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Archive for the tag “Christianity”

Happy Anniversary, Heidi

Today marks 15 years I have been on staff at HCC. When I graduated from Bible College I never thought I would ever get to come back home. I am so grateful to God I did. I have blogged about how I ended up back in Vermilion.

Last night at Women’s Bible Study, I was sitting in the back while we were watching a video. Between the two Bible studies, there are 60 women. Women who are hungry to know Jesus, to find peace, to have joy in the journey. Sunday night we had a worship and healing service at our church. We have them periodically. We were expecting about 80 and probably had 160 plus. I get to walk with people and watch them discover how cool God really is and how much they really matter. I was so overwhelmed at what I get to do.

 

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It is not always easy. The hours are long. The pay isn’t great. People are never done. You witness first hand the ravages of sin. In our world today we never want to talk about sin and how it destroys us mentally, physically, relationally, and most importantly, spiritually. I have sat with a family as the parents told the kid’s they were getting divorced and saw a kid changed completely in a moment. I have intervened in someone’s life who was addicted to drugs. I have helped people pick up the pieces after betrayal in marriage or a loss of a child.

But I have also seen the power of God transform lives. I have seen the drug addict get clean. I have seen marriages restored that everyone else counted as dead. I have seen kids come back from their parent’s divorce. I have witnessed teenagers finally get how good, real and loving God is. I have seen God physically heal the blind and lame. I have slept under the stars of an African sky and worshiped Jesus with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have friends in Jamaica that have become my family.

Last fall I was asked to consider taking my own church in another community. This isn’t the first time I have been asked. This was the first time I seriously contemplated it. As my pastor and I processed through it, he told me that question I needed to settle was, “Do I see myself as a Lead Pastor?” (I am so thankful for Pastor Jim in my life. He is what a strong man in ministry should be. He is not intimidated by strong leaders; women or men. He embraces and releases them. He seeks them out. I have met people in ministry who view staff members as competitors, not comrades. We are comrades in arms. And he makes us all feel valuable and appreciated.

There are very few women Lead pastors in my denomination. That is not a criticism at all. I am proud of the fact that we have women Lead pastors. And I believe our denomination is open to them. I take very seriously what I model for younger men and women going into ministry. I want them to see a healthy, fulfilled, FRUIT-BEARING woman of God. I want them to see someone who enjoys life and ministry but isn’t afraid to share struggles. Life is hardly ever perfect and easy. I want to demonstrate how we honestly and gracefully walk through life’s trials. And I have mentored just as many young men as I have young women. I am not in competition with men. We complement each other…or we should.

I need to digress for a moment…please humor me. I have met women in ministry who try to make room for themselves simply because they are women. They fight for themselves. It appears that is all they care about. Believe me, I get it. I have met men who are against women in ministry. God asked me early on, “What do you want to be known for? You can’t fight everything so what is it you want to fight for?” I wrestled with this in my late 20’s. The answer I came to is I want to be known for fighting for souls and people. I want to be known for love. Scripture also teaches that God raises people up and casts people down. If there is something that God wants me to say He will open the doors. And He has. I have done some amazing things. Being a woman HAS NEVER KEPT GOD’S PURPOSES AND PLANS FROM BEING FULFILLED IN MY LIFE.

I am a strong woman and a strong leader. I know what it is to come under fire for decisions. I served on City Council for 8 years during some very bitter struggles. Standing for truth cost me. Reputation and money. But I did not waver. But that does not mean I have to be a Lead Pastor.

In ministry circles sometimes it is communicated, albeit unintentionally, that the Senior/Lead Pastor is the pinnacle of having arrived in ministry. That is simply not true. And it grieves me that people think that. I am reminded of the Peter Principle which is the belief that workers rise to the level of their incompetency. The main premise is that once people are in the spot in which they are most productive and fruitful (and happiest), they get promoted for doing such a good job and end up in a job they hate and are not equipped for. I don’t know how much I buy into this but there is a kernel of truth.

