Meow.

Well, I didn’t get much done on the paper I have due, but I was really excited about what God has been teaching me lately and couldn’t wait to write it down and share it! After talking, reading, and discussing a lot about the subject of hearing God speak, I have been learning that God likes speak to me through metaphors and things in the world that I relate to. It makes so much sense, because this is exactly what Jesus does throughout His whole ministry on Earth: He takes things like agriculture, fishing, cultural norms, etc. and uses these mundane, everyday things that everyone is familiar with to reveal heavenly truths. Of course, we need to know about the characteristics of and have a relationship with God to be able to recognize His voice in our lives, and that only comes from believing in Jesus Christ and reading and studying His living and active Word, the Bible. The more I have continued to dive into reading and learning more from this amazing book, the more I have started recognizing God in things around me and been able to distinguish His voice from all the others swirling around in this world. Now, I’m not saying I have this figured out in the slightest, but it has been fun to see a little bit of progress and depth-of-understanding in this area that I felt totally lost in previously, and I want to share with you so you might be able to come to a deeper understanding as well!

So…here’s a little lesson God taught me through His Word and the world around me yesterday:

Recently, I have begun studying the book of John (one of the gospels written by a disciple of Jesus about his life, death, and resurrection). It is fun to dig deeper into the stories I have heard my whole life and really attempt to understand more about who Jesus was and how that should affect my life now. After I had prayed and gotten my Bible, notebook, and pens out to begin reading and studying a passage in John, my roommate’s cat hopped up on the table and stared me in the eyes, preceding to lick my eyebrows (she’s weird), and eventually plopping right down onto my open Bible. I frustratedly pet her for a second and tried to forcibly remove her while she stubbornly purred loudly atop the Word of God. I finally got her to move, but she soon came back with a purring vengeance and began incessantly chewing on my pen and sitting on my notebook as I was writing down observations from the passage I was looking at that day. My normally neat handwriting turned to scribbles and I sighed. Putting down my pencil and feeling defeated by the cat, I prayed,

“God, you know I only have so much time to sit here and read your word. I need to leave for school soon and I want to finish this and have time to really digest and think about it, but this cat won’t leave me alone.”

In that moment, the cat jumped off the table and curled up into a purring ball of fur on my lap. God said, “Miranda, be okay with distractions. Distractions were Jesus’ ministry on Earth.”

God literally used a cat to remind me that I have been selfish with my time and comfort lately, not willing to stray from my schedule to bring the love of Jesus to someone. Since then, I always love on the cat if she interrupts my schedule…I’m still working on the people part. ūüėČ

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Light in the Darkness

God has gifted me with an innate sense of empathy that sometimes feels like a curse. This world is so full of sadness, pain, violence, injustice, hate, and so many other terrible things that sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed with everyone else’s circumstances and just wanting to help or fix it.¬† Even reading a scholarly article about someone who is facing some kind of injustice or hardship usually brings me to tears. I am currently taking a class in which we explore and discuss injustices and problems with our school system. Every discussion basically brings us to a point of conclusion that there is no way to change this unless there is a huge shift in thinking from everyone involved (so pretty much impossible). Every Thursday night I leave discouraged and sad that I as one person can’t really do much of anything to even fight the injustices that innocent children face in schools every day. I long for the day when Jesus will come back and make this world right and whole again.

As I have been wrestling with the fact that the world is so broken that anything I do (or any other human being does) will never be enough to fix it, God gave me a sweet reminder while I was studying the book of John:

In John 1:5, it says, “The light shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it.” With the context of this verse we can figure out that the “light” John is referring to is Jesus. I have heard this passage and this verse many times, but this time I understood it a little differently with an image:

Imagine a flashlight in the middle of the day. Turned on, the light exists, but you can’t see it against the broad daylight. Is the light still there? Yes, but it’s hard to see unless you know it’s there. Now imagine the same flashlight in a completely dark room or somewhere where no outside light is being let in. When the flashlight is turned on it’s very apparent because it will shine or light up the room. You can see in front of you when you could not before, and there is no amount of darkness that can get rid of the light that is shining. If you cover it up with a dark blanket, is it still there? Yes, but it’s hard to see unless you know that there’s a blanket trying to cover it up.

