Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Blank space and the mountain

Once in college I had a marketing class and I needed to do a presentation in front of the whole class. I'm not a fan of "in front of the whole class."

The assignment was to come up with a thing to market, and try to sell it to our professor. I was coming up with nothing. For days and days, not one idea. It's hard to make an idea pop into your head on command.

Thankfully, one finally did come around midnight the night before it was due, and it was a good one, if I do say so myself. It was a commercial for Sonic (where I worked part-time while I was going to school). I think of this assignment every time I see a Sonic commercial now (think "Lil' Doggies"), and am sure they need my skills, lol. One day you'll see it on your TV, I'm just sure of it :)

I had to rush out to Walmart in the middle of the night to get poster boards and markers and whatever else I needed to make this happen. It turned out to be one of my favorite assignments of all 9 years of my 4-year degree :)

I'm getting sidetracked though... The point is, there are many times I want to have something to think/say/do, but draw a blank.

It's been like that lately with writing. I have had no words. Blank paper. Blank computer screen. Blank thoughts. I couldn't figure it out. I wanted to write. I wanted to do some blogs, to work on a book, but I was coming up with nothing. I have a journal of ideas, but even that was getting me nowhere. I wanted to share some words from God through my writing, but wasn't hearing any hints from Him.

Then it hit me. I hadn't been listening. I was praying, but not as intensely as I had been before. I became busy and let other things become a priority. I prayed for anyone who asked me to, I prayed over Facebook requests, and over some friends I knew who had been struggling. But I hadn't really had a talk with Jesus. And as for reading God's Word, not nearly as regularly as I had been before. It was no wonder I wasn't hearing His gentle nudgings when it came time to get out my laptop.

In my journal I had written about Moses. In Exodus 19, beginning in verse 20, it says, "The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain."

When Moses wanted to hear from God during this time, or God wanted to speak to him, Moses had to go to the mountain. Up and down he went, relaying messages to the people from God, interceding for the people when they had quickly turned their backs on Him. To have these conversations with God, he had to go to the mountain.

Where is my mountain? What are the conditions that I hear God best?

For me, it is quiet time alone, when I am not feeling rushed, and I can pour my heart out to God and read His Word, highlighter and ink pens in hand, ready to hear what He has to say. Those are the times I feel His direction.

If you, like me, have had a hard time hearing God lately, see if you need to refocus. That was definitely my problem. Though sometimes God's silence is for other reasons, this is a good place to start. If you still can't hear from Him, don't give up. Keep reading, keep praying, and keep looking and listening for Him. He is there.

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." (NIV)
Jeremiah 33:3


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ten Sentences...

I need details.

If you ask me to do something, I am going to ask you 347 different questions to be sure I fully understand and am on board. 

I remember when I joined a small group of ladies who gathered weekly to focus on praying for our husbands - as we finished with introductions and small talk, we were about to pray. This being our first meeting, I needed specifics, so I asked. "Are we going to pray out loud?" "Are we all going to pray at the same time?" "Will we take turns going around the circle?" "How will we know the other person is finished?" "Who is going to cover which prayer requests?" "Will we each cover all of them, or each person take someone else's?" 

I didn't want surprises, or uncomfortable situations. I wanted to be prepared. 

While I don't think that's always a bad thing, there are times when God just wants to lead us, and keep some of the details from us until we are ready. And I should be fine with that, but I'm not.
I've been reading a lot about Christ's birth the last couple of weeks. In Luke chapter 1, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, starting in verse 26. 

Nevermind that I can't wrap my mind around what it must have been like to get a message from an actual angel, I am sure I couldn't have handled it as calmly as Mary did. 

Gabriel shows up, and after only 10 sentences, Mary is signing on the dotted line. 

"Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting his might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How can this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." 

Ten sentences, with very few direct details, and that's all she gets. But that seems to be all she needs. Her response is highlighted in hot pink in my Bible, reminding me to learn from her. Mary asked one question, and then here is her answer to Gabriel- 

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. May it be to me as you have said." 

I want the faith and obedience of Mary. If I feel God nudging my heart to go/do/say, I want to say what she said. Instead, I am likely to say, "Are you sure?" "When?" "How?" "What if...?" 

