Faithinflipflops

Living simply, loving deeply!

Death: A Reminder to Live Life Fully

I lost my Aunt Wilma this week. She was my dad’s sister and was 97. She was the last of 7. With her passing, I have no parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents left. It makes me sad. I have lost a lot of family over the past 15 years since I moved back home including my dad and one of my brothers. And I have officiated most of the funerals.

 

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The seven Strickler siblings: Uncle Jake, Uncle Bob, my dad, Aunt Wilma, Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Jerry, Uncle Claude and their Uncle Stub. I officiated 5 of the 7 sibling’s funerals.

These past few  weeks, I have missed my brother, Jerry, terribly. His birthday and death anniversary have both been within the past month.  When I read through my journals from when I was a kid and teen, he was the one I would always talk to about family stuff. He always listened and made me feel like what I felt mattered. And he let me do some crazy things.

 

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My brother Jerry and my dad.

I also lost my mom the summer before my Senior year of high school. She was 46. I just turned 46 this year. I never realized how young 46 was until I was 46. I faced this year with some angst and trepidation. I knew it was irrational but I was relieved when I passed the mark of having lived longer than my mom.

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Me and my mom a month before she died.

Death and loss have marked my life. But not in the way you may think.

King Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies–so the living should take this to heart.”

The 23rd Psalm says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death many times. Each time, God walked with me. He never left. Each time, I learned to rely on and trust Him more. And instead of living a life of sadness and depression, it has made me enjoy life to the fullest. It has taught me to be grateful for each day I have because I know how fleeting and precious life is. Living in the shadow of death has pushed me to take risks. Life is too short to wonder “what if?”. Walking through the valley has also taught me to forgive quickly and let go of offenses right away. You have no idea when someone will no longer be with you.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped to see a man I respect and love deeply in the nursing home. He has only been in a short time. And he knows he is not going home. As I visited with him, he asked me about a certain Scripture in the Bible that talks about Heaven. And he asked what I thought it would be like. And we just talked. And cried. I asked him if he was afraid to die. He said “no but it is not as easy as you think it is when you are younger. When it’s far off, it doesn’t seem real but now…” He didn’t deny he was having a hard time but in the midst of the pain and grief, he honored God. I think that is how we are all supposed to live! Honoring God and people even when it’s hard. He knows he will be with Jesus when he passes and as I prayed for him and said “Amen”, he just continued on praying Psalm 103 “Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Death is real. No one gets out alive. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, male, female…no one.

I think King Solomon was onto something in the book of Ecclesiastes. If you live with the end in mind in a healthy, hopeful, purposeful, grateful way, life can be truly enjoyed and savored.

Two weeks ago, there was a Perseid Meteor shower that happens every August. This year was supposed to be exceptionally bright. I probably should have slept but 14 of us laid on the beach until 3 in the morning and saw 150+ meteors!!! It was fantastic! As we laid on the beach and told jokes and pointed out the constellations and the north star and marveled at God’s creation, I was overwhelmed with joy,  contentment, and gratitude.

You rarely regret the things you do…it’s the things you don’t do that you regret!

At the funeral dinner yesterday, a family member and I were talking. I was telling her that I started my Masters at the end of July and how difficult it has been with my schedule. I told her I was second guessing myself because of the cost. And there’s my age. She said to me, “In five years from now, you would regret not doing it because it would have been finished. I tell my boys all the time to think 5 years ahead…and see if you would regret not doing it.” You cannot have too much education. Learning is a good thing.

Each family member whose funeral I have officiated, I have gotten to know them better and in turn gotten to know myself better. They each left a legacy. Some were ordinary people living quiet, extraordinary lives. I say all of this to say this: Enjoy life. Don’t waste this one life you have been given on things that don’t matter.Love God, love people, take risks, and leave a legacy that adds goodness and kindness to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Days…

 

Today is my last day of an amazing 8 day stay-cation. I had goals for this week. And every one of them was met. It was the perfect balance of getting projects done, fun, and simply relaxing. As I sit in my back yard on my swing enjoying the birds chirping as the sun sets, I am so thankful. For my life, for my family, for my job, for the people I partner with in ministry, and most importantly for Jesus.

Every night with the exception of one, I would lay on my swing and simply listen to the birds sing and the cricket’s chirp. For hours. I would pray some but for the most part, I would just simply swing. I wouldn’t think about all the things I have to do when I get back to work or worry about my finances or wonder if I am where I should be at this point in my life. I was completely in the moment. This has not always come easy to me. I am the type of person before a big event or project is even over, I’m planning the next. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation with someone, I’m already on to the next (ask my friends and co-workers how many times I don’t finish a sentence). That’s not bad, It’s just who I am and how I’m wired. But I have learned I really must carve time to simply be. So I schedule it in. And it makes all difference in the world. It helps me be more spontaneous and enjoy the summer rain and people and all the things that really matter. It also helps me when tough times do come. I have an emotional reservoir to draw from.

And every night in the midst of my relaxing on the swing, I would listen to a song.  Did you ever have a song you put on repeat and listen to it over and over and over again.? And it never gets old? It just hits you where you are? and what God is doing in you?  Well, my current jam is Coldplay’s Amazing Day, It has been my theme song for the week (actually for the past several months). It hits me in the feels EVERY time.

