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The One in Front of Me

Bible Reading in the Park

Yesterday I received a letter from a friend that challenged me in a big way. He told me that God was not finished with me in Ambato, and that even though we are nearing the end of our time here, I should press in now more than ever before. I smiled, set the letter aside, and went about my day. Little did I know that today this word would touch me in a profound way.

Today we went to a park and through martial arts we presented the Gospel. Do I know anything about martial arts? No. Do I enjoy talking to people I don’t know? Not at all. To say that I was out of my comfort zone was a total understatement. I was honestly scared and wanted to come up with an excuse to not be there. However, I thank GOD that I was there, because He transformed my life this afternoon.

We held pieces of wood and called for people walking through the park to consider learning how to break that piece of wood with their fist. When they came close we explained that we wanted to do a demonstration with them that signified God’s power to break every chain of addiction and sin in their lives. When they brought their fists down to smash the wood, it symbolized the faith they had in God to bring freedom and salvation in their lives. We shared how each one of us had experienced that same freedom when God broke those things in our lives, and how He would do the same for them.

As I explained to the many people passing by with curious eyes what we were doing, I was overcome with the knowledge of the grace that I had experienced in my own life. 13 years ago God literally saved my life, and I would not be alive today if it weren’t for His intervention in my life. I looked into the eyes of the people gathered around, hungry for hope and love. God said to me, “That was you. I saw you and I found you. These people need to know that I see them and I have found them too.”

I was called over to talk to an elderly lady sitting on a nearby bench, and little did I know that this conversation would revolutionize so much in me. She told me that her husband is dying of stomach cancer, and all she can do to support him financially is collect plastic bottles and sell them for a small price. We prayed for healing for her husband, for a testimony of God’s faithfulness, and for strength to face these difficult days. As I pressed some money into her hands, tears burst forth and she nearly collapsed in my arms. God spoke so clearly to my heart, “I love her so much! She needs to hear from you how much I love her!” So I took my time and poured into her life, and she listened with open ears and a breaking heart. I could have sat there with her all day because I had such a keen awareness of the greatness of God’s love for her. Oh how much He loves her!

Then I realized that God loves every single person passing by with just as much passion and pursuit. I focused in on each person individually, praying for them and speaking truth over their lives. I kept looking over at our pile of boards, and the number consistently stayed at 4. More boards were broken, and there were still 4 boards in the pile. It’s like God didn’t want us to leave quite yet either. More people needed to hear of His love. So many more desperately needed His hope. Even after the boards were gone, we had a hard time leaving the park because so many people kept coming up on their own for prayer. It dawned on me just how much pain there is all around me and how ripe the fields are for harvest here in Ambato. People are hungry and open…and they are ready.

At the end of the day I realized how I had not even considered once my fear and how uncomfortable I had been with it all at the beginning. The only thing on my heart was passion and an all-consuming love for the one in front of me. I flowed with supernatural energy and kindness, and people were visibly touched and transformed by the love of God flowing through me. Suddenly this shy and introverted girl wanted to talk to every person in Ambato and somehow make them understand how desperately and profoundly Jesus loves them.

I now have a new prayer to pray every day: Lord, give me Your love and passion for every person I see. Give me courage to step into the opportunities You bring my way. Help me to see those that others overlook and to stop for the one, regardless of my schedule and my to-do list for the day. Give me the wisdom I need to speak into every life the love that You so desperately desire to communicate. Help me to see people like You do; to love people like You do. And may it begin with the one in front of me.

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Cookies, Mailboxes, and a lot of Love

letter

The older I get, the more I am thankful for two parents who taught me what it means to love intentionally, to live a life of integrity, and to truly see the people around me. Yesterday I was very introspective, thinking back over my life, contemplating our society as it is, and evaluating what kinds of values and traditions I want to establish for my family and future. I wonder how many people simply live just trying to survive the day to day, only to eventually arrive at the end of their lives and wonder what it was about. As a 26-year-old, I don’t want that to be my story. Rather, I want to live my life on purpose, knowing all along what I want my life to be about and aware that the way I interact with others today has a profound impact on eternity.