I've got a lengthy list of questions I would want to ask if I was in her shoes, but she doesn't ask them. She trusts the God of the universe to take care of her and work out all the details, knowing He will provide. 

If you are like me, and want all the details of the task or calling God has given you, decide with me to change. The next time we feel God saying, "Here is your next assignment," we will say to Him, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." 

"But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my God.'"  - Psalm 31:14

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What I learned about my hometown - Ecuador, Part 6



On vacation, I can wake up cheerfully just after dawn to go for a jog on the beach.

My family and I can happily walk miles and miles from one end of Chicago to the other just to see stuff.

We are fine sweating ourselves to death in line at amusement parks, with nary a complaint.

But these are not things we would do in Barboursville.

It’s rare for me to take a jog, and if so, certainly not early and not with excitement.

Sometimes when shopping, I will literally drive from the Dollar Tree to Target, in the same shopping plaza.

And most of the time we don’t even think about eating dinner on the patio unless it’s a perfect 72 degrees.

It’s crazy how some things make so much sense somewhere else, but not where we are from. We look at it differently.

I noticed this as well when we were in Ecuador for 2 weeks. Not just the food, where we frequently ate chicken, beans and rice, or the walking, which we did a lot of. But important things, that seemed so important there, and had never even crossed my mind in my hometown.

I think a lot of us noticed this during one of the prayer services, where from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. we prayed for the church of Ibarra, in a million different ways. Praying for electricity, the neighbors, financial needs of the church, and certainly people – people who go there, people who lead there, people who drive by. After we finished, someone said what we all were surely thinking, “I was wondering, ‘Why don’t we do this for our own churches?’”

Prayer services was a big one, and one of my favorites, but there were so many others. Visiting people at the hospital, at a disabled home, playing soccer using a Gatorade bottle with some bored kids while they waited on their moms to get off work at the bus station. Praying for and with strangers.

Bible studies were held in homes of people who go or are interested in going to their church. Then those being taught are trained to teach other. Discipleship at its best.  

We stopped people in the park, and held signs at the bus station, just to ask if we could pray for them in some way.

Would I do that at home?

Do people need prayer less in Barboursville? Nope.

We weren’t afraid of looking silly there, standing in an intersection wearing wigs and crazy hats, holding signs saying, “Jesus Te Ama,” letting people know Jesus loved them.

Would I do that across 3rd Avenue? (I’m not 100 percent sure that would be legal here, but still, you get the point…)

A lady asked if the short-term missionaries could visit her tiny business and have a Coke with her while we prayed for her and her store. We did and we cried.

Would we do that here if someone called the church and asked for 20 people to come pray for their store?

I’m asking these questions to have us, you and I, answer them. Would I do these things here? Would I see it as equally important in Barboursville and Huntington as I did in Ibarra and Ambato?

If you already know and can answer yes, I am very proud of you. I mean that. I think a lot of us forget the importance of things like stopping to help one person even if it makes us late somewhere. Or having a conversation with a stranger, who needs us to talk to them. Or praying for our friends, for random people, for our pastors. For those of you who have already had this light-bulb moment and can say yes, you do this, I want to be more like you.

For the rest of us, let’s pray this prayer and ask God to open our eyes to see the things around us in a new way.

Father, thank you for always leading us to become more and more like You. We want more of that. Show us how You would do it. Help us see the people around us the same way Y
ou see them. Give us courage to speak, pray, love and do the kinds of things You would do. Give us passion for this. We love You. In Jesus’ powerful name, Amen.


“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:37-39


Shawn and Brian and their friends from the Adult Day Care :)


Noah and his friends from the bus terminal :)

Noah making a friend :)
Noah's soccer buddy

Noah and his friend at the bus terminal





Noah getting ready for our church promotion


Church Promotion

Church promotion
Shawn and Noah taking lunch during
church promotion
Home Bible study :)

A group enjoying a soft drink and prayer for
this business and the family who runs it






Thursday, September 18, 2014

What I learned about being wimpy - Ecuador, Part 5

I would make a terrible salesperson. I hate the feeling that I am inconveniencing someone or that they are doing something they don’t want to do simply because I asked.

Some people are naturals at this. I had a friend say of another friend that “He could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo!” (I apologize if this is in any way a racial slur). It’s a gift that some have, and I did not get.