It hit me so clearly: God has given us Jesus, (pardon this cheesy and insufficient comparison) the flashlight to mankind (with everlasting batteries…)-or as John puts it in verse 4, “the light of all mankind.” As Christians, we have acknowledged that light and know that it’s always shining. It’s our job to take the light of Jesus and shine it in places that need His life, to remove the “blanket” for people who can’t see or don’t know that there is light in the dark places, and to show people who are living in a place/time of broad daylight that there’s a flashlight on meant for them to help others who are living in darkness or for the time when they are no longer living in the broad daylight.

We don’t need to be so discouraged in the midst of the brokenness of this world because there will come a day when Jesus will come back and bring light and healing to every one who believes in Him. In Revelation 21:23, referring to the “new earth” it says,

“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”

He will heal and restore the brokenness of this world, but while we are here, we are to “let our light shine before others, ” so they may see the hope that Jesus brings. So instead of mourning what we cannot fix, let us fix our eyes on Jesus and do what we can to bring hope to those who are suffering in one way or another. Jesus says in Matthew 5:14-16,

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see you good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

If you would not consider yourself a Christian and are not following Jesus, then I hope you are able to see this light I’m talking about from those of us who profess Jesus as our Savior. I know that there are some who are hiding their light and making it hard for others to experience it. I want to invite you to experience His light and the hope for the present and the future it brings. All you have to do is believe. In John 12: 35-36, Jesus tells his disciples,

“You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

After finishing this post I learned that today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I want to “dedicate” this post to the 6 million victims of the Nazi’s “Final Solution.” This date marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland which I had the privilege to visit on a weekend trip to Poland last spring. Having learned about the Holocaust all throughout my schooling, I thought I was prepared, but it was a sobering experience. The feeling of heaviness and darkness in that place was staggering, and the accounts of survivors made my stomach churn. It was an eye-opening experience to be in the place where a half-million people were killed based on their faith and family origins. Being there made me think that there could not have been any light for the people who spent time there.IMG_3361.jpgThe Holocaust may well have been one of the darkest moments in all of history, and there really doesn’t seem like there could have been any light in the midst of the persecution and murder of 6 million Jews.¬† I just finished reading the book, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom who used the light of Jesus to bring hope to so many people before, during, and after her time at a concentration camp in Germany. Her story is incredible and I highly recommend the book as well. It is an amazing example of how the light that Jesus gives His followers shines even brighter in the darkness and can not be overcome by any amount of darkness.

Jar of Clay

Frustrated. Defeated. Sad. Angry. What else can I feel when I’ve stumped another doctor? When I’ve cried all my tears for the day pleading with God for it to be different? When I can’t seem to see the purpose in this?

Joyful? Thankful? Hopeful?

The Bible tells me to “rejoice in (my) sufferings” (Romans 5:3), to¬†“trust in the Lord with all (my) heart and lean not on (my) own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Sometimes that seems impossible; but Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

I should probably listen to Jesus…

Not many people know, but I have been dealing with some health issues for a while now. It got really bad while I was overseas in Slovakia last year, and in April I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. The diagnosis brought relief, but also defeat. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that affects muscles and nerves. There is no known cause and no known cure. It is also a diagnosis made when pretty much everything else is ruled out, but I finally had a little hope of finding ways to deal with it and learning to overcome and get back to being normal, active, fun Miranda. I’m still working on that…

So far it seems to be two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, three steps back, four steps forward, one step back, etc. in this process of healing and figuring out how to deal with this piece of me. After a few good weeks of therapies and different appointments, I was feeling a little better and was pretty hopeful, but today was one of those five steps backwards kind of days…

Basically my muscles get super tight and tense anytime I do physical activity and cause a lot of other referred pain and fun stuff, so after a beautiful day of snowshoeing on Saturday, I have been feeling pretty rough. Today we tried lots of different therapies to try to get my muscles back to “normal.” Nothing worked, and I ended up hurting more than when I arrived. The doctors are confused and don’t know why my muscles are so tight and won’t relax, and I am frustrated with my body…I want to run! I want to hike! I want to be normal! I don’t want to be weak and broken!