My favorite Christmas tradition growing up was baking with my mom. We would make several varieties of cookies, breads, and other goodies and assemble them on several plates. We would then, as a family, visit many of the elderly people in our congregation and spend an hour or two with them talking and laughing and sharing a cookie or two. One of the coolest people I knew was a guy named Steve who had severe cerebral palsy. I always looked forward to going over to his house and spending time with his family. I grew up knowing all my neighbors and considering them my friends; not because that was normal in our town, but because my mom was always very intentional about knowing the people around us and loving them. Whenever a day would come that an ambulance would visit our neighborhood or something difficult happened, we were often considered one of the family in comforting and caring for those left behind.

My dad is a mail carrier, but to him his work is more than a job; it is a chance to love people. He truly knows those who live on his route. He keeps an eye on those who live alone and checks on them. Because he passes by at the same time every day, it is easy to notice when something is not normal and someone is not ok. I remember him teaching me about how important it is to be aware of how other people are doing. My dad also taught me what it means to be creative in loving people. He would tell me about how often the elderly people on his route do not get any mail and how hard that must be for them when they cannot leave their apartment much. He would hand write them little stories that would continue from day to day and drop them in their mailboxes when they didn’t receive anything else. It was such a simple gesture, but meant the world to these people who looked forward every day to see how the story would turn out.

I was considering these things and so much more yesterday and thanking God for the values my parents instilled in me and for the ways they encouraged these things in me as well. If I had an idea of how to serve others, my parents supported that idea and helped me do it. I loved to play the piano at nursing homes in town, and they would support me and come to listen. I remember one time having the idea of doing a food drive for our homeless shelter, and it wasn’t just my parents who got behind me but also my little church family. I want to instill this in my children as well: the value of not only noticing those around them, but truly knowing people and their needs. I want to teach my children what it means to love others deeply and show it. I want them to have the confidence and passion to serve.

Even though I love the holiday seasons like Thanksgiving and Christmas, I see them as more than just a time to spend with family and eat good food. I have always loved traditions of any kind and each year the joy came for me in creating a beautiful and magical atmosphere of love and hope. Everything had to be perfect. Yesterday I spent Thanksgiving in Ecuador with many coworkers and short-term missionaries and we ate incredible food that we spent days preparing. However, something was missing and I felt a disconnect in my heart between the abundance that I was privileged to take part in and the knowledge that there are people all around me who do not have food or a family that loves them. They live life alone and with pain in their hearts. I have seen recently on the internet of people who are asking for a family for Christmas, and I wonder how many do not ask but want that more than anything else. Someone I know well and love very much has told me that Christmas brings so much pain to her heart, because growing up her family did not have the resources to celebrate Christmas and it just made them more aware than ever of what they did not have. It makes me wonder: do we see them? Do we know the people around us well enough to know what they truly need? I could live without a present one year so that someone else might know that they are loved and valued. That is the greatest gift one could receive. After all, loving people is not a task that begins at Thanksgiving or Christmas; but is the way we are called to live every day of the year. That way, when Thanksgiving and Christmas come, we know how to expand that magical atmosphere of love and hope to those who would otherwise be outside of its reach. What greater testimony of thankfulness is there than to give others a reason to be thankful? And there is no better way to tell the story of the baby in a manger than to meet people where they are with the message that there is One who sees them and loves them. That’s what God did for us.

I have been privileged to know many people who are living on purpose. Not too long ago I lived in Nashville, and because of my work schedule I was not able to go home for Christmas. I was really sad about it, but had decided to make the most of it anyway. What I didn’t know was that God had already arranged for someone in my church (that I didn’t even know at the time) to take me to their family Christmas, and I walked away with new friendships and an increased understanding of what it means to love intentionally.

What do I want my kids to learn from me? What kind of atmosphere is important for me in my future family? I want to teach my children how to take the time to truly see people, like my parents taught me to do. I want them to learn that loving others doesn’t have to be complicated; but rather the smallest gesture (like a note in a mailbox) can bring so much joy to a lonely person’s heart. If I have felt pain in my life, it is not for me to grow bitter but rather to grow in compassion for others who suffer. I want my children to learn how to turn mourning into joyful dancing and how to in turn comfort those around them. I want them to learn that you don’t have to be rich to be generous, and that when our lives overflow with generosity toward others, God is generous toward us. I want to raise children who live on purpose and who conquer the darkness around them with passion, love, and kindness. I want them to learn that family is not just blood relation, but that everyone is welcome at God’s table. I want them to know that they have what it takes to love others well, because God’s love lives inside of them. I want them to live in freedom so they might bring freedom to many others. I want them to learn what it means to live on purpose.