I have tried even hosting Pampered Chef and Longaberger parties in my past, and you can imagine how well I did when my invitations went something like, “Please come! You really don’t need to buy anything. 
Seriously, don’t feel like you have to buy something. Just come. I really don’t need you to make a purchase, just come for fun!”

Even if I love the thing that is being sold, promoted or offered, I automatically think of 10 million reasons you might not and I feel terrible inconveniencing you by asking and putting pressure on you.

And don’t get me started on school fundraisers. If Noah makes any sales at all, it is because we bought something ourselves. I can’t bring myself to peddle it.

So you can imagine how great I would be as a 2-week missionary.

I know people need Jesus, but I would just imagine that they were tired of getting flyers, they were skeptical of our nail painting, and wondering why in the world we wanted to give them oatmeal. I assumed they were cynical, which made me feel wimpy when it was time to interact.

Well, God can provide the guts for us as we need it. It seems that when I see other people not being wimpy, it makes me have a little more courage too.  

Our job ultimately was to pray and to represent Jesus in everything we did, whether it was nail-painting, passing out oatmeal, or passing out 1 gazillion flyers.  Noah and I were even encouraged to be a little less wimpy when passing out the flyers – “Be bold!” a missionary said to us as he assertively exemplified giving this piece of paper to a stranger. He rocked passing out flyers.

And another lady we were with was so good at this! She would go to car doors at intersections and excitedly hand them this invitation to an event ultimately designed to connect that person with Christ! You could feel her excitement.

I saw a lady accept Christ during a simple flyer distribution. I saw, and cried, as a woman and her daughter were so thrilled to hear about this new church that they hugged us as we finished talking to them. I saw an answer to prayer as a guy riding past the church on his bike, stopped  because he wanted to know more about it, asking a lady who, at the very moment, was praying for that very thing to happen.

People want to know. People need to know.   

You need to believe in what you’re selling.

When we finished up the two week trip, we had some reflection time to consider the things we had seen and done, what we had learned. And we were given some questions to think about. One of them was, “What have you learned about yourself.”

In my journal I wrote this –

“I’ve learned I’m wimpy at home sometimes…Knowing I’m offering them the best gift ever – that is nothing to be wimpy about, or to feel like I’m inconveniencing them. They need this. I’ve learned I can be brave when I need to.”

In a place far away from my home, I was able to catch the excitement other people had about sharing Jesus with people, and I don’t want to lose it now that I am back in Barboursville.

And I know people here need Jesus just as much as the people there. We all need Him. Do your part where you are to talk about Him. There are people who want to hear it, I promise.

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..."
Romans 1:16a


Noah offering oatmeal to a stranger


Our group offering oatmeal
and offering prayer

Shawn helping prepare the oatmeal
to be handed out

My friend Hannah and my new friend
 Audreyanne in a break from passing
out flyers

Passing out flyers :)

Me and a friend I made during the free nail-painting :)




Saturday, September 6, 2014

Look to your left...



If you go to a church somewhere, please read this.

Close your eyes and picture yourself in your church service. Actually, don’t close your eyes because then you can’t read the next instructions… Anyway, picture yourself in your church service on any given weekend service. The music is happening, people are worshiping. Look to your left, then look to your right, look in front of you and behind you. See who is there. And then look to see who isn’t there.

Now get out something to write with. If someone in front of you, beside you, or behind you is no longer going to church, but still lives in the area, write their name down.

*Imagine Jeopardy-ish music playing in the background as I wait for you to write the names down…*

*Seriously, write them down*

Finished?

Ok, that was step one. You are doing great.

Think about that person for a second. Remember some of their great qualities. Are they funny? Understanding? Kind? Passionate about things? Did they have a sarcastic sense of humor that you admired?  
Now, this is step two, and it is likely it will mean stepping right out of your comfort zone.

Invite them. I don’t mean to church (although that is great too… I want you to do that too, but maybe try this first). Invite them to your house. Invite them to meet you for lunch somewhere. Invite them to coffee. Invite them for a walk at the park. And give yourself a deadline for initially getting in touch with them, like 1 week. (I promise it will be so much easier after the first time).

