Could it happen to you? Of course. Tragedy knows no limits.

When the September 11 terrorist attacks happened, we all said, “Things like this don’t happen in America.”

But then things like that continued to happen, and not from foreign terrorists, but from our own people.

While tragedies like Sandy Hook and now the Boston Marathon break our hearts, if you stop and think about it, senseless killings happen in America every single day. It might be a drive-by shooting, a teen committing suicide, or a “doctor” killing a living, breathing baby after a botched abortion attempt.

Life is apparently just a worthless thing to so many people, whether they are taking lives in large numbers or just one person.

Growing up in America, I never really felt scared or nervous. Even as an adult I once had a student in my car (on our way to church) who pulled out a handgun, and I wasn’t scared. Lately, though, I’ve found myself a little nervous at a few particular spots.PhotoGrid_1365290616255

My friend and I went to see Jurassic Park a few weeks ago. I rarely go to the movies anymore because they are so expensive, so the shooting in Colorado last year didn’t even cross my mind. That is, until my friend said, “Make sure we know where the exits are.” She went on to tell me that a friend of hers said he always checks now, just in case he has to make a quick exit. I’ll be honest, until the movie started and I got engrossed in it, I had a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Would someone bust in with a gun? It was the first time I ever felt unsafe in a theater.

Most of my trips to the bank are at the ATM or the drive-thru window, but last week I had a huge bag of coins to deposit, which meant I had to go inside the actual bank. I’ve never in my life thought twice about walking into a bank, but as soon as I walked in, I remembered all the news stories about bank robberies in town lately. It seems like every single day there is a hold up at a bank here in Fort Wayne. I got a little nervous. Would someone be here to rob this bank today?

I believe we shouldn’t live our lives in fear, we shouldn’t let the sick people in the world make us scared, but it’s getting to the point where it’s tough to not think, “Could what happened THERE, happen HERE?” And let’s be honest… it certainly could.

The only peace that can be found in this world today is Jesus Christ. I think more and more people are seeing this as they search for something to believe in, something pure and perfect to cling to, something they can put their faith in because there is NO hope in this world outside of Christ.

I don’t want to die anymore than the next person, but at least I know where I’m going when I do. And at least I have that to cling to as this world continues to fall apart and destroy itself.

“… I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, even though he dies, will live.”
John 11:25

God’s love on a receipt? Not even close…

I am continuously shocked at the Christians in this world who don’t understand the concept of God’s love and how we are to display it for EVERYONE just as Christ did.receiptgrab

For example, a pastor and a large group of people recently dined somewhere together and were charged an automatic gratuity. This happens a lot with groups larger than 8 or so. Apparently the service was fine, nothing terrible happened during the meal, but the pastor felt the need to leave the message, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?” You can read the entire article here.

Wow.

I can only imagine, if the server wasn’t a Christian, what he now thinks about Christianity.

Does a server deserve more than God? Of course not. This pastor gives 10% regularly in his tithes to the Lord. Giving 18% on a ONE-TIME meal really isn’t that big of a deal. To compare it to what he gives to God is simply absurd.

This pastor clearly missed a rather important part of the Bible, and some of the greatest words Christ ever spoke:

“…just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

It’s one thing for this pastor to not leave the server an extra tip since the 18% was already added on. It’s quite another to make a connection between a tip at a restaurant and what God deserves from us, and to then write it on the receipt. What kind of love does that show?

Do we really need to give the world more ammunition against Christians? Will we ever learn that Christ wasn’t kidding when He said we were to love one another and show God’s love to everyone? I can just imagine an atheist reading this article and thinking, “That’s why I don’t believe- self-righteous Christians, who show no love, prove that there is no God.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Brennan Manning:

“The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

It gives me chills every time I think about it, because it holds so much truth. Is it true? Are Christians the reason so many people DON’T believe in Christ? I think it’s highly possible.

I’m not saying this pastor is a terrible person. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be a pastor or that the rest of us don’t sometimes have poor judgment. But I do believe that the biggest step towards being a true disciple of Christ is showing His love… to EVERYONE.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

A friend of mine, who also does some mission work, said something the other day that I could totally identify with. Someone had emailed her and said, “You’re such an inspiration! I wish all young women were like you.” My friend said to me, “It was nice, but sometimes I don’t know what to say to that. I wish people knew how imperfect I actually am.”

I know how she feels. And there’s a message that needs to be spread – NO Christian, no matter how many good things they do or say, is without sin. Myself included. DEFINITELY myself included.

My pastor is doing a series right now called Jesus + Nothing = Everything. You need Jesus. That’s it.

No really. That’s it. It’s not Jesus + mission trips = everything. It’s not Jesus + volunteering = everything. It’s not even Jesus + church = everything. Jesus is enough. Jesus, plus nothing else, equals all you need. It equals everything.