I would encourage you to think about these things. What do you want your life to be about? What message do you want your family and the world to receive from your life? The action could be simple, like knitting scarves in the summer to give to the homeless when the weather begins to turn cold. However, the message that is received speaks much louder volumes than you might think, not only to those who receive, but to the little eyes that are watching you do it. You are creating a legacy of love that won’t stop there. I believe that every life is precious, and therefore every act of love is worth it. How might you live more intentionally today?

Work That Ground

plowing

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” –Newt Gingrich

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” –Stephen King

I have been taking classes for several years toward my goal of being an ordained minister, and I am nearing the end of the educational requirements to do that. This afternoon as I was doing my homework, I repeatedly had the temptation to complain about the work that I was having to put toward the class. However, God immediately taught me a lesson: Simply being called is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning. The bigger the blessing, the greater the responsibility. The bigger the calling, the greater the challenges are in getting there. God has already done His part. Now it’s my turn to do my part; and not just do it, but do it well.

This weekend God gave me another piece of the puzzle for my future; He inspired my heart toward a passion that I have had since childhood, but had for the most part given up on. I am beginning to understand the scope of what this means. So often we long to receive a word from God, but when the word that comes causes us to embark on a journey of hard work and discipline to see it through, often we either throw it out or put it on the back burner for later. We wait for God to “confirm it”, which sometimes can be an excuse for us to wait to obey God. However, the kind of obedience that God requires of us is an obedience that is immediate and complete.

I want the kind of faith that naturally reacts in obedience to the voice of God. I want to be the kind of person who will do whatever it takes to see it through. After all, faithfulness doesn’t just have to do with saying “yes” to the calling when we first receive it, but rather having a continual “yes” every day afterward until the work is finished. Paul says to his disciple Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive His approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.” He says earlier in 1:6-7: “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and SELF-DISCIPLINE.”

If I were to describe my nature anytime before two years ago, I would say I was a bit flaky. Don’t get me wrong; I loved Jesus and I desired to serve Him. However, my daily devotional times were short at best. I started a lot of projects and did not finish them. That has always been a struggle for me. I would get really excited about something…for a few weeks or even months, but eventually the fire died out and so did my desire to see it through. One of the biggest lessons that God has taught me in this South American experience has been self-discipline. I have much more of a part to play in my calling than I had realized before. God will call us to action, and He will give us the strength to walk it through. However, WE must act and put forth the perseverance to join hands with God and walk with Him through it to the end. Plain and simple.

Sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s scary. There comes a time in every calling (and often many times) when we want to throw in the towel and give up. However, when we do give up, we miss out on the great blessing that comes from being faithful. We miss the joy of serving God with excellence. The truth is, God knows what we are capable of far more than we do, and He will always push us. Often I have felt challenged beyond my capacity to handle. However, I have learned to trust Him and dive in, and I find that He is always enough. I find that the result was worth the plunge, and my faith grows as I see God be continually faithful in absolutely every circumstance.

It’s like a farmer working the soil. I used to see God as the farmer. However, I realize now that I am the farmer, and it is God who makes things grow. I am called to plant, to work the ground, and to take in the harvest that God brings. So my challenge to you today is: work that ground. Has God given you a word? See it through. Has He given you a talent? Grow on purpose. I guarantee that you don’t want just a portion of the blessing. Go for it all. Give it your all. God bless you today as you continue to seek and act in His will!

Of Dreams and Unicorns

sunset

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” –T.E. Lawrence

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” –Oscar Wilde

I’m a dreamer, plain and simple. In my mind, the future is bright and beautiful, full of endless possibilities. I love thinking about all the things I want to experience, the things I want to learn, and the memories I want to make (and who I want to make them with). So far there are 81 items on my list of things to do before I die; I have accomplished 9 of them. Some of the things I want to do are as small and entertaining as attending a Pirate Live Action Role Playing, to skills I want to have such as being able to fly a small airplane, to big dreams like caring for street children or working with victims of human trafficking. To me, every moment in life counts and every breath is precious.

