Experience Creation (Mission Trip Lesson #5)…

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Have you ever seen the beauty of God’s creation and it took your breath away?  Pictures never do spectacular views justice, but at least it serves as a reminder.  Our mission team visited the municipal building in Ojitlan.  We walked up a flight of stairs and were immediately struck by this view.  I couldn’t speak, tears rolled down my face.  I was so overcome with the beauty of it and with the gratitude of being allowed to see it… to feel it.

I haven’t traveled much in my life.  I’ve been more places than some people, I’m sure… but far less than others.  In life, we need to get out of our box and experience God’s creation.  He made the world, yet we confine ourselves to small areas and rarely see what He has done.  I know that there are many places in the world that we may not have the money or ability to see, but with some effort, there are many we can.

I knew that I was going to Mexico, but I didn’t know that we would see this volcano along the way…

I saw some of the most beautiful flowers…

I saw my son in a way that I don’t really get to see at home, in the daily grind.  I saw him as a young man who has listened to things we’ve tried to teach and of whom I am very proud…

I heard the laughter of some sweet friends.  Music to the soul…

You don’t have to go around the world to experience God’s creation.  You will see more of it if you do, but there is creation all around us.  Beautiful flowers, trees, butterflies, people, smiles, laughter.  The key is to see it, to experience it, to feel it. To know that God made all things and that we are gifted with the ability to live amongst it all.  Don’t take it for granted.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31

God Can Use Your Circumstance (Mission Trip Lesson #4)…

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About four years ago, our church adopted an “unreached people group” in Oaxaca, Mexico.  My understanding is that this is a group, among many, identified by the International Mission Board as never being reached by the Gospel.  The first team went to start our journey as a church to reach these people.

On their way through the mountains, the horrible roads caused two flat tires.  Now, let me explain that in the car were two, yes TWO, pregnant ladies!  Can you imagine?!  On a mountain highway… in a country where you don’t speak the language… two flat tires… two pregnant ladies… and no tire store.

The group of five had broken down in front of a house.  The ladies of the house invited some to stay there while the others went to the nearest city to get the tires fixed.  These ladies don’t have much, but they offered shade, bananas, and most important… hospitality.

Since then, our church has had many teams go to Mexico.  Just about every team that goes visits these ladies.  We now affectionately call them “the ladies by the river.”  Years have gone by.  Two of those first team members have followed God’s call and moved to Mexico to further our efforts to reach these people.  Garrett and Brittany live in Tuxtepec, Mexico with their two beautiful children (their youngest was born there).

From that first encounter until now (April, 2017) there have been six professions of faith and three baptisms from the ladies family!  Garrett & Brittany continue to visit the ladies by the river every two weeks.  They continue to disciple the ladies so that the ladies can disciple others.  All from two flat tires.  In my book, that would have been considered a bad… or at least scary day.  Instead, it became a story of salvation.

What’s the lesson here?  God will use your circumstance, if you let Him.  I don’t know what your circumstance is… maybe it’s a trial you are going through… maybe it’s just a chance encounter with someone… maybe it’s a flat tire… whatever it is, look around.  See what God has for you in that moment.  Be sensitive to your surroundings…

I encourage you to follow Garrett and Brittany through their journey.  Please pray for them as they follow God’s call to be missionaries in a foreign land.  No matter where you are reading this, you can be a part of reaching these people.  Visit their website to find out how you can give, go, and/or pray… The Knights of Mexico.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Heart of Flesh (Mission Trip Lesson #3)…

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This is me, my son, and K2.  She is strong… she is brave.

I’ve heard from many people that have been on mission trips that you need to look out for the “God moments.”  I’ve also heard that you don’t know if the mission trip is for the people where you are going or for your own self.  I guess, a bit of both.  I tried so hard to be open to the new experiences.  I was told to “be flexible.”  Lord, I tried!

K2 and I have been friends for a while.  I am so thankful that God keeps putting us together more.  I love getting to know her more.  She is tough.  I can’t tell you what she does for a living, but I can tell you that she can take you out.  And, I don’t mean to dinner (although I’m sure she would!).  She is brave… she is hardcore… but she has one of the softest hearts I have ever witnessed.

