Legion.

The day had been long and tiring. Jesus had taught and healed in the hot sun by the sea shore all day long. The crowd had been immense, forcing Him to balance precariously from a fishing boat while continuing to teach in parables. He was spent.

Night was fast approaching, so Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and push off to the other side. The crowd was not anxious to leave Him; many hopped in their own boats to follow, more out of curiosity than actual need. Jesus was exhausted. He promptly went to the helm and fell fast asleep on a borrowed, fishy-smelling pillow.

Hidden in the inky blackness of the night sky, a storm was brewing over the Sea of Galilee. It swept in from out of nowhere, taking the disciples by surprise. Though many of them were seasoned fishermen, this storm was like nothing they had ever encountered. Bailing felt more like backpedaling; the boat was beginning to sink.

They rushed to their Master and were dismayed to find they had to physically shake Him to wake Him up! But, when He did, He did the incomprehensible: He rebuked the storm. The disciples were taken aback. Not only had the storm completed dissipated at the sound of His voice, He had actually treated it like it was alive – an entity of its own, not just a weather phenom. Who is this Man?

Arriving at the other side of the shore, the shaken and weary disciples trudged through the coast to drag the borrowed boat on to land. Jesus joined them in the shallows. A mundane task in the quiet morning was rudely interrupted by the sound of shrieks coming from the hillside.

They all turned to see what could possibly be making the racket. A man, completely nude, with broken chains hanging around his wrists, unkept hair nearly to his waist, and a scraggly beard, was charging towards them, screaming obscenities – and calling Jesus by name. Now, who was this man?

The man stank; he was covered in bruises, bleeding and scratched on almost every orifice of his dirty body. He was thin, almost famished. While he looked quite aged, the disciples wondered if that was merely from living in a cave or in the sun for an unknown amount of time. His entire being shook, foam slipping from the sides of his mouth, as he slid in front of Jesus, face to the ground. He addressed Jesus by name, but simultaneously refused to look Him in the eye. With his face to the ground, a raspy, otherworldly voice, quaking with palpable hatred, asked, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”

The disciples glanced around at the weary travelers who were still hauling in their boats from the previous night’s excursion across the waves. They couldn’t help but wonder if this was the show they had followed Jesus to see – first a violent storm being stilled for no reason and now a crazy man begging Jesus, Who had so far done nothing except walk ashore, to leave him alone. A show it definitely was; the question was now, how would it end?

Jesus could have asked anything. He asked for the man’s name. A pause. Then the raspy, obnoxiously loud voice answered, “Legion.” In their Roman world, the word ‘legion’ instantly drew mental images of at least 3000 soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, armed to the hilt and ready to fight. A few disciples took unintentional steps backward. A host of demons were in this man; it was unimaginable.

The man’s voice changed then from one, distinct tone to what seemed like hundreds, if not thousands, of different voices speaking simultaneously. The demons were begging Jesus not to destroy them. They knew Who He was and the power He wielded over them. And they were terrified.

The man looked up at the hills and pointed. Everyone swiveled to see what he was pointing at. Only then did the silent onlookers hear – and smell – the thousands of pigs milling about on the hillside above the lake. All of a sudden, their presence, which hadn’t even been noticed yet, was all-consuming. The stench, the grunting, the stamping of little hooves on the ground – it was all everyone could hear aside from the slapping of waves on the untethered boats.

“Send us into the pigs.”

The crowd held their breath. Jesus nodded. With His consent, the man began to shake violently and was flung like a lifeless toy onto the beach. Shrieking was heard and the atmosphere tangibly cooled, as if a north wind had gusted around them.

Then, the pigs began to shriek. Their calm grunting had turned into mass chaos. Thousands of swine could be heard for miles shrieking, stampeding. The quiet morning was shattered as they took off for the cliff. Completely unorganized, the pigs flung themselves off the edge and into the deep waters and rocks below. The onlookers who were still standing in the shallows quickly dashed either into their boats or onto the shore as the red, defiled pig blood began to wash towards them.

Before they all reached the shore and long before the events had fully registered with the astonished disciples, more shouts were heard. A crowd came running from the village having been told by the herdsmen that their entire livelihood was lost. They pushed and shoved their way towards Jesus. They ignored completely the fact that the man who had terrorized their town for years was sitting, in his right mind, clothed and having a sane conversation. They stuck their accusatory fingers in the air and adamantly demanded Jesus leave immediately.

Calmly, the Master rose from the rock He had been seated on and motioned to His followers to begin to push the boats back out to the water. The newly healed man clung to Jesus’ robes and begged Him to come, too! “No,” He responded. “Go home to your friends, and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been.”

As quickly as their morning began, it was now over. The morning sun still sparkled on the lake and stomachs still begged for breakfast as they began to row back across the water to where the journey had began less than 12 hours before.

