All Things Work Together, Part 3 (23/40)

Throughout our first week back, my mind kept rerunning many powerful moments of our trip, easily the best trip of many I’d been on. Part of me daydreamed about what it would look like to move our family there, all the while knowing that was not in God’s immediate plan for us. But what other way could we be more involved with our Peruvian “family”?

A week later Alex mentioned to me something that he and the owner of Pat’s Place had discussed a year ago: the possibility of us taking over Pat’s Place. Fear immediately crept in and said, “Not possible!” But I wasn’t ready to let fear have the last word. Alex texted the owner to be sure the offer still stood…and it did! Such a massive undertaking was going to take some massive prayer. And plenty of wise counsel!

Alex and I began to individually seek the Lord and to discuss the possibility with our spiritual and life advisors. One of my advisors asked me what I would need to have happen before I would know that I know that I know that this was God’s will for us. I replied with four items:

  1. That Alex knew beyond a doubt that this was God’s will for us.
  2. That God would confirm it in my heart in a way that only He could.
  3. That God would give me the name of our new ministry.
  4. That money would come in without us even asking for it.

And one by one, each of those four items came to pass.

Another question our advisors asked us is, “If money weren’t an issue, would you do it?” Alex was at the point where he could say yes in a heartbeat. So that helped to answer #1. But Alex had been ready for a full year already. He knew that it was God’s will for us as a family, but I still needed the Lord to confirm it in my spirit.

One day I was looking at pictures of the Hope House renovations. It happened to be in the middle of me reading through a Bible study about knowing and doing the will of God. And my eye caught the new Hope House logo created by their new owners. Seeing it in that moment was like seeing the Burning Bush. I realized that Hope House now had champions—defined as “ardent defenders of a person or cause”—and it was time for Pat’s Place to have champions too! That’s the moment that God spoke to my heart and gave me the name for our new ministry. The women and children at Pat’s Place deserve to know what true love is, which is why our verses come from 1 Corinthians 13. So the ministry name is Amor Real, which means “True Love” in Spanish.

From the moment the decision was made in my heart, people began offering to support Pat’s Place financially. And in my spirit, the Lord confirmed at church the next Sunday morning in worship that if He is for us—none can stand against us!

Since then the Lord has been flooding us with vision for Pat’s Place. We are so excited about all God has shared with us and the people He’s brought alongside us to faithfully walk out this calling. I’m so honored that God has called and is equipping us both for the grand tasks ahead. I’ve realized that my dreams have been resting in God’s capable hands from their very inception. Had I but trusted Him throughout the quiet waiting period, I would have seen all my dreams come true at this time. Looking back, I can see God’s hand has been clear, His timing perfect, and His grace sufficient.

“God did not promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, nor sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears and light for the way.” – Author Unknown

God truly has worked all things together for good, even the things we thought perplexing or painful. For all the sorrow, there is now laughter; for all the rain, there is now sun. For all the days ahead, there is now strength; for all the tears, there is now comfort. For the way ahead, there is great light. And we just have to follow and obey, one day at a time.

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All Things Work Together, Part 2 (22/40)

After our summer mission trip to Peru in 2006, our calling was clear. We were to move to Peru as missionaries, which we did in September 2007. However, as I wrote last week and detailed in another earlier blog post, our time as full-time missionaries was cut severely short, and we came back to the States at the end of 2008.

Our full-time ministry days were over, but our connection to Peru was one that could not and would not end. Alex remained in contact with the head of NCM and traveled to Peru from time to time on assignment. Finally, he began leading mission trips there again in December 2012, but the door for me to return to Peru was closed until the summer of 2016.

July 20th was no ordinary day. It was the day before Alex and I were leaving for ten days in Peru, and I was running around crazy trying to get everything prepared. Our friends were getting ready to watch our two youngest children while the third was staying with my mother. And in the midst of the chaos, my heart was spinning with emotion.

“Should I stay? They need me!”

“Should I really go? I thought I put Peru behind me.”

After all, it had been eight years and three babies since I had been there. I had buried it so deep in the ground that I was ready to walk away from Peru and missions altogether for a while and make our family our sole focus. Alex was stepping down as Short-Term Missions Director at our church for that reason. I wondered if I should really awaken this issue again. I had every reason not to.

