Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Little Girl Dreams

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a missionary doctor to the deep, dark jungles of Africa.  I remember going to church and learning about the “glamorous” life of missionaries all over the world.  I got to taste foreign foods from faraway lands.  I distinctly recall the first time I had kiwi J  How was I to know as a 5 year old (or however old I was) that I could get the fruit at the local grocery store?!  I pictured myself traveling by boat on a crocodile-invested river to some remote village, eating juicy kiwi with the dark-skinned people in the tribe.

As I grew up, I felt God calling me to become NOT a missionary doctor but a teacher. I still longed to work with children who were underprivileged and did NOT have access to the plethora of goodies here in the United States.  I actually wanted nothing to do with the United States.  The materialism sickened me.  The sense of entitlement made me nauseous.  The abundance of resources infuriated me.  We had so much and yet so many all over the world were starving, dying.  Children were abandoned, neglected.  And I wanted to love them.  To give them hope and joy.  To show them God had a purpose for them.

During my 4 years in college, I lived in Chicago.  Being in the inner city softened my heart, and I began to see that children (and families) right here in the United States were facing difficulties they couldn’t overcome.  Not on their own.  My heart was being pulled to work in the inner city, teaching those who others had given up on and left behind.  I wanted to reach down and pick these precious boys and girls out of the cracks and love on them.  To assure them they too were amazing and beautiful and smart and capable and skilled and talented and full of potential.

However, I couldn’t shake the desire to serve overseas.  When I graduated in 2005, I was almost fully funded for a 2 year term in Haiti.  I would be working with Kids Alive International, helping write curriculum and train the teachers at the school set up for the boys and girls in the Children’s Homes.  I was eager to make a difference.  I was also na├»ve.  I seriously thought I would be able to change the entire school system in such a short time.  Very soon, though, I realized how LONG that process would take.  I did my best to simply love on the boys and girls in the homes, teaching them how to THINK and how to live life to the full.  When I left, my heart was broken.  I hadn’t witnessed the change I so desperately longed to see.  But, I know in the depths of my soul, I DID make a difference while I was there those 2 years.

Lawrence and I went back to Haiti to visit in 2010 – shortly after the massive earthquake that ravaged Port-au-Prince.  We were asked to take over for the directors who were retiring.  We would be in charge of the school, a perfect fit given our education background and experience as teachers here in the US.  We did not, however, feel a peace about this decision.  We DID feel God pulling at our hearts to do something though.  So we became foster parents and opened our home and hearts for 2 years.

At the end of those 2 years, we felt God release us from that ministry and move us on to something new – being present in our community.  We have opened our home to the school kids, hosting a Bible study every Sunday night.  We invite these kiddos and students from Lawrence’s school to Ponca every year.  We KNOW this is what God has called us to do, for now. 

We also sense that He is asking us to be open and available for MORE, for something NEW.  When Mark and Christy Sharp invited us to go with them to Ethiopia, my heart leapt for joy.  I immediately said yes and would have started packing my bags that night.  Lawrence needed a little bit more time to get used to the idea, but is definitely ready now (he better be since we leave on Sunday).  Going to Africa for the first time is a HUGE dream come true!  I may not be going as a doctor, or traveling to any deep, dark jungles (that I know of).  Instead, I am going as a wife and mother, a former teacher, a wrap girl. 

I am not worried about the poverty I will see in Ethiopia.  I lived in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere for 2 years.  I have seen poverty at its worst.  No, the hard part is going to be visiting the orphanages and seeing so many beautiful boys and girls who don’t have a family, no one to call their own.  And my heart is going to split into thousands of pieces.  I am going to want to bring them ALL home with us.  I am crying as I type, just thinking about their eyes looking back at me…

My prayer is to be able to start the adoption process this fall.  I realize it can take up to 2-3 years, or more, to actually bring the child home and for everything to be finalized.  I have already started praying for my brown-skinned kiddos.  Yep, kiddos.  Plural.  Our prayer is to adopt TWO.  We have room in our house, and we have room in our hearts. 

Do you realize that if every Christian family would adopt ONE child, there would be NO more orphans?  NONE.

God has adopted us into His family.  Sending His one and only Son to die in our place on the cross.  He has forgiven us our sins and made us clean, pure, whole.  He has invited us into His presence.  He has promised us an inheritance that will NEVER perish.  He has loved us when we didn’t deserve it.  He has looked past our dirt and boogers.  He has reached down and taken us out of poverty, placing us in His marvelous light and calling us His own.  We are sons and daughters of the KING!  And that is beautiful.

If God has done that for me, should I not also be willing to do the same for others? 

