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Archive for the tag “God”

Dark Night of the Soul Part 2: My Journey to Physical Fitness

Tomorrow is a year since I embarked on my physical fitness journey. Since August 24, 2016, I have lost 65 pounds, gone from a size 16/18 to a size 4/6. I have a resting heart rate of 57. I am off blood pressure medicine and a whole host of other health benefits. I can run nine miles without stopping. I am actually training for a half-marathon that I will be running in the fall. I did it by completely changing the way I eat. I have cut out all processed sugar and grains. My doctor is the one who suggested this way of living to me. Sounds harder than it really is. I have never felt nor looked as healthy as I do now. I wrote about my struggle with losing weight and the “why” in a previous blog.

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August 24, 2016, through August 24, 2017

 

Yet these past couple of weeks have been the hardest of the whole journey. I don’t know why…scratch that….yes, yes, I do. God has gotten to the very heart of my stuff. And it has been painful. I have had the choice of facing it or ignoring it. There have been numerous times, especially these past few weeks, that I have wanted to ignore my stuff, put hands over my ears, tightly shut my eyes, and pretend everything was okay. l recently blogged about this difficult part of my journey in the Dark Night of the Soul.

I am daily amazed at the response I have received from that blog. It is my most viewed blog ever, times 600. My dark night of the soul resonated with so many people. The texts, e-mails, phone calls, and messages have been overwhelming and humbling. When I wrote it, I was simply processing where I was. But my honesty gave others permission to be honest. And that is where healing begins, in the acknowledgment of who we are and where we are.  I knew that as the responses poured in, that I would need to do a follow-up blog. I have gone back and re-read it numerous times, trying to understand the impact. This is the follow-up. It is not coincidental that it coincides with the anniversary of taking control of my physical health. This decision to becoming physically fit was birthed spiritually.

I wish I could say that I have come through the night…I am still walking through it but I am beginning to hear the birds chirp and know that dawn will soon be here.

But back to my choice on whether to face it or ignore it.

Deep down, I know I won’t ignore or pretend. Not this time. I can’t go around this mountain one more time. I can’t. I won’t.

I will not accept this as normal. I will not coast through the rest of my life saying, “Well this is how it has always been and will always be.” When you stop growing and transforming, you start dying.

I want to be the best version of me I can be.

I want to fulfill all the good works God has for me (Ephesians 2:10).

I want my life to express the wonderful grace of God (Acts 20:22)

The only way to overcome in a HEALTHY way, in a way that promotes healthy growth, is to face it. As painful as it is.

It is so important to me that the way that I LIVE first and foremost demonstrates the wonderful grace of God. I am not striving for perfection or to please people but I genuinely want to live the abundant life Jesus offers and wring out every purpose and plan He has for me. I want to do it authentically. Who I am on the inside needs to match the person everyone sees. That is called integrated living. Integrity is living out your beliefs. And I want my life to be an invitation to others to see how good God really is.

Last Monday night, I was hosting a family night. I started family nights a few years back. Normally we get together on a Sunday night and eat and play cards and celebrate birthdays. I always get an ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen and get sparkling grape juice. Everyone gets a glass and we have to say why we are glad the person we are celebrating was born. My family moans and groans about it but I know they secretly love it. Why wait until someone is dead to let them know why they are important to you? Once everyone is done, we lift our glasses and toast to them. I say something to the effect, “May this year be their best yet, full of love, happiness, joy and God’s blessings”. This particular one, we were celebrating my sister’s 50th and my goddaughter’s 28th. Sidenote: The best family night we ever had was last August when my god-daughter and husband used the toast and cake to announce they were expecting their first baby. So this year, having baby Luke with us, was absolutely perfect!!!

 

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Baby Luke with his parents!

And the family that comes is not all blood family. It says in the Bible that God puts the lonely in families. I love the family God has created for me over the years. (And how many boyfriends have my nieces brought to family night? 😉 That’s how you know it may be serious. Once, one of my nieces brought a boyfriend and they broke up not long after family night. We are loud, obnoxious and a little overwhelming and we all hate to lose. It has been known to happen that when someone wins, they run up and down my street barefoot in the middle of winter…not mentioning any names Mckinley. 🙂

 

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Family Night Pic

 

 

During family night on Monday, I commented on how my house is a little tacky as I was plugging in my palm tree. 😉 My house is decorated with flip-flops, palm trees, and pink flamingos on the outside as well as the inside. My niece, McKinley, said “Your house is perfect. The inside looks exactly like you would expect it to look based on the outside.” I don’t know if she was saying I was tacky or what 😉 …but God really used that comment to drive a point home.  That comment demonstrates authentic living to me…the inside of my life, my inner life matching the outside.