The lyrics go something like this:

 

We sat on a roof, named every star
Shared every bruise and showed every scar
Hope has its proof put your hand in mine, saying
“Life has a beautiful, crazy design”

And time seemed to say
“Forget the world and it’s weight”
And here I just want to stay

Amazing day
Amazing day

We sat on a roof, named every star
You showed me a place
Where you can be what you are

And the view, the whole Milky Way
In your eyes, I drifted away
And in your arms I just want to sway

Amazing day
Amazing day

And I asked
Can the Birds in poetry, chime?
Can there be breaks in the chaos sometimes?
Oh, thanks God, must have heard when I prayed
Cause now I always want to feel this way
Amazing day
Amazing day
Yeah, today

I think there are times in all of our lives we need to “forget the world and its weight” and listen to the poetry of the birds. Have you ever prayed “can there be breaks in the chaos sometimes?” I felt my soul had been crying out for this for months now. It is the major reason I chose to take a stay-cation and structure it the way I did.

God did hear when I prayed. This past week has been a break from the chaos. And I am so grateful. I know I will not always feel this way. Nor should I. God has a purpose for me and I want to be in the midst of the battle. I have a job to do. But for a week, I had a break…a time-out.

Life is beautiful and complicated and hard and busy. And can turn on a dime. Heart ache will happen. Disappointment will inevitably come my way. But for a week, a wonderful week I was able to completely forget the world and its weight. And to have a break from the chaos.

May I encourage you this summer to carve time for you and your family to simply relax and be. Go watch a sunset or a sunrise. Sit on your front porch and watch the cars go by. Waste time. Leave the housework and spend the day at the beach. It is so worth it!

Caught this heron.

Caught this heron.

Getting ready for a 7 mile kayak trip that didn't go so well. Ha. Maybe another blog on this one. Maybe not.

Getting ready for a 7 mile kayak trip that didn’t go so well. Ha. Maybe another blog on this one. Maybe not.

After the water balloon fight with the nieces and nephews.

After the water balloon fight with the nieces and nephews.

Relaxing lunch and stroll to the beach with a good friend.

Relaxing lunch and stroll to the beach with a good friend.

Paying homage to one of the best Dr. Who episodes ever. Ha! :)

Paying homage to one of the best Dr. Who episodes ever. Ha!:)

My stuff stuck in the middle of the river from my kayak trip.... :(

My stuff stuck in the middle of the river from my kayak trip….😦

Spending time with family. And that's my swing :)

Spending time with family. And that’s my swing:)

Got up one morning to watch the sunrise (I'm a sunset type of gal)

Got up one morning to watch the sunrise (I’m a sunset type of gal)

Memorial Day family picnic/water balloon fight! enjoying family!

Memorial Day family picnic/water balloon fight! enjoying family!

Spent a day at the Cleveland Art Museum. Such a great museum. Standing in front of my favorite...Van Gogh

Spent a day at the Cleveland Art Museum. Such a great museum. Standing in front of my favorite…Van Gogh

Mouth of the Vermilion River

Mouth of the Vermilion River

Unfiltered. Beautiful dawn.

Unfiltered. Beautiful dawn.

Living Better, Not Bitter

I had a moment Mother’s Day weekend. I went to put flowers on my mom’s grave. After I put the flowers in the vase, I sat on a bench under the dogwood tree which sits close to the family plot. It was a beautiful spring day. The wind was gently blowing and the smell of the dogwood blossoms were heavenly. I could see the ducks swimming in the pond and the covered bridge off in the distance.

Sitting on the bench

Sitting on the bench

As I sat there, I thought about my mom passing away so young. She was 46 (the age I am now). I thought of my grandma dying 16 months later. I thought of all the things I had lost represented in the grave stones laying at my feet. I reflected on how tough life really was growing up and all the things I lost at such a young age – security, innocence, confidence, self-esteem (my childhood was not for the faint of heart). I most often view my childhood with rose-colored glasses and forget about how painful parts of it were. I am and always will be an optimistic realist.

But as I sat there I could not dwell on all I had lost. I was so full of gratitude for all I have been given. For my life. My amazingly big, beautiful, messy, hard, wonderful, adventure-filled life. I love Jesus and the path He has set for me and the countless ways in which He has blessed me and the many ways in which He has delivered me.

I am the sum of all I have been through. The good and the bad and the ugly. I have chosen to not become bitter but better and to allow the adversity and loss to work in my life to produce good; to produce avenues in which God’s goodness can shine forth. I am reminded of one of my favorite songs by Rich Mullins “Home”:

What I’d have settled for you’ve blown so far away

What you brought me to I thought I could not reach

And I came so close to giving up

But you never did give up on me.

Life is so much more than I ever thought it could be. Are there still areas of my life in need of healing? Of course. Are there still things I want to see happen? Prayers to be answered? Dreams to be fulfilled? Yes! Yes! Yes! But everything I thought I wanted in the past – He has so done above and beyond. And the things He did not allow, I can now see why and I thank Him for saying “no”.