But here’s the deal.  Going on an overseas missions trip is NOT cheap.  Nor is adopting a child.  Let alone TWO.  Granted, those may not be the dreams you have.  God may be working in your heart to do something entirely different.  And that is OKAY.  In fact, it is GOOD.  He has given us each specific talents and abilities and interests.  Only as we each become the people God has created us to be can we carry out His overarching plan.  And an amazing, outstanding, incredible plan it is.  Really not enough adjectives in the world to describe it….

Whatever your dream or passion, there is a cost.  And so sometimes – far too many times if we are honest - we let a price tag keep us from living out our dreams, from pursuing the passions God has placed on our hearts.  We get caught up in paying bills, feeding the family, keeping up with the Jones’s.  We get distracted.  Discouraged.  Defeated.  We abandon our dreams and our passions fizzle out. 

And that enrages me.  I want to punch Satan in the face so badly.  I want to kick him in the gut.  I want to lock him up and throw away the key.  All that is coming – in due time.  BUT, for now, the enemy is unleashed and wreaking havoc all over the world.  He convinces us to settle.  He whispers in our ear and LIES to us and DECEIVES us and gets us to believe him.  We start to think our dreams are unattainable, crazy, silly, far-fetched, impossible. So we don’t even try!

Too many of us live mediocre lives.  Without even realizing it.

Satan is good.  He has blinded us. 
We are like those proverbial frogs in the hot water.  He has slowly turned up the heat and before long we are going to croak…

I for one do NOT want to end up as frog legs on Satan’s dinner plate.  So, I am jumping out of the water.  I am RUNNING in the opposite direct.  I am learning to be the EAGLE God created me to be, soaring to new heights.

Hence, Lawrence and I are going to Ethiopia while I am 20 weeks pregnant.  We could have let the baby be an “excuse.”  It’s not safe for me to travel.  I am sick nearly every day.  We have 3 young children – what if something happens to us?  I could go on and on about why we possibly shouldn’t go.  But, I can show you picture after picture after picture after picture of precious boys and girls in the orphanages we will visit.  You tell them we aren’t coming.  You do it. I can’t.

Yes, there was a price tag for this trip.  It was NOT free.  $6,000 didn’t just fall in our laps.  Granted, GOD did provide.  And of course He did it in a way I never would have imagined.  EVER.  Not once growing up as I dreamed of going to Africa, did I consider God would use a wrap and greens (and other natural health products) to get me there.  But He has.

I also truly believe He will use those same means to provide us with the $50,000 to $60,000 we need to bring home our African babies (children).  Liberty schools are amazing, but no way they are going to foot that bill.  Lawrence isn’t getting that big of a raise any time in the near future – or ever – no matter how hard he works and how amazing he is with the students in his classroom.  Daycare wasn’t going to cut it either.  But this It Works gig – now THAT can do it.  It IS doing it. 

Hence, I post and talk about wraps and greens all the time.  Not only have they changed my life personally, but they are making it possible for me to live out my childhood dreams.  I am going to Africa THIS week!

So, please don’t tell me It Works is a scam or that people don’t really make money with the business or whatever else.  I won’t listen.  I will board a plane to Ethiopia. 

What are YOUR dreams?  YOUR passions?
What is keeping you from them?

If you are really honest the answer is NOT money.  Or time.  Or whatever else you can come up with to tell me.  This might hurt a bit.  Be ready for the sting.  I say this in LOVE.  The biggest (and probably only TRUE) obstacle to your dreams coming true is YOU…

You have watched me for 2.5 years now.  I think that is long enough to realize I am serious about this – it wasn’t a fling.  I think that is long enough to realize it has helped our family and changed our lives.  I think that is long enough for you to see the products really do make a difference in people’s lives.  I think that is long enough for you to WATCH me.  It’s time for you to JOIN me. 

            Again, I don’t know what your dreams are or what specific passions are on your heart.  But I do KNOW with all my heart that It Works can take care of the price tag part.  This business can allow you the financial freedom to do all those things you want to do but can’t – for whatever reasons you want to give me.

            Please don’t miss out on something huge and incredible and mind-blowing.  Please don’t let this blessing pass over you because it’s different or not what you expected or something you wouldn’t have imagined.  THAT would be a shame…

            Well, I think I have about poured my heart out now.  I better go do some laundry and think about actually PACKING.  I do leave for Ethiopia in about 80 hours…

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Let's Finish This Together

Yesterday, I shared about running the relay race of LIFE.
To do that I stressed how important listening to the RIGHT voice is.
We are bombarded with voices - NOISE - every single day from so many different sources:

*You can't
*You aren't enough
*You don't measure up
*You need more
*You fall short
*You're going to fail
*You're crazy to think you could succeed at that (whatever that is)
*You're fat
*You're ugly
*You're stupid or dumb or slow
*You're not like everyone else
*You don't fit it
*You don't belong

I am sure I could keep going.
But, I bet you get the idea.
We hear the voices enough we don't need any more reminders.