Everywhere we went in the villages, she and her son were the first to break out a toy for a local child.  She was the first to offer to buy something at every store.  Me… I’m thinking save my money… I don’t really need that.  She was thinking (I’m guessing), I can help support these people’s businesses.  I might not need it that bad, but they might.  I learned to see a different side of money by watching her use it.  Don’t you love it when you are open to learning from others?

Anyway, if you know K2, you know that she gets emotional.  At first, it’s unexpected.  If you don’t know her, I can say that to pray with this woman is a true gift.  She pours her soul into every prayer.  She prays deep and true.  Some of the villagers that we prayed with didn’t understand a word she was saying, but they understood her heart.  What a gift!  I think that sometimes she gets self-conscious about how emotional that she is, but sister… let me tell you, we all should be that way.  When we totally “get” that we are sinners and that Christ gave His life for us so that we could spend eternity with him… that is something to get emotional about!  She “gets” it.

I like to think that I “get” it, too.  But, something about being with this heart of flesh for a week makes me think I could get it more.  She teaches me that you can tough and soft at the same time.  You can be strong and you can be broken.  Thank you sweet friend.

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19

Lost Passport (Mission Trip Lesson #2)…

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This is me and my pastor’s wife (hereafter “K”).  We’ve been friends for years now.  She is artistic, I am task-oriented.  Sometimes, I keep her grounded… sometimes, she encourages me to step out of my box.

Our group had a perfect trip, but our trip home had some hiccups.  We, by the grace of God, made it on the plane out of Mexico.  We landed in Atlanta.  We were hurrying to get on our plane home.  The six of us came around the corner to the US Customs area.  My son and I were in the back of the group.  The others were scanning their passports.  I told my son to get out his passport.  His reply… “I don’t have it, I put it in your bag.”  Excuse me? What?!  “Son, it’s not in my bag!”  Him… “maybe I left it on the plane.”

That is when I lost my mind.  I sat on the floor, emptied my bag, and confirmed that I didn’t have his passport.  All kinds of things went through my mind… we can’t get back in the US without his passport… we will miss our next flight… how could he lose his passport and be so nonchalant about it?!  I sat there and cried… for about 15 seconds.  Then, God said to me “it will be ok, I’m here… get up.” Then, my military spouse self kicked in.  I told my son to go tell the others that we didn’t have his passport.  We all got together and I told them with truest sincerity to go catch the flight home.  My son and I could rent a car and drive home, if we had to.  I didn’t want them to miss the flight.  We’d be ok.  I’m used to being independent.  We were in America, so I was ok.

I reassured my friends that it was ok to go.  They went.  My son and I sat.  We waited for around 20 minutes, which seemed like eternity, for someone to go look on the plane for his passport.  I called my husband, texted my mom.  Then, my phone rang… it was K.  She said “I’m down in baggage claim.  The other mom went to try to catch the plane.  I am here waiting for you.  I am not leaving you.”

Y’all, even now typing those words has me teared up.  I am a military spouse.  I am beyond accustomed to being left, to handling it alone, to being the one that stays behind.  To hear someone say to me “I am not leaving you” was profound.  To have someone choose to stay, to pick me, to lose her ride home… there are no words. I don’t think I’ve had anyone say that to me before.

We ended up getting my son’s passport and getting reunited with K.  She was at a ticket counter trying her best to get us home.  The other mom (hereafter K2), had missed our last flight even with best efforts not to.  We were all stuck.  I watched K as she worked through every scenario to get us all home.  Normally, I am the “doer,” she is the “visionary.”  At that point, all I could do was sit and watch… my brain was fried… I was done.  I was so proud of her for taking care of all of us (I think she was even proud of herself).  I knew it was out of her comfort zone, but she rocked it! I couldn’t find words to tell her what that whole event meant to me and I’d probably cry like a baby if I tried.

Sometimes, we just need someone to be there… to say “I’m not leaving you.”  God is with us all the time and while sometimes we may be physically alone, He is with us.  I knew that God was with me.  He told me it would be ok and I believed that.  But, I can’t tell you what it meant to have this human tell me she was with me.