One man. He did all of that – for one man. If He pursued this man that hard, just imagine how He is pursuing you.

Until this violent storm is past.

No one ever thinks it’ll happen to them, their family. I was in this same boat three hours ago. I have a good, solid Christian family – immediate and extended on both sides. By God’s amazing grace, my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and cousins’ kids are almost all believers in Jesus Christ.

Which makes the word “suicide” that much more devastating.

When I got the call a few hours ago that my cousin’s boy had committed suicide on the way to school this morning, I had no words. I mean, what do you say? I burst into tears. I don’t know him – I met him when he was a baby and he’s 16 now. But, I know my cousin. And I’m a mom. Those are bonds that time and distance can’t touch.

I hung up the phone, tears streaming down my face, and reached for my 4yr old. I wrapped him in my arms and let my tears soak his blond head. He’s such a gentle boy, he didn’t mind. He held me back and let me cry, not saying anything. I held his face and kept repeating, “You are loved. You are special. God has a plan for you. You are loved! You are special! God has a plan for you!” over and over. What else can I do?

I snuggled my baby in my arms as I laid his wriggling little body down for a nap. He kissed me and I savored the moment longer than I usually do… because all of a sudden, moments are too short and the only image in my mind is my cousin’s arms, devoid of her son’s touch.

You aren’t meant to lose a child. Ever. But especially not like this.

A knot sits in the pit of my stomach. I can’t stop crying. I have been trying to continue with my routine, but I can’t. So, I did what I always do when looking for consolation: I grabbed my Bible.

Not the new one that’s still being “broken in.” The old one. The one that’s been everywhere with me and been through everything with me – except this. The one that’s marked, bent, stuffed with papers, and written all over. I held it to me like an old friend and begged God to speak again because I need something to hold onto besides grief.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy!

I look to you for protection.

I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings 

until this violent storm is past.

I cry out to God Most High,

to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.

He will send help from heaven to save me,

rescuing me from those who are out to get me.

My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.

These words from Psalm 57 hold comfort right now. Being able to hide under God’s wings – His love and protection no matter what is going on. This is truly a violent storm like nothing I’ve experienced before. What do you do? What do you say? How do you process something like this?

I have nothing to offer. My hands, my heart, are empty. Right now, I’m just so thankful that my first instinct was to run to God and His Words because in them are life, hope, and our very breath.

God is still God; He has not forgotten us, this does not surprise Him, and He still loves us. It won’t ever make sense. The pain will never get all better. But, we are not abandoned.

There is no situation we can encounter where God’s grace cannot reign down and cover it all. May He truly send forth love, faithfulness, and grace to our family in the coming days.

Living for Vacation.

It was a foggy morning in Lima. We had to go downtown to get E’s paperwork shortly after she was born. It took us awhile to find our parking spot and then we had to walk to the government office. I cradled my newborn, dressed warmly, covered in a blanket, up next to me as we walked. We had to cross a bridge over the busy highway, the noise of traffic drowning our voices out and making it impossible for us to talk as we crossed. In the middle of the bridge, I noticed a pile of blankets. But as we approached, I realized it wasn’t blankets – it was a woman with two small children beside her, sound asleep. They were wrapped in ponchos and asleep in spite of the constant traffic noise below. Maybe for them, the traffic was their white noise needed to put them to sleep? The woman, whom I assume was the mother, had her head bent, a large hat typical of Peruvian mountain folk atop her head, shielding her from the morning winter drizzle. Another smaller hat lay on the blanket in front of her – the typical sign of begging for a hand-out.

At first, I walked right past. The woman and children never even glanced up. But as I gazed at my warm, well-fed, beautiful newborn daughter in my arms, my heart broke in two. I could not imagine what that mom must be going through having to make her children sleep on a bridge in the cold while hoping someone – anyone – would take pity and throw them a couple of soles. My new mother’s heart couldn’t bear it. I turned around and handed her all the soles I was carrying. Our eyes met. I can still see her brown eyes looking at me when I think about it. And then… that was it. I hurried to catch up to my husband and when we returned from our appointment, they were gone.

This summer, my reading choices have really challenged my thinking. I started with One Thousand Gifts, which I’m still working on, to be honest. I moved to Killing Christians and now I’m halfway through No Longer a Slumdog. In the last book, he asks the question: “Is her life as valuable and precious as…” He’s talking about the beggar children of India – the ones in the lowest caste who have never bathed, never been loved, and know no other life than that of mere daily existence no matter the cost. Are their lives as precious and valuable as.. my daughter’s? my sons’? my husband’s?

He precedes this question by describing a scene similar to the one I just shared – a young beggar girl asking him for change and in that moment, he saw her as more than “just another beggar” and as a little girl the same age as his own daughter. It changed his view – and his way of life.

I have to say, that moment on the bridge changed me as well. I am so thankful for this moment and many, many others while living in Peru that opened my eyes to a life drastically different than my own.