However, we MUST stop listening to these voices.
They are LYING to us.
Deceiving us.
Tricking us.
Suffocating us.
Destroying us.

BUT, they do NOT have to.
We do NOT have to listen.
Remember, we get to CHOOSE which voice we listen to and believe.
Yesterday, I challenged us to tune out the lies and to open our ears ONLY to the voice of TRUTH.

As we reject the lies and let the truth penetrate our hearts, we begin to change.
We start to believe

*I can
*I AM enough
*I DO measure up
*I have ALL I need
*I can reach my goals
*I can succeed
*I may be crazy but I KNOW this can happen (whatever this is)
*I am healthy
*I am beautiful
*I am smart
*I am unique and don't need to be like everyone else
*I am going to celebrate my personality and gifts and abilities
*I have something special to offer
*I am needed
*I can make a difference
*I can change the world

If you are starting out on this journey, I strongly suggest you speak these TRUTHS to yourself over and over, every day.  Post them on your fridge, on your mirror, on your desk, in your car, wherever you are going to see them on a regular basis.  Read them out loud.  As you voice these POSITIVE thoughts, you will begin to realize they aren't just words.  They are TRUTH.

I know that might sound silly or strange, but give it a try.
See what happens to your heart and soul after a week of tuning out the lies and letting the TRUTH seep into the deepest part of you.

I bet you will be more inspired to run the race of life.
And not only that but to help others run with you.

You might feel like the weakest leg on the relay team, but remember even the 3rd leg (usually the slowest leg of the 4 on a relay team) is essential to the team's success.  If that 3rd leg decides not to run or only gives a half-hearted effort, no way will the team do well.  BUT, if that 3rd leg goes out there and does the best he/she can, the team wins - no matter what place they finish.

FINISHING is the key.
It is the most important part to the race of life.

Well, I might have to retract that.
I think HOW we run is pretty crucial too.

Sometimes, though, life is HARD.
Going on seems to be too much.
We convince ourselves that we need a break, just a little rest before we get up and go on our way again.  We start to slow down and all too often stop all together.

Without realizing what is happening, we get sidetracked and never get back on the track.
Life passes before us without meaning or purpose.
We feel lost.
We start to listen to the wrong voices again.

THIS is why we shouldn't run alone.
We NEED each other.

I remember back in high school when our volleyball coach would make the team run a timed mile.  To earn a spot on the team you had to complete the mile in a certain time.  I don't remember the exact times, but I know to be on varsity you had to run a little faster than you did to secure a spot on JV.  Of course, I wanted to be on the "A" team.  So, I ran my heart out.

I am more of a sprinter - or at least I was at the time.  Now, I LOVE to get out and run and run (completed my first half marathon last year and am already planning to run another one and maybe even a FULL marathon in 2016 after baby #4 is born).  Back in the day, though, long distance was NOT my forte.

I WAS competitive though.  I made a goal to stay up with the top runners on the team.  And I did for the first HALF mile.  As we turned around and headed back down the street (we ran in the small town where our high school was located), I began to grow weary.  My legs were TIRED.  I began to tell myself there was NO way I could continue going at this speed.

Before I could slow down to catch my breath, my team mate Natalie came along side me and grabbed my hand.  "Let's finish this together," she encouraged.  And so she literally drug me along as we looked forward to the end of the mile.  Every block she would whisper, "We'll walk at the next street," but when we passed the next street sign we did NOT stop to walk or even slow down.  Instead, I feel like we got FASTER at each intersection!  As we finally reached our coach waiting at the "finish line," we collapsed, exhausted.  I wanted to scream at Natalie, but I didn't have any extra breath to spare.  I wanted to be mad at her, but then I saw my time written on the clipboard.  It was a PR (personal record).  I had gotten my BEST time ever, all because Natalie ran with me - or MADE me run with her!

Several weeks later when we did another timed mile (had to prove we could KEEP our spot), I didn't have to hold Natalie's hand or have her pull me along.  I was able to run "on my own" and still finish well.  You see, after that race, I KNEW what I was capable of, that I COULD run faster than I thought, that I COULD keep up with the top runners (well, mabye just a tad behind them)!