If you are a dreamer, however, it is quite possible that the world will try to discourage you from being that way. There’s this idea of reality that society tries to instill in us; it tries to teach us that to think big or to imagine great change is unrealistic. Dreamers are seen as cartoon characters living in the clouds and chasing after unicorns. Well-intentioned people in my life who truly love me have spoken into my dreams, telling me not to get my hopes up. I know they didn’t want to see me crushed in the end when those things did not come to pass. However, to say that dreamers live outside reality is a generalization that needs some redirecting.

The truth of the matter is, a dream remains a dream until hard work is put into making it become a reality. One thing many people don’t know how to do is work hard. We want to change the world, but as long as it fits between 9 and 6, Monday through Friday and meets various other guidelines. However, I have found that dreams are born in the midnight hours, often take years to grow enough to show for anything, and nearly always require great risk and investment. They take shape in the dusty dirty back roads, and much more happens behind closed doors and in long dark hallways than the great success that the masses see. Also often, just like in the case of Martin Luther King, Jr., we may not live to see our dreams come to pass. However, that does not make the dream any less important.

I want my children to be dreamers. I want them to learn how to imagine the world as God created it to be; to picture in their minds what it would look like if heaven were to touch earth. You know why? Because I have learned that God is a dreamer. How else could He or would He have picked someone like me for the great things He has called me to? When He found me, I was wrapped in depression, oppression, addiction, suicidal tendencies, self-hatred, sickness, and fear. He saw something in me that I could never have imagined, and began the pursuit. Like the proficient artist that He is, He took to work on this mess and is creating a masterpiece. I stand amazed every single day at all the freedom and healing that He has brought into my life. I can boast about that, because it has absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him. Because of all the restoration that God has brought to me, I have an intense and burning passion to bring that same restoration to many others.

I have also learned that as I take on the dreams of God, He takes on mine. A small example of this involves a story from a couple years ago. I had seen pictures of Machu Picchu for years, and when it became one of the seven wonders of the world, I longed to go there even more. So I put it on my list. As the years went by and I continued in my calling to missions, I accepted a position in Ecuador as a missionary. We were sent to Peru for five months of language and ministry training. It wasn’t until I had been in Peru for a time that I realized Machu Picchu was in Peru as well. God provided the money I needed to visit, and the trip meant more to me than simply being a tourist outing. It was God saying to me, “Delight yourself in Me, and I will give you the desires of your heart.” He cares about even the smallest dreams we have. When I remember experiences like this, it is much easier for me to trust God for future dreams and promises that He has given me.

I have learned that it is not the size of the dream that determines whether or not it can happen. Rather, it is in whose hands the dream is placed that matters. It is in understanding what it means to be in partnership with God when dreams become reality in our lives; not because we are that good, but because He is. Did you know that God is good? Sometimes our hearts can grow resentful in waiting for a dream to pass, and we start to think that God just wants to use us until we run dry and have nothing left. However, I want to make a bold statement: that those who feel that way are truly not experiencing a relationship with God as He intended. It is true that there are times and seasons in life when we are tired and spent; when we contemplate throwing in the towel. However, if we have lost the Great Adventure in the midst of the daily tasks and responsibilities, it is time to take a step back and remember. We must remember that God is a dreamer, and that He has incredible dreams not only for each of us, but also for the world. We must remember that we have an important role to play in those dreams becoming reality. It has all the elements of a good thriller: risk, courage, danger, joy, failure, love and a happily ever after. Sometimes we need to be reminded; I needed to be reminded today that life is more than the emotions I feel in the moment and the responsibilities I am struggling to handle right now. Soon this moment and this chapter will only be a memory. I can’t drop it in the middle of the story. I must live it out, and live it to the full.

Has the world discouraged you from being a dreamer? In the words of the great Mufasa in the Lion King: Remember who you are. You are a son or daughter of the King of Kings. God has placed certain dreams inside of you for a reason. Keep your eyes on Him, and you will soon find yourself in the story of a lifetime.

