God’s Grace Continues to Light the Path

When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, open your heart, mind, and soul to hear and see God’s way. He will speak to you, you just have to be willing to hear it.

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As our departure date is fast approaching (33 days from today) I continue to become acutely aware of how real this all is and I have noticed the fear and anxiety start to surface as the reality of our path approaches. Last night was no different; I could feel the fear and anxiety rising up inside me, the barrage of questions swirling in my head, and the complete uncertainty of the path we have decided to walk. What were we thinking…quitting our jobs, leaving our home behind, taking our three children out of school to serve complete strangers around the world for one full year, and to top it off utilizing our savings to make it all happen because “we heard” and “we felt” called. I;m pretty confident that these feelings surfaced because all the things we have put off until the very end are happening (because we are at the very end)–selling our van and downsizing to one car, wrapping up jobs, and saying goodbye to friends and family. We returned home from a wonderful week long trip to see and say goodbye to family in Michigan and then on to spend a long weekend with wonderful friends and, again, say goodbye. We all unpacked the car and the kids went to bed. I took the short drive up to the store for some milk for breakfast and to get Jeff and I some dinner when these feelings and thoughts surfaced again with full force. As I pulled out of the drive-through parking lot and turned the corner to head home a song I had never heard came on the radio called All In by Matthew West. The lyrics of this song made me laugh out loud in my car…

“So, I step to the edge and I take a deep breath; We’re all dying to live but we’re all scared to death. And this is the part where my head tells my heart; You should turn back around but there’s no turning back now.”

“I’m going all in; Headfirst into the deep end. I hear You calling; And this time the fear won’t win. I’m going, I’m going all in.”

I have never been a believer of “signs”, but I have come to be a huge believer in the Holy Spirit and God lighting the path for me and providing me with assurance that this is His plan for me and for my family. The funniest part for me was that the very next song that came up was Thrive by Casting Crowns. This song has been like a theme song for Jeff and I through this process of planning and preparations, the words singing out to our hearts in a way we could not imagine.

“Just to know You and to make You known; We lift Your name on High. Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide. We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive; We were made to thrive.”

It may sound absurd, but at the very moment I could feel the fear and anxiety completely disappear and was instead replaced with peace and comfort. I was so overwhelmed at how peaceful my heart felt when just minutes before I was so heavy with fear. And all of this because of the songs that came on the radio. Now some may say that was just fate or coincidence. You can call it whatever you want. I will call it God’s way to comfort me in my time of fear, telling me that it’s okay to be afraid and then giving me the strength and solace needed to continue on our path.

God’s path for us is not always lit with neon signs flashing above our heads showing us the way, so we have to have our ear, eyes, and hearts open and we have to be willing to allow His way and His light to shine through us. He may ask a lot of us and it may be very difficult and maybe even painful at times, but He is not sending us on this path to harm us but to help us shine His light in this dark world, to help us fulfill His son’s commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your souls, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40.

We are embarking on a journey that is going to be difficult and we are going to face many struggles along the way, but we love our God and we have chosen to follow His path for us to serve our neighbors around the world despite these challenges. We will continue to pray for God to shine His light though us and to help us love Him with all our hears, souls, and minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

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.

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!

From the Mouths of Babes (post from 07/06/2017)

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8) “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your good spirit, lead me on level ground.” (Psalms 143:10)

Anjali and David recently spent a week at an overnight camp (their first overnight camp ever). They attended Lake Waubesa Bible Camp and had a wonderful time. When Jeff and I picked them up we were privelaged to be in the audience while the kids recited Psalm 143 Verses 8 and 10 . After listenting to the kids recite this Psalm by memory, I wanted to explore this further with them, as it fits right into our year of service (even though they don’t know it yet). I asked the kids to write down what this Psalm means to them and how they can live out this Psalm. Here’s what they wrote…

David:
What Psalm 143 means to me:
God loves me because when I am scared he protects me.
God loves me because when I don’t feel love He loves me.
I serve God when I serve at the men’s shelter downtown and when I make new friends.

Anjali:
To me, this verse means to give up your life to God. I think it also means to ask God to help you live your life. This psalm means a lot to me. It’s a great verse and it can be a prayer. This psalm makes me want to go and serve others in need. The ways I can serve and spread God’s word is by serving at the men’s homeless shelter, serving at Pres House (at the University of Wisconsin), inviting people over and giving homes for our pets. We also show love. It’s a very powerful and motivating psalm.

It was wonderful to have the kids take this psalm and write down what it means to them. I am always amazed with their insight and their interpretations of these passages. It is very refreshing and encouraging to see how well they internalize the passages.

Temperament (post from 6/23/2017)

Where to begin? Shower thoughts that try to become reality often hit the wall of where to begin. It’s easy to solve the world’s problems, and sometimes even your own, while feeling the gentle cascade of clean, warm water washing away your cares, and maybe reality itself. This is where I found myself a year or so ago. A shower thought about how great it could be to travel the country and help people. A fairly simple concept but in practice altogether complicated. You have a wife, three kids, a lot of bills, a good job, and no idea how or where to even start. Sure, let’s go travel the country. The funny thing is that when you have a shower thought that wasn’t from your own voice, it has an uncanny ability to manifest itself into more than a flight of fancy. This is really where I was a year or so ago. Meandering through life doing my best to be a good father, husband, and dutiful employee. But in reality my life was going unfulfilled. Amazing to think that I was blessed in so many ways with such a wonderful family and career but at the same time I was yearning for more. More but less. Less stuff, more experience. Less material wealth, more spiritual wealth. And so when Sara came to me while I showered and told me of a former teacher who planned a year long RV trip around the country my thoughts turned to how we could adopt this concept. At first it was a far off pipe dream, a fanciful wish. Maybe in a few years we could get the money together, make the plans, someday. But then a shower or two later it festered and grew, it ate away at the chains of reality and become a nagging call, a reminder that opportunities seldom come twice and sometimes you just have to be awake and aware to hear that quiet call to throw turmoil into your life and do something so crazy that you know it has to be right. Only God can make a tree the poem goes, and I guess only God can turn a shower thought into reality.

And so as I felt the warm shower caress my body and protect me from the craziness that I was certain was entering my brain I simply said it. Sara, what if we traveled the country for a year with the kids, and did it soon. Like in a year, and not in twenty. To my surprise the question was not met with laughter, anger, or even reservation. Perhaps even to my chagrin, it was met with acceptance and excitement. Far from being uncertain I think Sara was all on board because maybe she had been thinking the same thing, during one of her own fanciful shower times. At the very least she felt that there was more for us in store than what we had been doing to this point in life. Now I said out loud what she had been feeling which meant we both felt it too, and now we had a purpose. And with purpose you can accomplish great things. I can’t say that I am supremely confident in my decision because every day I have an ebb and flow of strength and weakness. But I know this much, whenever I start feeling the need to rekindle that flame, all I need to do is hit the showers.

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)