I arrived in Lima that July with a heaviness upon me that dragged my soul so low, you could tell just by looking at me. For two years the darkest wave of depression (unrelated to Peru) had crippled my very core, as event after event made me question whether living was really worth it anymore. And suddenly as I got off the plane, stinging memories flooded my mind. Part of me felt like I was coming home to Peru, while part of me felt like I was returning to the scene of a crime. I desperately longed to see old friends and familiar places in Lima, but I was overwhelmed by my own senses taking in stimuli that echoed of past pain.

As I gathered all our luggage filled with donations, we met a team from The Prayer Room Church from Houston, Texas, at the airport. Together we made our way to Pat’s Place and settled in for the night. Already I couldn’t contain my emotion, and tears repeatedly welled up and were swiftly wiped away before they could be noticed by anyone. For the first few days, I only half-heartedly participated in the group events. I was mostly distracted by those memories I found around every corner, every street, even every room at Pat’s Place. So much had changed; so much had stayed the same. Emotion wanted to explode within me, but I kept pushing it back down, keeping it all at a distance so that my heart couldn’t become attached again.

Halfway through the trip, Alex and I had dinner with the new owners of Hope House (an orphanage for girls that we often worked with), Elmo and Kat Compton (no relation but what a coincidence!), who did not yet know the history of the House. As we shared the history, they began to share their dreams for Hope House. And I found myself crying for joy that God had appointed such an amazing couple to fight for His best for this home. What a blessing for both the girls and the staff of this orphanage!

I had one other reaction to this news that I did not expect. Anger. And jealousy. “God, You are blessing this couple (and their almost five-year-old son) with this awesome opportunity to serve in Peru, but You didn’t bless us (for very long) with the same! Why, God? Why NOT us?”

I was heartbroken all over again. This time I couldn’t keep the anger at bay. This was not a reaction I wanted, as it was a night of joy and triumph for Hope House. But I was honest with God about my anger and confusion, and I let it be.

When we got home that night, the mission team was all gathered on the first floor of Pat’s Place just outside my bedroom. I just wanted to go to bed, or at least be alone, but the team seemed to be flowing in the Holy Spirit, loudly laughing, singing and praying. Before I could escape to my room, team members grabbed me, sat me down, laid hands on me and began to pray for me. I am told that they prayed for me for about an hour and a half. For a good bit of that time, I felt nothing. When someone asked, I said I felt dead inside. This made them roll up their sleeves and pray harder! They prayed for a breakthrough in my own spirit, past all the deadness and pain that I had striven to deny these last eight years. They prayed for healing and Truth to enter in and fill my heart with joy. And they just kept praying, until finally, one team member embraced me, and the praying around me became louder and louder. Suddenly, the floodgates of emotion were open and pouring forth! I let the pain of the apparent death of my dreams pour out of me as I wailed and cried out to God myself. And slowly my mourning changed from darkness and heaviness to joy and light! I began to laugh instead with the kind of joy that only God can give. God was, indeed, healing the brokenhearted.

The most important messages I received from the Lord that night was that God had never left me and that my dreams were not really dead. I wasn’t sure what that all meant just yet. Nevertheless, that night is a night I will never forget. The next morning the Lord woke me up before my alarm clock to spend some time with Him. He reminded my heart of how much I loved Peru and the joy it gave me to serve the people there. The next few days I worshipped and prayed and served with a renewed fervor, a noticeable joy that the whole team could see. I purposefully engaged with our work and nearly every member of our 30- person team. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of hard, dirty work, as well as our times of play, touring the city, sightseeing and shopping on our free day.

Soon enough, it was time to leave again. Now my heart began to wonder if and when I would return. The tears certainly flowed when we said goodbye to Pat’s Place and headed to the airport. Something in me had changed. I no longer wanted to be done with Peru. I wanted so much more. I prayerfully pondered what God had in mind as we flew home.

To be continued…

All Things Work Together, Part 1 (21/40)

“God did not promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, nor sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears and light for the way.” – Author Unknown

My sister-in-law made a painting with this phrase on it and gave it to me on the day I learned my father was dying and that it was time to go home to say goodbye. Obviously, that was one of the darkest days of my life and one of many hard days to follow. And as promised, God was faithful to comfort me in my grief and help me live in a world where my father no longer did. Almost three years later, I still frequently spend time with my father in my dreams and enjoy a sweet relationship with him beyond the grave.