Cut the Static

Static

A crinkly crackly mess is what it sounds like. Wait, did you hear something? It was a split second, but at least we know we’re close. Hold up…there it is again. A little clearer. Wait…up….eeeek….there it is…nope, lost it….

Ever tried to navigate a television with rabbit ears? I sound old (I’m not), but I have done this, and it can be a frustrating process. Everything has to be just right. Move it a teeny bit and it is all a crinkly crackly staticky mess. You think you’ve got it, but when you take your hand off, once again, it’s gone.

Sometimes learning how to hear God’s voice feels like positioning a set of rabbit ears. It’s coming iiiiiii……wait….nope….wait, I hear something….wait… Frustrating, right? The problem is, most of us give up trying to figure it out, or settle for a semi-fair signal. Getting to know God takes time and effort. Maybe that’s what makes the narrow road so narrow – too many people don’t want to put in the work to cut the static.

God has been teaching me lately a little trick to cutting the static, and it has been blowing my mind. You want a sure-fire way to bring a smile to God’s face and freak Satan out? It lies in this simple word: obedience.

I can hear the whining through the internet waves (does the internet have waves?). Chelseeeeeeeeeea, I would obey if I just knew what God WANTED FROM ME. That’s why I want to hear from Him! Stick with me for a moment, ok?

God asked Moses, “What’s that in your hand?” Often God doesn’t appear to us and say, “I want you to move to Thailand and start a refuge home for abused women on December 15, 2016. Buy a plane ticket in a year.” Usually He starts with what you have right now. He starts with your current ministry. He starts with your current level of talent. He starts with your current situation. Often we think we would be so good at the big stuff, but we tune out the small nudges He sends us every day. The Bible shows us that first we must be faithful with the small before we will be faithful with the big and ironically, learning how to hear His voice works the same way.

It starts with a simple question, “God, would You give me something specific to do today?” 10 times out of 10 that I have prayed that prayer, someone immediately comes to my heart. My neighbor is sick, so I will go buy her lunch. I remember a homeless person I see every day and I can go have a conversation with him. I was in a fight with my friend and I need to go make amends. It may seem small, but it comes. And when it does, we must act on it right away.

As this activity becomes a habit for us, we start to notice the tasks becoming bigger and bigger. Suddenly, it’s not just “help the blind man across the street,” but rather, “take the blind man out to lunch,” and then eventually, “pray that God would heal the blind man’s eyes.” Wait…I didn’t have the faith to know that I was hearing correctly about the healing back when I was helping him across the street, but somehow after all these steps, I know exactly what I must do: pray for healing. I begin to understand that God’s heart isn’t to just be a kindly neighbor, but rather to bring total restoration to every person that is close to me.

God often starts small. Just look at the baby in the manger. He’s not rushed, but He is urgent. People are hurting today. People are in need today. It’s easy to put on the blinders, get used to the static, and continue about our lives. However, we must cut the static. We must tune in, and the simple activity of obeying God’s voice today will ultimately lead us to our calling. You hear the screams as you pass by the house, so you stop by a couple hours later to take her out to lunch. You help her through the court process and your heart decides that it would do anything for this lady. Then you meet another lady going through the same situation and the same thing happens. God stirs in your heart a love for missions, so you go on a short-term trip. Then you are ready to hear the call for Thailand.

It’s not to say that sometimes God doesn’t start with a big voice. He uses the shock factor with me a lot. I was in high school when God put the dream inside of me to work internationally with orphans. What on earth? I didn’t know any orphans. I’d never left the States. Weird. It was one of those moments of…did you hear something? Wait….

However, over the years God took me from my little town in Nebraska all over the world, and the story is just beginning. I chose to be obedient, small decision after small decision, and it has led me to a greater life than I could have imagined. I never dreamed the plan of God would be so complex and beautiful, but every morning I get up, I am just in awe. I am also thankful that God doesn’t just give us a big assignment and tell us to go for it. He guides us through the process. Like Pastor Steven Furtick says, God doesn’t simply give us a navigational system, because He wants to BE our navigational system. He is UBER creative and good.

God’s voice becomes clearer when we learn to recognize and respond to the little nudges and callings He puts in our path day to day. So don’t wait until tomorrow. He has an adventure for you today! Cut the static. Obey Him right now. You won’t regret it.

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