 

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My beautiful niece, McKinley and me.

 

 

So striving to be the authentic person I long to be, here are some things I have learned about myself in this year-long journey towards physical fitness:

  1. I can do anything I set my mind to do. I am stronger and way more powerful than I ever thought I was.
  2. Eating healthy is expensive. I have had to completely re-adjust my budget. Real food should not be more expensive than processed food. Poor nutrition and obesity will continue to be higher among poverty-stricken populations. This should not be.
  3. I don’t need Ben and Jerry’s or Romp’s or Reese Cups to deal with my emotions. I can now eat all those things without feeling guilty…I just choose not to do so as often.
  4. Counting calories gives food control over me. It makes me fixate on something that has bound me for years. I broke that. In this past year, I have not counted one single calorie or fat gram or carb. NOT ONE. And it is glorious.
  5. The worst reason to exercise is to lose weight. You exercise to strengthen your heart, build endurance, handle stress, etc. Once I really understood that exercise became my friend. I actually love going to the gym and running now (thanks, Vinnie – my NSNG guru).
  6. My self-esteem is not as strong as I thought it was. The insecure, 15-year-old teenager is still inside me. There’s some positive to that but a lot of negative as well.
  7. Jesus is not enough. (Shocking statement from a follower of Jesus but hear me out). Jesus never meant for us to live this life alone.I started experiencing true freedom when I found a tribe to confess my real thoughts, my real fears, my real struggles, my real sins, and my real wins.

    There are seasons we need to learn to trust God but isolation is never His intent. The world Jesus walked in – discipleship, growth, and life happened in community. When I went to Israel a few years back, I learned the importance of having a “haverim” which is a group of friends. In the Jewish world, it is a group you learned, studied, and lived life with. Our culture teaches that we mainly encounter God through solitary times of prayer and study. Jesus seems to imply in Scripture that His presence is most often felt in a community.

    I strongly believe that community is a spiritual discipline we neglect. We need friends.

    I read a book that having a “haverim” is like having a training partner. They help you train harder than you thought you could, go faster than you thought possible, and go further than you thought you could ever go. They also make it more fun.

    We need each other. (The night my last blog came out, I went to dinner with three friends and that night was so healing and cathartic to me…just as much as writing that blog was so thanks, Liz, Tonya, and Carey. And thanks to Cristi who has continually been real with me and allowed me to be real).

  1. Eating real food is actually enjoyable.
  2. I love clothes. I love shopping.
  3. The SAD (standard American diet) is killing us as a nation. White sugar will one day be identified as the nicotine of our generation. Our health care system is not collapsing from the Affordable Health Care Act but from the weight of our obesity.
  4. Though I am a size 4/6 now, I still see fat Heidi in the mirror.
  5. Being overweight was a protection for me. When I finally lost the weight and had more confidence and the boy still did not ask me out, I thought, “The problem must be me. There’s something inherently wrong with me. I am not enough. I will never be enough.” I completely spiraled out of control emotionally.  (How’s that for honesty?) And honestly, that is the crux of my issue. Dealing with my addiction to food stripped away my coping mechanism. It made me deal with the stuff. The painful stuff. Due to circumstances that happened when I was younger, I never felt like I was enough. I never felt like I mattered or was worth fighting for. And you know what? I really didn’t like the boy that much, I just wanted to be asked, to be validated. (Seriously, he dodged a bullet!) It reminded me of how crazy I could be and that there was still much in me that needs to die and be healed.
  6. I want to get married. Up until three years ago, I was happy and content being single. I don’t know what changed but something has. I have come to understand that it is not a sign of weakness to desire it. Marriage is a good thing (I have not always felt that way).
  7. I love Brussel sprouts. And hamburgers. And dark chocolate.
  8. There are other areas of my life that need to be addressed as I continue to follow Jesus (hear that financial fitness…we are coming after you next! 😉 )
  9. I love Jesus so much more than I did a year ago and am so grateful for His presence in my life. He has been there every step of the way, guiding and protecting me; especially from myself and my own self-destructive ways. In Him, I am truly finding who I am.

