Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas

                        Jesus is the reason for the season

The saying is proclaimed often in the Christian communities around America. 
But do we really believe it?


It is so easy to get caught up in the decorations, the gifts, running hither and thither and trying not to slip on ice. 
Thanksgiving night we set up our Christmas tree. I usually love that occasion. This year? I was a grinch about it. 

It makes a mess.
Everyone is grouchy tonight anyway.
What's the point? We'll just take it down December 26.

I was convicted of my attitude and realized- Joy isn't always a feeling, just like love. It's a choice. 

So we blared the Christmas music and danced all about. My baby brother even waltzed me around the kitchen.  (Okay, he is 8 now. He'll always be my "baby brother" though. ;) ) 

So yes. I had a much better evening with my family. 

But is that it? 

Through out this month as I have been reading through the gospels, I have been struck again and again by the overwhelming beauty of Christmas

The humility and beauty of the Creator becoming like the created in every respect and yet without sin.
The overwhelming love of the Lover of our Souls calling the filthy sinners of this world, His brothers and sisters.
The unfathomable grace of the Savior and Redeemer in clothing His beloved in His wedding garments of righteousness that can never be earned. 

Truly, He is the Son of God. 
Sent to redeem our souls. 
In His great mercy,
 at the right time, 
He died for the ungodly
and makes us His own. 

  Jesus is the reason for this season; and every season. 
     Let us come and worship and bow down before the Lord our God, our Maker.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.


Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Purpose

What is my purpose?
It is a question that haunts probably everyone at some point in their life.
For some they say it is happiness, love, family, wealth, make a difference, even as believers we can tend to have- in some shape or form, have the same ideas.

The Bible tells us that our purpose is to glorify God.

If that isn't even a purpose that is within our radar, not to mention our main desire- we should raise the question- what is occupying my heart and mind more than my Savior?

We are human.
We are created to be worshipers.
If we are not worshiping God we will be worshiping something or someone else.
The first two commandments are 'You shall have no other gods before me" and "You shall not make for yourself an idol"
When I place my own pride before following God's ways, or before being content where He has me I am making myself my idol and god. That is sin and idolatry!!!

Too often I want to change the world 'for God' (and thus, earn "brownie points" with God and man) instead of being content to let God change me and use me where He has me for His glory.

God can speak in thunderous roars, dreams and miraculous signs if He chooses; but more often He speaks in quiet whispers. Dare I reason that He works the same way through us?

More often does He work in the secret prayer of a faithful saint, a caring ear listening to a friend's struggle and offering them truth from His word, a smile and a kind word spoken in His love- than giving us a huge stage, an audience, solving world hunger, adopting a bazillion children and being interviewed on national television.

How often do I sit at home and pout, even cry to God saying, "I want to do something for you!"
and really my heart is saying, "I want to make you love me." "I want people to see what a good christian I am."

God shakes His head and says, "Child! I have given you a mission field, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time that you go to bed at night. To love your family, friends, strangers. To pray with and for them. To encourage them in whatever way you are able to."
He loves me unconditionally. No matter how good I think they look, my good deeds are still offerings of mud pies made in the field where cows graze to the esteemed guest for dessert.

His love is more than I could imagine.
His grace covers all my failings.
His righteous life clothes my sinful life.
His ways are not my ways.

I am not to spend today worrying about my future and purpose but to worship Him for who He is and show that truth to everyone and anyone I come in contact with.

His will for me today is right where I am. I am not promised tomorrow. My job is to live each day as if it is my last for His glory.
When I fail and fall back into self pity, self glorification, pride, etc His mercies are new every morning.

My purpose is to be His servant, in fulfilling that purpose I can find perfect joy and contentment. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What America Will Look Like Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning America will look similar to today- but not the same.

In the Midwest a few more leaves will have fallen, grass may have grown a bit longer, colors may have deepened, a tree may have been cut down.

On the coasts the breeze might blow the waves a little higher than they were today, or possibly not blow as hard.

It might rain or the sun might shine brightly.

People will be bustling about as always, discussing the newly elected candidate.