I end with the prayer I wrote in my journal after reflecting on all of this:

Thank you, Jesus, for this wonderful, full life you have given me. I will always choose to focus on what I have, not on what I don’t have. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, amazing friends and family…I get to share the love and goodness of my God…You Jesus! Thank you for allowing me to appreciate the smell of lilacs and birds chirping  and the sunshine as well as the rain.  Thank you that I really can dance in the rain…and embrace all things that come my way…the good and the bad and the ugly. Amen.

Twirling in a hail storm :)

Twirling in a hail storm:)

What Makes Good Friday So Good?

Today is Good Friday. I have been reading my friend’s thoughts about this day on Facebook. So much of what I have been reading is encouraging. But what’s so good about today? Didn’t seem to be too good of a day for Jesus. I am reminded of a comment a friend of mine made when the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out several years back.  We had been talking about the intensity of the beating Jesus took and how in the movie they would have to break away to a memory of Jesus  to give the audience a break from the horrific beating Jesus was taking.  I had said “the movie only captured a small portion of what Jesus went through. It was mild compared to the hours of relentless beating He actually took” My friend’s response “I don’t care how you look at it, but in the movie, Jesus got His ass kicked.” He was not being facetious. He was clearly shook.

I have been thinking about that conversation a lot this week. Jesus did get way more than just His ass kicked on Good Friday. He was separated from the Father, ripped from the Trinity, forsaken, deserted spit upon and mocked. For us. For me. For you.

I don’t know fully know what it cost Jesus and will never fully understand the sacrifice He made. My Pastor always says when we get to heaven, we will clearly see Jesus gave up something, the price will be more felt and understood by us. Jesus did it so I can live life fully, freely and forgiven. He did it through the Cross.

He hung on the Cross for each time I hurt another person. Each time I gossiped. He was beat for the times I hated my mom and refused to forgive her. He died for the times I have sinned sexually. He was mocked for the lies I told, for the times I chose what I wanted at the expense of others. He was separated from the Father for times I spent money I didn’t have to fill emptiness that could never be filled. He died so the addictions in my life could be broken. And He died for the wrongs done TO me.  And the list goes on and on.

Jesus took it all and rose from the grave three days later as proof the sacrifice was accepted by God. The power that raised Him to life, now lives in me.

So I don’t beat myself up. That is not the point of the Gospel or what Jesus wants. Jesus died so I could be restored to relationship with Him and with others. He wants me to be grateful and to take full advantage of the love God lavished on us. To try to earn it or feel guilty about it is not honoring to Jesus or what He did on the Cross.

Shame, guilt, and condemnation have no room in my life. To wallow in any of these is to live way below what Jesus accomplished on the Cross.

Good Friday. Good for me. My whole life rests on this day. My foundation, my starting point. The price paid on this day makes everything else possible. This amazingly, wonderful, beautiful life I have starts here — at the Cross of Christ. My forgiveness comes from here and the power to do what He has called me to do.

My response? Gratitude, awe, thanksgiving. And a determination to make my life count.

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Cross of St. Mary’s

 

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Cross on Lake Erie outside of town.

 

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Cross at Camp McPherson

How Does Jesus Fit Into Politics?

I started writing this blog back in December. I have hesitated pushing the publishing button because I have not wanted to offend anyone. Witnessing what is going on in our political process in this season has convinced me I need to continue to wrestle with this. And encourage other believers to wrestle with it as well. I hope you hang in there until the last line and choose to join the crusade to be kind. In the midst of our differences, let us err on the side of kindness. 

Today I am sad. And frustrated.  And  hopeful. Always hopeful.

Anger has gripped our country in ways I have never seen before. It has been percolating for a long time. I believe the anger stems from fear. The terrorist attack in San Bernardino a couple of months ago seems to have been a tipping point. And the fear is manifesting itself in anger.

Everyone seems so angry. I see it in our politicians, in our presidential candidates, and on our news shows and social media. The hateful rhetoric being thrown around causes me great alarm.

The most troubling place I am noticing the anger is in those who call themselves Christians.

Let me clarify something here. When I talk about Christians I am talking about my people, my tribe.

I am a believer.

I believe the Bible. I believe it is the inerrant Word of God. I am an ardent student of the Bible. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe Jesus is still calling people to follow Him. In fact, I have given my life to serve His church and to make Him known. I am one of those Christians. Jesus is everything to me. He has completely changed my life. I believe He still changes lives and is relevant to this world we live in.

I also believe Jesus is concerned about a lot more than our politics. The primary Christian witness since the late 80s have been a political witness. God help us. No wonder people have a warped view of who Jesus is. We are putting way too much hope in the political process. We are way too invested in it. We are sending people to our State Capitals and Washington D.C. expecting them to solve every issue. And we get mad when it does not happen. And we lash out at each other. We don’t even listen to one another anymore. We just want to be right. And fight.