It is important to me that those who have followed this journey of mine, especially since that last blog, understand that as I have dealt with all this crap, I have never stopped living. I have never stopped loving and serving people. I have never blamed God. We so often want to take a time-out while we “re-group”. Life is too short to take a time-out. Serve God, serve people, live life with your limp. With your stuff. Healing comes along the way.

I am not through this darkness yet. I am still wrestling. But I am still going to Niger, Africa in November. I am still calling that homebound lady from our church that needs to know she is not forgotten. I am still helping plan a huge church/family celebration this weekend for our church. I am still praying for people and sending encouraging cards. I am still serving my community. I am still having family night.

I am still living. With tears streaming down my face sometimes. Limping. But I am still living. And following Jesus.

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Dark Night of the Soul

I know most of the time I come across as positive and that everything is always going well. After all my blog is named “Faith In Flip Flops”! What’s happier than summer and flip flops?  This is not Sunny and Happy Heidi. This is raw. This is real. This is me. I do not know if I will actually publish this or not on my blog. I am transparent but this is even deeply personal for me.

I was up all night crying. I rarely do that. I can count on one hand the times I have done that (the death of my mom, my dad, and my brother are three of them). I cry easily when it comes to things that move and inspire me, but not from pain and anguish. I hate the empty feeling that envelopes me when I am all cried out. So I avoid at all costs.

Last night was triggered by a discovery that is quite personal and not really important to the story. The trigger is just what re-awakened a part of me that has been lying dormant in me for years, the broken part – the part of me that is so full of pain, hurt, anguish, and anger that it makes it difficult to breathe. It is the part of me that drove me to party in high school before I encountered Jesus. It is the part of me that drives me to find comfort in food, spending, and every other self-sabotaging behavior that helps me keep the pain at bay…to keep it from crashing over me like a tsunami.

Last night was a dark night of my soul. It came so suddenly and unexpectedly.

 

All I want to do is withdraw from people and life and lick my wounds.

I have been on this journey to wholeness my whole life. And as God has peeled off layer after layer, He has brought me peace and comfort. But He has never brought me healing.

This past year has been a journey of overcoming self-destructive behavior, especially in regards to food and how I treat my body. The attacks have intensified this summer. Our church is currently in the midst of a month long season of prayer and fasting. My last time of an extended time of prayer and fasting (a complete food fast for 40 days back in 1999) led to one of the most difficult seasons of my life. I haven’t really fasted consistently since. I know what it brings to the surface. And it ain’t pretty.

I feel so broken and helpless. And crazy.

While showering this morning, I had a moment of clarity. This broken part of me cannot be healed. God can comfort and bring insight, but the pain, hurt, and anguish is real and has had a real impact on my life.

Sidenote: I come from a denomination whose theology believes in healing. I believe in healing. It is a gift of the Spirit. But the reality is no one gets out of here alive and no one gets through life unscathed. When God heals it is for His name sake and out of compassion. This me-centered Gospel Western Christianity has embraced is frustrating and does not work in most parts of the world.

Back to the shower…the realization that this part of me cannot be undone, or healed, or erased. It has to be faced. I thought of Jacob from the Bible who wrestled with God. I read the story again this morning.

Jacob’s name means deceiver. He was a deceiver. His whole life he had consistently made poor choices and done some shady things. He betrayed his twin brother Esau. The story finds Jacob having to face his brother in the morning. This is the first time in years encountering him since he betrayed and screwed Esau over (with the help of his mother).

Jacob truly thought his brother could kill him the next day and rightfully so. He sent everyone and everything else ahead and he stayed in camp by himself for the night. And wrestled with God. All night long. Jacob would not give up.  When God saw this (Jacob’s tenacity) and that He could not win (God couldn’t win? What an amazing thought)…He gave up. Scripture says God had to say to Jacob, “Let me go”. Jacob insisted on a blessing before letting God go. Before God blessed him, He asked Jacob “What is your name”. Jacob had to say “Jacob”. Basically, Jacob stood before God, dripping sweat, bloody, hip hurt, scared, and tired and he confessed, “I am a deceiver”. He didn’t hide it from God. He was honest and raw. God changes his name from Jacob to Israel, from deceiver to one who fought with God and man and won. How do you beat God?

But God also marked him. He touched his hip. Jacob had a limp from that day forward. So he would remember. The pain was a reminder that the deceiving part of him died that night…that dark night of his soul.

Everyone knew Jacob’s deceptive ways.

