching want to yell, “Stop!  You’re ruining it!”  However, what held the onlooker back was the obvious fact that the artist knew exactly what he was doing.  So we continued to watch in anticipation at what he would do next.

I was impressed at the control of his hand, that he could make strokes so perfectly with such ease and grace.  With his knife he created depth perception and one could see from which direction the sun was shining.

There were several points where the artist used quick and smooth strokes of fire on the paint.  He explained that this helped the paint dry more quickly.

We realized as we watched this artist paint his picture, it was like we were watching the Artist paint His masterpiece in the lives of everyone around us.  I was marveling on the bus yesterday about how my love for people has grown deeper with each new person that I meet.  My appreciation for the touch of the Master has turned richer every day that I invest myself in mission to His creation.  The closer I draw to the people He loves, the more I know His love; the more I can see His unique fingerprint on each life; the more I understand His passion that each one might know Him.
It is exciting to watch the mystery unfold in each person, because each one is a masterpiece of the Artist.  One can never fully predict how the picture will turn out by simply watching the beginning glob of paint.  It is exciting to watch each step of the way, as the brilliant artist creates a unique and equally fantastic picture every time someone fully surrenders themselves to the will of the Father.  There are moments when the Artist spreads dark colors over what was once simple and beautiful and the onlooker wants to question the reason He is “ruining” it.  However, one who truly knows the Father, knows that He can make anything beautiful with just a few expert strokes of His hand.
It is exciting to be in mission with God.  It is exciting to watch His Kingdom come.  Wherever I go and everywhere I have been, I have seen the touch of the Artist’s hand.  Every new person I meet is His creation, and every new person I meet helps me know and understand Him better and love Him more.  What joy there is in being a part of all that He is doing in the world.  I can’t wait to see the finished product in me and in the lives of those around me.

Covered In Love

Christmastime is an interesting time of year.  Everyone has their own idea of what the season is supposed to be like and feel like.  Going into missionary work this year again, I knew that this Christmas would look different than normal.  I wasn’t able to make it to my parent’s house last year for Christmas either, not knowing that this year I would be living on another continent and unable to visit for a year and a half.  It didn’t really feel like Christmas at all here.  It was pretty warm, and I am used to snow on Christmas.  There were not a ton of decorations except for the Christmas trees in the plazas and the common singing stockings and lights that are EVERYWHERE.  I am not sure why I am annoyed by singing lights so much, but I am.  Our host family built a big nativity scene in the living room.  We had a Christmas party with one of the missionary families here, and it was so wonderful.  However, overall, everything just seemed really weird.  I went into the season without any expectations and I was still surprised…not sure by what, but it didn’t feel like home for the first time since I’ve been here.

Most of the families here in Peru celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and stay up until 2, 3, 4 in the morning dancing and watching the fireworks.  CJ and I bailed about 1:45am and went to bed since we were flying out of Arequipa in the morning of Christmas Day.  We decided to spend some time meeting the families of our Peruvian friends in the northern part of Peru, and Lord willing, we will be going to Machu Picchu for New Year’s, a dream of CJ and I’s for a long time.  It has been a fantastic trip so far, but there have been moments for the both of us that have been difficult with a few tears.

I have been enjoying the time that I have had during the flight and bus rides to think through some things that often are placed on the back burner during our busy lives.  It has been great to just bask in God’s presence, but I have struggled somewhat in this area in the past couple weeks.  For some reason, I felt so far away from Him.  During this trip, however, I have had a couple pretty impactful moments with God.

Yesterday during the bus ride, a song by Dave Barnes came on my iPod.  The song talked about home being with the person the man loved, rather than a place where he is living.  God really connected the dots between some things that He has been revealing to me about my future and also the strange feelings I had toward this Christmas.  The chorus of the song says:  “I will never be a stranger; I will never be alone because deep inside of me I know that wherever you are is home.”  This is a truth that I have been discovering more every day during my time here in Peru.  No matter what it is that I am missing, I have to remember that where I am, I am home because I am in the center of God’s will and He is with me every step of the way.  It’s more than simply saying, “This world is not our home.”  God has provided a home for us in our relationship with Him.