I am not one of those who put their heads in the sand. I vote in every election. I keep up on current events. I have served 8 years on City Council and currently serve on Planning Commission. I have loved politics since I was a kid. In 7th grade, my research paper was on the Great Depression. I wrote about the economic and social factors that led to it. I was 13. In 8th grade, my research paper was on Watergate and how the events surrounding it led to President Nixon’s resignation. But over the past 5 years, I have been wrestling with what I believe politically. The first mayor (a mentor) I served with on City Council asked me “How does Jesus fit into politics?” I have been asking myself that very question a lot lately.  Does what I believe politically  line up with what the Bible teaches?  I grew up in a democratic household. I switched in my early 20s to the Republican party. I have gone back and forth since then. I currently am a registered independent. People may say I am wishy-washy. I say I am trying to be authentic and figure out how my political beliefs line up with the Word of God.

I still have my research paper from 8th grade. :)

I still have my research paper from 8th grade.:)

I am ardently pro-life. Or let me re-phrase that. I believe in fostering a culture of life. I have begun to filter every issue through this lens. This may seem very simplistic or naive to some reading this. I am ok with that. (One of the conclusions I have come to over the past 5 years is we are all hypocrites in the political realm. No matter what side of the aisle you are on.)

I began to apply a culture of life philosophy to every issue we face as a nation:

Immigration: I am most appalled at the conversation surrounding this issue. I understand the safety issues. I agree taxes must  be paid. But most of “those” people coming over the border are kids and teenagers fleeing drug cartel infested nations which our American drug habit is feeding. We bear some of the responsibility. I also remember reading somewhere instructions to take care of the alien, the widow and the fatherless among us (tongue in cheek😉 I’m referring to the Bible. And when the government comes out and wants to increase the number of LEGAL immigrants by only 10,000 this year, we are upset about that as well.

The Statue of Liberty has the inscription:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

We are a nation of immigrants. It is part of our DNA.

I recently read over 10,000 migrant children are missing in Europe. The fear is many have been absorbed into the sex trafficking trade. Christians should be leading the efforts to rescue and care for these kids. And our policies as a nation should assist in these efforts.

Environment: I am a firm believer in taking care of what God has entrusted to us. If I really believe in a culture of life, I want safeguards to help protect people from getting cancer as much as possible so people can live the best, most fruitful and fulfilling life possible. I have been to several third world countries that do not have the regulations we have here in America. Burning garbage is the norm in most countries. I am grateful for the regulated air we breathe and the water we drink. What is happening in Flint, Michigan affects us all. It can happen to any community. No child should be dying in 21st century America of lead poisoning.  Being a follower of Jesus and being green really are compatible. God called us to be caretakers of the planet, not destroy it. I hope someday followers of Jesus would have the best reputation for loving people and taking care of the planet that houses those very same people. (Pleases recycle😉  )

Abortion: The right to life is THE fundamental basic right. Every life is valuable and created in the image of God. We wonder why life does not seem to be valued anymore in our country. It starts here. And politicians who change their stance on this issue just to win votes will never get my vote. You respect life or you don’t. All lives matter. Especially life in the womb. How we treat those who cannot help themselves show us the true character of our nation. The elderly, disabled, addicts, the unborn, the poor all deserve our care and concern. That is fostering a culture of life.

Welfare, health care, social security: God helps those who helps themselves is not in the Bible. The Bible also does not put conditions on taking care of the poor. If I have to err, I am erring on the side of taking care of the poor. But with that being said, we have to be fiscally responsible and wise stewards of our resources. As a nation, we have to live within our means. But we elect who we are…individually we are not living within in our means, should we be surprised those who represent us are not as well?

Foreign Policy: We have been blessed as a country. We have the obligation to help people who cannot help themselves. If we do not lead, someone else will. And if we cannot defend ourselves, we cannot defend others.  Our responsibility does not stop at our borders.

Gun control: I believe we have the right to protect our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I grew up in a hunter’s home. I also believe we need to have a common sense approach to gun laws. But saying the right to bear arms is a God-given right is incorrect. It is a Constitutional Right. The Constitution is a very important document and adhering to it as a nation is important. But the Constitution is not the Bible.

It seems to me the Church has merged Nationalism and Christianity together. In the Old Testament, this would be called syncretism. And the result is an ugly hybrid of what following Jesus should look like.

I could go on and on with other issues. I know people could poke holes in all of this or disagree. And I am okay with that.

I love my country. I am grateful to be born in America. I understand in other parts of the world I would not even be able to express my thoughts and opinions.

A good friend called me the day after the shooting in San Bernardino. He is a “little” cynical. His response to the shootings was “we are screwed now. There is no hope of things getting better.” I disagreed and still do.

I may not have control over current events but I know the One who does.

The only person I do have control over is me. I choose not to live in fear. I choose to be kind and to make a difference in people’s lives. One person at a time.

I choose to be kind when people are cruel. I choose to be kind and listen to people who look differently than me, who act differently than me and who think differently than me.

I choose to try to understand people and not judge based on snapshots of their lives.

I choose to make a difference.

I will always stay informed on what is going on around me — the good, the bad and the ugly. I will fight on my knees for my country.

BUT I WILL CHOOSE TO DWELL ON GOOD THINGS. ALWAYS. 

What happened in California was horrendous. Two individuals killing 14 people in the name of their ideology and God. So needless and barbaric. My heart grieved for the families  who faced the holidays without their loved ones around the table. My heart also grieves for the 6 month old baby girl growing up in the shadow of what her parents did.