I found myself questioning God’s plan for me in the midst of this during a teary drive home today from the doctor, and 2 Corinthians 4:5-18 comes to mind:

“For what¬†we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with¬†ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.¬†6¬†For God, who said,¬†‚ÄúLet light shine out of darkness,‚Ä̬†has shone in our hearts to give¬†the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

7¬†But we have this treasure in¬†jars of clay,¬†to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.¬†8¬†We are¬†afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;¬†9¬†persecuted, but¬†not forsaken;¬†struck down, but not destroyed;10¬†always carrying in the body the death of Jesus,¬†so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.¬†11¬†For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.¬†12¬†So¬†death is at work in us, but life in you.

13¬†Since we have¬†the same spirit of faith according to what has been written,¬†‚ÄúI believed, and so I spoke,‚ÄĚ we also believe, and so we also speak,¬†14¬†knowing that¬†he who raised the Lord Jesus¬†will raise us also with Jesus and¬†bring us with you into his presence.¬†15¬†For¬†it is all for your sake, so that as¬†grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving,¬†to the glory of God.

16¬†So we do not lose heart.¬†Though our outer self is wasting away,¬†our inner self¬†is being renewed day by day.¬†17¬†For¬†this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,¬†18¬†as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:5-18

I am a jar of clay carrying the treasure that is the good news of Jesus Christ. I carry around the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in me! I am broken and weak so that others won’t see me, but they will see Jesus (the only reason I’m still standing) in me.

Today I needed to take a step back and remember the fact that God is faithful. I needed to take stock of the good this suffering has produced: the things I’m thankful for, and the good that has and will come out of my brokenness.

-I am thankful that my fibromyalgia is not debilitating and I can live a functional, pretty much normal life.

-Through times of pain and confusion, I have grown closer to God than I had even thought possible before.

-I have already gotten to use this part of my story to encourage and lift up others who are suffering in different ways.

-I have a great team of doctors around me for the first time who really listen and validate what I feel.

-God has allowed me to be thankful and feel joy even on one of the hardest days I’ve had in a while.

I hope my processing through this post can be encouraging or thought-provoking for others! It’s a little bit disorganized (like my thoughts at the moment), but I love that God has given me this newfound love for writing to express and share what He is teaching me with others.

The Good Teacher

Although there’s not a lot of time in my life for leisurely writing these days, I’ve decided to make this blog a fun, stress-reliever for me, and hopefully a source of interesting entertainment/learning for you! I can’t ever come up with things off the top of my head to write about, but once in a while, God will use something in my life to reveal something about Himself to me, and I love to write about those experiences (see my last post about waterslides…). So, here’s my latest little “understanding” from our good teacher…

Those who know me (and maybe those who don’t) know that I have always been and will always be a band geek. I started playing the trumpet when I was in fifth grade and played through the whole beginning band book at home the first week I got it. I knew immediately that music was my thing. In sixth grade, I decided that I wanted to learn another instrument. I had my heart set on percussion, but alas, the district rules said I had to have two years of piano before I could play percussion (I also think my band director was trying to rescue me from the craziness that is the percussion section). So, instead of trading in my trumpet for sticks and mallets, I got a new piece of metal, this time with a reed. Saxophone became my new thing. Long story short, I loved music a lot, did pretty much everything a girl could do related to music throughout middle and high school and eventually fell in love with marching band (and later drum corps). After marching four years in my high school marching band and two years with the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps, my body decided it had had enough, so I began to teach!