Then on the other hand, Killing Christians is a book entirely devoted to modern-day martyrs for Christ. While these stories are not new to me, it did make me imagine what it would be like to be a mom – pregnant, nursing, leading around preschoolers, protecting teenagers – in a country where it’s illegal to be a Christian. How do you hide a hungry newborn? A tired toddler? A preschooler who doesn’t understand the need for quiet? How do you teach your little ones about Christ while simultaneously trying to keep them quiet in public about their faith? I mean think about it – my kids have been known to sing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of their lungs in Walmart and they ask questions about God while out in public. How would you teach your children to be bold in their young faith yet wise in where they express it for fear of their lives? I can’t even comprehend that.

My husband and I have talked frequently this year about something a friend told us. We have this great friend who’s in his 90’s and still working and still giving to the Lord. He is full of wisdom and one of the things he has expressed to Brian frequently is, “Christians today live for their vacation. They work so hard all year long and for what? Vacation. They don’t take the time to enjoy their families and life in between their vacations – it’s like they work and scrimp and save for those couple of weeks. What’s the point?”

He’s so right. All I hear all the time from pretty much everyone I’m around is, “I can’t wait for vacation!… We’re saving for vacation…. Vacation is looking so good right now!… I can’t help you; we’ll be on vacation… I don’t do ministry in [pick a month] because we go on vacation…. We have to have our vacation time so we won’t be at church….”

I have to admit something to you: I have struggled all summer with the fact that we don’t get vacation this year. Nor did we get it last year. Or the year before. Or… hmm.. we’ve been married 10 years and we’ve never gone on “vacation” in the traditional sense. It has never bothered me. Until this year. For some reason, the constant talk from everyone about “vacation” has gotten me really down on the fact that we simply won’t get one in the foreseeable future. No Disney. No camping. No beach (my biggest disappointment). Not even a weekend away. Our ministries don’t allow for it, nor can we afford it. It’s made me horribly sad on more than one occasion this summer. I’ve even been frustrated at my husband for not “allowing” us to go on vacation, though I realize that it’s not him.. it’s our finances and what we do for a living that won’t “allow” it.

Then, I cracked open these books and my perspective has begun to change. There are families around the world who would give their left arm to live the life we get to live in the States. Families who literally cannot afford to feed their children so they sell them. Moms who don’t have enough milk to nurse their newborn so the choice is to either listen to the baby scream the scream of hunger constantly or sell the baby in hopes it will get a better life. Husbands and wives whose very lives are in danger every single day because of their faith. Who go to church at 1am and sing songs in a whisper to avoid getting beaten in the street.

And I’m complaining because I don’t get a vacation this summer? Who am I kidding? 

The sad reality is that most American Christians have no clue what life is like in other parts of the world. They literally live for their two-week summer vacation when they can “finally” spend time with their family, go on that dream trip, do whatever “vacation” means to them. Church on Sunday is in the way of “family time” and “vacation.” Ministry over the summer months? Why? It’s vacation time! No one’s going to come anyway, so why do we need to volunteer?

Seriously?

Yet we find ourselves wondering why the Christian faith is not being passed on and why teens and college kids quit coming to church and don’t make their faith their own. Why would they? Their parents have consistently modeled that “life” is more important than “church.” It saddens me when I hear the excuse, “We don’t want to commit because on weekends we sometimes like to just take off and go do something fun so we probably won’t be at church this summer.” Yeah. That hour and a half at church on Sunday really cuts into your down time, doesn’t it.

The church in the States needs a rude awakening that life is not all about us. Would we still even HAVE our faith if we had to live through a fraction of what people around the world have to every single day? Would we keep our faith even if meant being dirt poor and fearing for our lives? Somehow, I doubt it. Why do I say that? Because honestly, a faith that hasn’t been tested and a faith that is put on the backseat on a regular basis is not a lasting faith.

We need to quit “living for the vacation” and begin living for the Lord. Let our hearts be broken for the poor and needy. Let us remember our brothers and sisters who are fighting for their lives at this moment. Let us put Christ above absolutely everything else- including our comforts, finances, and summer vacations. Prioritize your life so that your children see that God comes first, even if it feels “inconvenient.” Give to the poor; sponsor a child; and teach your children to do the same. Go on a missions trip – take your family! Support a missionary, even if … no – especially if – it changes your finances because then you can experience what it means to sacrifice for the Lord – something those missionaries you’re supporting do daily.

Live for eternity, not the next vacation.

Weighing In.

The world is mourning the loss of an icon. Not just an icon – someone that has been given the title of, “The Funniest Man in the World.” In a day and age when comedy is relative, it’s a huge thing to be considered “funny” by the entire world. To cross those cultural divides in humor is a big thing. 

And he’s gone. 

I believe it’s the irony of how “the funniest man in the world” died that is getting to everyone. The man who could make the world laugh could find no humor in his own life… and decided to end it all. 