What I will dwell on is the man who shielded his co-worker and said “I got you” and gave his life protecting her. I will dwell on Dr. Michael Neeki  who ran into the unknown to save lives before the area was secured. I will think about the first responders who time after time put others first.

At the end of the book Mocking Jay (the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy) , Katniss who had and witnessed horrible atrocities and experienced terrible things says fear still grips her. Fear her kids will be ripped away from her and her life she has built will be destroyed. She combats this fear by playing a game. She recounts every good act she ever witnessed.

The apostle Paul says something similar in the Bible, Philippians 4:8:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

I choose to focus on the good in the world. I will not ignore the evil and put my head in the sand but I will not let it change me or become my focus. I will not cower in fear. When fear and anger dictate how we act, we have already lost.

I will live life to the fullest, celebrate the good things I witness,  and love people. I will be kind. Even to people who think differently than me. Especially to those who think differently than me. Will you join me?

 

Keep Dreaming

“I dream a lot and I hope one day some of them come true.” Journal entry from June 11, 1986 by 16-year-old Heidi.

This weekend I am speaking at a youth winter camp. I am excited and nervous. The theme of the camp is “Encounter”. I will be speaking from Ephesians 2. The first evening I will be sharing my story of when I first encountered Jesus. As I was preparing,  I dug out my old journals. I spent an afternoon revisiting my 14, 15, and 16-year-old self. It was very enlightening, sad, encouraging, and funny all at the same time.

I read of my first concert to see Bruce Springsteen at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I read of heartbreak from unrequited love and drama with my friends (there is NOTHING new under the sun). I read of the turmoil in my home life. I read of my coming to Jesus and how He completely changed my life. I also read it was not as easy as I remember to follow Him. I watched my life as a follower of Jesus unfold. I teared up at the pain of some of the friendships and things I lost. I swelled with pride as I watched a completely unchurched girl persevere and make tough decisions to follow hard after Jesus. It definitely was not pretty or graceful or perfect but it was real and honest and raw and full of love for Jesus.

And on June 11th, 1986 in the midst of teenage angst,I penned these words: “I dream a lot and I hope one day some of them come true.” With the following Scripture “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” written after it.

Before this entry was an entry of concern for my dad’s health, below this entry was venting about my geometry and biology exam.

I wish I knew why 16-year-old Heidi wrote those words. What was she thinking in the midst of family stuff and high school exams?

There is a song by Rich Mullins called Home. It is one of my favorites. And I want it played at my funeral (many, many years from now😉 . In it, he sings;

What I’d have settled for
You’ve blown so far away
What You brought me to
I thought I could not reach
And I came so close to giving up
But You never did give up on me

God has blown the dreams of a 16-year-old girl away. He has allowed me to do far above and beyond what I thought was possible.

I wish I could explain how important it is to dream. To take risks. To dare to believe life could be more than we think it could. To believe we can make a difference.

I wish people knew the dream giver…Jesus. And how He wants to help us reach for things so much bigger than us. And how life is meant to be lived fully.

Dreaming is important to me. I am currently looking for songs which speak of dreaming. I am printing out the lyrics as I come across them and am keeping them in the folder of a class I teach on helping others discover their purpose and dreams. There is in all of us a desire to do great things. It is God given.

I still dream. A lot. I still hope one day some of them will come true. I hope 56, 66, 76, and 86 year Heidi is still saying the same thing.

 

Nigerien Dreamin’

As many of you know, especially those who follow me on Facebook, I recently got back from a trip to Niger, Africa. This missions trip was twenty years in the making. It has taken me awhile to write about it because life has been crazy since I have been back. I also wanted to read what I wrote at church before I put it on my blog. And a very cool side note is our local newspaper did a feature on my trip. 

The article in our local paper! <3

The article in our local paper!❤

Niger is in Western Africa. It is consistently ranked 176 out of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index. Life expectancy at birth is 46 years. There is a 15% literacy rate and has the highest birth rate in the world. To say Niger is poor is an understatement. It is also 96% Muslim. Niger is a hard country. Nothing glamorous about it.

map-niger

Nigeriens do not display much emotion. To cry is a sign of weakness. But they are an incredibly kind and generous people. And beautiful.

With the children at the church in Niamey.

With the children at the church in Niamey.

He was a twin. <3

He was a twin.❤

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Patient at Cure.

Patient at Cure.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Eddie and Pastor Ali

Eddie and Pastor Ali

This little girl walked for the first time. She's 3...

This little girl walked for the first time. She’s 3…

Beautiful faces of Niger

Beautiful faces of Niger

Beautiful faces of Niger

Beautiful faces of Niger

The whole time I was in Niger, I think I cried only once or twice. I honestly believe it was the grace of God. Those who know me, know I tear up. A lot. I say all of this to preface my journal entry from the trip home. This is what I wrote on the plane ride home:

We are in the middle of our 32 hour trip home. The flight from Niamey to Istanbul was great. I had no one in my row once we left Mali and I was able to get some sleep. It pays to be short on an airplane:) I am sitting on our 12 hour flight from Istanbul to Dulles. As soon as I sat down in my seat, I started bawling. I have not cried the whole time in Niger – I have no idea why I am crying…are they happy tears? Sad tears? A release? I have no idea but it is so overwhelming , I can barely keep it together. 