Had Natalie passed me by that day, though, I don't know if that would be the case.
Actually, I know it would NOT be.
I would have stopped to walk.
Yes, I still would have finished, but not nearly as fast and certainly not with a personal best.

I am here to grab your hand.
To encourage you.
To lift you up.
Support you.
Let you know you CAN do this.
I believe in you (even if you don't believe in yourself, yet).
I am right here with you.

"Let's run together!"

For only as we run hand in hand can we truly win at this race of life!
We must EACH do our part.
And give it our best.
THEN, pass the baton to the next generation so they too can run THEIR leg of the race.
We set the example for them, though.
HOW we run does matter.
Others are watching.  Learning.  From US.

What are we teaching them?
What words are we speaking into their lives?
Even more importantly, what do our ACTIONS say?

Do we sound like the mixed up messages of the world, the LIES?
Or do we reinforce the voice of TRUTH?

In my next blog, I want to talk more about leaving a legacy for the future generation.
For NOW, let's remember this - as we run the race of life, we NEED each other.
We are a TEAM.

So, grab my hand.
"Let's finish this together!"

Monday, June 8, 2015

Voices in My Head

A couple weeks ago, I had a morning all to myself.
NO kids.

So, I enjoyed a smoothie at Starbucks (free, thanks to a gift card) and blogged my heart out.  I shared how God is challenging me to be BOLD and COURAGEOUS.

I posted about how we DEFINE courage.

Then, I shared how if we are going to be used of God, to LET Him work in our lives, we need to be willing to do things His way.  And that more often than not means we have to DARE TO BE DIFFERENT.

Next, I talked about how God doesn't really care about our earthly qualifications.  In fact, He tends to use those we LEAST expect, those who SEEM to be the LEAST equipped, the LEAST prepared, the LEAST qualified.  But it's not about us anyway.  It's ALL about HIM!

I have been swamped with life and didn't have a chance to continue my series on courageous living.  Today, though, I decided to set some other responsibilities aside and focus on what God is speaking in my heart.  I feel like He is nudging me to share NOW, not later.  TODAY, not tomorrow.

So, here goes...

Do you ever doubt?
Hesitate about a decision you need to make?
Shrink back when you feel like you are supposed to stand up or say something?
Make excuses?
Play it safe?

Yeah, me too.

If we are honest with ourselves, we ALL worry about what others will think if we live out our faith.
We FEAR what people's opinions about us, about our choices, about our lifestyle may be.

And so we try to fit in, go with the flow.
We don't want to stand out or draw attention to ourselves.
We don't want people to get the wrong idea about us.
We don't want to be misunderstood.
We don't want to be judged.
We don't want people to think we are radical or crazy or weird.
We don't want to be different.

Instead, we try to blend in.
We HIDE our lights rather than letting them shine (know that little kid song?  still applies for us as adults! So no more putting your light under a bushel...)

When we do this, we THINK we are playing it safe.
We are GRAVELY mistaken.
In reality, we are MISSING OUT!


Remember that list of people we looked at the other day - those heros of faith?

If you want to read about MORE men and women who lived out their faith courageously and boldly, check out Hebrews 11!

What if they had played it safe?
What if they had tried to fit in?
What if they had worried about what people would think?
What if they had been too afraid to be different?
What if they had let FEAR keep them from BECOMING who God had created them to be?

Not only would THEY have missed out, but WE would have too.
BIG time!

You see, it's not just about US today.
Life is sooooo much bigger.
We get so caught up in the here and now that we far too often miss this reality.
We forget that there is a bigger picture.
We don't realize how God is working in and through us NOW to impact lives in hundreds or thousands of generations to come.

We MUST open our eyes, our hearts, our minds.
We MUST recognize we run a race.
A RELAY really.

I grew up running track, so I understand the relay concept perfectly well.
However, if you are not a track person, you may not have any idea of what I am about to say.

In a typical relay FOUR people will run on a team.
Depending on the race, the athletes run different distances before handing off the baton to their team mate, who then runs the same distance.  Once all four people have completed their leg, the final person crosses the finish line to end the race.

EACH leg is equally important.
Each person is selected for his/her leg for a reason.  Perhaps they run the straightaway well, or maybe they are better at the curve.  They might be the fastest runner and able to make up any lost ground.  They might have the best start out of the blocks.  No matter what their skill, EACH leg is important and EACH leg must contribute and do his/her best if the TEAM is to win the race.
It's a GROUP effort.

I remember when I was a senior in high school.  I was at the state track meet cheering on my team mates as they ran their races.  I was SUPPOSED to compete that year, but tore up my knees the week prior and was on crutches instead :(  BUT that is a different blog...

