The Cost of Discipleship (post from 10/18/2017)

Quiet our mind so we can hear God’s soft and gentle whispers.

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“I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more.” —Mother Theresa

Do you hear that? You have to sit quietly and really listen. Did you feel something tug at your heart? Do you hear that small, faint voice in the back of your mind telling you something?

The problem is, that small, faint voice and the gentle tug at your heart is often too hard for us to hear/feel. We are so busy with the day in and day out tasks of life that we often don’t hear it. It often becomes that white noise that gets drowned out by all the craziness of being a mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, daughter, son, friend, etc.

About 4 years ago an old injury to my foot started to create new problems for me; problems that prevented me from running (which by the way, is something I actually enjoy). So I turned to various exercise programs to fill the gap—cardio/plio workouts were great but unfortunately still too hard on my feet, then I found my way to yoga. In trying multiple yoga programs I found I was never challenged with the 30-40 minute videos I bought until I was turned onto The Ultimate Yogi. This program gave me the opportunity to get an excellent workout, which I was desperately craving and needing, but it also gave me another invaluable resource…meditation. Through this program I learned how to quiet my mind (believe me, I am no pro at this and I still have a lot to learn).

Then the most amazing thing started happening. I started to feel this pull in my heart that I should be doing more. More with my life, more with my family, more for the world. I felt that I had so much more to give then what I was presently doing. So I did what others have probably done, I started volunteering with our church, taking on more responsibilities and getting more involved. As much as I would love to say that this was the answer, it wasn’t. I never felt that I was meeting my potential or doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life and my family. Then I started to hear this small and quiet voice during my meditations. Then I started hearing it during the day, at various times. What I realized was that this quiet voice I kept hearing was God. He was speaking to me. God was there inside of me just as He has been my whole life, I just never paid attention—I wasn’t listening. He had plans for me and my family.

In May 2016, I had a wonderful High School teacher post a message to Facebook that sparked a conversation between Jeff (my husband) and me. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that we were destined for something else. The more we discussed the idea of a year of service and volunteer work to those who were most in need, the more we started to experience the signs God was placing all around us. Signs that we would have never seen had we not been willing to open our hearts, minds, and souls to His voice. God was not telling us what to do, He was guiding us and showing us the path He wanted for us, we just had to make the decision to follow. Which, by the way, is a very difficult and scary decision because His callings rarely come without sacrifice and sometimes heartache.

This decision to follow the path God laid before us was a decision not taken lightly. Actually it was completely opposite, we fought it at every turn for quite a while. This decision to leave our careers, our home, and pull our kids out of school for one year to travel to remote parts of the world where people needed help and love almost seems careless, reckless, irresponsible. In order to do this with hearts, minds, and souls that were open to God’s call, we needed to be completely free of all things that were tying us down and keeping us from being open to following the path to its full extent, whatever that may be. “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase” (funmunch.com) For us, this meant making a decision that had the potential to hurt people we love dearly. This decision became very heavy. How do you make a decision you fear is going to hurt those you love? Doesn’t that make it a bad decision then? What if something bad happens to one of us? How are we going to afford this? These are some of the questions we wrestled with for quite some time.

I am not sure why or how I came across a bible verse that I have always struggled with understanding its true meaning, but I did.

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish’. Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14:25-33)

I think part of why I struggled so much with this scripture passage is because I never understood why Jesus would ask us to “hate” those we love the most; our mother and father, our spouse and children, our brothers and sister, etc. But what I have come to understand is that He is not telling us to actually hate them, what He is telling us that sometimes our decisions to follow Him can hurt those we hold most dear. Hence the title of this post, “The Cost of Discipleship”. He is telling us that following him sometimes means going against what our loved ones want for us and what others think is best. Sometimes following Him can inadvertently affect those we love. Sometimes we have to swim upstream to be His disciple and that in of itself is huge sacrifice. He knows this because He made the ultimate sacrifice when He died for our sins—talk about swimming upstream!