Yesterday before we left, we stopped at a market to get gifts. I hate bartering. I’m not good at it. 

We stopped at Zachary’s house on the way back to Cure. Zachary is a young man who converted from Islam to Christianity. Pastor Ali has been discipling him and he was with us for our whole trip, driving and watching over us.  His whole family disowned him due to this decision. Last time Scott came, he stopped over Zachary’s Gran Family’s house and helped start the process of reconciliation. This time they brought the whole family together and asked Scott to preach the Gospel to them. They have seen the transformation in Zachary’s life. Each man of the family sat in a chair and received prayer. It was so incredibly powerful. It amazes me that our presence brings influence. Simply showing up changes lives. The same thing happened at David’s house during our first few days here in Niger.

Praying over the men at Zachary's house.

Praying over the men at Zachary’s house.

At Zachary's house.

At Zachary’s house.

We went back to Cure and thanked our Nigerien part of the team. We then went and rode camels on a sand dune in the sub Sahara. I still don’t know where Pastor Ali and Scott found 18 camels. There is nothing touristy about Niger. It was a neat experience though I had never even ridden a horse before. The Camel scared me and the fact I could not communicate with my helper did not help matters. But I survived.

No words.

No words.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Look at him looking at me. This will get framed.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Look at him looking at me. This will get framed.

Some of our team at the tops of the dunes. Love this pic

Some of our team at the tops of the dunes. Love this pic

When we got back to Cure to shower and get ready to head to the airport, our Nigerien brothers presented us with personalized necklaces of Niger with our names on them. It so touched me, knowing the hardship and poverty they face and they presented us with a gift. And I am headed back to a life of leisure.

Even as I write this I am bawling.

This is a necklace of Niger...our Nigerien brothers had our names engraved on them. I have it hanging in my car so when I drive, I always pray for Niger.

This is a necklace of Niger…our Nigerien brothers had our names engraved on them. I have it hanging in my car so when I drive, I always pray for Niger.

Crying over all I have seen and how inadequate and ineffective I feel and selfish. I want to see many come to Christ and see lives transformed but haven’t been holding up my end of the bargain with prayer. 

I want to spend my life for you, Jesus. I just don’t know what that looks like for me. I know I am doing some good things for the Kingdom of God but I want to do more. I need you to speak to me, Lord. 

I am crying again. We ate dinner just a little bit ago on the plane and I went to sleep afterwards with worship music playing in my ear. When I woke up, the Lord showed me a picture of me sitting at His feet, my head on His lap. And He asked me, “Heidi, tell me what you saw in Niger.”

 (This is what I read Sunday in Church.)

I saw extreme poverty. I saw an oppression so strong you could physically feel it. I saw a hard way of life. I saw a people living in filth. I saw children malnourished. I saw a nation not able to read or write. I saw a nation of women who have no value. I saw a nation with very few older men and women. I saw a land so hard, the people reflect it. I saw very little emotion. I saw how Islam is crushing people, giving them very little choice on how to live. I saw demonic oppression. I saw the reality of Heaven and Hell. 

But I also saw hope. And Jesus moving in real and powerful ways. I saw a people who are incredibly kind. I saw a neighborhood opened to the Gospel simply because of our presence.

I saw a Muslim family ask for the Gospel to be preached. I saw God open the door for Scott to preach the Gospel on national television in Niger. I saw a generosity in a multitude of people giving out of nothing.

I saw hope and glimpses of joy. I saw passion and drive. I saw every person’s name being taken for follow-up. I saw demons cast out. I saw the Gospel on the move.

I saw a people willing to die for a cause bigger than themselves.

I saw a group of 18 people who would have never met in America — from all generations, genders and walks of life come together for the cause of Christ. I saw them putting themselves in hardship and others before themselves — all for the Gospel. I saw people taking smaller portions to ensure everyone had enough to eat. I saw a well fixed and a neighborhood blessed and children ecstatic for clean drinking water. 

I saw a civility and genuine kindness during a car accident. I saw an incredibly unselfish culture. 

I saw a man in a tree church healed of a scorpion bite. I saw a blind man receive his sight.

I saw a little girl who never walked before, walk.

I saw that Jesus is working all around the world.

I saw Jesus is still calling people from every tongue and tribe and nation to go into all the world. And we are still our brother’s keepers.

I saw Jesus is not confined to American borders. And that fear has no place in answering the call to follow Jesus. 

Love Really Does Win!

What do I do with all of this? How do I respond, Jesus? 

Tell people what you saw, what I am doing and I want to do it in their lives as well. Tell others. Don’t be ashamed or afraid about what I can do. 

I know I am not done in Niger. The country and people are such a part of my heart. There is a lot of work to be done. Practical ways in which to show the love of Christ. Ways in which we can partner with them to bring a Gospel that is good news to the body, soul, and spirit. A dear friend and mentor of mine says ” you cannot say something is life changing until after 6 months have passed.” And she is correct. We say a lot of things in the heat of the moment. But hopefully on May 15th, 2016 my actions will show my life has been forever changed by my time in Niger. I really want to be a part of God’s dream for Niger.

