All this and more
It's been a rough year with a major health scare and hospital visit for my oldest, a broken down car, school bills, and constant other needs. One of my biggest prayers and desperate needs for this Christmas break is a get away with my family. The levels of stress that I've been carrying are way too heavy and I need my heart to rest and be filled. We need to get out of the city and lay on a beach somewhere for a few days.
Sounds easy enough since we live on an island right? Not quite. We need a car that is in good enough condition to take us out of town, at least 4 hours drive one way. Then we need someone to watch our dogs and our house (they are high maintenance and anxious). On top of that we need the money. My heart is extra burdened knowing this could be the greatest gift I could give my girls and myself, but I can't make it happen.
This is where it takes a village. We have needs. Yet we know our God is big and always provides. It's just hard living in the middle where the needs pile up and it's hard to see the other side. So, in all humility I set before whoever reads this, our list of needs.
Car repairs/ new car
End of year giving
I never thought that at 34 I would be holding a full size child, whom I love more than I can imagine, while she screams and thrashes through the remembrance of inexplicable trauma. Neither did I think that I would be teaching a 16 year old how to read, communicate, and relate to others at such a basic level. As a foster mother my world has been turned upside down, completely. What used to be done alone is now done in 3s. Sleeping and showering is now my alone time. Even when I'm away from them I think about and miss them.
My years of schooling, training, and practicing as a counselor have prepared me for the trauma, at least the understanding of it all. God has been preparing me for motherhood. And yet there are times when I feel totally unequipped for both. By God's grace we've made it through some of the toughest challenges, nightmares, painful memories of abuse, learning how to learn, forgiveness, and loving one another.
I know how to comfort my girls when they are overwhelmed and afraid. I know how to explain the symptoms of anxiety. I can teach them how to take deep breaths and calm down. I can explain God's heart for them. I can meet their physical needs and give them a life they never dreamed of. But...
I've also been traumatized. Holding my child while she's subconsciously reliving her abuse with eyes closed and body trashing on the couch, crushes my heart for the pain she's endured. I'm constantly on edge wondering if we can take a trip to an unfamiliar place or will there be another episode like when she was triggered by a familiar face and panicking in a small tent in the middle of a typhoon. Will my little girl let me teach her today or will she be reminded of the pure hate shot at her from a previous care giver that shuts down her brain? What trauma will I endure today?
Trauma is tricky and can sometimes be a sticky trap. I know that in many situations people have been haunted throughout their whole lives because of trauma. I know it's real and how harmful it can be. I chose to believe that God can heal us from the sting of trauma and traumatic events. I chose to believe that He is our healer and will walk us through every hurt until one day they are no longer.
And I know that I have been hurt in the healing. I take this as my labor of love. In sickness and health, in hurt and loss, in the midst of healing and hurting... I will love them.
Sometimes in life we can feel like Joey. Joey is an orangoutang our family met at the zoo last week. For most of our visit with him he looked like the picture, bored, sad, depressed, and a little hopeless. Joey's fur was tangled and matted, and his head was balding. It seems like Joey didn't really care much about life. His situation: he's alone, it's hot, he has no food.
What about us? Many times we can describe our situations much like Joey's. In the midst of the COVID pandemic we could describe our situation as: desperate, no job, less money, fearful, bored, ready to move on, lonely, depressed, anxious, and ultimately tired. I've experienced many of those emotions and more in the past 15 months since we have been under continued quarantine and varying levels of restrictions.
Trying to plan vacations or even shopping trips with my kids is a nightmare, or a wish added to the "someday" list. I wish I could take my girls grocery shopping with me or we could eat in a restaurant. I really want to take them to the beach so they can experience it for the first time. I don't want to continue to live under the limitations, restrictions, and fears enforced by government. I'd like life to be a lot more free. Life kinda sucks sometimes. But...
Every day we have a choice. For example, I am not a morning person. I don't like to wake up earlier than 8am and usually have a bad mood if I have to face people before I fully wake up. As a mom, I've had to change my habits and attitudes. I find myself smiling more in the morning and looking forward to the day ahead. I am usually the one that peps up and encourages my girls to enjoy the morning. What brought about this transformation? A choice. I chose that I would start my days out right.
We are not so fond of the quarantine and added restrictions. We are very much looking forward to fulfilling the things on our "someday" list. Until then we are enjoying what we can. Last night we went for a drive, watched the sunset, and saw the city lights fill the night sky. It was simple, but fun. It became a memory that we can cherish, just like the several photos we take on our phones. These may not be the wishes to be fulfilled on our "someday" list but they are the little things we choose everyday to live in the joy of the Lord.
Life is hard. It is sad. There is so much to look forward to. But we have the choice to resign ourselves to our current feelings and the situation as we perceive it, or to have faith to find the joy in the simple things that God presents to us everyday, throughout the day.
Before we left, we saw Joey's mood improve and his stance change. Abby shook a can of snacks she had and he stretched out his hand for some. She tossed a couple his way and he pushed himself up into the sitting position and reached out for them. He found motivation to change his mood. He chose to get up and reach for something more.
May our motivation in choosing joy and peace be Jesus, His Word, and the Truth.
Waiting on the One
18 years! It's been approximately 18 years since I first "heard" God call me to the Philippines as a 15 year old kid. That time period is more than half my life (I'm 33). In all that time I've learned that waiting is definitely not stagnate (still, quiet, boring), but very active and full of emotions. There have been so many ups and downs in these seasons of waiting. Thinking of the saying, "Wait upon the Lord...", looks so much different to me than waiting in a waiting room. Yes, there are waiting periods of quiet and peace, filled with anticipation. There are also waiting periods filled with the busyness of life.
I thank God that he only shows me parts of his plan at a time. When I was 15 I got the word "Philippines". For me, at the stage in my life, that one word was enough. As I've trusted Him in the little (one word), He has proved faithful in showing me the next revelation (picture, panorama) of His plan for me. In His abundant grace and infinite wisdom, He has kept me focused on Him.