The time came for the guys' 4X100 relay race.  Each guy would run 100 meters, then hand off the baton to their team mate.  Together, they would complete one lap around the track.  Our team was ranked #1 - we came in with the best time.  BUT, it was going to be close, as many of the teams were just miliseconds behind us.

Everyone took their places.  The starter called out, "Runners, take your mark!"  Everyone got down in the blocks.  "Get set!"  Butts went up in the air, waiting for the gun to sound.  BANG!!!  And they were off!

Things were going well as the first runner rounded the curve and handed off the baton to the #2 man.  Everything was great at the next exchange too.  We were neck and neck with the other teams.  As the #3 runner approached the final team mate, things went terribly wrong.  Another runner tripped up our man, and he dropped the baton.  He waited for the other teams to pass, then quickly grabbed the baton and handed it off the final runner.  He raced down the track as fast as he could, but the other athletes had already crossed the finish line.  We came in LAST.

Little did the guys know at the time that the runner who had tripped us up was DISQUALIFIED.  His team was OUT of the race.

Also, another team had passed the baton outside of the allowed passing zone.  They too were DISQUALIFIED.  Instead of finishing 8th, we were now 6th.  Still not what we had hoped for or expected.  BUT, the guys earned ONE point for our team as a whole.  May not seem like a big deal, but wait for the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey likes to say)

At the end of the track meet, all the points are accumulated to see which teams win the overall trophy.  Winning state is a BIG deal.  Our school had never done that before, I don't think.  If they had, it had been a LONG time.  When the time came to announce the final standings, we didn't place 5th.  Or 4th.  Or 3rd.  Or even 2nd.  We were heartbroken.  Devastated.

THEN, they announced that we had WON!
By ONE point!

Had the final runner given up and not picked up the baton and crossed the finish line, we would not have received that ONE point.  We would NOT have won the entire competition!

THAT is what our lives our like.
We may not think that we are making much of a difference.
We may think we are losing the race and there's no point of going on, let alone finishing.
We would be WRONG.

If we drop the baton, we MUST pick it back up.
If we fall, we MUST get back up.
Giving up, quitting - they are NOT options.
Our TEAM depends on us.

Hebrews 12 speaks of this:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnessed to the life of faith (all those heros listed in chapter 11 and ALL those who came after them and have gone before us), let US strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let US run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith."

With this in mind, I choose NOT to listen to all the voices telling me I can't, that I will fail.
You know those voices?
The skeptics?
The doubters?
The haters?
No matter what you do, they question your motives.  They come up with one scenario after another about why you won't succeed at whatever it is you are trying.
And their voices cause doubt to creep into your mind, your heart.
You begin to believe them.
You care more about what THEY think than what GOD says.
You worry more about THEIR opinion than GOD'S truth.

Stop it!
Right now.
Get some ear plugs.
Put your hands over your ears.
Tune them out.
Whatever it takes.
Just STOP listening to those voices.
They are LIES.
From the pit of hell.

And I am NOT exaggerating.
If Satan can keep us from becoming who God created us to be, he can keep us from the work God has called us to do.  He can prevent us from fulfilling the amazing plans and purposes God has for us, GOOD things He has prepared in advance - before the beginning of the world - for us to do to bring glory to His name!

That is TRAGIC.

So stop listening to the WRONG voices.
Listen instead to ONE voice.  The only one that matters.

I heard a song on the radio today that reminded me how important this is:
Casting Crown's VOICE OF TRUTH

Jesus Himself promised we would be able to recognize HIS voice:
"I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.  So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold.  I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one Shepherd.  

My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one can snatch them away from Me, for my Father has given them to Me, and He is more powerful than anyone else.  No one can snatch them from the Father's hand.  The Father and I are one."

Love that we can hear God's voice.
Distinct from all the other voices bombarding us today.
Those are just NOISE.
God's voice is one of LOVE and truth and joy and peace and hope and strength and wisdom and so much more!

And did you catch that last part?  God is more powerful that anyone else.  Once in God's hand, we can NOT be taken out!  Makes me think of another song - GREATER by MercyMe!

So, today I STAND.
Today I choose to be BOLD.
Yet, I am afraid
But, I am also CONFIDENT

Today, I will RUN.
I may have to jog at times.
I might even have to walk.
I will crawl if I must.
But I will NOT stop or give up.
I will persevere.
I will press on.
My eyes are FIXED on the prize, on Jesus Himself (see Philippians 3:7-14 for Paul's encouraging words on this)

Will YOU run with me?
Remember, it takes a TEAM to finish the race...
Let's do this TOGETHER!