Following God’s Calls (Post from 01/14/18)

It’s not always an easy path to follow, but He will always be there for you, sometimes to carry you through.

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As we get closer to our departure date (it’s only 7 months away!) I am reminded of how crazy this idea may seems to others. Imagine someone asking you to give up your job and career, leave your house and belongings behind, deplete your savings, pull your children out of school for a year, and go to remote parts of the world to serve those who need help; give yourself selflessly to others and sacrifice all you have to make it happen. This seems absolutely insane and irresponsible, but what if these requests came from God? What if God Himself has directed you and your family to do these things in His name. Do you say “no” to God? God has given all of us free choice and it is up to us to decide whether to follow the calls and the signs. But just as we have the choice to follow His path, we can also choose not to; to ignore or overlook them or just straight up say “no”. Though He wants us to follow and obey His call, we have a choice and the decision is ours. We chose to follow.

God’s voice is not always loud and clear, sometimes it comes in soft whispers that can be easily overlooked or blocked out. For me, God’s call to me began as a soft whisper which came to me while scouring Facebook for new updates on family and friends. I read a post and something inside of me said to share it with Jeff; so I did. I believe this was my first call from God, just a gentle nudge. God continued to open doors to this idea and to be honest, also closing them too. From the beginning, Jeff and I decided to approach our plans with an open mind and an open heart so we could hear God’s call. We decided that He would not lead us astray, but that we had to be diligent and attentive to his voice. This meant that there was a possibility that this was not our path and we had to be able to accept that and move on wherever He was leading us. It has been amazing to watch His work in all of this. When something wasn’t right for us, the door was closed (sometimes even slammed) and it was during these times that we started to question whether this was the right path for our family. But it seemed that as soon as either of us voiced this concern or feeling, another door was immediately opened, not only to new opportunities/partnerships, but also to ways to make this happen. He has continued to work through people around us to encourage and to keep moving forward by placing a desire within them to support us through this venture. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”—Matthew 7:7

Jeff wrote a blog a few months back titled Scouting for God basically having an open mind and heart to seeing God’s signs around us, not for the sake of the signs themselves, but for the path which they lead us and the reward at the end. I think that having an open heart and an open mind will also allow us to not only be open to these signs from God, but also to hear the soft whispers and the loud screams from Him. It is very easy to ignore these “calls” from God. They can easily get lost in the busy, crazy, loud life we live (kids screaming and fighting, constant noise of music or TV, or the constant drum of the vast internet). I believe these “signs” and “calls” from God are intertwined, they are not the same, but they work together as a way for Him to show us the path He would like us to take and follow. These calls from God are the gently tug at your heart urging you to do something or the push you feel in a certain direction. They are those feelings you can‘ t explain or those ideas that pop into your head from out of nowhere. It could be anything from reading a Facebook post and feeling the urge to share it with a certain person or the desire to share your story with a total stranger. The point is, you never know where these things will lead. For me, they continue to lead to something amazing. Sharing a post with Jeff led to this calling; sharing my story with a stranger led to a generous gift to help.

I came across a quote that speaks volumes to this idea of faith and following God’s call, especially during difficult times: “When God pushes you to the edge of difficulty trust Him fully because two things can happen; Either He’ll catch you when you fall or He will teach you how to fly.” God can do anything He wants, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26); I truly believe this. This calling has not been an easy path to follow, quite the opposite. One of the most amazing things for me has been how both Jeff and I have had regular lapses in faith and yet when one is weak the other is strong. At several different moments one of us became weak in our faith and wholly questioned this calling and this path we were following, but when one of us had this moment of weakness, the other had an overpowering moment of strength. For me this is God’s call for us; when we are weak in faith He puts people around us that are strong to help keep us on our path. God will continue to guide us down this path and will continue to show us the way, both through signs and His words to us. “Twant me, ‘twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and He always did.” —Harriet Tubman.

It is not an easy task to have an open heart, an open mind, and open ears and eyes to God’s call and the signs He lays before us. It takes great effort and is something that we have to be mindful of each moment of every day. We will fail often and our faith will be strong one day and weak the next. I will leave you with this, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) I have nothing to fear with God on my side, he will either catch me when I fall or teach me to fly; either way, He will be with me. I will do my best to keep my faith strong and all of me open to His word and His calling. I am His servant and I know He will never abandon me.

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

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

“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!