Get involved in their life. There is a great phrase going around called “Doing life together.” Just inviting someone to church can work, but this is more of how God intended it.

God created us to be a community, whether we like it or not. (For a somewhat-introvertish person like myself, it can be a struggle). But life is so much better when you share it with other people.

In Acts chapter 2, we meet the first church. We see what made them who they were. Take a look for yourself…

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. “(NIV)

While the needs of the first church might be a little different than today’s church, it sounds like God wants us to be around people. Have dinner with them. Help them. Give to them. Praise God, talk about God, and be excited about God with them.  

This post isn’t meant to guilt you into being friends with someone. Nobody wants to be your friend because you feel guilty. This is meant to remind you of the people you already know and want to be friends with. You like them. You miss them. This post is encouraging you to do something about it.

Also, if you don’t know of anyone missing at your church that you could get reconnected with, find someone who still goes there that you would be sad to lose contact with and do something with them. We need each other.

And if you don’t go to church anywhere, but you read this anyway, try going to one. Preferably mine J 

Hope to see you Sunday J

Huntington First Church of the Nazarene
321 30th Street
Huntington, WV 25702



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What I learned about remembering - Ecuador, Part 4


Our two weeks in Ecuador were divided equally into 2 separate, beautiful cities. Our itinerary was different for each city, as the churches in each city had different needs.

The Ibarra church was new, only a few months old, and had a significant need to get people informed about its existence. We were able to be part of several smaller-scale events like “free manicure” stations at the park, a soccer tournament, wearing crazy wigs and hats while holding “Jesus Te Ama” signs in the middle of an intersection… Things like that.

At each city, we also had a “big event” that we focused on. In Ibarra that was a breakdancing competition. So cool! In the middle of a enormous and beautiful park, a stage was set up, complete with microphones and music, and people came. We each had our own jobs to do while we were there. My job was to invite 
people to come. So we looked for people walking and said things that I hope meant, “You’re invited to come to watch a breakdance competition! It’s free! And there are activities for children!” Shawn and Noah had cleanup duty, keeping the park free of litter during the competition.
Noah and me at the
breakdancing competition
in Ibarra 
Shawn and Noah at the
breakdancing competition
in Ibarra
I had my doubts that people would come. At the beginning, the crowd was small and I worried that after all the time and money they had spent preparing for the event, it would be a disappointment to all those at the church who had worked so hard.

But they did come.  More than 800 of them. People came, watched the competition, met church people, saw the church’s name, the church made some contacts, and many heard the message of Jesus before the evening was over, with people making eternal commitments to Him.



Noah and the drama team
performing during the
breakdancing competition






























In Ambato, the “big event” was the main focus of the week. Here, the event was called “Gran Noche de 
Esparanza,” translated as “Great Night of Hope.”  An evening of music, entertainment, prizes, and Pastor Ferney.

Just some of the
entertainment for the
Gran Noche de Esparanza
Pastor Ferney sharing his story





Pastor Ferney leads a church in Cali, Colombia, and he came to share his story with the 400 people who came out that evening. He shared with them how Jesus can change the life of a man deeply involved in the drug cartel, freeing him of the life he had and giving him a new one full of hope in Jesus. We watched and prayed as 76 people came forward to dedicate their lives to Christ.












The next morning we were privileged to hear Pastor Ferney at the church in Ambato, with a translator, as he spoke to us about the importance of family. We watched as he got on his knees, with tears in his eyes, asking the North American section of the crowd for forgiveness for the pain his life’s work has caused our country. So humbling and such an example of the redemption of God. We are never too bad for the forgiveness of Jesus.


Pastor Fernay sharing his story
at the church in Amato
Pastor Fernay with
David Morrison translating













The last day we were in Ambato, before we headed for the airport, our trip leaders, Chris and Anndee Stringer, led us in a time of reflection. We were able to answer some pretty deep questions for ourselves about the ways we were changed from the trip, the ways we had seen God work, the things we needed to remember. Anndee said it is too easy for us to go back home and answer the question, “How was the trip?” with telling them about the chicken feet in our soup.

How is it so easy to forget the undeniable work of God in the 2 weeks we were there, and focus only on the chicken foot soup or the toilet paper we weren’t allowed to flush?