In my position, I get to do whatever I want to do (because I do everything I am asked). I am doing, for the most part, everything God has placed in my heart to do. I still have some big dreams (the biggest yet), but I am slowly but surely working on those dreams I believe are God-given.

Success and respect in life are not a title. Or a position. It’s not getting the big office down the hall (though it is the warmest 😉 ). Respect may come initially from these things but title and positions don’t maintain respect. It is what we do with it and how we treat people.

The Bible defines success in ministry as fruitfulness. Jesus says when we produce much fruit we bring glory to the Father. Fruitfulness is better than fame or a title. When I look over the past 15 years, I see fruit. And I believe in my soul, I have just entered the bearing much fruit phase. God is doing amazing things here in Vermilion and in my life. I work with the best team. We do not compete with each other, we complement each other. We bring out the best (on most days) in each other. When someone else looks good, we all look good.

I hosted our staff Christmas party this year. As I was on my hands and knees scrubbing baseboards (yeah…I’m that girl), I was praying about the decision. These are the thoughts I was thinking, “I could be a lead pastor, I could sit at the big people’s tables, I could have more influence, I, I, I, I.” (How do you like me now?). And I heard God speak, “Heidi, you’re not done in Vermilion. It’s not about title or position, it’s about fruitfulness.”

I love my community. And the staff I work with share the same love. This unity. This love we have for each other and our community is rare. Why would I leave this? To be known more? By who? Obviously, my answer was “no”.  And once I made up my mind, Jamaica happened. And God used it to reinforce the dreams I have and am currently working on.

I will be celebrating 20 years in ministry in May…I am sure there will be blog then as well (I am way too introspective) and looking back over all these years, I pinch myself that I get to do this.

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Our incredible staff, led by Pastor Jim and Joyce. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

 

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.

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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.

What Does Wonder Look Like?

In February, I flew out to Arizona for a weekend of shadowing an amazing mentor of mine. While at the airport I bought a Reader’s Digest to read on the plane. There was an article in it called “A World of Wonder”. And the Editor’s note was a column on things that made her wonder. She encouraged her readers to make their own list of things that have made them wonder.

The word wonder is defined by “the emotion aroused by something awe-inspiring, astounding, or surprising.”

Here is my list of things that have filled me with wonder lately.

Hearing church bells ring while sitting on the dock at the river enjoying lunch and reading my Bible. The smell of honeysuckle in the spring. Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands”. Reading a book that is so well-written and challenging you hate for it to end. And it is all you can think about for days. A freshly mowed yard. Watching our worship team at church lead us in worship with such joy and reverence. Laughter. Baseball games…the sights, the sounds, the smells. The sound of the bat cracking as the ball makes contact, the roar of the crowd, the smell of stale beer mixed with hotdogs and popcorn. Lunch with friends. A good cry. Wind chimes making music in the wind. People praying for one another. Singing “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of my lungs with my nieces. Family and friends gathered around my table, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Hearing children pray. Watching people grow in their faith. Witnessing people of different cultures worshipping Jesus. An Italian sausage and onion pizza. A bonfire. Elderly people telling their stories. A clean house. Watching my church family love on and bless families who have experienced loss of a loved one by providing a funeral luncheon. Cake with strawberries and pudding in the middle and icing to die for from Kiedrowskis. A Lake Erie sunset.  The power of community

What makes you wonder?

Lunch with friends.

Lunch with friends.

Lunch on the Vermilion River

Lunch on the Vermilion River

Sunset on Lake Erie

Sunset on Lake Erie

Letter to My Dad

Dear dad,

I cannot believe it has been six years since you passed away and went to be with Jesus. There is so much that has happened since you left us. Harrison graduated from high school, has a good job and is in a union. He is such a hard worker and a good man. You would really be proud of him. He reminds me a lot of you.