God loves all His children the same. I never ever want to give the impression crossthat I do mission trips, go to church, read the Bible, hang crosses on my walls, etc. etc. . because I’m seeking out a higher level of love from God. It’s not possible. He couldn’t love me any more than He already does.

He didn’t love me more after I went to Niger in 2009.

He doesn’t love me more now than before I went to Nicaragua in 2011.

When I go to Zambia in June, He won’t love me any more than He does at this very moment.

So why do I do it? I do it because God has given me the heart and the desire to do so. I don’t get an extra car in heaven because I’ve done international mission work. What I get is the satisfaction of serving my King, I do it because I WANT to do it. Not because I feel like I HAVE to do it in order for God to approve of me.

JESUS + NOTHING = EVERYTHING.

You don’t have to add anything to Jesus to make Him real or to make Him love you. You have everything you need, just by having Jesus. That’s all He requires- is that you believe and accept Him into your heart.

No More…

Before writing a blog post, I felt led to write a poem about yesterday’s tragedy and the children who have died. I am a faithful believer, based on what I have read in the Bible, that all children who die enter the kingdom of heaven. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you saw my status about how I believe we must pray for those left behind and the suffering they are going through. For these children, who so tragically died, they will suffer no more. And that’s where I got the idea for this poem.

No More

There will be no more birthdays.
No more gifts on Christmas morn.
No giggling from their bedrooms.
It’s as if they were never born.

There are no more smiles.
No more hugs for mom and dad.
No baby dolls or little league games,
It’s enough to drive you mad.

But…

There will be no more suffering.
No more tummy aches or bruises.
No more misunderstanding,
No team that ever loses.

No tears shed over lost pets,
No more fighting over toys.
God has perfectly prepared His kingdom,
For these little girls and boys.

No more will they worry about anything.
No more will they be distressed.
For their lives are now in heaven,
Where they are truly blessed.

Moms and dads will miss them,
Their families see them no more,
But we must remember that these angels,
Are now inside heaven’s door.

A quick thought on forgiveness…

forgivenessIt’s a little random, but sometimes, out of nowhere, I’ll get really mad about something that happened quite awhile ago.

The person I’ve loved the most, also hurt me the worst nearly two years ago. I’ve moved on, so has he, and he’s now one of my best friends. While I’m not “in love” with him, I don’t think there are many people in this world who I love more than him.

But sometimes, for no reason at all, I remember what happened. And I get really, really angry and hurt all over again.

I’ve forgiven him, but I haven’t fully adopted “forgive and forget.” That’s when I realized the other day, that as humans, we CAN’T forget. It’s just not possible. But you know who DOES forget? God does. Isn’t that amazing? He can forgive AND forget. And that’s exactly what He does. He doesn’t hold a grudge. Ask for forgiveness and BOOM! You got it. And God won’t ever have a day when He thinks about that time you messed up.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:12

 

Sometimes, my faith sucks…

I was doing so well.

Praying multiple times a day, doing my devotions, being thankful for what I have, and having faith that God has a plan for my life and trusting that He knows what’s best.

And then, I had to ask my boss for time off for my mission trip to Zambia. I would need to use my week vacation, a personal day, and two unpaid days. I felt confident that this wouldn’t be a problem. After all, it wasn’t like I needed the extra days because I was going on a cruise. While we would see some amazing things on the trip, the majority of it would be spent working with the students and teachers at Lifesong for Orphans.

My confidence was high. I just knew everything would be fine.

Then it wasn’t.

My boss, who is one of the greatest people I have ever worked for, said she would have to talk to HR about it. She didn’t seem thrilled. She didn’t say, “Oh I’m sure that will be fine!” She wrote down the dates and said she’d let me know tomorrow.

Yes, this could all work out. But let me tell you, sometimes… my faith sucks. The pessimist inside me says, “It probably won’t work out!” Or maybe that’s the devil I’m hearing.

I should have great faith right now that God will work this out. How this whole trip came to be is an amazing thing in itself, why would God NOT work this out? Because sometimes God has other plans. And that’s what scares me. Even though God knows what’s best, I don’t always like it.

I will be devastated if I can’t go on this trip. I’ve already psyched myself up to meet all those orphans- to play with them, sing with them, show them God’s great love. Tearing that away from me now would just crush me. It’s also the number one thing in my life I have to look forward to right now. It’s what’s keeping me happy right now, keeping me going each day.

So often, I tend to expect the worst. That’s a terrible trait to have, and I’ve even told others lately to expect great things, amazing things, and they will start to happen! But sometimes, it’s just so hard. Like I said, sometimes my faith sucks.