But she was right. Even after my time of reflection and knowing how I was changed from this trip, the first couple of times I was asked about the trip – chicken feet and toilet paper.

I kind of reminded myself of the Israelites. In Exodus 16, we see them after God had miraculously convinced Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt where they were oppressed as slaves, then let them cross the Red Sea, then destroy the Egyptian army chasing after them, they began to complain about being hungry.

“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!.. you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Then God sends manna, a kind of bread, from heaven to feed them daily.

Then in Numbers 11, in verses 4 and 5, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

Why in the world can’t they stay focused on the miracles God just did to save them?

While I wasn’t complaining about the chicken feet or the toilet paper- it was simply an interesting tidbit- how in the world could I let that trump the miracles we saw take place while in Ecuador?

God provides. God heals. God redeems. I saw all of this happen in South America. And I have seen His provision, healing and redemption in my own city, in my own life. Yet still I find myself complaining, or focusing on things that don’t matter.

I think a prayer journal of sorts could help here. Take a few minutes and think of ways God has provided for you.  Think of ways He has healed you or someone you love. Think of how God has redeemed you from what you once were. Write it down. Thank God for it. Remember it.

And, if you would, share some of these things here so we can thank God for it together.

"Let all I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me." (NLT)
 Psalm 103:2





I couldn't leave you without a picture -
chicken feet soup

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What I learned about ordinary jobs - Ecuador, Part 3

Noah's mime career start
I’m not gonna lie – sometimes I get jealous. There are some skills and talents that just seem more awesome /helpful /needed /appreciated than others. And while I know in my heart that God sees things differently than we do, sometimes I forget.

So, as we prepared for this mission trip to Ecuador, I had already kind of questioned how useful I would be. Some people have awesome medical skills and training, which always come in handy. Some actually speak the language of the country we would be visiting – you can probably imagine how helpful that is.

I’ll start out by saying that I do believe God has given me gifts. He gives them to all of us. It’s just sometimes hard to see where they can make a difference in some situations.

There were times I had some ordinary, seemingly small jobs during this trip.
Shawn, rocking the soccer field

During the soccer tournament in Ibarra, Shawn played soccer, Noah performed with the drama team – I was mostly the keeper of the backpacks.

I also did A LOT of passing out flyers in Ambato – flyers about the church, flyers about the medical clinic, flyers about the “big event” with the Colombian pastor who used to live a life of drug crimes, but now speaks the love of Jesus to the largest church there. There is certainly nothing fancy about passing out flyers.

One of the many, many
many flyers we passed out :)
In addition to these things, I prayed a lot. There are plenty of opportunities to talk to Jesus while being keeper-of-the-backpacks. And it was needed. As I shared in the second blog post (found here) of this trip, prayer is a big deal.

In 1 Samuel 30, David shares how we should view the keepers-of-the-backpacks.

David and his men had gone off to fight, and when he made it back to his town he saw the Amalekites had taken everyone from his town, including his two wives, and burned the town down. David heard from the Lord that he would assist them in rescuing the people. Six hundred people started out, but two hundred of them stayed behind because they were exhausted.

The four hundred remaining men were successful with God’s help and were able to bring back their people and valuables. When returning to the town, some of the four hundred decided it wasn’t fair for the two hundred who stayed behind to get any of the “plunder.”

David disagreed. In verse 23, “David replied, ‘No my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us. Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.’”

Every victory that happens is because of God, not us. Because of that, there are no small jobs, and the obedient keepers-of-the-backpacks can hold their heads up just as high as the warriors can.

All of the jobs we are given are important, both in Ecuador and at home. Nothing we do for God is wasted. (Thank you, Lord, for that!)

The Sunday morning after the soccer tournament, we heard news that 75 people from Ibarra attended church that morning at Puerta Abierta, a record for this young church. Many of those individuals came because of the activities that happened on Saturday, like the soccer tournament. Out of that 75, many came forward to pray, with 8 of those accepting Christ for the first time!

In Ambato, more than 400 showed up to learn about the redeeming grace of God, with 76 accepting Christ that evening! And others came to know Jesus the next morning in the Ambato church service.

Like the kid who gave his lunch to Jesus in John 6, where Jesus took what the boy offered and multiplied it to fill the need and fill the bellies, Jesus took what we had to offer, and did something big with it.