Have there been times I wanted to give up? Yes! But what keeps me going forward is the first word and His continued faithfulness.
The last time he showed me the next "step" in His plan for me was 3 years ago. He gave me a heart for a home for young ladies that need family and the skills and encouragement to become who they were created to be. Bahay ng Pag-ibig (House of Love) was birthed out of this heart's desire. Over the past 3 years, I've been given a beautiful house (to rent) just outside of the city, mentored a few young ladies in tough seasons of life, and have become even more prepared for the next season.
A little over a year ago, the Lord whispered in my ear the details of the next step, "foster care". I started the process in Dec 2019 and through many tears, frustration, and heart ache, I am still waiting for the promise of my girls to become a reality. Waiting is painful. Trust can be heart wrenching. If it were up to me alone I would never have started this journey of compassion, love, and selflessness, it hurts too much.
The good news is found in the rest of the verse,
"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope (wait) in the Lord
will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
I have many times grown weary, tired, depressed, and weak. I have tripped, stumbled, and fallen. When I wait, hope, trust in the Lord my strength is renewed. I've experienced that renewal time and time again. It's what keeps me going from step to step, glory to glory. In my own way, I can't. In Him, I can.
Once again I am waiting for what seems like the approval of man (social services to approve the placement of my girls). I want to fight the injustices of the system and give into the frustrations in this time of waiting. But, I must refocus and reevaluate my situation. I'm not waiting on man. I will not find fulfillment of a promise in the government systems. They should not be able to disappoint me, since they are not the ones in whom I trust.
When the outside circumstances don't look good, I need to look to the One in whom I place my trust. He said it and He will fulfill it.
In waiting to become a mom to these girls, I must place my trust in His hands, everyday.
This Christmas I invited a family into my home and gave them the kind of Christmas they are not used to. A single mom and her five kids packed into my car Christmas morning filled with anticipation. Four of the kids under 16 haven't been able to leave their neighborhood since March 2020. It was their first time seeing the outside world. The girls pointed out the windows at the scenery, as if the car ride itself were the gift. Of course my two story, 4 bedroom, 5 bath house looked like a mansion to their one bedroom shack. At first they were shy and unsure what to do in my house. Once I brought out the toys and invited them to play, they began to make themselves at home.
The three year old examined each toy, jumped up and down on the couches a few times, and said, "Masaya ako!" "I'm happy!" She hadn't yet played the games I had planned, ate spaghetti or cake, heard the story of Jesus, or opened her presents, but she was happy.
She was happy to be clean. She was happy to play. She was happy to be free from her usual environment. She was happy to be loved and watched over. She was happy about the new and different.
This little girl lost the fear she usually carried around with her. If only for a couple of hours, she was truly herself, who she was intended to be. A child.
Looking at her picture, my heart swells and aches simultaneously. She's holding a packet of powdered milk, only one part of one of her gifts, and she's happy. The equivalence of 21 cents in the form of a dried milk product brought a smile to this girls face because it's a luxury to her.
While I want to buy her all the milk and everything she could ever need or want, that's not the solution, nor the issue.
What I take away from this sweet girl's response is the contentment that can be found in the littlest of things. I want to live wide eyed, being so thankful and excited at even the smallest of things God has provided for me. I want to be happy in the little and the large.
I want to walk into a room, smile up at my Father, and say "I'm happy!"
Entering into a season of thankfulness, that often comes this time of year with the upcoming holidays, I choose to let the things I'm thankful for overshadow the ones I'm not. We all know that there have been many challenges this year (2020). Here in the Philippines we've been in a non-stop quarantine since March 16th (245 days and counting). We've also had several natural disasters; a volcanic eruption, 10 total typhoons, 2 super typhoons, and several earthquakes. Just thinking about all of the lows and challenges can be stressful.
How about those things I am thankful for? First, I consider all of the basics like life, good health, provision, and everything I take for granted, but am still so grateful for. More specifically, I thank God for moving me closer to answered prayers and promises. I'm thankful that after 11 months of actively waiting and preparing, I now know who two of my girls are and that they are on the way soon. Getting to read the case studies of my two 17 year old foster girls was a blessing, as well as heart wrenching. These moments, when I get new information about the girls and the next steps, have been an encouragement to my faith to keep going.
I'm thankful that very soon I will be family to girls that haven't had a stable and loving family for most, if not all, of their lives. I'm thankful that even at 17 years old they still have a chance to know what love, consistency, hope, and a future are like. I'm thankful that even in the midst of my own mess and short comings in life, God trusts me. I'm thankful that through the ups and downs, and many "I don't knows", we can turn to God, ask for help, and get what we need to keep moving forward.
I'm thankful that God loves me and cares for me enough to take me on this journey with Him. I'm thankful that His more than enough covers my, and my girls', inadequacies. I'm thankful (by faith) that I will spend this Christmas with my girls.
What has been one of the more challenging years, will be the most beautiful gift from God, as He brings our family together.
Update on the girls
After 2 years of actively waiting for Bahay ng Pag-ibig (House of Love) to become a reality, the wait is nearly over. Back in July of this year (2020) I received my foster care license, the next step to taking in teenage girls. The very long quarantine (ongoing since March) here in the Philippines has slowed down and complicated the process quite a lot. That hasn't stopped me from praying, hoping, and preparing for their arrival. I'm waiting for my four teen girls to arrive any day now. Their room is painted a lovely purple with bright white trim on the windows, book case, and cabinet/closet. Everything is set up and awaiting their arrival. My heart is constantly beating with excitement, anticipation, and nervousness. My thoughts are always running, "Will I be a good mom?" "How will we get along?" "What trauma will they be carrying with them?" "Will they all come at once?" "Will they choose to call me mom?" "Can I love them the way they need to be loved?" So many questions, but one answer is always my go to reminder; "God knows and has made a way."
Any day now I will be a first time mom to teenage girls. Pray for me. Pray for them. Pray for us.
Celebrate an Anniversary
January and February hold two very special days for me here in the Philippines: January 23rd is my three (3) year anniversary in the Philippines, and the last Sunday of February is our church’s 5th year anniversary.