Teaching marching band is now one of my favorite things. It brings me so much joy to watch students enjoy one of my favorite activities and get to help them grow as marchers, musicians, performers, and human beings. My favorite moment is when a young marcher is struggling to do something and then,¬† after so much hard work, something finally clicks! The look on their face when I get to say, “I’m proud of all the hard work you put in to get here. It paid off and you look great,” is priceless. I am excited when my students are excited, frustrated when they are frustrated, sad when they are sad. I rejoice when they remember what they’ve been taught and apply it to look and sound good, and I wish for more for them when they don’t quite live up to their potential. It is always a rollercoaster of emotions and energy teaching marching band, and any decent teacher can attest to that.

Recently, we had a rehearsal that was especially tumultuous, and it left me thinking a lot…The beginning of rehearsal was great! The students were obviously committed to giving their best effort: their marching looked the best I had seen it all season; they were performing every rep; the brass sounded as beautiful, resonant, and in tune as I had ever heard them before, and everyone was obviously excited to be challenged and to get better. As we moved into ensemble rehearsal (where we put all of the sections together and run larger chunks of the show), something began to change. The brass started to sound bright, quiet, and pinched. The marching technique began to break down. No one was adjusting the spacing between them and the person next to them. No matter what I said to try to get them to do things better, the rehearsal continued to go downhill. I realized later that most of the students had forgotten the fundamentals we spend the first half of rehearsal working on and were now just overthinking everything, trying to do their best to get through the reps. They were putting forth so much effort, just not in the right way. This caused them to get tense, and forget all of the training we as staff work so hard to engrain in them.

As I sat frustrated in my car, reflecting on the rehearsal, God used what I was feeling about this rehearsal to show me something about what He feels about us as His children.

I have this deep desire for my students to realize the potential they have to be absolutely incredible. As a teacher, I have seen glimpses of it and can imagine what it would be like if everyone got there, but the students can’t see it. They only see me as a teacher giving them commands of things to do better, and even though I explain why we spend so much time on certain things in basics, or why it’s so important to keep your horn up during the show, they can’t see the potential in themselves that I can. So they do the things I tell them, but when they get tired, they forget. They forget the basics and end up overthinking everything. They try to muscle their way through the drill moves and the music without applying the fundamentals, and it crashes and burns every time. I’m never mad at them for doing this; I am sad for them, because they haven’t experienced what it feels like to perform when you’re not stressed about doing everything right. When the fundamentals of marching and playing come naturally, everything falls into place and you can perform and have fun. I just want them to experience that feeling!

God is the same way, but on a much larger scale that just marching band. He has a deep desire for us, His children, to see ourselves as He sees us: to recognize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, and that even when we fail (in our minds), He still loves us. In fact, He gave us His words (the Bible) to teach us the fundamentals of what it means to live a life with Him at the center, and to give us a glimpse of what it could look like if we all lived in the way He made us to live. But, when we forget the fundamentals (the things that our relationship with God should be built on), we end up striving, taking matters into our own hands, and trying to live life without God’s help. We crash and burn, just like the end of a marching rehearsal full of overthinking and forgetting the basics. But God doesn’t get mad at us…He gets sad for us! God is sad because we aren’t experiencing true fulfillment, peace, and lack of fear or worry that comes when we stand firm and remember His fundamental truths and promises.¬†This was such a cool reminder to me to rest in the truths of who God is and who He made me to be instead of striving to do things for Him and taking matters into my own hands. God is the ultimate teacher, and so so much more!

**Update: The band did awesome at their competition this Saturday! They are finally starting to remember the basics and it’s so much fun!