Jacob could have blamed the way he grew up. He grew up in a dysfunctional home. His dad favored his brother, Esau, because he was a hunter and a manly man. His mom favored Jacob and pitted the two against each other. But he didn’t play the blame game. He was a deceiver because he chose to be. And God brought Jacob to the end of himself so he could rename him.

I will always walk with a bit of a limp – with pain and anguish that sometimes gushes out. But I take responsibility for the wrong ways in which I have tried to cover and appease the pain. The sinful ways. The ways that have left me empty and hurt and even more broken.

God has always been in the business of changing names. He changed

  •             Abram to Abraham
  •             Jacob to Israel
  •             Saul to Paul
  •             Simon to Peter (John 1:42)

All had broken, less than stellar pasts.

What would God change my name to? Am I ready to have my name changed?

I don’t know where I go from here but I am completely undone. The pain and hurt still come crashing over me in waves. I have to trust as every wave that is crashing over me, it is cleansing and taking the parts out of me that need to go. Following Jesus isn’t easy, safe, pretty, or graceful.

 

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The waves crashing over the break wall at the mouth of the Vermilion River. Depicts how the waves of pain and anguish feel.

It is actually, at times, heart-wrenching, hard as a hell, and ugly. My ugly cry last night was not for weak of heart. My puffy eyes this morning are not attractive. Nor is my mood.

But it is worth it. I want the tenacity of Jacob or as my friend, Cristi texted me today, I want to be fierce, strong, and brave. I want to wrestle with God and win. Pain will mark that journey. No way around it.

I want to be like Peter and come to the conclusion he did, “Where else would I go? Jesus, you alone have the words of life?”

I may not know where to go but I do know the starting place even as frustrated, angry, and hurt as I am and that is to the foot of the Cross. I take my hurt, my broken pieces, and thoughts there. I find it ironic that I am leading our congregation in communion this Sunday morning.

I feel so ugly and insecure and trying to hide all of that at the same time as trying to fix it myself leads to self-destructive behavior. I want to be free. I want to be enough. I want to be valued. I want to be fought for. (How’s that for real?).

God has brought me full circle. It is 20 years since I graduated from College and went into ministry. For the most part, I have enjoyed every moment. It has been hard and messy but amazing and fruitful at the same time. I would choose it over and over again though it has cost me a lot.

Eighteen years ago, after a dark season, instead of admitting I was broken and wounded, I indulged in self-destructive behavior. I don’t want to do that again.

I have spent most of the day in the sanctuary of our church, setting up for Sunday, preparing for communion, and writing. I am reminded how much I need a tribe of people around me. I am thankful for Pastor Jim and my friend Cristi who have allowed me to be incredibly raw and real. I haven’t been fired yet. And especially Cristi, who gets my inappropriate way of talking about things. I am an open person but in my life, I have never experienced a friendship in which I can confess my sins, fears, and insecurities and not feel judged. Or have it used against me. That is what James was talking about in Scripture when he admonished us to confess our sins one to another so we can be healed. I am also thankful for another unexpected friend that has helped me through this season in ways in which they have no idea. Their impact has been immeasurable. I hope I can someday repay the favor.

Texting Pastor Jim I eventually said this, “God is good but He is definitely not safe”.  (From a quote from my favorite book by C.S. Lewis). He responded “No He is not safe and we are not either. I wore a T-shirt yesterday that said “Pursue peace – Prepare for war” words to live by”. He went on to say, “You are that kind of dangerous also. Don’t be surprised or over reflective of your weakness. Rely on your strength…it is what makes you dangerous”

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I now understand why King David wrote so many Psalms. He wrote himself off the ledge. I write myself off the ledge. Even in the midst of this, God is good and He is worth it all. And I am grateful He allowed waterproof mascara and foundation to be invented.

It Ain’t No Sin to Be Glad You’re Alive

I love the beginning of a new year. I love reflecting on all God did in the previous year and look forward to all the challenges and adventures that await in the coming year. My birthday is January 10th so it seems like everything is new at the beginning of the year. I love it. It truly is a new page. Every year, I pray to God for a Scripture and word that will set my path for growth for the year. I ask Him, “What new thing do you want to do in me this year? In what area do I need to grow?”