A song we used to sing in church said, "Little is much, when God is in it."

We each gave our little- playing soccer, praying, giving candy to a child, joining them in a hula hoop game, taking a temperature, and passing out flyers.

But God turned it into much, as more than 100 people were blessed with a new relationship with Christ and the promise of Heaven. Thank you, Lord.

As we gathered for our own worship that Sunday afternoon, our speaker, Chris Stringer, gave us a message about obedience. He said, "Complete and immediate obedience is your greatest calling as a Christian."

It's not which job we have that matters, but whether we choose to obey.

Whatever your job is- whether you are on a mission trip right now, or reading this from your home in your pajamas, be obedient. If He is asking you to move to South America, to the inner city of the area where you already live, or to offer to babysit for someone who needs a break, do it.

He will do much more with it than you can imagine.

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."


The Chicos Blancos, with Shawn proudly displaying
his penalty card :)
I Corinthians 12:27
Shawn beginning his soccer career :




Shawn and his soccer team :)
Shawn, showing his soccer skills :)
Noah and Hannah in the drama skit 

Beautiful! Volcano in Ibarra
Noah and me :)
Me with Pastor Ferney :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Beauty of Scratches and Scuffs



Watching him sleep, with his hand relaxed on the pillowcase, I see the ring. Almost 17 years ago, that ring was picked out and purchased at Sam's Club, of all places. We were young, barely in our 20s, with no idea of what our futures would look like. But we loved each other, and he asked, and I said yes.

My first memory of loving him was in first grade. The snow was pouring down that day, and as our 45-minute van ride to school progressed, no other kids from our class were showing up at their pick-up stops. Just maybe, I began to hope, no one else will show up and we would be the only two in class with no one taking his attention away from me. 

It happened. For that day, it was just the two of us, working puzzles together with our teacher. I had never seen anyone work a puzzle as fast as him. Just one more thing I added to the list of what I loved about him. 

Fast-forward through the next 14 years, after happiness, break-ups, tears, I'm sorrys, and I love yous, I was walking down the orange carpet of my church in my much-too-poofy-for-my-short-self dress to say I do for now and forever. 

Since that day, that simple ring on his finger has been with us through some better, and through some worse. And it's still there. 

That ring was on his hand as we signed papers to buy our home, the home we still live in today. 

That ring was on his hand as we relaxed in Cancun, and as we came back home and took a pregnancy test, finding out we were going to have a baby. That ring was there as he was holding my hand through the pain of labor, and then as he held our son for the first time. 

The ring was on his hand as we waited happily in the exam room getting an ultrasound done of our next pregnancy, and as he held my hand when the tech said she wasn't able to find a heartbeat. 

The ring was on his hand as he let me cry over an awful paint job with some fancy new denim technique I had tried in Noah's new room to make space for a nursery we would no longer need. 

That ring was on his hand as he taught Noah to ride a bike without training wheels, through Noah's tears and frustrations. But Noah mastered it, just as he knew he would.

The ring was on his hand as I nearly ended our marriage. The hardest and darkest days, when he could have easily left, and had every right to. But he never took his ring off, and that ring was on his hand as he said he wasn't giving up on us. 

The ring was on his hand as I cried tears asking for his forgiveness over tortilla soup at Max & Erma's.

That ring was on his hand through job changes, the deaths of his father and of my mother, school plays, soccer games, date nights, vacations, home improvements, prayers at the altar and at bedtime with our boy. 

These 17 years have seen some better and some worse. The ring, though warped, scratched and scuffed, represents every moment since the day we said I do, and all the moments we still have left. It is beautiful.

Our story, with it's own scratches and scuffs, is even more beautiful. It's ours and even with it's imperfections, it tells so much. Rather than bringing guilt and shame, the scratches and scuffs of our story remind me of love, forgiveness, healing, restoration, grace. 

And what a beautiful picture of the love of God, who transforms all of our stories in the same way. My heavenly Father offers me that love, forgiveness, healing, restoration, and grace, sweetly handing it to me when I deserve it least. 