Penny’s girls are growing up to be such beautiful young women. They are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Penny and John have done a great job raising them! I try to have family night often with them. We play cards and eat and yell. A true Strickler tradition minus the 66 and alcohol 😉 . (I sure do miss playing cribbage with you.)

I am cooking a lot more. I actually like it and I think you would love some of the stuff I’m making. I really regret not having you teach me how to can and do some other things around the house. I plan on putting a small garden in this year. I know what I’m doing there. Hard to forget you making me line the rows up with rope in the pouring down rain because the plants had to be in by a certain time and in a certain way.

I got another useless dog. She doesn’t hunt or do anything like that but she scares salesmen away. I get a reminder every month to keep my dog inside so the electric company can read the meter. I don’t understand why….the back yard is fenced in…the meter is on the outside and Woodstock is too fat to jump the fence. You would definitely make fun of Woodstock along with the rest of the family…she is kind of fat.

The Browns still suck. Nancy and Scott miss you being in their football pools. And you still can’t say Pittsburg around Karen without a violent reaction or a penalty flag being thrown. Lebron dumped us on national television but all was forgiven when he came back a few years later. The Indians are still the same.

I am still pastoring at the church. And I love it! God has been so faithful!  I quit Papa Joes a few years back. I’m not on city council anymore but stay involved by being on Planning Commission. I miss talking  city politics with you and having lunch at the Amvets. Election day isn’t the same without you. I dream one day of writing more to supplement my income.

I have been to Jamaica twice and Israel since you’ve been gone. All trips of a lifetime.

Kate, Uncle Jake, and Wayne are no longer with us.

I think often of your stay in the hospital and the day when you told the four of us girls that “we always have family” before you tried to punch the nurse. I take that to heart. You would be so happy because your girls are planning on spending Christmas together down in Florida with Bill. We are renting a beach house and spending the week. I really wish you and Jerry could be there with us. And mom and Kate. I think we have avoided family things because it reminds us of our losses. But we know we can’t do that forever. There are nieces and nephews that need to experience all things Strickler.

I miss our car rides through the Ogontz and hearing the stories of your childhood. I miss the sound of the pressure cooker rocking. I miss how you could never pronounce anyone’s name correctly. I sometimes even miss how you would yell my name when you weren’t happy.

I still don’t miss going to the grocery store with you, though. We went enough for both our lifetimes combined plus eternity. You sure could grocery shop. I really hope there isn’t any grocery shopping in heaven.

I wonder whatever happened to the whistle you would use when telemarketers would call.

The Jehovah Witnesses finally stopped coming to the door. I think she had a crush on you.

Ollie and Pongo are both gone. I think Scott still wonders how he ended up with your crazy dog! You sure could pick ’em.

I have taken up the mantle of warning everyone as they back out of the driveway “to watch out for the fire hydrant and the flag pole.” (Remember the time you were warning me and as you said “fire hydrant”, I hit it? You didn’t let me live that one down).

I’m glad you are no longer in pain and that you are enjoying the presence of Jesus with Jerry. And that both of you are whole and healed and happy. And I know where you are sure is better than here but there are days I wish you and mom and Jerry were here with me.

I write all of this to simply say “I miss you, dad. And I love you and bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.”

See you soon,

Heidi

Me and my dad.

Me and my dad.

My dad.

My dad.

One of my favorite pictures of him...on a fishing trip to Canada.

One of my favorite pictures of him…on a fishing trip to Canada.

My brother, Jerry and dad at a family Browns party.

My brother, Jerry and dad at a family Browns party.

My brother, Jerry and my dad.

My brother, Jerry and my dad.

The Arts as Worship: God is a Creative God

A couple of nights ago, I finally had an evening to paint. Life has been crazy (good crazy) and the next four weeks will be pretty much the same. So I try to work in at least one night a week of painting. It has become my happy place. My extended time with God.