Last July I started working on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. (I have discussed much of this in a previous blog). It is the best decision I have made in a long time. I love learning and I am very impressed with the program I am in. The very first class we took was The Personal Life of a Leader. Basically, the premise is if you want to be a great leader and lead others well, you first need to learn how to lead yourself. This class changed my life. My dear friend and mentor, Harriet Mouer, always tells me that you cannot say something is life changing until six months have passed. It is only then if you can see if the event’s impact went beyond your emotional reaction and led to changed behavior. This class met her criteria for changing your life. At our residency and in our reading there was a lot of talk about finishing well; ministry and life. We had to identify things that would keep us from finishing well and make a plan with measurable goals for the next two years (the duration of the program) on how to grow in these areas. After prayer and contemplation, the two areas I identified were physical and financial fitness.

Since I was in middle school, I have struggled with my weight. I have tried every diet known to mankind. Atkins, Southbeach, Cabbage Soup (what?!?), Weight Watchers (multiple times), the apple diet (made that one up on my own…don’t ask…I was 13), starving myself, and the list goes on and on. I knew if I was going to finish well, I needed to get serious about taking care of my body. I want my body to last as long as my mind. I want to be able to serve Jesus with all of me until my last breath…as much as it depends on me. I also want to be an example to my nieces and youth that watch me. It matters how we treat our bodies. So I made an appointment with my doctor.

I just have to say that I have the best doctor in the world. He is compassionate, honest, and firm. I told him everything I wrote in the previous paragraph. I asked him to send me to a nutritionist (and I have tried this before as well). He told me “no”. I was shocked. He went on to explain that I would count calories, get frustrated, and give up. He was right. This was my pattern my whole life. He wrote down a podcast to listen to and asked me to give NSNG (no sugar, no grain) a try. He explained the science of it and why he thought it would help me. After much research (that is still ongoing),  I changed how I ate beginning August 24. I have lost 40 pounds, dropped 4 sizes and feel the best I have ever felt in my life, and it seems so easy. Non-restrictive. My schedule is pretty busy and I now have endless energy. I am way more productive and happy. I am working my plan on financial fitness. That is a little harder simply because my profession does not pay as well as others (but there is no way I would do anything else).

At the end of December, I led a team of 19 on a missions trip to Jamaica. Before we left, I was praying for the trip and some of the teaching I would be doing. My Scripture for the year came to me one morning in the shower right after a time of studying for the trip. The Scripture was Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19 which says:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the height

If I were to put this is today’s language it would say something like this:

Even though I have no money in my bank account,

And I have no idea how I am going to pay for groceries,

Even though my family life is in ruins and my car won’t start,

Even though the doctor has given me a bad report and I don’t know what the future holds,

YET I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me not only able to stand firm like a deer on a steep mountain,

He also helps me to walk through it without slipping.

My word came for 2017 as well. There were actually two of them. The words were “more” and “healing”.

 

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Our missions team. This is the third trip I have led there. We live as one with our Jamaican brothers and sisters up in the bush. I will blog more about the trip later. ❤ Love each person in this picture. This was at an infirmary we visited. There is nothing like it in America. Very sad.

 

I felt the Lord speak to me that this coming year would have some challenges and from the beginning, I needed to determine that no matter what comes my way, I will be thankful to God and choose joy. Every day. How I walk and honor God in adversity is important. He will not let me slip and He will give me the leg strength to climb the mountains in my way. A couple weeks before Christmas I had my first mammogram. On Christmas Eve (after God had given me the Scripture) I received a letter that they found something suspicious and I needed further diagnostic testing. No phone call, just a letter. On December 27, nineteen of us from my church left for a missions trip to Jamaica. I was leading the team. The last phone call I made before boarding for Montego Bay and being off the grid for ten days, was to schedule further testing when I got home. I didn’t think much about it while I was gone. The trip was physically challenging and very busy. And healing was a primary focus of the trip. God taught us a lot. It was an amazing time. God did so much in and through the team.

The Monday after I got back from Jamaica, I had further testing done. The doctor informed me that what they saw required a biopsy to be scheduled. I have microcalcification in my right breast. More than likely it is not cancerous. Even if it is, it will have been caught so early that all that will need to be done is surgery removing the area affected with no chemo or radiation. I was very surprised. Breast cancer does not run in my family. Diabetes, heart disease, and alcoholism 😉 do, but not breast cancer. My biopsy is next week.