This part of our calling has been the most difficult for me. There are some that do not understand why we would want to leave our comfortable lives for an unknown, that have difficulty seeing the beauty past the fear. Others who may feel that are decisions were made to hurt those close to us. I think Jesus understood this, which is why we have this scripture passage. Jesus is saying that being His disciple is not easy and not everyone will understand; that you may have to swim upstream and go against those you hold most dear in order to follow Him, that there is a cost associated with being His disciple. The choice to follow Him as a disciple is one that is grounded in faith that He will always be there for you, during the great moments and the very difficult ones; but it is still a choice. I saw a quote that speaks just to this, “Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof” (Kahlil Gibran). I cannot prove that everything will be perfect, and I highly doubt it will be. I cannot prove that we will be cared for and will be given what we want—but my faith says that we will get what we need, maybe not what we want, but always what we need. I will close with this passage from Proverbs 3:5-6…

Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Scouting for God (post from 09/11/17)

Tracking signs from God, like hunting, takes patience and faith.

In the spring, good deer hunters flock to the woods in search of deer signs. They pick a day with snow still on the ground, not too deep to traverse but enough for deer to leave their prints behind. This is also the time of year that bucks start shedding their antlers, always a great sign for hunters looking to bag that extra big buck. The annual trek into the woods is usually dirty, wet, cold, and many times you come away with more questions than answers. But on that rare occasion you come across a trail, every hunter gets that excitement coursing through his or her veins, knowing they are on the right track. Frankly it usually starts with a hoof print or even a little scat. But with a careful eye, a patient and motivated hunter can usually follow the path of the deer, often times discerning where the deer are heading for breakfast and dinner, where they might be bedding down, and how many may be in the area. These spring tracking events are critical to setting up a successful fall hunt.

While the demands of our busy weeks keep me from doing proper spring scouting, the times that I do get out I cherish. I often feel like doing this difficult task is rewarded with the knowledge that I am practicing an ancient art: seeking, tracking, and harvesting. While the end result is food for my family I often find that these treks into the woods looking to set up the later hunt are often just as rewarding. The peace of being one with nature, listening and searching for any indication of wildlife is so basic and so fully human.

How to search for deer, I think, is not too dissimilar from how we seek God. We don’t seek signs from God for the sake of the signs themselves but rather for confirmation that we are on the right path. Like the deer leaving hoof prints, God leaves a mark to show us the path. And much like any hunter can attest, there are often times a LOT of paths to follow. Sometimes it feels like the trail goes in a thousand directions and taking the wrong turn will lead you only away from your target. But like any good hunter can tell you, practice only makes better, and sometimes it helps having a good friend with experience to help you along.

When tracking God we need only patience and faith, and that good friend we have to help us see the right path is Jesus himself. Whenever I get confused or lost while scouting I know the best solution is to stop moving, take a breath, and go back to the last spot I remember seeing signs and felt confident. When following God’s signs I think the same is true. Sometimes I miss the trail, miss the signs, and then I go back to the last place I remember seeing God at work. I take a deep breath and scan the area for that next sign and when I feel like I just cannot see it, I ask my friend Jesus for a little help. It’s amazing how willing He can be to help, especially when you need it most.

Along this journey Sara and I have seen many signs. I will admit that in the past if someone had told me they had seen or heard a sign from God I would have been pretty incredulous. But through this process of preparing to vacate our existing lives in exchange for something far…different, I have become acutely aware of the signs God has placed for me to find. Sometimes they have hit me like a sack of bricks, or a six point antler shed. No mistaking what you found there. Other times they have been far more subtle, like a few pieces of hair clinging to a tree branch. I cannot explain why the signs come hot and heavy one minute and hard to track the next, but I know they are there and every time I questioned if I was on the right or wrong path it seemed that I found a guidepost or indication which way to go. God has laid the path but God has asked me to find and follow it. The great news is that as long as my head and my heart have been open to seeing the path, I have been able to follow. It hasn’t always been easy, admittedly my faith has been tested. But when I was most desperate, afraid, and unsure, my response was to turn towards God, not away, and every time the signs have shone most brightly for me to follow.