Waterslides

I have been back in the United States for 2.5 weeks after spending almost a year in the country of Slovakia. Since returning I have wanted to write something to sum up my year, but it is so hard to encompass a year into a blog post, or even just the feelings of reverse culture shock. It has been a tough transition home of missing the people and the way of life in Slovakia, and I often find myself wanting to go back more than stay here in the USA. However, there are so many things I love about my home country, and I know that God has called me here for this season to finish school and be missional in Boulder, Colorado. That being said, I still wanted to write a short post reflecting on the year, but I didn’t know where to start until the other day at the pool with my little cousins…

To set the stage, I need to explain my two cousins: Otis and Melvin are five and three respectively and full of youthful energy. Otis is an active, loud, daredevil, stereotypical five-year-old boy. He feels emotions bigger than anyone I know, and can’t help but make you smile when he is enjoying something. Melvin is the younger brother and has a head full of curls and two, adorable dimples on his cheeks. He is quiet, shy, creative, and goofy. He likes to have a good time but is much more cautious than his older brother.¬†

A few days ago, we went to the outdoor pool near my parents’ house. There is a children’s area with a water playground and a yellow waterslide. Otis wanted to go on the big, adult waterslides across the pool but was a few inches too short, so he settled for the kids’ yellow one. He decided immediately that he LOVED it and wanted to go down over and over. He also wanted to share this experience with everyone around and begged his little brother, Melvin to go down the slide.¬†

“Melvin, you HAVE to go! It’s so fun! You won’t get hurt and it will be so much fun,” Otis pleaded with his timid little brother.¬†

Melvin refused, but Otis persisted, visibly sad and upset that his brother didn’t want to try the waterslide. Otis knew how fun the waterslide was and just wanted his brother to have as much fun as he did. He knew that the waterslide wouldn’t hurt Melvin and that if he just took that first scoot of faith, he would have the time of his life. All Melvin saw was a dark, scary tube full of water.

Finally, after an hour or so, Melvin got the courage up to try the waterslide. He hesitated at the top, looking at his brother for reassurance. Otis encouraged him and Melvin went down the slide. Otis was standing at the end of the slide waiting the whole time to see how much fun his brother would have. Melvin’s face as he got to the end was priceless: giggling and smiling wide with both dimples showing, he radiated joy. Otis helped him off at the bottom equally as happy (or maybe more so) that his brother had finally gotten to experience the amazing, yellow waterslide. Immediately, they both ran back up the stairs and went again and again, laughing and squealing with joy the whole time.¬†

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This was such a cute reminder to me of what God did this past year. He got my attention and called me to do something that I thought was terrifying, like the big, scary tube of water for Melvin: taking a year off of school to move overseas and do ministry. It was a huge leap of faith and it took me a lot of courage and prayer to finally take the leap. God kept encouraging me, saying, “Don’t worry! I’ll be right there the whole time,” with all the enthusiasm of five-year-old Otis, because from His view, this journey was going to be the most amazing, yellow waterslide of my life, and He wanted me to experience the joy of trusting Him and seeing what He could do in and through me. So, when I finally went down that waterslide and trusted God with a year of my life, I got to experience the freedom and joy that comes from trusting God with everything. It was still scary at many times, as a waterslide is the first time you go down, but in the end I came out better than when I went in, and I am so thankful that God called me down that waterslide!

After Melvin had gone down the slide a few more times, he bounced up to his mom and begged her to try. “It’s so fun, mom! You have to do it! I thought it would be scary, but it’s not!”¬†

Melvin set an example for me and what God is calling me to do during this next season in Boulder. I’ve got down this crazy, year-long waterslide, and now I want to invite others to try the waterslide: to jump in to whatever God is calling them to.

Maybe it’s not taking a year off of school and moving overseas, but it could be anything! Is God calling you to trust him with your time? To stop worrying so much and trust Him to provide? Is He calling you to start a business? To share your faith with your family or friends? Maybe you don’t consider yourself a Christian, but maybe God is calling you to look into what it might be like to have a relationship with Him, to try out a church, pray, or ask a question to a Christian friend. Whatever it is, I challenge you to take that step of faith, try the waterslide and enjoy the ride! I am so thankful I did, and I will try whatever waterslide He puts in front of my next.

 

 

 

The Comfort Zone

“Success lies outside of your comfort zone.”¬†

One of my band directors in high school (shoutout to Daniel Kirk) used this phrase as a motto for our band to teach us the value of hard work, but I had no idea how it would come to effect and define my life one day.¬†While in Jamaica for my first mission trip the summer before my junior year of high school, I realized that this “motto” was really applicable to life outside of band, and that “success” could be defined in different ways.