It will be in many ways the same, but in many ways very different.
People will die and people will be born.
Someone will get a divorce and someone will get married.

Everything changes but God stays the same.
Throughout time.
Throughout the pages of history.

God never changes. He is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow and forever.

God is still on throne, just as He was when He said, "Let there be light."
Just as He was when the only righteous person was Noah.
Just as He was when He led His people to the promised land.
Just like He was when the Light of the World hung His head and said, "It is finished"
Just as He was when His messengers declared, "He is risen!"
Just as He was when 9/11 happened.
Just as He was when you said "I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth that you are Lord"
Just as He is today.
So He will be tomorrow.

The One who directs the heart of kings is seated on His throne, He told us what will happen, even that which has already happened.

"In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world."

Turn to the very last page in Revelation.

God gets the glory.
God preserves His people.
God is in control.
God wins the battle over the powers of darkness in this world.
God sets creation free from it's bondage and groaning,
God is on the throne forever- That includes tomorrow.

No man or woman, government, or religion is capable of fouling the plans of the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cape Cod

Photos from the Cape.
(I'm staying with Aunt Suzy and Uncle Joe)


The Cranberry Bog 










The beach

Boardwalk to the beach



The harbor





Uncle Joe, Grandma and me

The boardwalk, in high tide the grass is covered in water.





Retired Patrol Boat


Grandma and Me


Aunt Suzy and Me


Mariner Knots


Oh my goodness graciousness, I felt so Ukrainian posing for a picture like this. 


Signal flags, each one stands for a letter in the alphabet and each has an individual message/meaning as well.




Monday, October 24, 2016

Growing Pangs

As a side note- I chose the word 'pangs' instead of 'pains' because 'pangs' is painful emotion, rather than physical pain.

Recently it has come to my attention that I am rather independent.
I like to figure things out and do it on my own instead of asking for help.
I like having a plan, (not that I will always stick with it- I can change it how I like, when I like- but I have a basic idea and control over it.)

In life we can't always have a plan.
 I didn't want to believe that.
From the age of 7-16 I was seemingly always been able to make and maintain some semblance of a plan for my life. Granted, that was when one of the biggest decision I had to make was what I wanted to eat for lunch or make for supper.

Getting/having a job and a phone, traveling across the country to stay with strangers for a week, living in another country, buying a car, paying for gas, coffee, clothes, school; making a budget, planning for school and life.

It is all really crazy and different.

All my life my mom has been preparing me to be a responsible adult and member of society.

However- there is something else that she was equipping me for that can only be learned by experience.

From seven until I graduated I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. That idea has changed slightly and merged into other dreams but it has always had the same basic outline.

Do missions, get married, have a family

That plan also included getting married by the time I was 18... *crickets*

Sooooo.
I graduated and promptly had no idea what I am going to do with my life,
I went to Ukraine, I hoped I would know more after that.
Still don't know.
I've prayed hoping to hear a different answer than the one I keep getting. Nothing except for this:

                                               "Wait"


I hate waiting. Trusting is hard. Much harder than having a plan.

I am learning to trust and wait and know the God I claim to love and serve. I don't really have any idea what the next phase in my life is... Yes, I am planning to go to school for the spring semester to be an EMT but I have no idea what to do after that! I don't want a different job than the one I have.

It can be overwhelming.
I heard a talk the other day on my dad's radio station (WPEO) about the song 'My Hope is Built on Nothing Less'
Even when I don't know what comes next my Savior does, He has seen my future, He knows the plans He has for me and I need to 'live to the hilt every situation that I am in that I believe to be the will of God' so that on that day when the trumpet sounds I may be found in Him. Clothed in His righteousness following His path that He prepared for me to walk in.

The reason for my existence is not be happy, eradicate poverty, hunger or war, change the world or make a name for myself in any other way.

The reason for my existence is to glorify God and make His name known, right where He has me. 


In the little things. 

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
1 Corinthians 10:31

"Everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made." Isaiah 43:7

"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much."
Luke 16:10

I am not promised tomorrow. I have a question written on my mirror because I constantly need to be reminded.