Our team on the way home.

Our team on the way home.

Our whole team at the market.

Our whole team at the market.

Feet in the Sub Sahara

Feet in the Sub Sahara

Speaking at a Tree Church

Speaking at a Tree Church

Walking to a Tree church out in the Bush

Walking to a Tree church out in the Bush

Riding camels.

Riding camels.

Beautiful African sunset.

Beautiful African sunset.

The man in the hat received his sight. Amazing.

The man in the hat received his sight. Amazing.

1600 Miles of Lessons

A couple of weeks ago I drove over 1600 miles in 8 days…from the shores of Lake Erie, Ohio to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I meandered through the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains and throughout the state of Virginia. I spent some time on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove under the bridge in Chesapeake. The mountains were in peak season. The vibrant reds and yellows were absolutely breath-taking.The sunrises and sunsets I witnessed in Duck, NC were equally awe-inspiring.

I am a nature girl. I feel closest to God in nature. Listening to the wind blow in the tops of trees or sitting on the beach, listening to waves crash fills me with such wonder. Give me a blanket on a beach staring up at the stars over any other type of entertainment and I’m a happy girl.

The Bible teaches in the book of Romans: 

Ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

You can say creation was God’s first missionary.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

Sunrise in Duck, North Carolina. So incredibly beautiful!

Sunrise in Duck, North Carolina. So incredibly beautiful!

Sunrise at the Outer Banks, Duck, North Carolina

Sunrise at the Outer Banks, Duck, North Carolina

This is the deer noticing me at the beach in the Outer Banks...He was not timid

This is the deer noticing me at the beach in the Outer Banks…He was not timid

This is him peering at me...the next picture was him coming towards me to check me out. Freaked me out so I took off.

This is him peering at me…the next picture was him coming towards me to check me out. Freaked me out so I took off.

Sunset in the Sound. We serve such an amazing, creative God!

Sunset in the Sound. We serve such an amazing, creative God!

Sunset in the Sound at the Outer Banks.

Sunset in the Sound at the Outer Banks.

Somewhere in VA at an overlook. Notice the river running through it. Beautiful

Somewhere in VA at an overlook. Notice the river running through it. Beautiful

Blue Ridge Parkway. Taken at Raven's Roost.

Blue Ridge Parkway. Taken at Raven’s Roost.

The leaves changing colors.

The leaves changing colors.

One of my most favorite spots.

One of my most favorite spots.

But as amazing as the beach and the mountains were during the trip, there was another aspect of His creation I enjoyed even more…His people.

These past nine months, I have helped lead a WIML Cohort. (WIML = Women in Ministry Leadership). There were 12 ladies in the cohort from all around the nation. We would have monthly 2 hour conference calls centered around enhancing our personal growth  and leadership skills. We read several books together. The ladies were also professionally coached during these nine months. The cohort culminated in a Summit at a beach house in Duck, North Carolina.

All together, there were 21 ladies staying at the beach house. The theme was “Worth it”. Some of the sessions were risk is worth, leadership is worth it, healthy rhythms of life are worth it, Holy Spirit empowered ministry is worth it, and going for it is worth it.

The times of worship were precious. It was amazing to see 21 women get to know one another. Hearing the laughter  around the dinner table and each lady sharing their story made my heart so incredibly happy. We were meant to live life together. We live in an age where we think deep, lasting relationships can be cultivated over social media. It is not enough. Social media can help but it does not replace the dynamic of being together, face to face; laughing together, crying together, encouraging one another. We must be living in community together. We need each other.

Ministry can be hard. Life can be hard. We need each other to celebrate the triumphs and to mourn the losses; to cheer each other on when we feel like giving up, to remind us that this crazy adventure God has us on is most definitely worth the sacrifice and the pain. And joy really does come in the morning.

There is nothing more beautiful than community. No mountain or sunrise or sunset and anything else in creation can compare to the beauty of God’s people.  The diversity and creativity displayed in each and every one of us is mind-boggling. And my time away at the beach house with 20 amazing ladies reminded me of this truth.

Some of the best youth in all of the land. On my way to NC, I had to take some of our youth to a college preview in VA. They are more beautiful than the mountains behind them.

Some of the best youth in all of the land. On my way to NC, I had to take some of our youth to a college preview in VA. They are more beautiful than the mountains behind them.

At the college preview, I got to spend time with the 3 of these amazing young adults. I have known them since they were kids and have watched them grow up. I am so proud of their walk with Jesus and where they are in ministry.

At the college preview, I got to spend time with the 3 of these amazing young adults. I have known them since they were kids and have watched them grow up. I am so proud of their walk with Jesus and where they are in ministry.

All 21 of us at the Summit. Amazing group of ladies. What an incredible time of laughter, worship and getting to know one another.

All 21 of us at the Summit. Amazing group of ladies. What an incredible time of laughter, worship and getting to know one another.

The 3 of us who lead the cohort. Love these ladies. We are so different but complement each other very well!

The 3 of us who lead the cohort. Love these ladies. We are so different but complement each other very well!

The ladies in the cohort. Amazing ladies in this group. World changers.