Niger, Africa Part I

Every time I go on a mission trip, I keep a journal. Since I’m returning to Africa in June (to Zambia instead of Niger), I thought it would be fun to look back on my experience the first time I went and to share it with you in segments. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 13, 2009 – 5 p.m. Indiana time
28, 000 feet, 552 mph

I’m not making those numbers up. There is a lovely TV screen for each person here on our Air France flight from D.C. to Paris, and there is tons of stuff to do on the tiny screen in the headrest of the person in front of me – movies, games, music, etc. You can see how high you are, how fast you are going, where you are located, and there is even a view of what the pilot sees (which, by the way, scared the CRAP out of me).

I’m hungry, and the food smells GREAT! And I just saw my first official French baguette! Can’t wait for my salmon dinner!

7 p.m. Indiana time
35,000 feet, 620 mph

I didn’t realize how cold it is way up here, but apparently it is -65 degrees. That’s crazy!

Dinner was delicious. I had salmon parmentier. I don’t know what that is, but it was yummy! Also had like, tuna salad on top of these weird little yellow balls. I had a baguette, some cheese, rice pudding and a brownie.

Sunday, June 14, 2009 – 5 a.m. Paris time

We are less than an hour from landing in France! How crazy is that?

I would give anything for a window seat right now. But, I’ll have to settle for the middle of the section. Maybe I’ll luck out with a window seat on our flight to Niger. I haven’t slept at all. These seats are ridiculously uncomfortable. I thought for sure they would be nice because of the big plane and long trip. Boy was I wrong.

I just realized that I don’t know what day it is. Is it tomorrow already? I guess so.

If I look down the row I can see the sun coming up outside of the window. The sky is a beautiful purple and peach. According to the digital map we are passing England right now.

7:40 a.m. – Paris, France

Bonjour! I’m in FRANCE! I’m at the airport eating a sandwich made of I don’t know what, because the labels are all in French.

Anyways, let me back up a bit. Our landing was fine. We didn’t even have to wait long to get off the plane. I said my first “Au revoir!” as I exited the plane. To be honest, everything outside looks just like the U.S. The terrain and airport are similar. Still, EVERYTHING is in French now!

We had to go through security again and my bra hook set off the metal detectors. Man did I get frisked. That security chick literally felt me up!

Once inside our terminal I was whisked away by an array of designer stores- Hermes, Dior, Chanel and your can literally smell the leather permeating out of Prada as you walk by.

The people here look like us. They have the most beautiful accents though. I feel so common with my American accent. How boring.

Our group found a place to sit down so we could pray and talk about a few things. For instance, when we get to Niamey we will be asked why we are there and we have to say, “as tourists.” The first few days we are staying at the Catholic Guesthouse.

Our orientation is tomorrow. We’ll learn all the important cultural stuff then.

Now we’ve got a few hours before we fly to Niger. I’m enjoying my mystery sandwich and a Tao energy drink. Think I’m going to try and nap now. Probably shouldn’t have had the energy drink.

6:10 p.m. – Niger, Africa

We are here! We are here! I am sitting outside our room at the Catholic Guesthouse. I am in room 6 with Sheri. She is really sweet- used to be a journalist and is here with Jonah, her 15-year-old son.

The word “hot” doesn’t even begin to describe the climate. Even “sweltering” or “excruciating” can’t describe the heat. I’ve got sweat dripping off every square inch of my body. There are tons of lizards running around me. I can’t believe I’m in Africa.

I’ll write more about our arrival after dinner. Right now I’m sweating so bad in my hand that it’s hard to hold the pen.

8:30 p.m.

When we landed in Niger, it pretty much looked like Arizona- a desert. But when we walked off the plane and were greeted by soldiers with jet-black skin and mint green shirts, I knew I was in Africa.

It took us forever to get through customs, even though we were the only plane that had landed there all day. They are pretty hard-core about their security.

We went to get our bags we had checked. When I grabbed mine, a little helper guy told me he had it. They did not want us to have to carry our own bags!

Walking out of Niamey’s tiny airport really felt like Africa- like something you only see in movies. People were in all sorts of colorful clothes.

There were about seven or eight guys around my age who had to walk with sticks because of their foot deformities. They also had big scars on their faces. I asked Tom what the deal was and he said it might have been a rite of passage, and that the scars on their faces definitely had to do with what tribe they belonged to.

When the bags were loaded we got in and took off for the downtown area. The radio was blaring African music, which really set the scene. Once we got into downtown I couldn’t believe my eyes. People were everywhere. There were no traffic signals, you were just on your own! So there was a lot of honking.

There were a lot of goats, too! Women were carrying huge baskets on their heads in perfect balance. Every time we had to stop, a bunch of kids would run up to the windows of the van. “Bon Soir!” they said and smiled. Then rubbed their fingers together to ask for money.

There weren’t really buildings. There was a mosque or two and they looked like adobes. Everything else was in huts or tents. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

After we got settled in our rooms, we went out to eat. Driving through town at 7 p.m. was crazy. There were so many people out, and they waved at us like we were celebrities. I haven’t seen any other white people since we got here.