"Is this the day I die? -Live as if it is." (Question taken from Randy Alcorn's book, 'Safely Home') 

and,

"Only one life,
Twill soon be past,
Only what's done 
For Christ will last." (and English Poem from John Piper's book 'Don't Waste Your Life' )

So I'm learning. I pray that I am growing. I wish to be able to say with Paul,
"I have learned in every situation to be content."

Not that I like the situation I am in, (and my "trial" is nothing compared to what Paul and countless Christians have and are experiencing) but, that I trust:
The One who holds my tomorrow in the palms of His nail scarred hands.
The One walks beside me all the way, knowing the plan He has for my good and His glory.
That what is unknown to me is known by the Author of creation.
That I am fully known and yet fully loved by the King of kings and Lord of lords. 







Siblings





















Monday, October 3, 2016

The Presentation I Gave to My Church

During the first month I was gone we were very busy with English camps.
They were like nothing that I had imagined. As we discussed the bible stories we were reading and met with people from our small groups, trying to share the gospel with them I realized how very lost and hard these people were.
The first camp was mainly with people from Odessa, (The city that  I lived in.)  Odessa is hard soil- People are comfortable; life is better than during Soviet times and they don’t see any need for a Savior. (Sounds kind of like America)

For the average Ukrainian it takes about 2 years of hearing the gospel over and over again before they decide to follow Christ.

Despite this, several people moved a lot closer to God during this camp. We were able to follow up with some of these campers during August.

During the first camp I struggled a lot, between homesickness, exhaustion and feeling completely useless, unwanted, unneeded and inadequate I was ready to come home after the first day of camp.

Thankfully I didn’t have that option and God put people in my path to encourage me when I needed it the most.
(Never underestimate the power of genuinely asking someone how they are and listening,  and asking how you can pray for them.)

God showed me during the last few days of camp and once I got back to Odessa that I was focusing on what other people thought of me or what I thought that they were thinking of me instead of focusing on who I am in Christ, and that not of anything that I have done but because of Christ and who He is.

Like it says in Ephesians 2, ‘for by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing, it is the gift of God. Not a result of works so that no one may boast.’  

We had a week between the first and second camp and by the time we were headed back to Kherson I was actually excited about the upcoming camp.

The second camp was by far my favorite, I don’t think that any of us, camper or leader, wanted the camp to end.

The campers ranged in ages from 13 to 19, the majority being under 17 years. These campers were from the war zone- even while they were at camp a group of boys learned that a friend of theirs had been killed by a stray bullet as he was standing in his garden.

Most of these campers had never met an American, had no idea who Jesus was and they were so eager to soak up every ounce of truth that they could learn, almost every single one of the campers said that their view of God had been changed and challenged greatly and they wanted to learn more about Him. Several of them wrote out the entire gospel in their “camp evaluations”  and said that they believed it and have accepted Christ.

Unfortunately, because Avdivka and Dimitriov are 8 hours away from Odessa their discipleship has to be left for the most part to one young believer in her twenties who came as a guardian for the trip.

August was a lot slower than July; mainly follow up with campers, bible studies, English club and staff meetings and I was able to sit in on discipleship meetings as well.

It was actually a blessing to have August so calm because I then had the opportunity to get to know Kimberly (the young woman that I lived with), and the other members of my team.
It was a great encouragement and blessing to be surrounded by people who love the Lord and are passionately pursuing Him in every part of their lives. Their conversation, their lives and their deeds all pointed to their love for Christ, not that they have loved Him first but that He loved them and gave Himself for them.

The phrase “living in light of the gospel” was a common phrase to hear-  not that they were perfect or that they thought they were perfect. This combined with the book of Philippians and a challenging message by Francis Chan and living in a foreign country was a powerful impact on me.