I would have to say that the most life-changing moment I have had so far happened today and it was very unexpected.  Last night I was struggling with loneliness, and I woke up this morning feeling the same way I was feeling the night before.  I pulled out my prayer journal and just started pouring out my heart to God, expressing in raw honesty the pain that I was feeling inside my heart.  I told Him how I struggled to believe that He could meet certain needs and desires that I had.  I didn’t really hear much from Him at that time because we just had a few moments together before we left for the beach.  However, on the bus ride to the beach, a song came on my IPod, also by Dave Barnes, and also a love song.  This song has been on repeat on my iPod, and I couldn’t exactly figure out why I loved it so much.  However, in this half an hour, God sang this song to me over and over and He just poured His love into my heart.  He told me how much He delights in me and how He desires to be with me every moment, just like a lover delights in and longs to be with His beloved.  He told me of how much time He has waited to be together.  One moment He said to my heart, “You don’t have to look any longer for someone who understands you.  You don’t have to explain yourself to me.  Let me show you who you are.”  That phrase blew my mind.  Then came an unexpected scene that played in my mind; a vision sent from my Love.  I was standing in the ocean and waves were crashing all around me and on top of me.  I was literally covered in His love all around me.  Such joy and peace flooded my heart at the showing of this vision.

As we arrived into the bus station, God asked me, “Would it be ok if I just showed you how much I love you?  If you only knew how very much I love you and delight in you, you would never feel alone again.”

I had no idea how absolutely perfect this vision would be in comparison to what actually happened today.  After seeking out different beaches, we finally settled on a quaint strip with several homes right on the edge.  The water was warm (for me at least) and soft.  Within five minutes of making my way into the ocean, the waves started crashing all around me and over me and I felt the love of God like I never had.  The vision God gave me had become a reality, and the moment was even more amazing than I thought it could be.  I didn’t want to ever leave.  The ocean foamed as the waves crashed, and I just floated and splashed in the bubbles.  I was like a small child playing with her Daddy.  Even now, just thinking about this moment, tears come to my eyes.  I yelled out loud for my Daddy to hear, “God, you are so amazing!”

The embrace I so longed to have from someone who loved me happened as God’s waves covered me in love.  The ways that I thought that God could not fulfill my heart, well, He proved me wrong.  I don’t think water hugs that tight, but my Father’s arms were in the waves today.  The words that I heard Him say to my heart were some of the most beautiful I had ever heard.  I wouldn’t have written them for myself today.  They were too profound and loving for what I thought of myself.  However, I know my Daddy loves me.  He is always showing me in different ways, and today He gave me an all-consuming hug.

I am looking forward to other amazing moments with Him in the days to come.  Our trip is only beginning.  What an amazing God He is!  I just want to tell the world!  And I will, every chance I get!

Outreach Event – December 21, 2012

Here are some pictures from our outreach event on December 21st.  David Morrison shared the Gospel, around 20 people accepted Christ, and we gave out bags of clothes that were donated from the United States.  Many thanks to those who were a part of this event.

Redemption’s Story

I am learning to delight in redemption’s story. I am learning how to live in redemption’s story. I am learning how to let God redefine my “normal”. All of this is a super big process for me.

I grew up believing that anything that was real was something that I could explain. I don’t think I was expressly taught that; after all, we believed in the Bible, and it is full of things that no one besides God can fully explain. However, there was a certain underlying belief that what happened then and what happens now are expressly different worlds. And yet, there was something desperately missing from my life. I was restless for more. More of what? I could never really say.

I have been through some things in my life, and to be completely honest, many of them were extremely difficult. I don’t claim to have walked a more difficult road than anyone else because if there is anything that I have learned in my journey, it is that the pain of one person cannot be compared to the pain of someone else’s. We all have our own special story, our own unique struggle, and our own salvation that is worth celebrating. My salvation story, just like everyone else’s, is still in progress. I call it redemption.