Unexpectedly. Quietly. Abruptly. 

I’ve been watching a few debates online about the whole situation. Did he die from depression or suicide? Is depression similar to cancer or is it the result of sin? Was there hope for him or was he lost from the get-go? Was suicide his only way of escape? Is he really “free” from it all now? 

Honestly, I don’t want to get into all that. It’s too heavy for me. I, like you, am mourning this man who was such an integral part of my growing-up years. I have caught myself crying as if I was related to him. My husband officially thinks I’m insane as I sob through news reports and cry at the thought of never seeing him again. I suppose, for me, it’s a selfish cry. He made me laugh. But, at the same time, I find myself crying because the whole situation is just so. sad

We found out recently that the county we live in is one of the saddest counties in America. Meaning, the people within the county are just plain sad. Suicides among teens has been so high over recent years that public high schools are inviting in Christian youth pastors and counselors to meet for free with the teens just to help curb the trend. Now, they’re saying on the news that a huge percentage of the U.S. population is depressed and that there is a suicide every 13 minutes

In every tragedy, I watch to see how God is going to turn it around for good and focus all eyes on Him. This is no different. I firmly believe that Robin Williams’ suicide is a wake-up call to believers worldwide. We live in a world that is increasingly hopeless. The generation in high school today is clinically depressed and suicidal, hating themselves, hating each other, and growing up with a complete void of the sanctity of life. Abortions are as easy as an over-the-counter pill. Hope is fleeting. A mere word in our nation’s vocabulary that is quickly losing its meaning.

And what are we doing? We are literally sitting around watching it happen. We are debating amongst ourselves whether depression is sinful or clinical. We are judging and scorning those that have everything, yet suffer depression. We label the teens as a hopeless generation simply because we don’t understand them – and don’t want to. 

We are hoarding our hope in a time when hope means everything to humanity. 

Have you watched the news? We’re in crisis-mode out there! People are hopeless because they turn on the news and are bombarded with hopeless situations. 

It’s time for Christians to wake up and answer the call of, “What’s the point?” Quit sugar-coating Christianity and proclaim the truth to humanity!

God created you.

God loves you!

God has a purpose for you: To bring glory to HIM. 

God has a home prepared for you in heaven – for all eternity.

He desires a personal relationship with you. He longs to walk with you through the storms of life and to not only hold your head above water, but to allow you to walk on top of the waves with Him.

You are special. You are loved. You are unique. He has written down the days of your life in His book, He has plotted the course of your journey, and He collects your tears in a bottle. He leans from heaven to listen to your prayers and He watches over you while you sleep. 

Lay your burden down at His cross and leave it there. Exchange your sadness for His hope for life. Allow Him to breathe new meaning into your existence. 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today is the day of salvation. Share your faith with those around you. Let them laugh, scorn, mock, and reject. Your job is not to convince; your job is to share. Quit hoarding your hope. 

I mourn the loss of Mr. Williams and my heart aches for the family and friends he left behind. I just pray that this is an awakening for the rest of us that we need to share our hope – even with those who laugh the loudest – because we don’t know who needs it the most.

Is God Good?

After coming to grips with the fact that there is a God and that He is alive, I believe the next basic question we all must answer for ourselves is, “Is God good?” 

We are indoctrinated with this from childhood. I just taught my three year old the song, “God is good to me! God is good to me! He holds my hand, He helps me stand, God is good to me.” As teens, I remember beginning youth group with the chant, “God is good!” “All the time!” “All the time?” “God is good!” 

But, at some point during life, reality strikes. Hurt happens. Pain happens. Death happens. Life does not go as we planned, dreamed, imagined, or hoped it would. We say goodbyes too soon. We lose friends, spouses, children in horrible, untimely ways. We live in a world riddled with cancer, disease, pain, and hate. Our world is a strangling place to live. The idea that “humanity is basically good” is completely false; we are inherently evil and that is evidenced no matter where we go on planet Earth.

If you haven’t already, you will soon be smacked in the face with the question, “Is God Good?” 

One of the most fundamental of questions, yet we refuse to analyze it. We just accept that either yes, He is good, or no, He is not. The answer to this question defines your faith in God, for if He is good, then He can be all of His other attributes – loving, kind, long-suffering, gentle, forgiving, etc. However, if He is not good, then He simply cannot be any of what the Bible touts that He is.

Fundamental:

Is. God. Good?

This week, I poured over a new novel. I discovered an author a year ago who’s been on the scene for a while: Joel C. Rosenberg. My sister introduced me to his novels on Iran, which I couldn’t put down. I finished “Damascus Countdown” on my Kindle just recently and an advertisement came up for his newest work: “The Auschwitz Escape.” I’ll just be honest: I’m cheap. I couldn’t afford it on my Kindle just yet, so I reserved it at the library. Being #6 on a waiting list for a book not even in the library system yet, I figured I’d have to wait a while! But, I was pleasantly surprised that only a few weeks went by before I got the email that it was my turn for this new book.