It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but it has been an extremely rewarding one and my work here has not been in vain.
One of the “practices” that has helped me to keep moving forward in my work may come as a surprise: celebration! I love celebrating life and the provision of God. For me that includes my time of service in the Philippines and the maturity and growth of the church I serve at here.
I’m not sure how life is going for you as you read this post, but if you’re anything like me you can easily find yourself feeling stuck, undervalued, and hoping for more. Moreover, we hear Scriptures like “wait upon the Lord and He’ll renew your strength” and “cast your cares on the Lord” – and while those are true, they are sometimes hard to receive in the moment (just being honest). It’s as if the best we can look forward to each day is simply making it through and surviving.
Well, in the inbetween and day-by-day activities, I like to remind myself of all that God’s done for me. I like to practice celebrating life, especially in the mundane and challenging times of life. Maybe you need some of these practices in your life as well. Here are a few ways I stop and celebrate:
#1. Praising the Lord in song.
I’ve started getting my praise on! While I absolutely love powerful worship and praise songs, I’ve really learned to lean into the power of joy and celebration. For me, the words speak into my heart and the situations I face. I enjoy singing out loud and even dancing. It brings so much freedom. One of my favorites of late: Hallelujah for the Cross. You can find it on YouTube here https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zMvLpPDe_cU
#2. Remembering what He’s done.
So much of the time we lose sight of what God has done because we’re so focused on what we need Him to do next. Or, in my case, I’m so focused on the situation I’m facing to remember what God has already done.
I have started speaking to The Lord. I sit down in my room and have a “face-to-face” conversation with Him. We all get caught up in the day to day stresses. It’s easy to forget that God is always with us and wants to hear our hearts. Instead, take a few minutes each day to talk to the Lord. Ask Him to remind you of what He’s done before. Recount the Lord’s faithfulness, and celebrate those good things!
I have a journal and colored pencils/pens next to me as I talk to Him. When I am reminded of what’s He’s done or encouraged by Him, I write it down or draw a picture of it. This helps me express myself and remember. I like to go back through my journals and see the God given reminders written or drawn from my own hand.
#3. Sharing Joy.
No one succeeds in a vacuum, especially when it comes to building a ministry and reaching the nations and generations with the Gospel.
One of the practices I’ve adopted is sharing the joy of the Lord with others. It’s so easy to share hurt feelings, rumors, or bad news. Gossip always spreads like wild fire, and sometimes is more prominent than the sharing of good news.
Well, I’ve decided to flip that upside down by sharing joy instead of sorrow (a majority of the time). This takes effort, since it’s so easy for me to want to spout out my feelings and hardships initially. Now I remind myself to share the joys of my day/week and what God is doing. When I meet my friends or colleagues to catch up on what’s going on, I enjoying sharing the joy of my life and equally enjoy hearing theirs.
Try this one out – whether at work or at home. It results in an incredible shift in the dynamics among your fellow employees or family members.
Looking back, it has truly been an amazing year. Some other highlights:
Finally, I want to thank YOU for your support in time, talent, and resources. I’m so excited about what’s coming next in the ministry here and I can assure you that your investment in this work is reaping incredible returns for the glory of God.
Question: What is one thing you can celebrate starting today? Leave a comment or reply to this message – I’d love to hear from you!
How to Pack Lighter, Smarter, and Faster (Lessons From A Globe-Trotting Missionary)
If there’s one thing that comes with the territory of ministry, it’s travel! As I prepare to travel back to the Philippines in just 8 days, I thought it would be fun to share some of my best practices when it comes to planning for travel.
Chances are you and the family are planning some vacation or holiday trips in the next few months. Whether you’re going on a three-day business trip or preparing for a two-week vacation, here are some guidelines for maximizing suitcase space, minimizing your load and cutting down on frustrations!
Tip #1: Mark you bags to make them easy to find
At the end of your long journey, the last thing you want to do is wait for your checked bags at baggage claim. Instead of fighting someone else or questioning whether that is your bag, mark it. I like to mark mine with bright colorful duck tape. It’s also nice to have a uniquely designed luggage tag (incase the tape comes off).
Tip #2: Are you prepared?
I like to double-triple-check everything the night before I fly anywhere. Are my bags completely packed? Is my passport, plane ticket, I.D. in my purse? I make sure everything I need for check-in at the airport is easy to access and safe. I’ve heard horror stories of friends having to rush home because they forgot their passport! After checking in, make sure you have your ID/Passport and ticket in your hand or nearby to be checked by security. As I stand in line preparing for security check, I remove my shoes (flip-flops/sandals), take off my jacket, pull out my laptop, and remove all jewelry and items from my pockets (phone, ID, keys, etc) and place them in my purse. By the time I reach the conveyer belt I’m ready to place everything in the tubs and walk through security. I don’t ever get double checked (anymore).
Tip #3: Roll, roll, roll
Want to make sure you have enough space in your checked bag? Want to keep your clothes wrinkle free and easy to find? Roll them! I like to keep my clothes separate from my other stuff so I can immediately find what I’m looking for when I go into my bag. I open my bag, find the shirt I’m looking for right on top, and shake it out.
Tip #4: Keep liquids in a quart sized bag in easy access in your carryon (For TSA check)
TSA is really picky about liquids and the security process. To make your life easier and flow smoother through security, make sure your liquid containers are no larger than 3.4 ounces and all fit into one quart sized Ziploc bag. I typically bring toothpaste, contact solution, hand sanitizer, and lotion. If you find yourself needing other toiletries you didn’t pack, they often sell them in airport shops. I like to bring an empty water bottle (these are neat https://www.walmart.com/ip/Outdoor-Products-1-0l-Foldable-Water-Bottle/23760387) so I can fill it up with my own water and not pay crazy airport prices.