For dinner we had pizza- go figure! But first they brought us onion rings with mayonnaise. Now that’s even weird for me. The pizza was OK. Was kind of soggy and was made with goat cheese.

And now I’m in my netted-bed and ready to pass out. I still can’t believe I’m here.

Is this really happening?

My head was spinning when I got home. I couldn’t tell if it was from an hour of zumba at the YMCA or if it was the email I had just received from my friend Janeth in Texas. Either way, I felt like I might pass out.

You see, on my way home from zumba, I got to thinking about how it had been awhile since I went on any sort of mission trip. Sure I’ve started volunteering at the Allen County Juvenile Center (ACJC), but my heart for international missions hasn’t been satisfied since I left Nicaragua in April 2011. I’ve always felt a calling to serve internationally, so I pretty much always have the desire to go.

I got to thinking about my trip to Niger, Africa in 2009 with Jesus Film Ministries. We shared the gospel with hundreds of people in Niger, in villages all across the desert. We also spread the word of God to students at the university in Niamey. For two weeks we were missionaries for Christ, completely immersed in a country that was more than 95% Muslim.

In 2011 I went with my church to Nicaragua where we dug latrines and did vacation Bible school with the children. The highlight of the trip was meeting Mayrober, my sponsor child through Food for the Hungry. It was so incredible to see that the money I spend each month really is making a difference in the community. I definitely was given a heart for Nicaragua after my trip.

Still, my desire to go back to Africa wasn’t gone. And on this drive home Tuesday night, I started to get discouraged. My church doesn’t take any trips to Africa. We go to Nicaragua, Haiti, Turkey, etc. etc., but not Africa. I wasn’t sure how God would work this out.

Enter Janeth. I checked my email when I got home, and there it was- an email from my friend in Texas with information on her upcoming trip to Zambia. She said I should go. Wait, no, God said I should go.

I have prayed a lot in the past few days, committed myself to this Zambia trip, contacted the travel agent, and have officially been posted on the website as a member of the Zambia 2013 team. Wow. This is really happening.

What will we do? We will spend most of our time at Lifesong for Orphans. It’s an organization that provides education, meals, and physical, emotional and spiritual support for orphans. We’ll also spend some time in the strawberry fields where many of the adults work for a living. Sightseeing-wise we will go to Victoria Falls and also go on a safari for a day.

I just can’t believe how God has worked this all out and done it so quickly. Sure it’s going to cost a lot, but I am confident that if God is sending me, He will provide a way for me to pay for it.

If you feel led to donate to my trip, please do. Pray about it, and if it’s something you can afford please contribute either on the website or by sending in a check (donations are tax deductible of course!). No amount is too small. If you can’t afford it, please keep me and the rest of the team in your prayers as we prepare for this journey.

Fresh Grounded Faith

On the eve of my 32nd birthday in October, I watched my new Cinderella DVD while packing up my apartment to move into my parents’ house. This is clearly not what I imagined I would be doing the night before I turned 32. Although my parents will be in Florida the entire time I’m here, it still hurts to know that even with a graduate degree, I’m not making enough money to buy my own house.

I also suffered some heartbreak- on my actual birthday no less. Wow- happy birthday to me. Heart… broken… in two. Might be better to say it was shattered into a million tiny pieces. It’s been friends and prayer that’s helped me quickly pick those pieces up and put them back together. I still hurt, but I know I’ll be OK.

Still, overall, I can’t complain. Life is pretty good for me compared to most in the world. I have so many things to be thankful for. But when my friend Ronna emailed me that she had an extra ticket to a women’s conference at The Chapel, I knew it was something I needed.

Fresh Grounded Faith” was Friday night and Saturday morning. Almost 1,000 women gathered together to worship and hear from wonderful speakers like Jennifer Rothschild and Lisa Whelchel (A.K.A. Blair from The Facts of Life).

Everything I learned this weekend fit so well with my current situation. While I’m generally a happy person, I tend to look at what others have and think that my life would be so much better if I had what they have. If only I had more money…. if only I had a husband… if only I had a different job… etc. etc. But the truth is, God is enough, and God knows what I need, and He knows when I need it.

The verses that were the theme for the weekend came from Lamentations. We memorized them, and I am going to say them each morning I wake up, each night before I go to bed, and anytime my day is going wrong:

Lamentations 3:22-25 “Because of God’s great love, we are not consumed. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. Therefore I will say to my soul, the Lord is my portion. In Him will I trust.”

“Fresh Grounded Faith” helped remind me that everything happens for a reason, and that everything happens in God’s time, which is the perfect time.

I prayed a lot this weekend. I prayed specifically for a few people who don’t feel they even deserve my prayers, but they got them anyway. There are some people I will always pray for, even if I don’t know how things turn out. I trust that God will take care of things… in my life, and in theirs.