I got it Tuesday. I finished it on Sunday.

I’ve read a lot of stuff on World War 2. I am an avid, shameless fan of Brock and Bodie Thoene and have learned more about World War 2 and Jewish history from their books than any class I’ve taken or history book I have ever picked up. I have read numerous biographies, autobiographies, and historical accounts on all different sides of WW2, yet it never ceases to fascinate me.

I loved how he interwove factual history, timelines, and data while creating a fictional story of intrigue. It was incredibly realistic and read like an action movie that you simply could not stop watching. Or… reading.

A few chapters in, though, I began to start thinking to myself, “Is God good?” Mr. Rosenberg goes into substantial detail when it comes to some of the atrocities that occurred in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Germany, and Europe during this time of history. It is not pretty. In fact, it’s downright appalling to read and imagine, especially when you recognize that it is history, not fiction, that he’s really recounting.

You cannot read an account like this and not wonder how God could let this happen – to His people! These were not just arbitrary individuals – they were God’s chosen people! How could He “stand by” and let this happen? How can a “good God” let so many of His people die such horrific deaths? Why did He not step in, rend the universe, enter time, and rescue them if He loved them so much? Why did He allow children to be thrown into gas chambers, men to be experimented on alive, and women to be gang-raped?

Is God good?

I thought maybe this was just the way my mind was going with the book, but somewhere towards the middle, this question began to be addressed. The main character struggles with the concept of there even being a God, much less a good God. Mr. Rosenberg lays it out so realistically, though, that you don’t feel like it’s a stretch or made-up fiction. It’s a real question that was addressed in a very real manner at a time when the answer was pivotal to humanity.

I don’t believe the answer to this question can be taken lightly. In a way, it is this basic concept that my preschooler can grasp, yet it resonates much deeper than that.

God is not good the way we measure goodness. God is outside of our time, space, and knowledge; He does not answer to us and our way of doing things. He sees the entire picture, not just the moment. God promised He would spare a remnant of His people throughout time – and He has kept that promise. Though we look at the heinous acts of the Holocaust and wonder where God was- God stands above us, pointing to His fingerprints and footprints throughout the entire episode. 

Ultimately, did evil win? Absolutely not. Hands-down, evil did not win. Evil didn’t even come close to wiping out His people or destroying the human race. They tried to destroy any trace of God and His people and all they did was make His name resound stronger and louder than ever before. Look at Corrie ten Boom: after surviving a death camp, she dedicated the rest of her life to rehabilitating Nazis. Through simply her testimony of forgiveness, an untold number of people came to Christ who otherwise may never have heard His Gospel.

Is God good? 

I can’t answer that question for you. I can just say that for me, deep in my heart of hearts, I can say that yes – YES, He is good.

He may not work the way I want Him to, but that does not make Him not good. That just makes me not God.

“God is good to me! God is good to me! Although I’m small, He hears my call. God is good to me.”

Be {All} Here.

Sometimes, there’s just a resounding theme in life. Everything will just kind of point to one, particular lesson that God wants to pound home. Right now, that theme for me is to Be All Here.

It hasn’t been a secret that I’ve had a tough time adjusting back to the States and being content living here. Yes, God pulled us out of Peru and yes, we are confident that we should be here and yes, we are at peace in the ministries we have and the life we are living. But, after spending most of my growing up years thinking I would be a missionary overseas and then I came back after just a few short years, in many ways, I have felt like a failure.

[Just to be bluntly honest.]

I have struggled with being all here. I have spent a lot of time thinking about Peru and wondering what was happening there and almost feeling guilty for leaving, yet knowing that was irrational and not from the Lord. I compared everything to South America at least in my mind even if I never verbalized a thing.

And then, a couple little kids walked into our Wednesday night program a few weeks ago. Their background is horrid; I really can’t even share it online. The things they are living through at this moment are unimaginable. No child should ever experience the life they are living right now.

I have always been a fan of “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath; I’ve even written about it before. Normally, when I hear this song, I picture being on the plane, landing in either Montreal or Lima, and seeing the city laid out before me. My heart just aches for the lost children in these cities. A couple weeks ago, though, as I was listening to this song on the radio on my way into the office, the picture in my mind was not these giant, sprawling cities. It was these two little kids with the saddest eyes I think I have ever seen.

It hit me then: I need to Be All Here. These kids have one of the worst back stories that I have ever heard, here in the States or overseas. They are right here. They’re not in some exotic, foreign country; they’re down the street from our church. They’re not slum kids in South America; they’re suburban children from Pennsylvania.