Tip #5: Carry on only what you need (and value)
If, like me, you’re traveling for multiple days and hopping from one airport to another, you don’t want the extra hassle of heavy or multiple carryon bags. I have got it down to a science: a backpack and a purse. I make sure everything in my carry on is light (think collapsible or travel size). I also like to use carabiners to clip my neck pillow, blanket, jacket, etc. to the outside of my bag when I don’t want to carry them. Keep all valuables in your carry on bag in a safe place. Do not put valuables in your checked bag (ipad, phone, laptop, camera, jewelry, cash, etc.)! I use a small luggage lock on one of the zippers of my backpack to secure valuables in a particular section.
Tip #6: Don’t leave home without extra clothes
During my mission training days (2014-15), my director taught me to always bring an extra change of clothes in my carry on bag (underwear, shirt, shorts/pants, socks). He told us stories of his numerous adventures across the globe (100+ countries) and the times he was stuck living out of one pair of clothes because his luggage was lost. If you have an extra set of clothes, and have a missing bag for a few days, at least you can wear one while you wash the other.
Checked baggage fees, small overhead compartments, and long waits at baggage claim are just a few reasons it pays to pack light and be organized.
If your flight is canceled or delayed, or bags lost, (hopefully something you’ll never have to experience), having some basics in your bag can be the difference between getting on with your trip or spending a miserable night at the airport. While traveling to the Philippines I always travel as smart and conveniently as possible.
My hope is that these tips give you some insight into your own journey when it comes to travel!
Question: Are you traveling anywhere this upcoming season? I’d love to hear where you’re going and what you do to keep travel manageable. Leave a comment or write me back, I’d love to hear from you!
Full pockets or full heart...
A few weeks ago I posted a survey on Facebook “What do you think:
If I (Marah) had to choose only one type of donation to receive, who would it be from, the widow or the rich young ruler?” I had a few responses from close friends who know my heart and know how I’d answer, the widow, but my answer deserves some explanation.
In the Bible there are references to these two individuals, separate instances. In one instance, Jesus was approached by a wealthy man (the rich young ruler) and asked what he needed to do to get into heaven. Jesus told him what he already knew, to obey the 10 commandments. “I’ve done that since I was a young boy,” he said. Jesus then instructed him to go home and sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. After he did those things he could follow Jesus and get into heaven. The wealthy man was disappointed and left sad because he was attached to his money. Jesus followed up with his disciples explaining that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Ouch! (Matt 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30)
Jesus was with his disciples in the temple (church). He watched as the wealthy gave their gifts (tithes), not so impressed by their show of riches. Then, a widow women came and gave 2 small coins (pennies), all she had. Jesus nudged his disciples, did you see that woman? He explained that the wealthy gave out of their excess, after they payed their bills and treated themselves, but she gave everything she had to honor God. She gave the greater offering. (Luke 21:1-4; Mark 12:41-44) Wow!
Now, as a missionary called by God to give up everything so others may have everything they need in Him, I know the importance of having financial resources to fulfill this call. So if a wealthy man decided he wanted to give me his financial resources to be used for God’s glory, I’d be all for it. But if I had to choose the heart condition of the people I partner with to do ministry, I choose the widow who gave everything for God. I would take a couple pennies given with a pure and honest heart over thousands of dollars given by someone who wants to glorify their own name and actions.
This is truly a beautiful lesson the Lord has given us for today. We must always look at the condition of our heart. Do we do what we do to gain acceptance or show off, or do we live and give all we have to God because we love Him? I choose to have a full heart even if my pockets are empty.
When we hear the word “evangelism” it’s easy to think about sharing Christ as a thing to “do” rather than a way of life.
I get it, I’ve been there.
Often times, witnessing becomes an “event” and this mindset sticks with us even into our adult years. I remember in youth group we would make events out of passing out tracts, or going into city streets or shopping malls to pray for people, or even put together special services to invite friends to church.
I’m not putting any of those things down, but as I’ve served here in The Philippines I’ve quickly discovered different ways of sharing Christ with those around me. I thought some of these might be helpful to you:
What are some ways you’ve shared Christ with others? I’d love to know — perhaps they would help me where I’m serving now. Leave a comment or hit reply!
Something occurred to me today. We often look to “leaders” to tell us what it takes to grow our faith – pastors, speakers, authors, missionaries. But the Christian life is a personal journey, and I sometimes think we look too much to others to tell us what “growing in our faith” really means.
If I’ve learned anything from serving as a missionary in the Philippines, it’s that I’m lucky to have some of the kindest, most generous, and most genuine people in my life.
Now that you know you're appreciated and an important part of my life, I’d love to hear from you. With your input this could become an awesome resource of stories, testimonies, and even sermon illustrations.
In turn, I’d love to do whatever I can to help you. I admit I’m not always sure what that is, but I’d love to know! Whether it’s to pray, teach you more about missions, introduce you to a friend, encourage you – I want to extend a show of thanks to you.
Here’s the question: what’s the most effective thing you’ve done to grow your faith this year?
Feel free to talk about more than one, or just pick one. In any case, let’s hear it! I can’t wait to read your responses. And please don’t feel like you have to write a lengthy response. For some it might be as simple as “Listening to an audio Bible every morning on the way to work” or “Being more patient, empathetic, and Christ-like to those around me.”
If you have a longer story, by all means please share that as well. I’d just love to hear from you, and (if I’m honest) I think it would be so encouraging to me personally to hear your journey.
Here we go! Let’s hear your best answer! Thanks in advance for participating!
10 things I’ve never told you
HHappy summer! Summers are always a great time of the year: graduations, retreats, mission trips. So much of my formation happened in the summer – and so did a lot of FUN.
People often forget that serving God should be fun. No matter what we do – whether we’re working our jobs, raising our families, growing our businesses, or serving in ministry – His joy is supposed to be our strength.
So much of what’s out there these days lacks personal connection. Most people are simply afraid to really be themselves. I thought I’d have a little fun with this update, put away the polish, and share another side of me and the work we do in order to prove I’m not a robot that stays locked away working all day. Here are 10 of my own quirks, habits, and closely guarded secrets…
Hope you learned something fun about me. I’d love to hear a bit about you! Happy summer :)
As we get closer to Father’s Day, I want to share a quote I read recently:
"A man ought to live so that everybody knows he's a Christian...and most of all, his family ought to know." -D.L. Moody
I like that. It shows the importance of the foundation of the family, which ultimately sets the foundation for future generations.