I painted two pictures that night. The first one was for someone I know who is battling cancer. For several weeks I felt the Lord leading me to paint a picture for this person and while I painted, I was to use the time to pray for healing. It was a very special time. Scriptures that came to mind as I prayed and painted, I jotted down on a note card. When I was finished with it, I turned it over and wrote the Scripture references on the back of the canvas. I took it with me to the women’s Bible study I lead on Fridays and had the ladies pray over it. I know that sounds strange  but I really know that God is in this. I mailed the painting to my friend on Friday afternoon.

After I was done with that, I just painted a picture. I had no plans, no ideas, no thoughts. I just put music on and painted.

It ended up being a very bright TV. As it took form, I thought about the things that I would want people to see about me if they were watching my life, the things that are important to who I am as a person.

The Cross of Christ was central. I want people to see Jesus in me. I want to please Jesus in everything that I do.

I painted an open book. I want to be authentic. With God and with others. Being real and setting an  atmosphere  for people to be honest with themselves  and God is important to me. This was so fresh to me because at my Tuesday night Bible study that week, we had an incredible time of study and prayer and it was because the ladies were so open and honest about where they were.  True growth and freedom comes from authenticity. If we would stop lying to ourselves about stuff, God could really move and transform our lives.

I had painted a smiley face because I want joy always to characterize my life (as well as righteousness and peace….after all those are the characteristics of the Kingdom of God).

I also painted a heart. I want to strive to be kind to people. Kindness is such a rare trait. I want to be remembered as a person who was kind. Kindness stands out like a shining light in a society where rudeness and disrespect is applauded and encouraged. (Turn on any news channel)

The last picture was a cloud with the title of Bruce Springsteen’s song, Dream Baby DreamI don’t care how old I get, I never want to stop dreaming big things for God. I always want to be reaching to accomplish something bigger than myself…something that I could never do by myself – that the fulfillment of the dream could only come t0 pass with God’s help. I want His dreams for my life to be my dreams. I want my dreams to always bring glory to God. And I never want to get stuck in the dreaming phase…I always want to act on those dreams that I have so I can see them come to pass so that God can give me even bigger dreams. In my spirit, I hear the Lord says always “Dream, Baby Dream”. (God uses Bruce’s music a lot to speak to me). 🙂 And God will still be saying it to me when I’m 90!!!

I love how God uses painting to bring things out of me. I am so  grateful that He is a creative God. I am thankful for the arts and how they point us to Him. There is nothing like listening to the music and lyrics of a song that evoke in us powerful feelings or a wonderfully written book that leaves me in wonder that words could create such a vivid picture in our imagination or a movie that inspires us to be better people and consider another point of view or a dance in which the person and the music become one and tell a story without any words or a painting that speaks to each person differently.

So grateful for the many ways God created for us to worship Him and communicate with another.

The Tale of Two Worlds: American Christianity vs. Coptic Christianity

I am a very opinionated person. As I have grown in my walk with the Jesus, I have learned to keep most of the opinions to myself especially in regards to politics. I remember a few years back the Lord asking me “What do you want to be known for? What is really worth fighting for?” This process I went through would be a subject for another blog. I came to conclusion I wanted to be for Jesus, for loving people,  and for helping people follow Jesus no matter where they were in life. I needed to live a life that invited people to follow Jesus. I needed to live a life that whet people’s appetite to know this Jesus I am so captured by.

I do not want to be known for what I am against. I had a friend during the last presidential election ask me who I was voting for. She was working for the Obama campaign and said she could tell who everyone else was voting for except me. I was pleased that she could not tell. I would say about 60% or my church are Republicans and 40% Democrats (very rough guess). I NEVER want who I vote for to keep someone from coming to know this amazing Jesus I follow. I know a lot of Christians would disagree with this philosophy. They would accuse me of being wishy-washy and not taking a stand. They would be wrong. I simply choose my battles. I served 8 years on City Council. Our city is non-partisan which means you do not declare a party. I think that is wonderful. We did not start with a dividing wall.