I’ve blogged before about another difficult time in my life when God’s strength, comfort and light were greatly needed. My husband and I were once missionaries living in Lima, Peru, where I taught English and Alex oversaw all the other aspects of our covering ministry (“NCM”). During that time, we had many struggles, including learning the language, establishing a community of friends, feeling disconnected from our stateside friends and family, and trusting God to provide for our every need. Then suddenly, when things seemed to be settling down, the rug was pulled out from under us. The ministry, NCM, was falling apart due to sin in the leadership. Other staff members left the ministry, and even our stateside covering church broke ties with us through no fault of our own. So we were forced to return to the States and end our almost two years of missionary life. I had never had such a dark period in my life before that.

While I’ve blogged about those events before (The “Do What, Now?” Parts 1-7 blog posts), I have not always seen the bigger picture through the eyes of this one constant promise of God that has taken all the years of my life and held them up to the truth of this scripture:

And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose. (Romans 8:28 AMP)

God’s Light began to shine on my way when I was a child growing up in the church in Massachusetts. While I didn’t turn to Jesus as my Lord and Savior until college, God’s hand was upon me and kept me safe within His care so that I did not stray too far away from Him as a teenager. By the end of my freshman year in college, I had finished six years of studying Spanish and attended my first official mission trip in Daytona Beach, Florida. God had sparked my interest in evangelism that year, and deep down I knew eventually I would travel to a Spanish-speaking country to further that interest. But not yet…

During the next two summers, I spent my time as an inner city missionary in Vancouver, British Colombia and New York City. The Enemy tried hard to dissuade me from my interest in missions, as both those summers were extremely hard on my soul. In fact, I took a much needed, long break from missions because I had lost my grip on God’s light for my way. I associated dark times with missions work, and this wouldn’t be the only time that association would keep me from the mission field.

While my faith remained intact, my heart lost its passion for evangelism. That is, until almost four years later when I moved to Georgia to attend a discipleship school for one year. On October 6, 2003, after an evening class, the Vice President of NCM shared her heart for the lost in Lima, Peru, and immediately my heart stood up and took notice. Finally, a Spanish-speaking country where I could go and use all the gifts God had given me! And in June of 2004, along with my new fiancé Alex, I visited San Juan de Lurigancho for the first of countless times to come.

Our missions team leader that summer was a lady by the name of Patricia Wautlet. Her heart for the lost preceded her, as she was one of the most powerful and motivating speakers we heard on our trip. She was heartbroken for the numerous Peruvian women who spoke of being physically and sexually abused, and she had a vision for opening a shelter to be a refuge for those women (and their children) to rescue them from the grip of darkness. But it was a vision she would never see brought to life. Soon after our trip, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and died shortly thereafter.

But her vision did not die with her. NCM took up that vision and built the shelter in her honor, naming it “Pat’s Place,” and opening the home in 2006. That year we visited Peru again, carrying Pat’s inspiration and seeing the fruits of her labor realized. But that wasn’t to be the end of our story, but just the beginning…

Highly Blessed (20/40)

When my husband and I were dating, I had a pretty horrible full-time job. My boss was an obstinate micro-manager. Coming home crying every night, I’d whine to Alex about even my boss’s boss, a tyrant micro-manager who circled my cubical like a starving vulture ready to devour me for the tiniest misstep. While I was thankful to even have a job, my work was never efficient enough to appease. So I quietly put my resume out there and waited for a miracle.

In August that year, Alex, who had been working for the same retail store for seven years, had a job interview set up by a close friend of his with a small software company. Without any expectations, he walked in with his best foot forward and walked out with a job offer on the spot! We were just blown away by such an amazing blessing! Alex didn’t have a college degree nor much experience with computers, save selling a few in his retail job. But he started almost immediately, and the rest is history. (He has been working for the same company for the last fourteen years.)