One day while I was there it struck me, I was in a country that was not my own, enjoying being there but I couldn’t wait to be home, I sang my national songs with gusto and longing, and couldn’t wait to feel American soil under my feet, be with people who spoke my heart language, (anytime I heard someone speaking English without a Ukrainian accent it was such a fun feeling. I wanted to shout "Please! Speak to me! Let me be your friend!!")
I talked about America almost any chance I got, the things that I did were not always in line with Ukraine’s customs, I didn’t dress exactly the way they did, I TOTALLY did not talk the way they did, I was in their culture but I was not of it…

America isn’t my home, although I love her and can be greatly distressed to watch the decay of what was once valued. My citizenship is not of this earth, if I can be so attached to, and eager to return to my earthly country how much more so to my true home? My goal here on earth as a believer should be so different that people can look at me and know, “She’s not from around here” (Just like they did in Ukraine.)
My heart language is the language of the gospel.
My national songs, songs of the Kingdom
To be anticipating and living in a way that shows I am anticipating the return of my King.
To speak of Him everywhere I turn
To love and respect people as God has commanded me to here on earth, and be a faithful ambassador on His behalf, but not to blend into the culture so that my heritage is virtually indistinguishable.

Time on earth is so short, eternity is much, much longer.  

It is so easy for me to slip into complacency, “It’s too hard to try to talk about Jesus. I’ll just talk about the weather or the newest Marvel movie.”

Or into pride, “No one really cares so I’m going to stop trying and feel angry that no one wants to listen.”

But neither of those glorify God, which to glorify God is why I was created and He has prepared for me ways in which to walk, none of it is of me anyway so I have no reason to be proud and my King has given me a command so I have no excuse to be complacent and ignore Him.

All in all, I loved my time in Ukraine, I learned so much and I am very thankful that I was able to go.
I also want to thank each of you for your support through prayer and finances.



I would definitely go again if I had the opportunity and I would recommend it to anyone.

Pictures


 Last Sunday, Mark prayed Psalm 16 over us

Kimberly's Farewell Party 
 Kimberly and I went downtown one last time for a few gifts and a final taste of Lviv Chocolate... That was an adventure of languages. (They speak to you in Ukrainian instead of Russian.)
Packed and ready to go



Sergei picked us up in his van... Zach suggested one last Uno game between Sergei, Nastia, Kimberly, Kim and I.... Needless to say, Sergei missed his turn and the game ended very shortly after it had started but it was still fun.


In the Odessa airport... It was very small, it had three gates. We had no idea if we were in the right place because the screen was blank until it was time to board.
Zach was a huge help in helping me figure out what in the world I was doing. He did most of the talking for us both unless I needed to talk for some reason.

It was so nice to get back and have the customs officer smile at you and ask about your trip. It felt like a welcome home from a stranger. :) 



Home sweet home! Part of my beautiful family met me in the airport with roses and hugs. 
(Mom, Dad, Elizabeth and Morgan.) 
However, I had to wait for them to find me because we were at different exit gates.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Last Night in Ukraine


Hi everyone!!!!!
My bags are mostly packed- a few more things to be put in, in the morning.

 I hope I sleep the whole plane ride away, but seeing as I have an aisle seat next to two seats with baby seats I doubt that will happen-although they may be really friendly people with no qualms about a strange American girl holding their baby... That would be cool too.


A bowling party with the team and stories from Kimberly about her time here.


Kimberly and I, Kim and Oksanna


My last marshutka ride for the summer.


Mark is trying to bowl backwards... :P 


Anyway, in less than twelve hours I will be leaving Kimberly's little house on Chubaevskaya street for the last time and be headed to the airport towards America.


Monday, August 15, 2016

You are the Center of Your Heavenly Father's Affections

It sounds so very uncomfortable to say that... Not wanting to sound prideful or lifting ourselves up to such a place of esteem... Kimberly was telling me about this quote from a book she was reading "The Praying Life" They are very powerful and life changing words... if they are true.

"You are the center of your Heavenly Father's affections"

This is a place reserved for Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit in their one-ness and love they are the center of their own affections... right??? 

BUT

John 17:22-23 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that all the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 


Ephesians 1:4-5 Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him, in love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will. 

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His So to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. 