I am not afraid or overly worried. I am surprised. And frustrated. I don’t have time for this. It has made me think through some things. I have always loved life. The great poet of our day, Bruce Springsteen, has a line in one of my favorite songs, Badlands, that states, “For those who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Earlier in the song he sings, “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything”. I think Bruce’s point is to enjoy where you are. Don’t keep wishing for more. You end up wishing your life away. Be glad you’re alive. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy hanging with your kids instead of doing the dishes. Stop and appreciate a sunset. Count the blessings you have, not fixating on what you don’t have.  I truly am grateful every day to be alive. I think because I have lost so many family members and have walked through the valley of the shadow of death numerous times and grief has been a constant companion to me that I have learned cherish life. I am not in a hurry to get out of here. I know the purpose for which I was born has not been completely fulfilled.  And there are still so many dreams that I believe God has given me. A couple of months ago, Pastor Jim was talking about a picture God had given him during worship. It was a picture of someone wringing out a towel or a sponge. You know when you spill water and you are cleaning it up, you have to wring the water out so you can fill up with more water? That’s the picture of how God wants us to live our lives. He wants us to wring out every possible purpose, plan, and gift He gives us. Nothing is wasted. He wants to get the most out of our lives. I want to get the most out of my life so I can give it away.

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So this year I have started telling people what I admire and appreciate about them. (Some of my family and friends have already received sappy texts or cards or a Facebook message from me). When I get good service at a restaurant, I am emailing the manager. I wanted to hug my doctor today when I saw him, but I thought that might be inappropriate ;). And you know those thoughts you sometimes have when you notice a kind act? “Wow, that was sweet” “He’s a good man” “She’s a great mom” but we never say them? I am choosing to say them. In the moment. I think 2017 may be filled with a lot of kumbaya moments 😉 I am choosing kindness and joy over hate and despair. I am choosing to learn once again what it means to die to myself and live for Jesus and others.

I marvel on how back in July how God got my attention to begin to take care of my body.If it were not for that two-year plan, I probably would not have had the physical and mammogram done this year. I marvel at the people He has strategically placed in my life to help me along the way…my doctor, my professors, Vinnie Tortorich (the NSNG guru)…and the list goes on. I pray and thank God for them daily.

No matter what happens this year, I am thankful for Jesus and this amazing life He has given me, I will daily choose joy and love over despair and hate. I will wring every moment of this life God has so graciously given me. Will you join me?

Mid-Life Crisis: Good or Bad?

I have been thinking a lot about mid-life crises. By definition, a mid-life crisis is an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age. I witnessed a good friend of mine go through one years ago leaving a wake of destruction in its aftermath. I have seen others go through them successfully. I don’t think mid-life crisis are bad things unless handled badly. I think there is something healthy about reassessing your life periodically. I tend to be extremely introspective. One of my life mottos is “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”. It hangs in my office so it must be true. 😉 Scripture talks about examining ourselves in several places. An examined life is a healthy life.

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I think I have been pondering it because over the past two months I have had four different people say something to me that struck a chord. Two of the four were in the form of a question and the other two were observations about my life. Three out of the four were basically asking the same thing, “What are you doing with your life?” They obviously took root and have been germinating in my spirit. I honestly believe God is trying to get me to see something so I can grow. My daily prayer is to be more like Jesus in all areas of my life and to daily walk out the good works He has for me (Ephesians 2:10). These are prayers He delights in answering.

Before I get to the four things people have said to me, let me give a little back-story. In July I began to work on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. I have wanted to continue my education for years. The idea of going into debt did not appeal to me at all. I had a friend tell me that I needed to not look at it as going into debt but as an investment in my future. That resonated with me so I went for it. And I am so glad that I did. Our first class and residency were on the personal life of a leader. The premise is if you are going to be a great leader, you need to be able to lead yourself well. How can you lead others if you cannot lead yourself? We learned a lot of great theory and practical tools in that class. We talked a lot about finishing well: life and ministry. We had to identify what would keep us from finishing well. My two areas were physical and financial health. Our final paper was thirteen pages. The last two pages had to be a personal growth plan for the next two years (the duration of the MASL program). It was a painful process. But healthy and life-giving.

I have two goals to be physically and financially fit by 50. There are concrete goals that I am working on. I will probably blog more on these two areas in the future. Needless to say, after scheduling an appointment with my doctor and some very frank and honest conversation, he set me on the right path of cutting out sugar and grains. I have lost 30 pounds in twelve weeks and feel the best I have in my life. I have a way to go but the accountability and desire are there. I do not want my body to give out on me before my mind and my dreams. Finishing well means taking care of the one body God has given me to do all He has called me to do.