Do you know someone who is going through a hard time?  Call them, text them, tell them that you are with them… you are not leaving them… hold their hand… cry… just be there.  It means more than you know.

After note: In NO way am I throwing K2 under the bus.  She had a new foster baby to get home to and medical appointments to take her father to.  She is a rock star in her own right and my next blog is focused on the lesson I learned from her.

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Excess Baggage (Mission Trip Lesson #1)…

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My son and I just came back from a mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico… our first.  We’ve never really been anywhere, so this trip was filled with a lot of “firsts.”  Our whole group was three moms & three sons.  A great combination of women and boys!

There is a couple from our church who moved to Tuxtepec, Mexico.  We all stayed with them.  Before our trip, we were instructed not to check bags, just take carry-ons.  I’m sure there were a few reasons for this, but it made it hard for this unseasoned traveler to pack.  Our group had our packing all mapped out in our minds (a bunch of moms always have plans).  Then, we were told that we needed to bring a donated guitar… a huge backpack with batteries for the drone… and two filled bags of toys and candy. AAAAHHHHH!  Are you kidding me?!  How are we supposed to take all that since we are not checking bags?  Sigh…

Quite honestly, the three of us had conversations about this… “why did he decide now that he needs a guitar?”… “why do we have to carry this stuff?”… “can’t the next team take it?” … “he told us to just carry-on bags to make it easier, doesn’t he know adding stuff is making it harder?”  In the end, we sucked it up and took everything.

The family carrying the drone battery backpack was stopped in every airport.  The backpack was big and looked weird on the inside.  It looked questionable.  We had small delays through every security checkpoint.  An inconvenience.  My son carried the guitar, it was awkward to carry and to find space for in the overhead bins on the airplanes.  Another inconvenience.  We all packed the toys & candy.  This wasn’t a big deal, but it meant less packing room in our suitcases.

As our journey went on, we became more at ease with our excess baggage, it was less of a pain once we knew what to expect.

I will tell you though, when we got to Mexico, the missionary was so happy to have the drone batteries so he could document the area with his drone.  And, our translator, who also played the guitar, was elated to have it.  She opened the bag and said “I am in love with this guitar… it smells like America.”  When we were in the villages, the people (kids mostly) would watch the drone footage on the screen.  They were amazed and delighted to see such views of their own areas.  Our children gave the toys and candy to different village children.  Our kids and their kids were ecstatic over these exchanges.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, what if we wouldn’t have carried all this?

Figuratively, in all of our lives we carry excess baggage (life experiences/struggles).  Sometimes they are big and bulky, sometimes awkward, and sometimes we just pack them away with our other stuff… but we all have excess baggage.  The joy is realizing that no matter what baggage you have, God will use it for good.  He may use it to help someone else, he may use it to bless you, if you’re lucky, both.  The blessings may show up sooner… or later… but I guarantee, they will show up.  You just have to open your eyes to see them.

Literally, sometimes we just have to physically carry something so someone else doesn’t have to.  We can carry a load to lighten someone else’s.

“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.” Proverbs 3:5-6

If God Wants You to Do it, He Will Make a Way…

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I have been wanting to go on a mission trip for a long time.  In the past year, my older son has been asking to go on one, too.  The problem has been the timing.  Our church offers several mission trips, but they are usually too long for me to miss work.  During the past six months or so, I have felt God moving in my life.  He has shifted me away from things and shifted me towards things.  He’s been telling me that it’s time to go on a mission trip.  Ok God, but…

I have found though that when God wants you to do it, He will work it out.  So, I expressed interest in going on a mission trip to Mexico.  Our church has missionaries that moved there and have teams that go several times a year.  There is a longer story with little details, but the end story is, they made the dates of the trip around my schedule.  So, my work schedule wasn’t an issue.  It’s during spring break… so, my son’s school schedule wasn’t an issue.

We are committed and plane tickets are purchased.  Ok… Now, the matter of finances.  In case anyone doesn’t know, mission trips usually aren’t free.  I made a Facebook post letting people know that we are excited about the opportunity and to pray for our team and our financial situations.  About a week later, I received an envelope from a relative whom, honestly, I barely know.  Inside that envelope was a check… a check that covered one of our plane tickets!  Y’all, I cried.  I cried at the generosity of someone I can’t remember meeting… I cried at the awesomeness of God who provided.