I led a home group last night at the house of a member of our church. In the midst of the lesson, she shared her redemption story, and it almost sent me singing to heaven. Her father died when she was born and she grew up with her aunt because her mother did not want much of anything to do with her. God told her from a young age that even though she did not have a father, He would be her Papa. Her mother is 84 now, and has come to Christ. Now this sweet lady who has been through so much and is still going through so much is desiring to be a leader in the church. This is her redemption story, and it is still being written by the God who never let her go and will not stop until the story is complete.

I can’t help but wonder if this is how God sings over us. Does He look at each of us and see the redemption story that He longs to create inside? Does He desire so deeply to take the canvas and the vibrant colors and go to town with His paintbrush? What would happen if I delighted just as much in each person’s redemption story? I would no longer see a sea of faces staring back at me. I would no longer walk the streets thinking about my own exhaustion and desire to be doing something else. I would be sitting across the table gazing deeply into the eyes of another human being who has felt joy and pain, peace and sorrow. I would be gazing deeply into the eyes of a sweet child of God who has a story. I would be gazing deeply into the eyes of God’s beloved one to whom He offers redemption. And every time the hand of God reaches down into the heart of His child, the story is incredible and unique.

I am learning to rejoice in redemption, and for the first time in my life, I am beginning to see it happen in my own life. Don’t get me wrong, I have followed Christ for a long time. I have served Him faithfully for many years. However, my heart was still imprisoned in the pain of a struggle I held deep inside. I am learning to see God as my emotional healer from a part of my history I would rather erase. I am learning what it means to live in the freedom of His love. However, the most impactful part of my redemption story at this moment is my journey to understand with all of me that God is in fact GOOD.

I have been sick for about ten years now. It has been a very rocky journey for me, and to be completely honest, a very lonely one as well. I had already struggled with loneliness being an only child, and when I started to get sick, I retreated inside in many ways. To even describe the past ten years and the depth of struggle I have had is impossible in anything short of a book, and let’s be honest. Who but our Father in heaven would want to read THAT book? Except the fact that God is beginning a new chapter that makes the book worth reading. The title of the chapter is REDEMPTION.

A few weeks ago, my teammate Brandon came to me with the conviction that he was going to pray for me every day until God healed me. I cannot begin to tell you the door that comment opened up to so many struggles I held inside that I was not even aware of. I could perhaps speak to the souls of many people I know who have battled chronic illness, but I didn’t realize how I had settled into a normal filled with bitterness, deep sadness, and alienation. It was not until Brandon was faithful to follow through every day since that God began to show me that none of these things were His desire and plan for my life. I had told myself and others for years that God is good, but in my mind and heart had interpreted His goodness to mean these things. Without even realizing it, I made Him out to be a monster.

The other day in my devotional time, I heard God say to my heart, “Could you believe that I am a God of redemption, even for you?” Even now, those words pierce like a sword into my soul. Pain has been my normal for so long that I have forgotten what it is like to not have to struggle. The day before yesterday when my team prayed over me, I wanted more than anything to get out of that situation. I tried to back into a corner. I had had enough attention. This was wrong. How selfish am I to even speak of these things? This is weakness. This is madness. Surely in sharing my pain with the world, I will be rejected even more. At least if I return by my own decision to my little hole inside, there is hope someday. I didn’t think I could handle being too much for those around me. Being needy was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to be. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be a warrior. I wanted to be unshakable, and yet every eye on me could see that I was shaking like a leaf.

Even though my greatest fear is being needy, I realized that perhaps that is what we all are when we stand before God. Why, when we are needy, should we pretend to be anything else?

