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.

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!