This week, we were representing our board at a missions conference and the speaker was Paul Borthwick. He was phenomenal to listen to and I hope the college kids took full advantage of this opportunity to hear him. But one of the things he kept bringing out was the fact that the “world” is right around the corner in our neighborhood anymore. He made the statement, “Since we wouldn’t go to the world, God brought the world to us!”

He kept bringing out how we can reach the world through reaching out to our communities here in the States and it just kept bringing home to me the fact that I need to Be All Here.

I don’t need to be overseas to be used by God. I don’t need to be in a third world country to reach children who are utterly hopeless and lost. I need to be wherever in the world God has planted me now. He doesn’t need to use me, but He chooses to, so I need to let Him and I need to do what He has asked me to do!

So, here’s my commitment to Be All Here. To love the kids in my life Here as much as I loved the ones in my life There. To serve the Lord whole heartedly where He has me. All Here.

Jonah.

Our church did a series on Jonah. Unfortunately, with my “job” as children’s ministry director, I’ve really only been able to sit in on most of two of the four sermons. But, the one I was able to catch today was really good! Today was the last in the series. You can catch them all online at our church’s website.

I really enjoy our youth pastor’s style of preaching. It’s helpful that he and his wife are two of our closest friends, so… no bias there at all! 😉 But honestly, I really enjoy listening to him speak. This morning, he was preaching on the last chapter of Jonah and brought out something I had never honestly thought about before:

Jonah wrote the book of Jonah.

Well… that’s kind of a “duh” moment, but when he elaborated on it and I started thinking about it, it really began to click how ironic and kind of awesome it is that Jonah himself wrote the book of Jonah.

When I normally read through Jonah, I find myself criticizing this man. I think he’s such an idiot for running from God and then he’s so incredibly selfish and arrogant to sit and wait for judgement to fall on this city and then he mourns the stupid plant as if it’s his dead pet. I normally end the book of Jonah frustrated and critical with this man. And annoyed that it ends so… open-endedly. Like a book where you just know “The Sequel” will be out soon. And yet… there’s never been Jonah, Part 2.

But, then, Mike brought out the fact that

Jonah wrote the book of Jonah.

And he encouraged us to read it through in the first person, imagining that Jonah himself was talking about his life. All of a sudden, my perspective on this prophet did a 180*. He went from being selfish and arrogant to remarkably humble. Because, think about it, what man (ahem, man!) would tell a small part of his autobiography in such a belittling – towards himself! – tone?? No one! And he finishes it at a point where you are led to believe that he sat under that stupid dead plant until he roasted to death.

But, he couldn’t have! Because he wrote Jonah!

Which begs the question: Did Jonah repent and change? 

I would dare say that YES. Yes, he did. And, like Mike said this morning, he probably repented to such a degree that he didn’t even want to put that repentance in the story for fear of bringing glory to his own name. He wanted the story to reflect ONLY God and in talking about his repentance, it would have brought the whole thing back on himself. He wanted the story of Jonah – HIS story – to be about God.

So, he tells the story honestly. Humbly. In shame and reproach. Not to make you think less of him, but to make you think more of God. What other god in this universe would dare to use someone like Jonah to accomplish His will? What other god would want to send a message to an entire evil city through a prophet who honestly desired their destruction more than their repentance? What kind of god would grow a plant and raise up a worm to destroy it just to teach one man a lesson?

What kind of god? Ours. The real One. The One Who interacts with His creation and cares about each one individually.

He used a “nothing man” like Jonah to save an entire city – a city that rightly deserved mass destruction! And then He took the time to teach that same man a valuable lesson: He is in charge. He is sovereign. His will is accomplished whether we are in the way or not. And He will get us out of the way in order to use us. Even if that means we spend three days in the belly of a whale and three days preaching to a wicked city a prophecy that never even comes true.

It’s not about us. It’s not about the story we want to write about ourselves. I’m sure if you ask Jonah, he would probably tell you there are better parts of his life he wishes we knew about him. But, that’s just it. It’s not about him. It’s not about you or me. It’s not about the life we want to have or the life we even strive to make for ourselves. It’s about how we use the time God has given us and how we follow His will for our lives. We can follow Him kicking and screaming (and need a time out in the belly of a whale to calm down and start over), or we can follow Him willingly (like Abraham!) and see where He takes us.

A year ago, Brian and I never would have been able to tell you that we would be living in the States, serving God where we’re at. If we had been in charge of the pens of our lives, it would not be written like it currently is. But, it’s not about us. It’s not about our desires to go or not go, or stay or not stay, or live here and not there. It’s not about our wants and wishes and hopes and dreams. It’s about God. Our lives are not our own. Our plans have become His plans. His goal is now ours. It’s not easy. I think I’ve sat, metaphorically anyway, in the belly of the whale many times – arguing with God and telling Him, “Absolutely NOT – I won’t do THAT! I’m not the right one for THAT! You have me confused with someone else!”