So I ask you, don’t be afraid of the signs, embrace them. They are there to help you find the path. Just remember though that it isn’t the sign you seek but the reward at the end of the trail. Happy hunting!

Casting Off (post from 8/13/2017)

I think it was Rally Day at our church when I first remember hearing the story of Jesus telling his disciples that in order to truly follow him they would have to basically eschew everything they had ever known, cared for, sought after, or held dear. I recall our pastor remarking at the time at how scary that must have sounded. During a time when family meant survival Jesus was calling his disciples to abandon their family and friends. He told them to give away their possessions because no one who owned anything would follow because they would otherwise assess the values of their possessions lost and weigh them against the “value” of pursuing a life of faith. Frankly I couldn’t really blame them. How could Jesus ask them to give away so much? But, as our pastor continued, I realized the truth, though I remember reminding myself to come back to it a later date, essentially postponing the inevitable I guess.

The truth of course is simple, though not terribly easy to accept. What we “own” here is of little real value. They say that what you own eventually ends up owning you. Well, that I think was very true in my life. I sought riches, not of the biblical but of the commercial sense. I set goals for myself focused on material success. Taking a helicopter to work, owning houses in multiple seasonal locations, boats, cars, a sizable bank account. Funny thing is that when I set these goals I actually started to achieve them. Miraculously or not when I set my mind to it I was able to accomplish some great things. Great through the lens of my worldy self. I was still well short of my big targets of course but I had a large house, a boat, pool table, a bank account that could sustain me for several months, and the future looked bright.

But something in my goals was missing. I can’t put my finger on it but I think it was close to around the time my first child was nearing her due date. Sara and I talked more and more as the date was coming that we were missing religion and that we felt we should really reconsider our faiths and how we wanted to raise our daughter. We started looking at all sorts of religions: Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, you name it we considered it. And then it happened, God came into my life for the first time that I, in hindsight, can remember. I didn’t realize it at first but now I know why I found an audio cd. Yes I was searching for books on religion so to be sure it was not total coincidence, but this particular book, this particular day, everything was right. The book was WhereGod was Born by Bruce Fieler. I started listening and quickly found myself completely hooked. Bruce Fieler was telling my story, except it wasn’t mine, it was of course his. But the circumstances were striking. He questioned his faith, like me. He had not really turned away from God as much as not really pursued a relationship with God, just like me. And just like me, he was looking to find his faith or at least to find out if something was missing in his life. And of course it was. God was there all along, waiting patiently. Like the prodigal son coming home, Bruce Fieler found his faith again, and I was starting to as well. Sara and I talked at length and I remember distinctly sitting in our kitchen one evening, explaining to her that I felt like this book had been a calling to me. I felt like a great hole in my life was being filled and that God was calling me home.

Fast forward and now I am back at it, I guess. I feel like God called me home and brought me in. God comforted me and reminded me how wonderful life with God is. God let me become comfortable in his grace to see how I would respond. But I also think this was a time of preparation. God needed me to have some time with my faith, to strengthen it and to realize that it was a part of me that I needed. If God had asked me to cast off my material wealth and to forego those goals I had set so long ago and pursued with such vigor I might have turned away from God. My faith was still in its infancy. I needed time, practice, and belief that the faith I was pursuing was strong enough. So this September day, when our pastor told me to cast everything I knew aside, I got it. I knew what God was saying, though at the time I wasn’t ready to admit it. But like a catchy tune that sticks in your brain that you can’t seem to forget this thought kept coming back. It kept creeping in when I most wanted it gone. It made me question myself, my goals, my image of self worth. And then it reared it’s head with an authoritative thump when Sara brought to my attention the thought of traveling the country and serving.