I realize not every person has a great relationship with his or her father. If you and Dad get along, I hope God will remind you of some of the best moments you shared. If things are a bit tough right now, or peace between you seems impossible, I’d love to pray with you. Feel free to reply to this email.
My dad has taught me that the Holy Spirit really does change and transform us as we follow His lead. Everyday my dad does his Bible reading plan and journaling. That commitment and devotion have paid off. I have seen him grow stronger in the Lord every time I'm reunited with him. He's learned how to love God more and in return love me more.
Thanks be to dads!
Have a blessed Father’s Day, and if there’s anything I can come alongside in prayer with you, please write me back!
you aren't leading alone
I am a leader. Everyone looks to me. Without me the project/program/business/ministry will fail. I am important. I carry the burdens. I am alone.
These are thoughts or ideas that often flow through the minds of leaders. Some may not be literally thinking them, but their actions show that they believe them. What a sad way to live, with the weight of a whole organization or project on your shoulders. Unfortunately, we all come to this place at one time or another. We feel like if we don't get it done, it won't happen. I've been there, I confess. Have you?
As a missionary, I've many times taken the burden of the call on my life as something only I could accomplish. I have carried many burdens of the ministry in secret and it takes its toll on my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. I've been at the place where I thought that sharing my burdens with others or asking for help will burden or inconvenience them, so I hold it all in. I've also had the times where I do ask people to help, but they do it all "wrong" and teaching them to do it the way I like is more trouble than it's worth.
This way of living, thinking, believing leads to burnout as a leader. For me, being only 2 years on the mission field, I want to avoid burnout at any cost. I desire to have a long full life serving God and others on the mission field and am not ready to stop now. So what is the answer to overcome this hoarding of burdens and responsibilities?
My answer came in this picture recently posted by our ministry leaders in the Philippines...
This is our kids ministry celebrating their 3rd annual VBS!
This photo brings me bittersweet feelings.Since I am currently in the US, I'm missing out on the planning, execution, and joy of this glorious event. However, the sweetness comes from seeing and knowing that the leaders I've been teaching and pouring my heart into during the past 2 years have done a wonderful job.
I am not currently needed to run the kids ministry right now and that's ok. It brings me joy in knowing that the past 2 years of discipleship have produced fruit and the work continues in my absence. Glory be to God!
I believe (and am learning constantly) that when we as leaders take a step back and allow God to move through us and in spite of us, then we will see God's glory revealed and his Kingdom established throughout the earth.
I want to be involved in it all, leading alone, but I must have the wisdom and humility in knowing that the journey with others is much more abundant than journeying alone
Scripture. There’s nothing as life-giving as God’s Word, and during my time in ministry I’ve tried to apply “The Hand” illustration to making Scripture an everyday part of my life.
If you haven’t heard of “The Hand” the premise is that each of these 5 practices gives you a strong “grip” on the Word of God, as if each of these represent one of your fingers (and thumb, of course):
While I try my best to quote Scripture the most, I’ve also been encouraged and inspired by several quotes I’ve read in books or heard in sermons throughout the years.
These don’t take the place of Scripture (obviously!) but these quotes have given me perspective, hope, and encouragement in my day-to-day life, and I hope they do the same for you wherever you are reading this from.
“With God, I can do all things! But with God and you, and the people who you can interest, by the grace of God, we're gonna cover the world!” - Aimee Semple McPherson
“Are you willing to stay right where you are and let the Lord do great things through you, though no one may seem to notice at all?”
"Never underestimate the power of speaking the same Word God speaks" -Brian Houston
"The Gospel is not about earning and deserving but about believing and receiving" -Benny Perez
"Do it afraid!" -Mary Pense (Mom)
If you’re looking for some other great reads, don’t forget to check out my previous article: 3 of My Favorite Books-Have You Read Any of These?
What are some of your favorite quotes? I’d love to hear them – share below!
Three years ago, I was preparing to head onto the mission field. Life was fast, full of expectations, and often a unique mix of exhilaration, sleepless nights, and a lot of prayer!
One thing that God used to anchor me through that season of transition was a good book. Actually, there were several!
If you’re in a season of transition, looking to deepen your walk, or just want a good read, consider checking these out. There are tons of great titles out there, but these were really meaningful to me.
Book 1: The Circle Maker
Mark Batterson shares a perfect blend of biblical yet practical advice that will revolutionize your prayer life by giving you a new vocabulary and a new methodology. You'll see how prayer is your secret weapon. Batterson teaches about how to create prayer lists unique to your family, claim God-inspired promises, turn your family circle into a prayer circle, and discover your life themes. And he not only tells you how, he illustrates why.
One of my favorite quotes from this book was “Reading is the way you get through the Bible; prayer is the way you get the Bible through you.” If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.
Book 2: The Impressionist
Middle aged, disappointed and self-loathing, Adam Camp is anything but the picture of a successful man. With his wife threatening to leave him and their son addicted to drugs, Adam teeters on the verge of absolute despair—questioning his own existence and purpose for living. After an explosive argument with his wife, Adam searches for an escape as he sets out on a journey that will dramatically recolor his world. While walking through the city park, Adam is approached by an old painter. The mysterious artist convinces Adam to let him paint his portrait and what happens next is nothing short of a masterpiece.
One of my favorite quotes from this book was “But when you truly know who you are, that His spirit is in you, you recognize that certain self-defeating, even sinful, actions are not consistent with who you really are.” If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.
Book 3: Love Does
Bob Goff has become something of a legend, and his friends consider him the world's best-kept secret. Those same friends have long insisted he write a book. What follows are paradigm shifts, musings, and stories from one of the world’s most delightfully engaging and winsome people. What fuels his impact? Love. But it's not the kind of love that stops at thoughts and feelings. Bob's love takes action. Bob believes Love Does. When Love Does, life gets interesting. Each day turns into a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance that makes faith simple and real. Each chapter is a story that forms a book, a life. And this is one life you don't want to miss.Light and fun, unique and profound, the lessons drawn from Bob's life and attitude just might inspire you to be secretly incredible, too.