One day during the week, we took a break from the manual labor of building houses and were sent to the “infirmary,” which was basically a hospital for people who had been cast away from society by their families due to a disability, deformity, or mental illness. Our job there was just to be with the residents, entertain them, and show them the love of Jesus in whatever ways we could.

When we arrived, I was horrified with the conditions. We had been warned that it was not for the faint of heart, but I was not prepared for what I saw. A large number of people occupied the open-air hallways and corridors, most lying on beds, but a few walking around or sitting on the concrete floor or dirt. Some wore clothes, but some did not. The air reeked of old urine and feces and other smells I don’t want to recall. There were soiled clothes and sheets, old trays full of food garbage, and medical supplies lying around. The residents were living in terrible conditions, with minimal (and not loving) care, and received nothing more than a few meals a day and a shower once per week (if they were lucky). They were not treated as human beings, and it made me physically ill to witness. As I walked around, taking it all in, I could hardly bare it. I felt guilt, anger, sadness, disgust, and just about every negative emotion I could at the moment. Eventually I bit my lip and got to “work.” After a full day of being emotionally exhausted entertaining and loving on the residents, we got back on the bus to return to the compound in which we were staying. I cried the whole way home.

That night we had some time alone to process our experience at the infirmary and then came together to share. During my time I prayed for the people living there and confessed my initial unwillingness to “care for the least of these.” For some reason, as I was praying this and asking God for forgiveness for my selfishness and disgust that had led me to inaction, He kept bringing to my mind, “Success lies outside of your comfort zone,”¬† something I had heard a thousand times from Mr. Kirk. I pushed it aside, but it kept coming back. Eventually we got back together and the leader asked people to share their experiences with the group. He also asked if anyone was interested in going to the infirmary for a second day; they could take a couple people back the next day to do the same thing. I immediately shut down that notion, but in my head came, “Success lies outside of your comfort zone.”¬†When it came to me to share, I realized that God was asking me to get out of my comfort zone and go back to the infirmary for the second day. I wept and shared with the group that I would rather do anything but go back to the infirmary, but for some reason, I knew that God was calling me to go back the next day.

The next morning as I boarded the green and yellow bus, I dreaded what was to come. After the long ride through the pothole-laden mountain roads of Jamaica, we reached the infirmary once again. As I got off the bus, I prayed, “God, I don’t understand why you have me here. Help me. I can’t do this.” Just then, a woman with no teeth smiling ear-to-ear skipped up to me and gave me a huge hug. She smelled of urine, but she was so excited that I couldn’t resist hugging her back. She grabbed me tightly by the hand and immediately led me to a large woman sitting on a bench outside one of the wards. She was obviously blind and was not able to communicate verbally with me either. I don’t know if she could understand me at all. The woman who had led me there took my hand and placed it on top of the blind woman’s hand. As she felt the contact of my hand on hers, she immediately got the biggest grin on her face and began to bounce my hand up and down, giggling enthusiastically. This continued for about an hour. I cried as I realized that I had maybe given this woman love and joy for the first time in a very long time, just from a little bit of physical contact and company. Eventually, the woman got tired and let go of my hand.

I walked to go eat my packed lunch and met up with my friend who had come too. After lunch, we walked around a bit, saying “hello” to everyone we came across. We read Bible stories to a few people and sang songs as well. One man told us his story of losing his legs at an accident at a banana plantation. His family had not been able to pay for him anymore so they sent him to the infirmary. He was laying outside against a wall, unable to get to his bed, he obviously had some kind of infection or sores on his amputated legs. The nurses wouldn’t help him, he said. We asked if we could pray for him and he enthusiastically agreed.

After a while I moved on to a new building and sat down by a man who looked as if he did not have much life left in him. I grabbed my Bible and turned to Psalm 23. The man grabbed my hand as I started to read. His eyes got wide and tears started to run down his cheeks. There was another man in the bed next to us who started yelling, “Hallelujah! Praise God! Hallelujah!” The man holding my hand did not let go and thanked me by squeezing my hand even harder for a few minutes as tears of joy ran down his face.