Last night I taught on the subject of faith. How ironic it is that I perhaps have the smallest faith of all. It seems I pray almost every day, “Lord, help my unbelief!” I can’t help but wonder if it is somehow true that God can take a mustard seed of faith and do great things. I have seen Him do amazing things through me that I had absolutely nothing to do with. I have heard Him speak things through me that had never even crossed my mind. My mouth simply opened, and truth flowed freely. Like I taught about last night from Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” I want to pray like David did in Psalm 51, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

I don’t want to see the world and even my life through the lens of a normal that I have created. I want to see the world and my life through the eyes of God and His normal. I have come to believe some things about God’s character that are untrue. Now we are rewriting “normal”. This is my redemption story in process. The truth is, I can never delight as God does in another person’s redemption story unless I understand it in the deepest part of me as well. I can never contribute completely to someone else’s redemption story if I am still holding onto my own skewed definition of normal. My calling, and in fact the calling of every Christian, is to be wholly engaged in God’s redemption story for the world, and the change must begin inside of us. Sometimes all it takes is a commitment from a friend or a comment that hits close to home for the door to our disillusionment to be flung open. And when it does come open, we must be faithful to address those things before God.

I am so thankful for my team here in Peru that has been so faithful to not only put up with me, but to encourage me and lift me up before the throne of God. Every. Single. Day. Even when I didn’t ask. Even when I didn’t want them to. More than anything I want them to know how much their prayers and faithfulness have meant to me, especially when I am not that great at communicating what is really going on in my heart. Half the time, I am still trying to figure that out myself.

So is God going to heal me? To be honest, I have no idea. We have been exploring as a team what it means to pray for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. What is it like in heaven? Selfishly, I would desire that He would heal me, but until this moment, He hasn’t. However, God saw in me something eternal that needed to be healed, and that was my perception of who He is. God does not desire for His children to hurt, but until my heart and will are completely surrendered to God’s heart and will, I give Him permission to do whatever is necessary in my life to bring me to that point. In the midst of whatever that looks like, I pray that God would give me the grace to see His goodness. I don’t want to have a resentful heart toward the One I love. I want to crawl on Papa’s bed and be held tightly in His arms. I have found that redemption’s story is glorious, painful, refining, and complete. I have found that redemption’s story is worth living and telling every single time.

Someday I believe that God has called me to walk with a great number of people through their redemption stories. He has called me to be a light in the darkness. I am deeply excited to rejoice in God’s faithfulness through every story. I am excited to see how God will write mine. And Papa, to answer your question, yes. Yes I believe that you are the God of redemption, even for me. You have my heart. Please do everything in my life that you desire to do, and give me the strength to always be faithful. You are GOOD.

More Pictures From Peru

Here are some pictures for you to enjoy!
Two of the leaders in our church: Amparo and Marleni
This picture and some following were taken at a leadership retreat

Sheena, Esther, and Megan chilling at the retreat center

Esther and Megan

Sheena and Milder

Brenda and Martin

Our group for the demonstration.  We sang Open the Eyes of Our Heart in both English and Spanish

Another picture of our group

We had praise and worship around the bonfire

Sammy and David leading worship

Sammy and Brenda

Me and CJ – Yes, I know that is not grammatically correct, but I am going in order of appearance

This is a martial arts demonstration that CJ and I attended.  CJ’s class that she trains with here in Arequipa performed there.  These are some kids from a different martial art.

David and Ray

Ray and Sammy.  These pictures were taken at Sammy’s birthday celebration

CJ and I in character

One of my favorite pictures of all time.  David, Me, and Ray.  Not sure who Ray is planning on killing first…haha.

Heyner, Patrick, and David

Heyner, Me, and Patrick

This is me preaching my first sermon in Spanish

 At our first leadership meeting with our new Peruvian leaders that have gone through the Discipleship and Leadership training.

Brian giving a picture demonstration at the leadership meeting

Brenda and Eli attentively listening

Our worship band.  I am on keyboard, Patrick on guitar, David hiding in the back on cajon, and Sammy leading the singing.  This was Patrick’s last Sunday here in Arequipa.

All of us Extremies sang Feliz Navidad this past Sunday for the congregation.

One of my professors Julissa and I

Brenda and Eli

Martin and Olga talking with Patrick

 This picture seriously cracks me up every time I look at it.