With all of that being said something occurred this weekend that I feel compelled to write about. Actually, two things occurred. The first is that 21 Coptic Egyptian Christians were brutally killed by ISIS. Men dressed in complete black ending the lives of 21 followers of Christ simply because they follow Christ or as ISIS puts it “belong to the nation of the Cross.” I know the reward for those martyred is great in Heaven. Those who have lost their lives because of their profession of faith in Christ have a special place. I pray for the family left behind and the other Coptic Christians who live under the threat of martyrdom.

I proudly belong to the nation of the Cross.

The second thing that happened was the release of the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey”. And the debates among Christians on the internet arguing on whether or not Christians should see the movie. The irony of it. My feelings vacillated between anger and incredible sadness.

The contrast of these two events demonstrates so clearly why the Church in America has become so ineffective.

21 Coptic Christians dying in Egypt for their faith. Christians in America arguing about whether or not we should watch a movie that has no redeeming value. A movie that tells you women are nothing but sexual objects. A movie that is soft porn. And people who don’t think porn is a problem in our nation should read this GQ article.

We wonder why the church in America is sick and anemic and is not affecting the culture they are living in.

We wonder why the Church is not taken seriously in our own nation.

We wonder why people are leaving the Church by the thousands every year.

I came to the conclusion that I came to a couple of years ago…I want to be a part of the solution. I want to be a life that stands out. A life whose light shines in a world of darkness. A life that loves people. A life that prays for people. I want to be a person who is just not called a follower of Jesus but is found to be one (St. Ignatius). I really want to live a life of righteousness, peace and joy. After all, those are the characteristics (or supposed to be) of those who are a part of the Kingdom of God.

Let there be another Great Awakening in our nation and let it start with me.

Coptic Christians in Egypt brutally killed by ISIS.

Coptic Christians in Egypt brutally killed by ISIS.

Seriously?

Seriously?

Let Your Light Shine

Last year I wrote a blog entitled,  The Tale of a Recovering Scrooge. In it I explain why Christmas has not been my favorite holiday since my mom passed away when I was 17.

I hesitate sharing another reason that this holiday is not my favorite. I hesitate because the last thing I want is for people to feel sorry for me and/or to give a false view of my life. I am incredibly grateful for where I am in life. I love what I do and whom I do it with. I am incredibly blessed. With all of that being said, Christmas is not the friendliest of holidays for singles. There is no one to open presents with on Christmas morning, no one to buy you Christmas presents (I cringe as I type this because it sounds terrible and incredibly selfish). I have chosen not to get married up to this point. And I have definitely chosen not to have children. There are positives and negatives to each choice we make in life. In the blessing that my life is, this is one negative. It doesn’t make me sad, it just reminds me of the seriousness of following Jesus in my life. People who say you can have it all, are not being honest.

Last year after a grieving through the holiday workshop at our church, I realized that I had to stop skipping Christmas. That it was time to re-engage in the celebration of the birth of Christ. I made some steps last year. This year I decided that I would hang some Christmas lights. Not a lot…. just a few.

In the past, during the summer I would hang flip-flop lights on the outside of my house. My house is pretty much decorated like a summer beach cottage and so in the summer I would hang lights.

A few weeks ago while working in my yard and cleaning out gutters, I started hanging a few Christmas lights. While I was doing this, my neighbor came over to talk to me. Six years ago, he lost his daughter to cancer and three years ago, he lost his wife to cancer. I had officiated both services.

As we stood in my front yard, with tears streaming down his face he told me how in his wife’s last days, she would have him hold her up so she could look out their back door to see my flip-flop lights. She thought they were so beautiful. And it brought her joy in her final days. He then proceeded to tell me that his 18-year-old grandson had just tragically died the week before. I had no idea. He was broken. As I hugged my neighbor in my front yard, mourning with him over his loss, I determined that I was going to go all out with Christmas lights this year. There is also a nursing home directly across the street from my house.