Casting off is no easy thing, but once you hear God ask you to do it, it’s awfully hard not to, right? There is nothing that I could possibly own anymore that could compare to the feeling that I get when I feel the call of God to act out his will in this world. It is a sensation of love that is utterly overwhelming, sustaining, and empowering. I have never bought anything that could create the same sensation nor wanted anything more. And at the same time I have never felt so anxious about it. My brain is telling me this is a terrible idea. It’s unsafe, it is too risky, I am being absentminded of my long term benefit. But then my heart steps in and reminds my head that God hears all, sees all, and knows all. If I just put my faith in God that which is meant for me will occur. I cannot be sure it will resemble anything I ever imagined in store for me. Frankly I kind of hope it isn’t. Who needs to take a helicopter to get to work anyway? I am not suggesting that because I haven’t hit those goals that I am giving up and looking for an excuse in God. Rather, I am owning up to the fact that those were never good goals at the start. They would never sustain me in the long run and ultimately would have left me in constant want for more. I have never felt so full as when I turned myself to God. I now believe I never will.

Today, our pastor told us the story of Jesus walking on water. At least, that’s how I always remembered it. “See, kids, Jesus must have been divine because he could walk on water”. This time I heard it from Peter’s perspective. Jesus, appearing almost as a ghost wades through the stormy seas, a beacon of hope and serenity for a group of terrified fishermen who were drifting farther and farther from shore. Farther from home, farther from peace, farther from what they needed. Jesus approaches and tells them to not be afraid, all will be fine. Peter calls out to Jesus and asks, and in my interpretation maybe even begs him, if it is you lord call me out of the boat. Well of course Jesus does just that and in that very instant Peter leaves the boat. The part that gets overlooked often is that initially Peter is walking on water too! He is not divine but his faith has carried him over the danger of the deep and tumultuous seas. And then he feels the wind and turbulence and he begins to doubt and immediately starts to sink. But rather than drown and give up he calls out to Jesus, again begging, for his hand to save him. Jesus lifts Peter to safety and with, again in my interpretation a bit of a joking admonishment says to him, “ye of little faith….”

Lord, I am Peter. I am calling to you and asking you to call me from the boat. Take me from safety and that which I am told is comfort and security. Lead me into the stormy seas where only your peace, your serenity, and your grace can be found. I know my faith will be tested and I know I will doubt at some point along the path, but I have enough faith to know too that if I take that plunge you will be there to reach out your hand to lift me up again. I put my life and my love in your hands, Lord, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.

My Reaction to the News (Post from 8/17/17)

Here are my thoughts and reactions to the new of serving people around the world for 1 year…(typed by Sara, my mom)

At first I was scared because we would have to leave our house and wouldn’t have a home when we came back to Madison. Now I am excited because of all the experiences we would have and then the reassurance that I could Skype with my class, my friends, and my family. I am especially excited about our trip to Germany. I am excited to go to Vacation Bible School there and also school. The ending trip to Sweden I am counting down the days till then!

My Reaction to the News (post from 8/17/17)

Here are some of my thoughts and feelings after hearing the news of serving others for 1 year around the world…(typed by Sara, my mom)

I am very scared and happy at the same time. I am happy because we are serving people and I like serving people. I am excited about spending time with my family. I am excited about going to Vacation Bible School in Germany and working with sea turtles in Sri Lanka. I am very scared because we are going to different places and I don’t know what they eat. I am also scared of the unknown, about not knowing what these places are going to be like.

Don’t Be Scared (written on the back of his blog page)

Lucia’s Reaction to the News (post from 8/17/17)

Last weekend we told the kids about our plans for a year of service around the world. They were very excited and all in on this adventure, though not without some reservations and concerns. Here is Lucia’s reaction (typed and written by Sara, but directly from the mouth of 4 year old Lucia!):

I think this is really cool because we get to see and help new people. I am scared about trying new food. I will be sad because I won’t be able to see my gradparens, family, and friends for 1 year. I am excited to do this trip with my family. I am excited to play with other kids at the orphanage. I am looking forward to staying with a family in Thailand and seeing their house. I am excited about seeing new places, meeting new people, and different churches.