As it came time to leave, I could hardly believe what had happened. God used me as his hands to hold and his mouth to speak words of truth, hope, and love directly from Him to His poor, outcast children. God had called me out of my comfort zone in order to rely on Him and bring glory to His name by loving these men and women. He had blessed others through me deciding to taking a step of faith, and He had also blessed me and grown me in so many ways that day too. So the “success” found outside of my comfort zone wasn’t what the world would define as success, but I grew closer to the Lord and brought others closer to Him, and that is God’s purpose for us here on this Earth. How much more successful could I be than to fulfill God’s purpose for me on Earth?

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I honestly had forgotten about this story until today as I was reflecting on my time here in Slovakia. Looking back on the decision to take a year off of school to move here and do ministry I was thinking about this concept of “Success (lying) outside of your comfort zone.” Everything about this year was outside of my comfort zone…coming into it I had no ministry experience, struggled with conversation, was still in school, etc. But God called me to take this leap of faith into the unknown, and I am SOO glad I took it. It has been the hardest and most rewarding year of my life thus far. He has done some incredible (and terribly challenging) things to grow me closer to Him and to bring others closer to Him through me. He continues every day to ask me to step out of my comfort zone to initiate conversations, share my faith, and even get out of bed in the morning sometimes. God gives me the strength and the words to do what He asks of me every time without fail, and the more I trust in Him, the more He gives me to trust Him with. It is a beautiful and glorious thing to experience: to be completely reliant on a God that you can trust completely because He is the maker of the universe.

God has promised to help us when we are putting our trust in Him.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

-Isaiah 41:10

So, if there is something outside of your comfort zone that God might be calling you to, go for it. Trust in Him to provide, and take the leap. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it will be worth it. That space outside of what we think is easy, comfortable, or attainable is where God works the most in and through us. He makes us “successful” not in the eyes of the world, but in what counts for eternity. I want to change the quote and say that it’s not success but,

“Eternity lies outside of your comfort zone.”

 

 

 

Everybody Loves Hammocks…

Yesterday was Labor Day in Slovakia, so I and everyone else in Bratislava had the day off. As my roommates headed out on a walk to Austria (yes, it is that close), I decided to take it easy on my legs and walk to the park across the Danube river (Sad Janka Kral’a) for some quality hammock time. I have been struggling a lot with muscle pain the past few years and especially since I moved here, but it’s still hard for me to have to say “no” to things I know that I physically can’t do anymore that I would have loved to do previously.¬† Because of that and a lot of other related stuff, I was feeling pretty down-in-the-dumps, but I was determined to have a great day in the sun in my hammock, so I put it out of my mind.

Somebody’s Watching…

The sun was shining and it was a beautiful 23 degrees Celsius (73 Fahrenheit) as I coaxed my tight, achy legs to make the trek across the bridge. When I arrived, I found a good half-sun, half-shady spot to tie up my hammock and got to work. The people around me got a good laugh as I tried to loop the straps around two trees I couldn’t quite fit my arms around. “Tree-hugger” takes on a whole new meaning when you are trying to put up a hammock by yourself…Eventually, I got my hammock up, took off my shoes, grabbed my book and my little bag of fruity pebbles I packed as a snack (thanks launch team from the states!), and settled in for an hour and a half of swaying underneath the trees.

As I started back into my book I hadn’t read in a while, I started to get the feeling that there was someone behind me, someone watching me. I sat still for a few seconds and then got the courage to peak my head up from behind the hammock. What I saw, I was not prepared for…

A small child, probably around a year or a little older stood there, face inches from mine, grinning with a very curious look. He stared into my eyes and gave me a big, half-toothed smile. I burst out laughing, as this toddler stood dangerously close to my face. His mom came running up behind him with an apologetic smile and gently tried to get him to retreat. I continued to laugh as the child stared me down with his cute little grin, staring into my very soul. His face remained inches from mine and he was not intimidated by the fact that I was a total stranger. Every time I laughed, he followed suit until all three of us (including the mom) were hysterically laughing at each other.