One of my favorite quotes from this book was “We were all meant to save many lives. God is always trying to save lives, and it seems like He usually uses the least likely people to do it.” If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.
What are some of your favorites? I’d love to hear them — especially if you’re in a season of transition. Leave a comment below!
Vision testing: can you see this?
I have poor eyesight. Any object more than two feet away from my eyes is blurry. I started wearing glasses at the age of 13. As soon as I was old enough I switched to contacts. I prefer wearing contacts instead of glasses because it makes me feel free, like I can really see. When I wear contacts I forget I have poor eyesight. I feel normal, healthy. I used to sleep with my contacts and wake up being able to see, as if nothing was wrong with my eye sight. With glasses, it’s a different story. I have to put them on each morning and take them off at night.
Lately I’ve been wearing glasses a lot more often instead of my contacts. I found a cute new pair that I really enjoy, so that helps. This morning, as I woke up, I started preparing things around my place getting ready for the day. I’m not a morning person, which means I’m awfully slow and a little dazed when I first wake up. I headed down stairs to get water and food to make breakfast and I realized something was wrong. The stairs were a little harder to handle this morning and I couldn’t really get my bearings. I felt dizzy. Then it hit me, “I’m not wearing my glasses”. For me, I couldn’t get very far without realizing I needed my glasses. I just couldn’t see very much and would feel out of sorts.
I wonder how often that happens to us in our spiritual lives, when we forget our vision. Many times we can become spiritually near sighted, focused only on those things right in front of our faces, what we CAN see. By faith God asks us to look beyond our own sight and see his plans and purposes for us. I see the Holy Spirit as our glasses, or contacts, the vehicle through which we can have the vision of God. We are limited in our human understanding and view of what’s ahead, but God is limitless. By His Spirit we can see what He sees. Isn’t that exciting?! There is so much more ahead that we as people cannot even imagine, but God gives us the ability to know it as well, if we come to Him and desire to see through His eyes.
One tragedy for the Body of Christ is when we lose our vision. We take off our spiritual glasses and forget to put them back on. We walk around with limited understanding and insight, while we have the capability to see boundlessly and eternally. Maybe it’s time for us to get Lasik surgery, a transformation of our vision. I deeply desire to know the ways and vision of God beyond my limits. I know God has an even greater desire for us, His bride, to have his vision and heart.
Coming of age
This week I had the blessed opportunity of attending my very first Debut! A debut is a celebration in the Philippines when a girl turns 18 years old. It’s similar to a quinceanera in Latin American culture, or sweet 16 in American culture. In Filipino culture, the debut is a coming of age ceremony when a young girl blossoms into woman hood. 18 was the theme of the celebration. There were three different groups of 18 special people in the debutant’s life. One group of 18 came one by one and presented gifts with a short speech appreciating the debutant. Another group presented candles and wishes for the debutant in her life ahead. The final group of 18 were young men who presented roses and danced with the debutant. Of course there was also food and games included in the festivities.
This beautiful young lady, the debutant, is a member of my church and a singer on our worship team. In January she joined our worship training at church and made a commitment to grow spiritually and musically for the sake of serving God and the church through worship. I’ve had the opportunity to watch her grow in this short time from a shy quiet girl hiding in the background to a beautiful young lady who has a powerful voice and pure heart.
I was surprised and so honored when she invited me to her debut. I’ve always desired to partake in as many Filipino cultural experiences as possible, and attending a debut was definitely on the list. I found the perfect present, got all dolled up, and went expecting a great time. I was even more surprised when I was approached and asked to have a part in the ceremony! I was given the privilege of presenting one of the 18 candles along with a wish.
My heart was so full as I approached the beautiful debutant and shared my delight in knowing her. As tears poured from her eyes I realized my place in her life. She looks up to me. My words and opinion of her have value. Yes, I am her leader and my intention has always been to disciple and guide her, along with the others, but I never know what they truly receive from me. I set out in obedience and hope for the best. Being there that night with her closest friends and family memebers really meant a lot to me. She gave me permission to speak into her life and celebrate the happy occasions with her. I am in awe!
Through this blessing, I realize that we all have a coming of age time in our lives, even multiple times. Yes, we grow older physically, but I’m thinking about our spiritual growth. How do we celebrate the milestones God has given us? Do we invite Him to our special celebrations? What promise or encouraging Word has He spoken over your life? Do you know His place in your life? Does He add value to you? So many thoughts that require much attention and some soul searching.
For me, I realize that my value gives value to others. As I grow in the Lord and know myself as He knows me, I can then confidently share that same love and value to others. Like the debutant, I no longer want to live in the quiet, hidden shadows of the past. I want to come out and be known as the beautiful woman I am, the one I was created to be.
Friends in high places
You know the saying, “I’ve got friends in high places”? Well isn’t that just characteristic of today’s society. Success is the goal and the way to get there is by climbing up the “ladder”. Most people in the business world will tell you that the best way to get where you want to go in life is by knowing the right people. If you look at modern terminology or technology you’ll see this concept is main stream. Social media sites offer connections to anyone around the world. Networking is a necessity if you want to gain any influence outside of your own. Even in the fund raising world, the experts split people into categories of successful and reliable givers. The goal there is to seek out people with influence and connections.
In in many ways this way of doing things is beneficial. I mean it builds relationships right? Sometimes, however, relationships are built for the wrong reasons. There also is a constant burden of finding the right connections. Example, I want to start a project in a third world country that meets the needs of hundreds of homeless kids. It’s a great idea with great vision, but where do I get the resources from? Connections. Now I need to step out and seek out funding, find a venue and volunteers to facilitate this project. In my mind it’s urgent and I’d like to see it kick off in the next month, but that’s probably not the reality. First, I need to sell the idea to potential supporters so they can see the benefit of investing into my project.