The ladies in the cohort. Amazing ladies in this group. World changers.

Got to spend time with my best friend in the whole wide world.

Got to spend time with my best friend in the whole wide world.

The 3 of us with our friend and mentor. She has so spoken into each of our lives.

The 3 of us with our friend and mentor. She has so spoken into each of our lives.

The ladies who cooked for us. Cheri says "food is the currency of relationships". The currency was amazing!

The ladies who cooked for us. Cheri says “food is the currency of relationships”. The currency was amazing!

Building community

Building community

Missions

During college I had class 8 -12 and worked 1-9, five days a week at a drug store. I had Tuesdays and Sundays off and those days were filled with student ministry and homework. Life was full. I would get up early to pray, eat lunch after class and take a 15 minute power nap. Power naps are how I survived college.

We had chapel two times a week during college. There are very few chapels I remember from my four years at school but one in particular impacted me greatly. It was a chapel on missions. Since I first heard what a missionary was in high school I was enthralled with missions. I read books on missionaries (Bruchko and Peace Child are two I highly recommend). I loved hearing the stories of people leaving everything familiar to go overseas and share the love and life of Jesus. And that morning John Amstutz spoke in chapel. He talked about the 10/40 window and all the people groups who have not heard or experienced the love and grace of Jesus. He introduced me to one of my favorite authors (John Piper) and how to use the Lord’s Prayer to pray. I lost the insert for my Bible many years ago. It makes me sad because I would love to use it when teaching on prayer. It revolutionized my prayer life and is still the model I use to pray.

I was so eager to get out of class and go pray for the nations. I skipped lunch and my power nap.

On my way to work, I sensed the Lord speaking to me (that may sound weird to some of you…heck, it sounds kind of weird to me). I felt Him telling me I could have anything I asked of Him. I thought of my work and school schedule and bills and other things but I knew all of that stuff didn’t matter.  I can still picture me driving down the highway. It was an audacious prayer of a Bible college student who believed she could change the world. I remember praying, “Lord, help the world see how good and loving You are…reach the people who need it the most and are the hardest to reach. And if at all possible, if it is not asking too much, use me.” And I prayed for a particular region of the world.

DSCN4549.JPG

Fast forward it 20 years. I have the amazing opportunity in November to go to Africa to be a part of this prayer being answered. There are 18 of us from our district going to a work our district started over 5 years ago. We will be in the heart of the 10/40 window. I cannot tell you how excited (and nervous) I am about going. I have all my shots, my visa application is in, and now we are preparing through studying, fasting and praying. God is slowly but surely providing my way and I am trusting the rest of what I need will come in when I need it.

There was another time I felt God nudging me to ask Him for whatever I wanted. And I am currently seeing the answer unfold before my eyes, years and years later.

I say all of that to say this: Prayer works. God delights in answering our prayers that our born out of our heart for Him and for people. Don’t give up. Both these answers to prayers have been over 20 years in the making. And both are being answered in ways I could have never ever have imagined. Keep praying. And pray for us as we go to Africa. May God’s love and grace shine through us.

 

 

Bike & Baggage

A few weeks back I began chronicling the adventures I had this summer and the lessons learned. Once I began writing I realized one blog would not be enough. This is the fourth and last installment. I am ready to leave summer behind me and embrace all God has for me this fall. Ministering in Africa and North Carolina are just a few of the things to come!

At the beginning of the summer,  I went for a 17 mile bike ride on a trail not far from my house. The trail extends from rural Kipton, Ohio to the city of Elyria. It is a gorgeous ride. The trail winds through farmland, woods, a golf course, the city of Oberlin plus more. I usually pack a lunch, take my Bible and journal and ride to the city of Oberlin and eat lunch and read and write in a park in Oberlin. I decided to go further along the trail before turning around and heading back.

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

On the way back, I got tired so I stopped at CVS (a drug store) to get crackers and something to drink. I ended up buying two facial washes, a huge bottle of body lotion (they were on sale) plus two drinks. Mind you, I still had five miles to go and the grade is higher going back. These purchases added an extra 5 pounds.

It made no sense for me to buy facial wash and body lotion on a scenic, long bike ride.

Not one of my brightest moves.

As I was peddling my heart out with an added five pounds of baggage, I thought about my walk with Jesus and the Scripture I had just read in the letter to the Philippians. Chapter 2, verse 14 said “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.”

Early summer was the end of a tough season for me. I was tired. Spiritually and physically. And frustrated. And angry.  Did I mention how tired I was? Bone-weary tired.  When I’m tired I end up picking up stuff/baggage I don’t need.  I begin to think in my heart “this is too hard, this season is going to kill me, I have it harder than anyone else, God where are you?” I had picked up grumbling and complaining.

I had to stop my bike and pray. And confess and apologize to the Lord for my current frame of mind and how I had been acting.

It was amazing. Once I confessed, peace and joy flooded my soul. This act of confession and repentance set me up for one of the best summers of my life. God was able to move in and through me once I put the baggage down. The ride has been smoother and easier and way more fun and fruitful!

What have you picked up? What is weighing you down in your walk with the Lord? What is God asking you to lay down so you can freely live this life He has given you with joy and peace? Confession is really good for the soul.

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