I turned in that money and started pinching pennies.  During this time, we also welcomed foster children into our home.  Things were a little crazy.  Car seat purchased, clothes, extra food.  In the back of my mind, I was also aware that we may these children when I was to be on the trip.  I wasn’t “worried.”  God brought them to us and God knew the trip was coming.  Not sure how, but I knew it would work out.  A week later, it did.  The children were moved to a family member.  We loved having them, but the goal is always for the children to be with family, if possible.

After that month, I had saved some of my “Dave Ramsey pocket money.”  I was going to turn that in the next time I went to church.  Then, to my surprise, we got an escrow overage check for our mortgage company.  Mind you, this is yet another check that was unexpected and perfectly timed.  Between, my cash and this check we were now $12 shy of covering both of our plane tickets!  I think God is just showing off at this point. But, He’s not done…

In addition to plane tickets, there are other expenses… lodging, food, gas, interpreter, and I’m sure other stuff will come up.  We are now working on saving for all that.  A few weeks later, guess what?  Another check.  This time, we received the money from fostering.  This had been our first fostering experience.  We knew that we would get a little money as reimbursement for keeping children, but we didn’t know what the rate was.  That is certainly not why we foster.  Anyway, the check… it wasn’t a large amount, but it was still a little unexpected.  And, it is going straight to our trip.

My point in all this is that when God lies on your heart that He wants you to do something… whatever that is… you need to take a step of faith.  You might think that there’s no way it will work… you may think of a thousand excuses why it won’t work… but, if God wants you to do it, He WILL work out the details.  Most of the time it happens in ways which you never would’ve thought.  He does this so that you will know that He did it, not you.  So, the next time that you hear that subtle voice… take a step, have a conversation, whatever it entails in your situation to have forward progress.  I promise that once you make that small gesture of faith, He will carry you the rest of the way.

“This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:16-19

Love is Relative…

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Love… what does it mean?  Sometimes a lot… sometimes very little.  Very few people, if any, grew up in a wonderful, loving home.  The home where mom baked your favorite cookies everyday and/or snuggled you until you couldn’t stand it… where dad threw a ball with you every afternoon and/or told you how proud he was of you everyday.

For some, this may be more accurate…

Dad says he loves you, but nothing you do ever measures up, he doesn’t return your calls, and basically ignores you, unless it’s convenient.

Mom says she loves you, but uses the grocery money to buy drugs… ignoring you while she’s high and filling your home with questionable people.

Husband says he loves you, but cheats on you after work everyday.

Wife says she loves you, but lies about how much money she spent on her shopping spree.

Boyfriends says he loves you, but dumps you after he convinces you to have sex with him.

Bet friend says she loves you, but stabs you in the back.

I could go on… there are a million different scenarios here.  We’ve all been there at some point with some relationship.  Love is hard.  You may have grown up with one of these parents.  So, as an adult, you have no concept of how to love someone.  You may say the words, but the behavior is something you learned from your past, it’s not real love.  It’s difficult to model something that you have never been taught.

I’m here to tell you though, that while human love is relative, God’s love is not.  His love is perfect.  To us, love is a feeling, maybe even an action… but God is love.  God loves you with His perfect love.  He created you and He cares for you.  Nothing that you do will change His love for you… nothing.  God does not like it when we sin, and we all do, but He loves us just the same.  He loves you so much that He gave His only son to die for you.  You… the one sitting at your desk… you, the one sitting in the parent pickup line… you, the one looking through your phone while watching tv.  You… He died for you.  He thinks you are special… He will never leave you… He will never forsake you… He doesn’t need you to be perfect… or dress fancy… He just loves you for who you are.

All you need to do is accept that love.  Ask Him to come into your heart and He will.  He will fill you with the love that you lack… the love that you may have been deprived of.  He will.  The only thing you have to do is ask with an open, honest heart… just ask…

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

“neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our lord.” Romans 8:39