Thinking of the many “hoops” I need to jump through in order to survive on the mission field causes my head to ache and my heart to sink. With a constant reminder of making connections and raising funds, I sometimes lose my passion for serving. I was thinking about this the other day and the phrase “friends in high places” came to mind. That would be nice, I thought. Then I realized, I do. I have the greatest friend in the highest place, Jesus.
How could I forget that the very creator of the universe and everyone/thing in it is my friend? I know that, but I don’t really know it, if that makes sense. Just like we go about everyday with sickness and weakness in our bodies knowing God is the healer, but we aren’t receiving healing. Or we live in a constant state of stress and anxiety while knowing God is our peace. What if we really acted as though Jesus is our friend in high places? We would see the miraculous unlike ever before. There would never in need. Every burden and trial would be taken care of and we would experience Victory after Victory.
That is is exactly what the Word of God says we have:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Just as Jesus said in the verses above, if we do what He commands, we are His friends. That’s it. Simple, yet a struggle to come against our own wills and flesh to line up with God’s. The sacrifice, the obedience, is so worth it. We can be friends of God and receive everything He has for us, if only we give up our own ways. I want that. How about you?
When you're truly free...
When you're truly free, you're truly you. Living a life full of challenges and problems causes you to see yourself as a problem. We entitle ourselves by what we see or experience to be "true" about ourselves. The problem is we are labling ourselves when we are experiences these problems. Imaging seeing a dog on the street that has chunks of hair missing, has lots of wounds, and is really thin. You might take a look at the dog and think it has diseases or is dangerous, but because you never take the time to get to know anything about the dog, you would never know the truth of its story. Same goes with us. We often judge by appearance or experience. This is especially true for ourselves. We might say, "I don't have really close friends that are there when I need them, I'm still single, I don't get all the attention..." so we instantly conclude that we aren't good enough. That's when the label starts and we add to it everytime we have another negative experience.
I've come to learn that defining yourself while you're feeling aweful and burdened is never good. You will never see yourself as your true self. Don't define yourself when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. You will only be seeing yourself as that weight. You need to be free first. Once all of those negative thoughts and feelings are gone and your mind is clear, you can really get to know who you are. After the heavy loads are lifted and you know what you know to be true, ask yourself the question, "who am I?"
When worship takes over
What happens when a third of your church wants to join the worship team? At first, the worship director or coordinator (or whatever name you give them) feels overwhelmed and prays A LOT! At least that was my experience three weeks ago.
Our church, Hope for the Nations, here in Antipolo, Philippines, is about to turn 3 years (Feb 26). When you plant a church, you start everything from the ground up. For us that was very literal in many ways, including the church building, which is still being completed piece by piece as we gain funds. This means a lot of discipleship and teaching people the very basics of the Bible, the foundations of our faith, and how to faithfully serve God and others. These tasks aren't for the faint of heart, but for those truly desiring to serve God and others by growing the body of Christ by doing life with people in the tough times and victories alike.
This past year we've added a lot of structure to our programs and ways of doing things, such as the worship team. Establishing a Kingdom culture (the Kingdom of God) in our church and amongst our people is very important to us. Like we pray every Sunday, "...Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." So, we've taken those Kingdom principals like faithfulness (shown through being on time and consistent), honesty (sharing the truth in love, not gossiping), discipline (correcting and rebuking in righteousness), and have applied them to our teams. With a set time every week for devotions, followed by practice, we've developed a rhythm as a team. We even just put into place a code of conduct for this year that clearly details our pledge to God, the church, ourselves, and others as worship team members.
I was finally beginning to feel like I was just starting to reap the benefits of all of the hard work of discipling and building a worship team. Those feelings barely settled in before I was presented with another challenge, to add to the worship team. I would have a meeting where we would invite whoever was interested to join the worship team and then take them through a process of training and discipleship as they transition onto the team. Not again! I thought I had just done that and now it was time again, so soon, and with those who spoke less English and were even less discipled than those before.
I took a step of faith, trusting God that he would give me the things I needed to know to lead this next group. So I had our worship team inquiry meeting after church and 30 people showed up, all under the age of 25 and more than half under the age of 18. I was shocked! My heart was probably even palpitating. How was I going to lead 30 people on a worship team, and most of them kids?! I told them how strict I was and that they needed to follow the rules and how worship was not a show or a chance for fame. Even then all 30, maybe even a few extra, showed up the next Sunday for devotions. I was used to the small group of 5 that we had had for the past 9 months, now there was 6 times as many.
I went into a time of much prayer over that next week and even told my prayer partner on Thursday about the huge obstacle I was facing. To my surprise, she was excited. She said, "how many churches can say that a third of their church wants to be a part of the worship team?". She also mentioned how it showed their heart for worship. She even encouraged me to write about this and share it with others (this is because of you Evangeline). It gave me a new perspective on the situation. Yes, there were probably some people who joined with the wrong motive, but the fact that they had a desire to serve on the worship team says something about their hearts.
I know that over time the group will get smaller as people's hearts are revealed and faithfulness is tested and proven, but this powerful message prevails. God created us for worship and I believe that that longing is deep within us all. So how can we cultivate that longing in people for the glory of God? How can we help people see that that desire is natural and is to be used to worship God? How, through it all, can we help people experience the power and majesty of God on earth as it is in heaven?
Pray for us as we train these young people spiritually, in discipline, and musically! May the fruit of our faithfulness and trust in God be great and abundant.
Arising from the Fog
As the fog lifts, I can think clearly again. I've gone through seasons recently where I felt as though my mind was in a fog. I had thoughts and feelings but they were numb. I buried them deep inside, not having the energy to entertain them or work through them. You would think that as a counselor I should know better and deal with my thoughts and emotions in a healthier way. Even though God has given me the gift, skill, and training in counseling, I am not disqualified from being human and feeling the weight of life on my shoulders.