The point of today’s sermon was about how we need to be obedient in our hearts and minds, not just with our actions and words. Jonah obeyed with his mouth, but his heart wasn’t in it. I was challenged today to do what God has asked me to do, which isn’t always easy (rarely… if ever… is it easy!!), with my heart – for HIM – not for me, my comforts, my glory. Quit doing lip-service only and serve Him from the heart out.

Maybe the story of Jonah is so open-ended so that our stories won’t be. Let’s obey – from the inside out. I have a feeling Jonah would tell us it’s a lot easier than the alternative.

Hope.

When I was 15, the Columbine High School shooting happened in Colorado. This was not the first time that year that there had been a school shooting and I remember not really caring and being slightly annoyed that it had happened “again.” When the news finally came out about how awful it truly was, I went into my room and just cried. I journaled pages and pages. For some reason, this particular shooting shook me to the core. I think it was the first time that the reality hit me that there were teens out there my age living such a hopeless existence. It was during this time period that I realized God was calling me to missions. I could not imagine doing anything with my life other than sharing hope with others.

I have shared the Gospel, mostly in a classroom setting to children, many times over the years. It’s not like it’s a new message for me. But, to hear someone else passionately share the meaning of the Gospel still resonates with me. There’s something about sitting back and listening to someone who truly loves the Lord, has been saved by grace, and is passionate about telling others about it that just makes it hit home that much harder. All over again. Like hearing it for the first time.

I was not saved out of a life of sin. I was not saved out of the depths of hopelessness or from the brink of disaster. I was saved when I was 4. I was a kid. I had zero concept of the magnitude of the decision I made to give my life to Christ. I understood what I had done, absolutely, but the magnitude of it? That still hits me like bricks on a regular basis. “The depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God…” (Rom. 11:33) is such a true statement.

However, even though I was not saved out of sin and hopelessness, I was saved from it. This is one reason why I’m so passionate about reaching children: to have God save them from a life like that. A life that those boys in Columbine lived. A life that is so commonplace now that no one even blinks an eye at someone who’s depressed – it’s just “a part of life.”

But it’s not normal. At least, it shouldn’t be. God did not create us to live a life of hopeless existence on planet Earth. He did not create us to spend our whole lives wondering why we’re here and questioning the entire meaning of life and eternity. He did not give us His written Word on a whim, hoping that the select few would be wise enough to open it and read it. He did not make Himself inaccessible, distant, and hard to understand.

The exact opposite. He wants us to live a life of hope – a life full of purpose and meaning. There is a reason why we’re here and there’s hope for where we’re going next. He placed eternity in each person’s heart – that longing for something more, that question of “what comes after life”, that gut feeling that this is not all there is. He did that on purpose so that we would search Him out. I love that He put books like Job into the Bible. An entire book dedicated to questions from a man to Eternal God – hard questions! And God answers him. Infinite God bends His ear to ordinary man and answers his tough questions – simply because Job dared to ask them.

We do not have a distant God Who created us and left – Who doesn’t care and isn’t involved. He cares for us – individually. Constantly. His desire is for us to come to Him and know Him for Who He is.

This week, Billy Graham turned 95. I grew up seeing him on TV on a regular basis and being annoyed that my parents made us watch “preaching” after we had spent all day in church already. Anyway… he gave one last address to the nation and it’s available here on youtube. He lays out the hope that is available in Christ so clearly. I have heard and presented the Gospel so many times and yet, like I said earlier, hearing someone else passionately lay it out is just… awesome.

If you’re searching for hope, if you’re skeptical about God, if you’re questioning why you’re even here at all – take 30 minutes from your day and watch this video. This is the message that Brian and I have dedicated our lives to sharing with others. Not because it’s an easy life or lots of fun to travel, but because we believe it’s true and want to be sure everyone hears this message. What you do with it is up to you.

“I know where I came from. I know why I’m here and I know where I’m going. Do you?” -Rev. Graham

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I became a mom on September 29, 2010. 

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And again on September 27, 2012. 

I’m not gonna lie; pregnancy is hard. It was hard both times for different reasons. With Elena, there was the normal aches and pains of a first pregnancy. Shingles in the 9th month kind of topped it all, though. Joseph made me sick – ohhh, so sick. And I felt absolutely enormous by the time I was done with him! Delivery is rough, too. Two c-sections in two years is hard on a body.

But, I wouldn’t trade being a mom for the world.

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Elena is my friendly, happy, energetic two year old. She is teaching me patience and the truth behind the verse, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” I love watching her learn and seeing new things. She’s incredibly bright and intuitive. She’s also stubborn and strong-willed. She’s learning about Jesus and has just recently started to pray by herself before meals. Tonight’s prayer was, “Thank you God for my food, for daddy, for mommy, for Joe-Joe, for Elena. Amen.”