I had been so selfish for years, thinking how Christmas affected me and not noticing others around me. And I thought of Jesus, the whole reason for the season, who gave up Heaven, to be born as a baby so that He could show me the way to the Father. He gave up everything to die a brutal death on a Cross for me. So that I could serve God without fear and have this abundant life that I am currently living! So that I could love people more fully.

And all out I have gone! I now understand Clark Griswold’s motivation in National Lampoon’s Vacation. And it has been a financial sacrifice. I had to start from scratch with lights. And I have no idea how much my light bill will be but it is worth it. A friend of mine from church who works at the nursing home texted me last week and told me that one of the residents commented on how beautiful my lights were.

As I stood back and look at my lit house when I was finished, I remember the words of Jesus when He said to “let your light so shine before others so, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). I am taking it literally this year.

They are bright.

They are bright.

<3

Love my pink flamingo

Love my pink flamingo

We are all hot messes!

“Wow, she’s a hot mess.”

These were the words that greeted me and my dog as we walked through the groomer’s door. At first, I didn’t know if she was talking about me or the dog…

I have had Woodstock for 5 years. She was a rescue dog from the APL. She had been severely neglected when they found her. When I got her, you could see her ribs and there were huge patches of hair missing due to poor nutrition and fleas. And she had at some point in her life had puppies. Neither the APL nor my vet know how old she is because her teeth were in such poor condition. But she is the one of the coolest, craziest looking dogs I have ever seen. She is a chow/golden retriever mix and has the sweetest temperament. She has red hair and looks kind of bohemian. My family tells me all the time she is fat. I have overcompensated through the years because of her neglect. I have made sure she is never hungry. She also hates water so I have not always made her take baths. And the two times I took her to a groomer, they did not want her to come back without anxiety medicine. She does not bite, she just becomes 100 pounds of dead weight.

This is Woodstock the day I brought her home from the APL. So skinny!

This is Woodstock the day I brought her home from the APL. So skinny!

Woodstock now

Woodstock now

I have to be to the church on Sundays at 8 a.m. Today I was struggling to get there on time…I even got up earlier. When I got to church, a good friend informed me that I had my Spanx on backwards and that she could see the size through the eyelet on the back of my dress. (For men who don’t have to worry about such things or even knows what it is…Spanx is the 21st century’s version of a girdle….yes I wear  a girdle though spanx sounds so much better 🙂 To top things off, someone who is like a dad to me was trying to compliment me on how nice I looked said, “You look very robust today…” Look up the word robust…it’s not what a woman wants to be called. Haha! Right before the second service I was standing in the middle aisle, talking to some people…and as the screen was counting down the time until service started (we were down to 10 seconds), my necklace with a hundred different size beads broke. Everywhere. Down the center aisle. We scurried to get them all picked up before service started. I was a hot mess today.

This past week I have thought a lot about the lady’s greeting about Woodstock being a hot mess. And how many of us feel like that all the time. And for some of us that keeps us from coming to Church. From coming to God. Our personal lives our a mess. Our finances are in a disarray. We don’t know how anyone could love us especially God. And the one place people should feel welcome, the Church, they don’t.

I remember three people in my life who God used to love me right where I was…the mess that was Heidi. The first person was a lady named, Nita. She was my best friend’s mom. Their family introduced me to Christ. They met me when I was 8 years old and prayed for and loved me until I was 15 and finally came to Christ. I was rough. Not always easy to deal with. At the age of 10, I remember teaching my best friend, her daughter, a card game that my family played. The name of the game was “Screw your neighbor”. I’m sure I said a whole lot of fun stuff. She never condemned me or acted shocked, she simply suggested we name it something else…I think one of the suggestions was “fornicate your neightbor” 😉 . She could have decided to “protect” her daughter from the likes of me. I was a bad influence. But she never made me feel like one.