So, what does this fog look like? Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to understand or empathize with. For me, it feels like emptiness. Like feeling alone in a crowd. Like there is something missing when I should be satisfied. It causes me to ignore all of the beneficial resources in my life, like writing, reading God's Word for my benefit, and having deep conversations. It draws me into an ever constant desire to sleep. Once the opportunity for sleep comes, it is disrupted by constant dreams that try to process the unattended thoughts of the day. If feels like an ongoing cycle that will never end.
Why is this happening? Is it me? Did I do something to provoke it? Is it because I am spending less time with God? No, it's not. I'm serving God and people everyday. We communicate and I read His Word and pray. This is not exclusively a heathen problem. It's not a problem that arises out of an issue of sin in my life. It's a fight, a battle.
Our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies long for closeness and understanding. We seek out relationship, even if we deny we need it. The problem, for me, arises when I don't attend to the relationship with myself. I know that sounds odd, a relationship with yourself? Think about it. We were created to be relational. We relate with everything in our environment, whether positive or negative. Why shouldn't we intentionally try to relate to ourselves? One verse from the Bible that gives me evidence of this is "Love your neighbor as yourself", Mark 12:31. Now, how are we supposed to love our neighbor if we don't love ourselves? How can we love ourselves if we don't know or relate to ourselves.
Relating to myself means knowing what I like and don't, taking care of, not only physical, but emotional and spiritual needs, and allowing myself to think, believe, and dream, not only do. I find myself in this fog when my life gets out of balance. When other people get more of my time, attention, energy, and effort than I do. This is not a selfish concept. Yes, the Bible talks about putting others first, but this is not to the detirment of yourself. Look at the life of Jesus. Did he abuse himself, neglecting his own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs? No, it's exactly the opposite. He stole away time to be with God and renew his mind and spirit. He cared for his own needs as well as the disciples'. Whenever they ate, he ate. He had the perfect balance for his life. He knew who he was and respected himself. He denied his flesh, the part of his nature as man that was trying to overtake his nature as God. We are called to do the same, not to deny our healthy needs and desires that were placed within us by God.
I'm not immune to the fog, or to sin, but I am aware of it. When I allow the Holy Spirit to have His way in my thinking, knowing, and believing, that's when I'm free and can clearly see. Now I will press forward with the intent of knowing me, the one God created in His own image. Because I know that in knowing and loving me, I can know and love others better. As I learn about the me that God created and intended for me to be, I learn more about Him, the one I am designed after. I hope you will choose to do the same.
Don't Let Your Brother Fall Alone
I've had these thoughts burning in my mind and heart over the last couple of weeks, as I now attempt to find the words they shall be shared. On the mission field, even in life in general, I find myself around people from every walk of life. I find those who love Jesus and are passionately pursuing Him with their lives. I also find those who despise the Truth and want nothing to do with it. I would have to say, though, that the most troubling type of people are those who know and accept Jesus, but do not serve Him wholeheartedly. I see this all too often, especially on social media accounts, where in one post a person praises the Lord and in the next they say hateful things about someone else. There are countless passages in the Bible that come against this way of living. It hurts me so much to see people living double lives, when I know the kind oflife they could have when they submit themselves fully to God. What really concerns me is that as the Body of Christ we let our brothers and sisters continue to live this way without correction. I've really been convicted by this lately. As I see or hear of someone doing something contrary to the Word of God, I often let it happen and complain out it later, or even shake my head in disbelief. What kind of example am I being to my brother or sister, while watching them live in sin without bringing any form of correction?
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
LTimothy clearly gives us the solution and example by which to live in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Do we want our friends, family, church, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ to be thoroughly equipped, living a good and fruitful life? I know that I do. I'm deciding to apply the Biblical principles I've learned from childhood and to walk with my brothers and sisters in love and in correction. When I see a post on social media that is not uplifting or spoken in truth, I'm not going to respond with an angry emoji, disapproving comment, or unfriend the person. Instead I will pray for them and ask God for wisdom in how to respond in a way that encourages, corrects, and uplifts them in the way of the Lord.
I aspire to be like Jesus every day. This is yet other step and a great way to walk in love with others. Not letting my brothers or sisters fall alone or be easily deceived by the devil, but walking arm in arm with them with the Truth as our guide.
Why Did God Let This Happen?!
In our humanity many people come to a point in their life when they say or think the following sentiment, "why did God let (or allow this to) happen?" I heard someone say this recently and my heart sunk. My instant thoughts are, "what if God did not allow things to happen, what would we say then?" Think about it. What if could was controlling and overprotective and ruled with an iron fist, like we sometimes expect He ought to when we pose the aforementioned statement? What if every time we went to do or say something wrong God jumped in and stopped us? I can say for myself that I would be angry and resentful. I want freedom! Freedom to be me. I also want to be trusted. I want God to trust me with the instructions He has given me, knowing that I can follow through without His constant correction.
You see, bad (and good) things happen because God grants us one of the best gifts available, FREEDOM! The old testament is full of examples of living life according to the law. The Israelites were just as stubborn and frustrated with God then as many of us are today. Jesus paid the ultimate price of salvation for our freedom, so each one of us can choose whether or not we want to be obedient. That's why bad and good things happen to everyone, all the time. People make choices and their choices affect themselves and the people around them.
Listen to what the Bible says about our freedom:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Wow the Bible compares the opposite of freedom to being in a yoke of slavery! Think of that, if God did not give you freedom of choice and life through Christ's suffering you would still be living bound in chains and controlled by someone else.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Romans 8:15
Again, we see that the opposite of freedom is slavery and fear. God, through Christ's sacrifice, gave us freedom and adopted us into His family. Without freedom we could not be called children of God. God does not control, manipulate, or abuse His children. He gives us the opportunity to learn from Him and follow in His footsteps without constantly checking in on or correcting our steps along the way.
So I choose to thank God for His gift of freedom; that I can choose and others can choose how to live life. When bad things happen, as they will, I will choose to run to God as my help, and not condemn Him for what has happened. When good things happen, as they will, I will choose to run to God and thank Him for His goodness and faithfulness. For everything that is good comes from God.
"Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow." James 1:17