Brandon and Patrick

Sheena, Patrick, and Heyner

Oh Patrick, we are going to miss you so much!  Patrick is returning to the States a year early due to health issues.  Please pray for him!  Brandon, Me, Patrick, David, and Sammy

Our professor Manolo, Me, Professor Julissa, Brandon, and David

I am so stinking proud of this…it is a veggie tray in the shape of a turkey.  I brought this to our Thanksgiving celebration with everyone from Extreme.

Three counselors that came to work with us from the States.  Karen and Neal Oaks and Shelli Gartman.

This is a picture from our baptism service a few weeks ago.  I believe there were six people baptized that night.

Our counselor Shelli and Me

Julissa’s birthday!  She is showing off her gifts and Brandon is cheesing in the back.

Our team:  Me, CJ, Brandon, David.  This picture demonstrates all our personalities.

Brandon and David in front, CJ and I in back

CJ and I getting ready for church on Sunday

Tyler and I showing off our Chelsea soccer jerseys!
Once again, thank you so much for all your support of us!  We love you so much!

Made New

It has been a while since I have posted a blog.  I guess you could say that I have been going through an intense season of growth.  If I were to lay it all out, it would probably take hours to describe all that God has been teaching me and growing in me.

Probably the greatest thing that He has taught me recently is the reality of history.  I have been through many things, felt many things, and struggled with many insecurities.  However, the truth is that history is history.  I am not bound by my past or even the past thought processes that determined how I live.  What it means to be redeemed is that truth replaces lies and victory overcomes the illusion of defeat.  I make choices every day that determine who I trust.  Every day I will choose to trust God.  This is the same God that sees my entire life:  my past, my present, and my future.  This is the same God who created me and knows the potential that He has placed inside.  This is the same God who can bring my heart out of hiding so that His light might shine for all to see.  I will choose to trust God all the days of my life.  I cannot be a part of making history unless I learn to leave what is history in the past.  I am who I am today because of God’s grace.  And His grace is enough.  I am free.

I have also been learning so much about love.  I have been learning that in order to truly love someone, I need to let my expectations of them go.  Every person has needs, and God has laid out His promises that He can and will meet those needs.  When every part of me is found in God, I am free to simply love those around me.  When every part of me is found in God, those around me are free to simply be loved.

In God, I have everything I need to live a life of complete wholeness in Him.  There is no illness, emotional or physical, that needs to distract from my complete devotion to the One I love.  If I am truly praying, “Let Your Kingdom come, Your will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN, then my expectation and desire to see wholeness all around me will allow God the open door to make it happen.  It is the child-like faith that says, “God desires wholeness for you and for me” that gives the Holy Spirit room to move.  And He does.  What I have seen happen through this trust is only the beginning.

In our team Bible Study the other day, we read a quote by Chuck Austin that stuck in all of our minds.  I wanted to share it with you today:

“I choose to be extraordinary—and I can because of God’s promise and by God’s power.

I seek the challenge of discipleship—not the ease of self-indulgence.

I do not wish to be a casual believer, content with a ticket to heaven, dulled by the world around me, and squeezed into its mold of values and lifestyle.

I refuse to barter pain for pleasure, growth for comfort.

I will not trade the certainty of God’s Word for the uncertainty of my emotions, God’s assurance to make me like His Son for the indulgence of my old nature, nor my liberty in Christ for my license to make my brother stumble.

My heritage is in a company of saints that faced seemingly unconquerable foes, knowing the cost of their commitment, nevertheless placed all their trust in Jesus Christ, and found Him to be completely trustworthy.

I relinquish my ‘rights’ to serve my own ego, and accept my Master’s invitation to join Him as a servant of others.

It is my right to boldly enter the throne room of God to obtain mercy and grace through the perfect sacrifice of His Son.

I boast not in personal accomplishment, but acknowledge that all my resources are in God’s Holy Spirit, Who dwells within me.  The raw material that God is molding is one forgiven sinner, saved by grace.

I hereby choose to believe that since God is for me no one can prevail against me; therefore I will seek first the Kingdom of God, and persistently press on to know the Lord.  I want to be found in Him, having a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

It is my hope that when my race is run…to have kept the faith, to make no boast for myself, but to hear the Lord say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”
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Change Hearts. Change the World.