If you have failed our Father, please know He loves you still, and He's waiting for you to come back to Him. He doesn’t offer guilt, but heaping measures of grace instead. Please don't wait any longer. Run to Him. You won't regret it.

"...I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." (NIV)
- Jeremiah 31:3

Thanks, babe, for being such a good example of the grace-giving love of Jesus.


What I learned about Prayer – Eucador, part 2


In the weeks leading up to our mission trip to Ecuador, we would get emails with details of things we needed to do.  The real excitement came when one email had a video attachment with more than 20 minutes of information – what we needed to bring, what to expect, and my favorite: what we would be doing! Months of planning and dreaming about how this trip would go, and I was about to hear exactly how we would be spending those precious 2 weeks!

I got comfortable and got my people and the three of us watched it together.

Now, keep in mind this is my first out-of-the-country mission trip. What I typically assume a mission trip to be: build a church and spend days with beautiful kids at an orphanage.

While we watched the video, I hear “gather to pray,” “prayer adventure,”” 4 a.m. prayer” (that’s right, A.M., baby)… And I should be too embarrassed to tell you this, but I often share more than I should, so here is what I said after watching the video –

“I hope we do more than just pray. That sounds lame.”

Boy, did I have some stuff to learn.

In fairness to myself, I have to tell you I don’t think prayer is lame. I happen to love talking to Jesus. I just thought prayer sounded like something I could do from my couch in my comfy PJs rather than travel to another continent.

Turns out… prayer was more meaningful to me during this trip than anything else could have been and I am so grateful.

Prayer is a big deal
. There was a serious focus on prayer during this trip because it is the absolute most important thing we can ever do. Ever.

We prayed at a small shop owned by a lady of the church in Ibarra, for her business and her family.

We prayed for “Houses of Prayer,” home Bible studies led by young missionaries dedicating more than 2 years of their lives at a time to help get the churches going.

We prayed for the cities we were in, stopping at parks, schools, markets, and malls to pray in specific ways for the people living there.

We prayed in such detailed ways for the church – ways I would have never thought to do on my own. 
Praying for the people, the electricity, the sound and computer equipment, the building, the neighbors, the salvation of the landlord, the influence of the church sign (a prayer that was answered even as we were praying), a television screen the church needs … you name it, we prayed it. Beautiful. (For those of you who go to Huntington First Church with me – I’m super excited to say we are going to try this out at our church next Saturday, Aug. 23!!!)

We had a prayer meeting for 2 hours, beginning at 4 a.m.! We shared and prayed for each other in very specific ways. Definitely worth the early wake-up.

We prayed for a man at the park, who asked us to pray for his mind and his thoughts.

We prayed for healing for our friends.

While praying from my couch would have gotten through to God, and it would have been good, there is something to be said for being in the presence of what you are praying for, and inviting the presence of God to join you there. Touching the wall of the school, sitting on the doormat of the church, sitting in the grass of the park, sharing a Coke with a store-owner as you pray for her shop – those are things that put passion in my prayers. I meant what I prayed, and believe that God will answer.

In Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker, he said, "...I've come to the conviction that one prayer can accomplish more than a thousand plans."

Our speakers during our trip kept reinforcing that prayer is ministry. Prayer isn't what you do simply because you are supposed to, or because there is nothing else you can do. It's the most important thing.

We could have met and discussed ways to come up with money for a television for the church, or planned fundraisers, but instead we spoke to the One who owns everything already and told Him every need.

Prayer is the best. Knowing that the God of the universe wants to hear from me... Wow.

Pray. Go to God like you mean it. Give Him thanks and praise, and tell Him every concern, need, fear, desire...everything. He wants to hear it. And what a privilege. 

Thank you, Father, for listening and answering.

"Pray continually..." I Thessalonians 5:17
"Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always." I Chronicles 16:11

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us." I John 5:14

  
The church sign in Ibarra 

Praying for the church in Ibarra. <3



Praying for the church in Ibarra





Our group posing for a picture during the
city prayer adventure in Ibarra





Praying for the church in Ibarra


Our friends during one of our prayer adventures as
we stopped to pray for a school
Praying for the city of Ambato
Overlooking Ambato, we met there to pray
in specific ways for the people of this city.

Shawn and Noah, right before praying for Ambato
Noah and me right before we prayed
 for Ambato