If I could express anything to her tonight, I’d want to tell her:

Thank you, sweet baby girl, for being you. You have such a sweet heart – you care about your brother and seem to always know when one of us is hurting or sad. I love it when you’re wrapped up in your towel after your bath and we cuddle so you can get warm. I can’t believe even just a year ago you were little enough for me to hold and rock and put to sleep on my lap. I haven’t done that in months now and I miss those days. I’m so blessed to be your mama and I can’t wait to teach you more about life – how to cook, bake, clean, read, write, and play house. I love you so much, Elena. 

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Joseph is my unexpected surprise, my little man, my buddy. I was hoping to get pregnant last year, but wasn’t holding my breath too hard. When the test came back positive last Valentine’s Day, I was beyond excited, but so scared about the delivery. Our Lord was gracious, though, and gave me an easier delivery than Elena. I also wasn’t expecting a boy, but I’m so glad I got him. He’s my little man and I just can’t get enough of him (even though as I type this, he’s managed to wake up and is screaming bloody murder from his pack n play).

Joseph, thank you for entering our lives. You are so loving, friendly, and curious. I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid as curious as you at this age! You pull things off the shelves and about tip out of your walker straining to see what’s on the floor in front of you! You love your sister and think she’s absolutely hilarious, even as she’s sitting on top of you! I pray that you grow up to be a true man of God – a gentleman, a leader, an example. Follow in your daddy’s footsteps; he’s a great man to emulate. 

Mother’s Day is Sunday and I know this day is hard for those who have not been blessed with biological children, for whatever the reason. But, I have been blessed. I don’t deserve it and I’m not going to rub it in the faces of those who haven’t, but I am going to rejoice in the fact that God in His mercy and grace gave us two beautiful children to raise. I’m so thankful to be a mom, even on the days when I don’t think I’m very good at it. My kids are so special and have taught me so much about life, myself, and the Lord. My biggest prayer these days is that they will come to know Christ at a very young age. I cannot fathom eternity without them! My heart is filled to over-flowing love for my little ones.

Thank You, Father God, for lending them to me for these few short years. 

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.

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Further than you want to go.

As I watch the news about the Boston bombings, my heart is incredibly saddened by this young man, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I could be horribly off-base, but when I watch the news and hear all they’re saying about him, I’m beginning to wonder if he wasn’t coerced into the bombing more than actually being a real part of it all. I was watching 20/20 the other night and they talked about the car-jacking that Thursday night and how Dzhokhar was very college-y in asking questions about the car and being more concerned with how “awesome” the car was than the fact that they were heading to NYC to blow up Times Square, while his older brother was more focused and angry. A phrase kept going through my mind this week: “Sin will take you further than you want to go and keep you longer than you care to stay.” I wonder if Dzhokhar realized the repercussions of his actions and the fact that he would end up on death row? I wonder if he truly knew all his older brother had planned or if he just went along with him because his older brother was, as most are, very persuasive? I worry about this young man, sitting in a jail cell, being tried as a war criminal. My heart aches for him because I think he got sucked into an irreversible situation and now he’s dealing with it all by himself. I totally think he was old enough to know the consequences of his actions and he needs to be on trial for them. But, I pity him. “Sin will take you further than you want to go and keep you longer than you care to stay.” 

This morning at our Ladies’ Bible study, we watched Kay Arthur. She was speaking on the life of David during the “Deeper Still” conference back a few years ago. But, it was exactly along the lines of that old quote I keep repeating. She talked about David and Bathsheba and all the times that David had a crossroads – a choice of whether to sin or “go deeper still” in his relationship with God, and get out of it. As we all know, David chose to sin and had to live with the consequences. But, the simple sin of not being where he was supposed to be (war) ended in the huge sin of murder (if we want to be human and rate sins that way) and had the consequence of losing a child and having his family be at odds. In fact, his kids did some pretty horrendous things later in life and it’s all traced back to the consequences of this sin. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be, for whatever reason. Sin took him way further than he ever planned that night on the roof of his palace.

But, there was redemption. He had to pay for his sin – and I’m not sure any payment is worse than losing a child. But, God restored him and washed that sin away. The same can be true for Dzhokhar. He got sucked into a situation (or least, I hope he was sucked into it!), he will have to stand trial for it, but our gracious God can still forgive him. I know a lot of people don’t particularly like that idea, but really, think about it: but not for the grace of God, you and I could be in the same place. But God. He stepped into my life and how dare I think myself more worthy of grace than anybody else! He is the One Who choses to whom He bestows His grace, not me. I just pray that somebody in those prison walls shares the forgiveness and grace of the true God with this young man. Even more than that, I pray he humbles himself to receive the forgiveness extended.

Sin will always take you further than you want to go and keep you longer than you care to stay. But God will always offer a way out.

Will you join me in praying for Dzhokhar? So rarely do people who commit these types of crimes get the second chance at salvation; we need to pray someone is bold and shares their faith and that his heart is open to receive it. 

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