Open Doors (Post from 6/16/17)

“I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my work and haave not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8)

For a while now we did not have our first service opportunity for August and September 2018, however leave it to God to open another door as a way to show us that He is in charge and He is in control. We can try to find opportunities ourselves, but without His help we will continue to find nothing. This is exactly what has happened for us. We have been trying and trying to get something set for our first service project to no avail. But when He was ready for us to have something set, it happened. A wonderful friend of ours, Chris, was able to help secure a service opportunity in a small rural town in Germany. We will be working with the local church doing various tasks, including English lessons, working on cleaning up the church, helping with the Vacation Bible School, and whatever else the community and the church may need. We will be at their disposal. What is even more wonderful is that they are working on getting the kids into the schools there, so they will be starting school with the rest of the kids in the community (how wonderful!!).

For me, every time there is just a little bit of doubt or anxiety about this service project, He opens another door and continues to show us that this IS our path and this IS what we are supposed to be doing. He continues to light the path that we are supposed to be on, which is a very comforting feeling. He shows us that He is in control and that He is there, always, to care for us, to help us, and to guide us. He is our rock and our stronghold.

In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed; In Your righteousness deliver me. Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; Be to me a rock of strength, A stronghold to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me. (Psalms 31:1-3)

Modern Day Abram and Sarai (post from 3/27/17)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) Abram took his wife Sarai and His brother’s son, Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Harah; and they set forth to go the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:5).

A couple weeks ago our new pastor (who knew nothing of our plans) preached on this passage from Genesis. Jeff sitting the choir loft and myself sitting in the pews at church, we couldn’t help but lock eyes almost instantly; enormous smiles appeared on both of us which turned into silent chuckles and for me even tears of just complete shock and joy and fear and every other emotion you could imagine. I was so taken back by the sermon and I can remember feeling like this was another one of God’s messages to us that this is what we are supposed to be doing; we were on the right path and we just need to trust Him.

Now I will give you some context for how we came to this decision…It was sometime last year, early summer 2017 that one of my high school teachers posted something on Facebook that sparked a conversation between Jeff and I. Mr. Allen had posted that as he was approaching retirement he wanted to buy an old bus, paint it “hippie style” and take 50 kids or so around the USA for a year, stopping at all the historical sites around the country. I can remember thinking how amazing this would be, so I brought this up to Jeff, really just as a conversation, not really with any intention of doing this. However the more we talked about how neat this would be for us, we decided that we could totally do this! We are just renting our house, so we decided that we could sell one of the cars and most of our belongings, buy an RV and tour the USA while homeschooling the children. Well, this conversation continued for about a week or so, but then we started talking some more about this and we agreed that if we were going to do this, we needed to think bigger. We both felt called to not just travel and explore, but to serve others. This conversation continued and before we knew what was happening, it quickly became a call from God (or call it open doors, whatever you’d prefer) to serve others around the world; people from totally different cultures and worlds would be more impactful for us and for the children. Thus started the conversation about traveling abroad and serving those most in need. Initially we started to look at volunteer organizations around the world that would accept children, but what we found was quite discouraging, most places wouldn’t allow the children to participate in the volunteer work and most of these organizations were “voluntourism” (basically a vacation where you can do some volunteering). Voluntouring was NOT what we were being called to do. We were beginning to think that maybe this was not what we were supposed to do…but just when God closes one door He opens a new one. We found a book at the library, Wide Open World by John Marshall that was about his family’s experience doing volunteer work around the world. After reading this book, we found opportunities to volunteer in rural Thailand teaching English with an organization called Volunthai and a Presbyterian orphanage in northeastern India on the border of Nepal called The Good Shepherd Argricultural Farm. Both of these opportunities were discussed in the book and when we contacted them they were more than welcoming to us, even the children. As time continued to go on we realized that there are few, if any, organizations out there to help families wanting to do volunteer work around the world find opportunities, thus began Casting Off Globally (COG), our non-profit organization which has the purpose of linking families with organizations around the world that would accept the help of families with children. We have been very blessed to have the support of our interim pastor and now our current pastor, as well as a few friends that have been able to connect us with churches and communities around the world who continue to open their doors to us.

God’s call is very much alive and real. As long as we continue to be open to hearing His word, He continues to lead us down this path; He is planning this for us and leading us to the unknown. We have found so much joy and faith in trusting His call and letting go of the idea of being in control. We do not know where this will lead. We do not known what will happen while we are away for year living amongst the poor, the lonely, the destitute, but we are confident that He will guide us and that He will keep us in His loving arms. We do not know what will happen when we come back; will we go back to same life we have now, will we do something completely different, will we do this again? There are so many questions for which we don’t have answers, but then I am sure Abram and Sarai had questions, doubts, and fears too. Yet they followed God’s call and He provided for them, just as He will provide for us, if we trust and have faith in Him.