This is a radical and amazing gift.... Learning to be His child and not strive or try "to love Him more"  but to come humbly before Him
 confident because of who HE is- not because of who I am; 
because of what HE has done not because of anything that I must do
Satisfied with the love that HE pours undeservedly over me, not because of how much more I can love God.

To be satisfied and content with God and who He is and find fullness of joy in His presence instead of constantly striving to "be better," and miss the joy of knowing Him. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What an American Does in Odessa

My portrait was drawn by dear Misha... I think that maybe I need to start wearing make-up again. ;


Karla, Misha, Me


Our picture... A community project- each of us had a part in it.

Said my goodbyes to these dear ones and their parents and aunt today. :( :( I am so grateful to have been able to meet them all and I will miss them. :( :( :( 
They have to leave town for a few weeks and likely won't come back until I have already departed. 



Kimberly and I had pancakes, nectarines and ice cream for supper last night... Yes, ice cream comes in a sausage-like roll here.


When we were at the store getting supplies for our supper we also happened upon matching socks and decided that it was meant to be. 


It hasn't rained very many times while I have been here... Three times actually, to be exact. This was on Sunday and it POURED for a good hour to two hours. The streets still have puddles! (Take note, it is Tuesday afternoon here already- not Tuesday morning like it is in the states.)



SO... After a wet adventure of getting to the cafe all of us girls from Ivano Franko waited out the storm in the cafe and had tea, conversation and a small hawaiian pizza.



Ivano Franko Bible Study


I actually led the Bible reading and vocabulary this Sunday but no pictures to mark the momentous occasion. ;)

More pictures of the rain...


Kimberly and I at the Kutless concert




English Club on Saturday


Church


So what does an American do in Odessa when the camping trip is cancelled and you aren't old enough to go to the war zone-without-a-parent-because-if-you-die-the-government-would-have-issues...
I've been able to go to Anneke and Arkadiy's twice and hangout with them and play with Misha and Karla which has been such a joy.
Zhenya and I were able to get together last week and hopefully she will be able to come and read the Bible with Sasha and Lily (two friends of Kimberly's) and Kimberly and I tomorrow.
Staff meetings, English clubs have started on Saturdays now, Sundays are always busy, prayer meeting, church, lunch and Ivano Franko Bible study occasionally meetings after that, wandering Odessa with Kimberly... Oh, last week I was also able to go to Michelle's house and attend a birthday party for an orphan graduate there which was fun.
Last week when I met with Zhenya was also pretty momentous because it was my first time taking the bus by myself and having to talk to people on the bus, in the grocery store and in the coffee shop (AKA McDonalds... plans changed when I realized the actual coffee shop wasn't open) That was an experience in and of it'self.
We also had Zhenya and Lidia (a couple on our team) and their little boy Matthew, over for supper and ice cream, cookies and conversation. It was a wonderful time.

It is so hard to remember what I have told which people and who actually reads this blog to know what I should leave out saying for the fear of redundancy... Hopefully this is a decent overview.

I've been learning about trusting God as I have been trying to make plans for when I come home, work, further education and future... etc... I hate making decisions, as you probably know! Even trying to decide what to eat at a restaurant is stressful so I usually try to stick with the same thing... I know that God works through our decisions and it doesn't really matter to Him where I decide to work, what to study, where to live and do ministry- if I am seeking His will and lining up my decisions with scripture I can have the freedom to choose what I want to do and He will guide and lead through that.
I can tend to worry that some how I will make the wrong choice and God won't be able to work as much as He may have been able to, had I chosen the other option.
 This is a verse that God brought to mind that has really encouraged me.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

I can have the freedom to choose, trusting that God will use my choice for His glory. Of course, hold every plan loosely and surrendered to God for Him to mold and shape or change completely but also have freedom to live 'to the hilt' every situation that I believe to be the will of God. He will guide and He will lead, in all my ways, acknowledge Him.

It was an encouragement to me even though I have heard those verses a hundred times and I hope it is an encouragement to you as well!

17 Days until I come home. :) Can't wait to see everyone at home but I will miss everyone here very much. :(