Eventually, the mom picked up her baby and walked back to the path, waving and saying “Prepańćte!” (Sorry, or forgive me).¬†I chuckled and could not stop smiling…Anyone who knows me knows that I love little kids, so the odd encounter was certainly welcomed.

After a rough couple of weeks, I was so in need of something joyful and funny to lighten my spirits, and it was so clear to me that God gave me that little gift of laughter to remind me that He loves me specifically and knows exactly what it is I need. Little did I know that He had even more in store for me…

What is it about hammocks??

After reflecting on my little laugh, I laid back in the hammock and started on my book once again. A few minutes later, I felt the same feeling of someone behind my back watching me. Lowering the fabric of the hammock to peak out, I was surprised again by what I saw!

Four little kids with wide eyes of surprise were staring back at me a little further back than where the baby had been standing. They erupted in giggles when I peeked over the hammock to see them and ran to hide behind the tree to my right, all the while squealing with laughter. The littlest boy poked his head out from behind the tree and quickly ducked back when he saw me looking at him. I heard giggles from behind the hiding tree again. I put the hammock over my head and waited a while until it was quiet, then I popped out from beneath the fabric and the kids went wild with laughter, running around the tree.

This game went on for about 10 minutes and ended up with with a talent show of sorts put on for me by the four little ones. The oldest girl, probably six, pretended to be a mime in front of me and took a bow. I clapped, and she ran to the side, letting her little sister take the “stage.” Of course, she copied the older one and tried the mime routine as well. I clapped enthusiastically for her performance and few silly dances from the two little boys. The field was full of dandelions, so of course we needed to blow the fuzzies at other and throw them in each others’ hair for the fun to be complete…

After brushing the white fluff out of my hair, I checked the time and realized I needed to get going soon. I said to the kids, “Potrebujem ist'” (I need to go). They looked sad, so I let them try my hammock for a few minutes while I packed up. All four jumped in and cocooned themselves, once in a while sticking a leg or an arm out and erupting into a fit of giggles.

The littlest boy got out of the hammock and started talking to me in Slovak. I said, “Prepańć, nerozumiem. Nehovorim po Slovensky, hovorim po Anglitcky.” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I don’t speak Slovak, I speak English.)¬†He was very confused and kept blabbering on. I was able to understand a little bit, but not enough to answer whatever question he was asking me. Eventually, all of the children were trying to talk to me in Slovak and I repeated what I had told the little boy. I had never considered that children probably don’t recognize that there are more languages than their own and wasn’t sure how to explain that in a language in which I am only a beginner. The oldest girl finally understood and said, “Oh, Anglicky!” She then showed me how she could count to ten in English. Her little siblings followed suit. “Good job, dobre!” I exclaimed and gave them a thumbs-up. I waved goodbye and yelled, “ńĆiaote! Goodbye!” to the kids and there mom who was having a picnic a ways off in the field.

Grinning ear to ear, I began to thank God for His lovely gift to me at just the right time. Lately, I have been praying that I would be able to more clearly see and appreciate God’s work in and through people and in all of creation. It has been amazing and fun to experience things in a new way and see how God uses ordinary things to delight in me as His daughter. Every time I see a cute animal I thank God for creating something that brings so much joy. Every time I hear a good piece of music or movie I think, “thank you, God for making us creative and giving us music to express ourselves!” We were made to appreciate our creator and His creation, so it brings inexpressible joy to recognize the things He has made and what He does to uniquely delight in each one of us. My morning in the hammock was such a great reminder of how God uniquely delights in me using things He made me to love: laughter, children, cute animals, music, etc. I encourage you to ask God to help you to see him in new ways and appreciate His creation this week!

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The Dunaj (Danube) River from Sad Janka Kral’a

 

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

-Matthew 7:11

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

-James 1:17