I read a quote somewhere that said, “Men with dead eyes, dead hearts, just waiting for the rest of their bodies to catch up and die as well.” I don’t want to be like that. I think when we hit mid-life, we can choose to tread water (security) until retirement, thinking then we will do what we want or we choose to continue to take risks and grow in the present. We cannot wait for someday to do what God has put in our hearts to do.

In September, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography came out. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge, huge fan. There was a companion album that came out with it. The album had a tag line describing it as, “a hard-working Jersey boy living out his wildest dreams”. I wrote in my journal, “Am I living out my wildest dreams? What are my wildest dreams?” God has given me so many.

At the church I serve at, we are going through some restructuring. It is healthy and exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. I love it! In September, I met with our youth pastor to discuss a change in roles and responsibilities. He would be taking some of mine and we were discussing what that would look like and where I would fit into all of that. He asked me the first question that has been causing me to think about the next season of my life. It came the day after I had read the tagline from Bruce’s album. He asked, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” He’s 26. I’m 46. And he so hit the nail on the head. (Side note: our future is in good hands. God is raising up a generation that can fix the things we have messed up. Do not fret! Our best days are ahead!) I have done about everything in church life from children to youth to missions to women to senior pastoring to pastoral care and I love it all. I am living out my wildest dreams. But I sense God is refining my wildest dreams (I am sounding like a Taylor Swift song). I have said from the time I graduated from college that I want to do it all before I die. I wanted to experience every aspect of ministry and life. But I feel God is doing a refining.

In pursuit of living a healthier lifestyle, my doctor encouraged me to listen to some podcasts. There’s a guy I have been listening to plus reading his stuff. The information is so good and makes so much sense. It’s all about the why you should not eat sugar and grains. It has changed my life. I am convinced God has used this to save my life. I believe we will look back on white sugar and it will be this generation’s version of nicotine. My mom and dad’s generation started smoking in the day in which nicotine was “good” for you. It wasn’t until the 70s the government admitted how terrible nicotine was for you. White sugar is killing us. Our health care system will break under the weight of our obesity not the Affordable Health Care Act (though that needs help, too).

I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I remember being in seventh grade and starving myself. I would eat an apple a day because you know what they say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. I have lost the same sixty pounds five times during my life. I have done Weight Watchers, the cabbage soup diet, Atkins, South Beach, counted calories, and on and on. I was honestly quite concerned that I had permanently messed up my metabolism with all the yo-yo dieting. I was on the phone with one of my sisters talking about this new way of eating and working on my Masters. And she said the next thing that made me think. She said, “Heidi, any goal you have ever set, you always achieve it. You do whatever you set your mind to do. You are great at setting goals and meeting them. You are driven. Your problem is once you achieve it, you are lost, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.” That hit me like a ton of bricks. I am so thankful I have people in my life who are honest with me. God uses them to push me and examine my life.

As a result of my conversation with my sister, I began to think through my new lifestyle of eating. I was not viewing it as a diet but I knew eventually I would. What could I do now to prevent slipping back into my old behavior? The guy I have been listening to on the podcast offers paid consults. I have never done anything like that in my life. And remember my goal of being financially fit by 50? This did not fit into the budget. But I knew I needed to do something different if this was going to be lasting so I scheduled it. And I am so glad I did. He was so incredibly helpful. He was firm but genuinely caring. It was like having a personal trainer to get you started. The only way I can describe him is he is the Howard Stern of fitness. Growing up Strickler prepared me for that 😉 He asked me a question on the consult when I told him I was working on my Masters (he wanted a snapshot of my life…age, height, weight, what your schedule was like, etc). He seemed shocked that I was going back to school at 46. I thought it was normal. He asked, “What made you go back for your Masters at the age of 46?” The emphasis was on the age. I never once thought about my age when deciding whether or not I was going to go back for my Masters. It was always money and time. I never want to get intellectually lazy. And I don’t want to coast on what I have learned previously. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our strength, all of our souls, and all of our minds. And I think it is part of whatever God has for me in the future.

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The last incident that happened was a dear friend called me a couple of weeks ago to inform me he had re-married. I jokingly said, “Maybe it’s time for me to think about getting married.” I remember a couple of years ago I woke up one day and thought, “How did I end up at the age 44 not married?” I knew I never wanted children but marriage had always been an option. I just never thought about it much until two years ago. Life has been so fun and so full and time just marched on and before you knew it, here I am. His reply to me was, “You have such a unique life, and it would be hard for someone to come alongside it.” In my journal that night, I wrote, “It (his statement) caused me to think what am I doing with my life?” At first, it stung. That statement made me feel like a freak. For a nano second. In the end, it caused me to appreciate the uniqueness of my life. I have never been lonely. I have amazing friends and family. The community I get to live in and serve is full of great people. I am not rich in material things but I am with the things that matter (now I feel like I’m going all George Bailey on you).