Godstrong (post from 7/29/17)

A few years ago yellow wristbands adorned the young and old alike reminding them to “Livestrong”. A product of a media effort to prop up a now defamed sportsman who was unceremoniously dethroned during his sole act of contrition while speaking to Oprah. While the story behind the meteoric rise to fame and subsequent fall are well known, the subtext is what I find so interesting. Lance Armstrong was by many measures heroic and if not for some poor choices by way of augmenting reality, would go down as an American legend. But in my mind the real story is the pervasiveness of human frailty and the reality that Livestrong ultimately failed because it was rooted in human weakness, not God strength.

The idea was simple and inspiring, you can overcome anything if you choose to be strong and courageous. Lance Armstrong of course had beaten cancer to achieve glory in cycling. Others used that example to achieve their own various levels of success and endurance. But where Lance failed is where God succeeds. Livestrong was a success because of the exploits of someone all too human. Capable of pride, greed, dishonesty and ultimately (hopefully) remorse. God’s strength is so much more powerful because God has no pride, greed, or inherent failing conditions. God does not and cannot fail, humans can.

So it is that when someone is Godstrong, they approach life in a way that is truly inspiring and powerful. The process of choosing to cast off your way of life and risk everything you “own” is frightening. I’ll admit a daily dose of misgivings and fear as we approach d-day, as it were. When you do things one way for 40 years, as in my case, suddenly changing course is not really ingrained in the human psyche. I have found to this point that no amount of human strength is sufficient. I cannot reason my way through this and most of my emotions are pointed away from this endeavor, not towards it. The times that I find myself truly excited and ready to go are when I sit calmly, breath deeply, and ask God for strength. I find comfort and resolve when I do this and this sense of peace is what I see every day in Sara. Just like lifting weights or training for a marathon Godstrong comes from practice and repetition. Sara is a pro at this constantly reminding herself, and me, that God is there for us. This doesn’t mean that she assumes that our path will be easy or laid out with confetti and roses. Instead she believes that God will provide for us what we need and that what we need may not look like what we want. That’s the trick, what we have been conditioned to want and see as good is really just that which makes us feel safe and comfortable. That does not make it bad by any stretch, but comfortable does not always challenge you to be better. Just like exercising, the only way to improve your body is through some modicum of pain. Godstrong requires challenging ourselves, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, and almost always mentally. I appreciate the message of Livestrong but part of the failure of that concept was that there was no challenge inherently there. Think of it from this perspective, Livestrong is a call to essentially survive and do your best. What exactly is the challenge there? Which members of the target audience didn’t want to live? Who is actively trying to fail? Godstrong on there converse compels you to do things out of the ordinary. Put yourself in harms way to help others doesn’t sound as appealing in a television advertisement as believe in yourself and overcome adversity. God asks you to encounter adversity, embrace it, and if you don’t have it in your life now then go find it and face it head on and to believe that you don’t need to be the one to overcome it on your own but rather to channel the grace of God.

I am not strong enough to face these challenges on my own. No amount of self encouragement or belief will permit me to accomplish those things that I am called to do. But that’s the point, I don’t need to be. God asks us all to be a reflection of God’s grace on Earth. God doesn’t ask us to be God but rather reflect God’s good will and love. If you think of this reflection in terms of a mirror you get the perfect analogy. A mirror is fragile and finite. They can get fogged up easily, can be scratched and chipped. But despite those weaknesses a mirror, even when broken and shattered, can still reflect that image. God’s strength is there for us in all times of our life, when we feel perfect and when we feel broken. We don’t need to carry this weight ourselves, we just need to reflect God’s strength and love and the way will be found, the doors will open, and the grace of God will flow.