The second person I remember was a Bible college professor. It was my sophomore year of school and I was an emotional mess. It was the time of my walk with the Lord that He began to deal with me in regards to inner healing. I had been through some stuff and done some stuff before coming to Christ. I remember the love and acceptance he showed me as I dry-heaved into a garbage can as I confessed and dealt with sin and stuff from my past.

The last person I remember (though there are many), is my current Pastor, boss, and friend…Jim Cooper. My first place in ministry was amazing but there were some rough times. My pastor (a dear friend and mentor) that I worked with at the time had a nervous breakdown and had walked away from ministry and his family. I had to step in and Senior pastor. I never had time to deal with the impact of my mentor and boss falling. I came home for a couple of months. During the second month, Pastor Jim asked me to come work with him. That was 12 years ago. I still remember sitting in the toddler room in chairs made for 3 years old, talking about what was next for me. I had other offers. But what I needed was a safe place to heal. The thing is,  I didn’t even know I needed healing. I am so grateful for the healing God has given me. And am forever grateful for Pastor Jim and taking the time to allow a hot mess to heal!

Best bosses, pastors and friends in the world!

Best bosses, pastors and friends in the world!

I write all of this to encourage those of us who call ourselves Christians…followers of Christ…to accept people where they are. And as people walk through the doors of our churches, our first thought should not be “what a hot mess she is.” Our first thought should be “Let me show you the love, forgiveness and acceptance Christ has shown me!” The world will know that we are Jesus’ by the love that we have for one another. I think I read that somewhere 😉

 

 

Nothing is impossible

About six weeks ago, an opportunity was presented to me. This opportunity is currently THE #1 item on my list of dreams (bucket list). It is the chance to go on an 11 day study tour in Israel. I have never wanted anything so much in my life. I would know some of the people going and one of my mentors is co-hosting it. It couldn’t be more perfect…

But there was/is one huge obstacle…the cost for the trip is 4 grand. Let me put that into perspective for you…that is 20% of my annual income…(remember the blog in which I stepped out in faith and whittled my jobs down to one…and lost that 7 extra grand a year…).

For the past 6 weeks, I would look at the brochure almost daily. And pray. I became fixated on it.

Last week was youth camp. It was the best youth camp that I have been a part of. God was so faithful. There was a solid, deep move of God. No major discipline issues. Very peaceful. At one service only 10 out of the 160 campers remained in their seats during prayer time. During this week, I was able to give this longing to go to Israel to God. I would not fixate on it. Once I did that, I had peace and did not think about it anymore.

As I pulled into my driveway, after a perfect week and a fun ride home, my nieces were there with balloons, streamers and silly string to greet me. I felt so loved. We walked into the house and more decorations awaited me.

Silly stringed...

Silly stringed…

My nieces waiting for me!

My nieces waiting for me!

Holding the sign they made

Holding the sign they made

My nieces in the midst of their decorations!

My nieces in the midst of their decorations!

I stopped at my kitchen table to glance at my mail. I noticed a pretty envelope in the pile. Curious, I looked to see who it was from. When I opened it, a check fell out. It was a check for $2,000. For my Israel trip. I started crying and was in utter shock. My nieces asked me what was the matter. They have known how badly I wanted to go. And knew that I couldn’t afford it. They were amazed at God’s provision. I am so grateful to the wonderful person who blessed me with this gift! What it did for my nieces…to show what God can do, means more to me than anything. I pray that God doubly blesses them!!!!

The check...amazing

The check…amazing

I still need to come up with the rest by the end of January but I am confident that God will provide the rest.

So yesterday I mailed in my registration and my deposit. And remembered that you can never out give God. And nothing is impossible. No matter what you are facing…nothing is impossible!

Mailing in my registration. Yeah...I really do take pictures of everything!

Mailing in my registration. Yeah…I really do take pictures of everything!

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