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As I contemplate those four incidents, I am so filled with excitement. God says in His Word, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

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Re-assessing your life mid-way through can be a good thing. It becomes a crisis when you fill it with things that will rob your soul and hurt those around you. The self-examined life is the healthy life.

 

 

 

 

 

The Riptides of Our Lives

I have spent a lot of time swimming at the beach and floating on my raft this summer. Any time a couple of hours open up, I grab my swimsuit and head to the beach. I keep a blanket, towel, and raft in my car at all times.  It has been so hot and humid this summer that walking and biking have been replaced by swimming. Last Saturday, I had an unexpected few hours free so I thought I would go to the beach and swim and lay out for a couple of hours.

I have a routine when I get to the beach. I sit on my blanket for a while and watch the waves crash to shore. I also people watch. After I get hot enough, I take my raft and swim out to the buoy and then hop on my raft and drift back in. This usually takes me about 45 minutes.

There are markers I use to see if I am making progress. To my left is a flag pole, to my right is the break wall. There are three buoys straight ahead and I aim for the one on the left. Every other time I have come this summer, there have been white caps on the lake which makes it fun but tiring. I need my markers to see if I am making any progress. And sometimes the waves are so big, I can’t swim that far out.

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This particular day was perfect! It was hot with a slight breeze.  The sky was blue and white, fluffy clouds dotted the sky.There were lots of boats, jet skis, sailboats, and kayaks out on the water. Lake Erie appeared relatively calm. In fact, I made it out the buoy the quickest I have all summer.

Once out there, I hopped on my raft and began to drift like I always do. I watched the clouds rolling across the sky and listened to the jet skis and boats zip around the lake. The breeze was amazing. It was perfect. After a little time had passed,  I sat up on my raft to see how close I was to shore. I was surprised to find myself still by the buoy. I realized the current was keeping me out by the buoy. I was in a riptide. I slid off my raft and began to swim to shore. It was not happening. The current had me trapped where I was.

I was not panicking. Yet. I had my raft so I hopped back on and floated awhile longer. I began to notice I was drifting closer to the break wall. I realized I would probably end up hitting the break wall or getting sucked out further into the lake so I got serious about getting to shore.

I was on my raft kicking and making no progress. After awhile of this, I got a terrible cramp in my right calf. It was a Charlie horse kind of cramp, the type that wakes you up in the middle of the night screaming in utter agony. I had to stop and massage the cramp out. Once I did that, I assessed my situation. I realized I just needed to head towards the break wall and not worry about the rocks or whatever was living among the rocks of the break wall. Eventually, I could touch bottom and walked the rest of the way  to shore.

I collapsed on my blanket when I got to shore. My arms and legs were tired and sore. I looked at my phone and realized I had been trapped out there for an hour and forty-five minutes!!!!

As I laid on my blanket, looking up at the sky, I thought about how we get stuck in the riptides of our own circumstances. I thought about the times I was in over my head and never thought I would make it back to shore.

We get stuck in the riptide of  hopelessness. It overwhelms us and makes us want to quit swimming. We have  convinced ourselves this is how it will always be. 

We get stuck in the riptide of anger.  We are mad at God, mad at family, mad at friends, and mostly we are mad at ourselves. And we lash out at everyone around us. And we choose to stay stuck instead of forgiving and allowing ourselves to be forgiven.

We get stuck in the riptide of pride. We refuse to ask for help because of what others may think.  

We get stuck in the riptide of fear. We are so afraid of the “what-ifs” that it paralyzes us and makes us stop dreaming and taking risks. 

Jesus can get us back to shore. He truly is the lifeguard of our souls. He has given us everything we need to break through the riptides of our hopelessness, anger, pride, fear, and sin. We need to let go and trust Him to do it.

It took work to get me back to shore on Saturday.  My arms and calves were sore for a few days after my time stuck out on the lake. I was also sunburnt. All reminders of the cost of getting out of the riptide. The Cross is our reminder of the cost Jesus paid for us so we can get out of sin. Trust Him to bring you safely to shore.

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North shore of  Lake Erie: Main Street Beach at dawn.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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 🙂

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.

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.

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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.

 

 

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