A month later, still in the same depressing job, I found myself one morning on an elliptical trainer watching Joyce Meyer on TV. This was a familiar scenario except that this day was my birthday, and the message, unlike anything I had ever really heard. And while I can’t remember every single detail of it, the theme is one that I will never forget. Joyce began explaining how good God is and how He longs to bless us. Scripture makes this abundantly clear:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows grace and favor and honor; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11 AMP)

How blessed and favored are the people in such circumstance; how blessed [fortunate, prosperous, and favored] are the people whose God is the Lord! (Psalm 144:15)

Joyce shared that God not only wants to bless us but that His favor is upon those who believe in, rely on and trust in the Lord. We should expect His blessings and favor wherever we go. He wants to shower down blessings in abundance. That has been His plan all along, starting in the Garden of Eden. That is still His plan today:

“For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 AMP)

As I worked out that morning, I thought to myself, “Well, today is my birthday. Today of all days I expect God’s blessings and favor. I expect a phone call about a new job.”

Later that day, my cell phone rang. A recruiter answered saying, “I found your resume online, and I think you are perfect for this job opening I have.”

My interview with the company was one week later. That morning as I prepared, I thought to myself, “I expect God’s blessings and favor today. If God could give Alex a job on the spot at his interview, I believe God can do the same for me.”

Close enough. That same night the recruiter called me and offered me the position. It turned out to be the best job I have ever had. The only reason I left was because God called Alex and I to move to Peru as missionaries. During ministry furloughs, I returned to that company as an independent contractor (because they went through multiple employees trying to replace me!). His blessings continued to prove true on the mission field, and even once we returned home, this verse came to life:

Jesus said, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, there is no one who has given up a house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, who will not receive a hundred times as much now in the present age—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms…and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30 AMP)

Almost immediately after our return to the States, God gave me a new full-time job, the highest paying job I have had to date. We then built our first home while I was pregnant with our first child. On the day before I went into labor with Eden, Alex got a raise that allowed me to be a stay-at-home mother to Eden. And the blessings continue even still….

Trusting “I Am” With It All (19/40)

As hard as it is to believe, my oldest child, Eden, turns eight tomorrow. I keep a picture on my night stand showing the first moment I touched her cheek after she was born following three days of labor. I like being reminded of the moment she made me a mom. We had carefully selected a name for her, a child of promise following a dark time in our lives when we moved back to Atlanta from Peru. We wanted part of her name to reflect the joy of the memories we took from Peru, so we chose “Graciela,” which in Spanish means “the grace of heaven” to be her middle name. After a short search, we came upon and chose “Eden,” which means “place of pleasure and blessing,” to be her first name. And the Lord gave me this scripture for her:

And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your soul in scorched and dry places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11 AMP)

And she has been our Garden of Eden, a pleasure and blessing to our hearts and lives for these eight years, where we have never been without the Grace of Heaven in our home. God also gave me a single word for Eden while she was in my womb: Mighty.

Eden’s siblings, Elianna Jeanne and Esaias Toy, have very specially chosen names as well. Elianna was due on February 27th, which happened to be the one-year anniversary of a sincere, spiritual turning point in my life that was an answer to a lifetime of prayer. So we found the name Elianna, which means “The Lord has answered our prayers,” in Hebrew. And we gave her my middle name, Jeanne, which means “God is gracious.” God gave me two words for her while in my womb: Humble, Gentle.

Esaias’s name is the story I enjoy telling the most. While pregnant with “Sai,” as we call him, my husband and I took a Mediterranean cruise for our 10-year wedding anniversary. We visited Barcelona, Marseilles, Sicily and Rome. In Rome we toured the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. We had not yet decided on a name for our baby boy, but we felt that it should start with an “E” like his sisters. While standing beneath the beautiful ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Alex and I looked up at the same place at the same time and noticed the fresco of the prophet Isaiah under which was his name in Greek, “Esaias,” then looked down at each other and said, “That’s his name.” “Esaias” means “God saves.” So we also decided to give him the middle name “Toy,” which was the name of the pastor that led Alex to salvation in Jesus Christ. God gave me three words for him while in my womb: Strong, Powerful, Authoritative.

When it comes to names, I fully believe that God is in the details. If He writes our names on the palm of His hand, then surely our names are personal and have meaning, just as God’s name does:

God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am”; and He said, “You shall say this to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” Then God also said to Moses, “This is what you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Israel), has sent me to you.’ This is My Name forever, and this is My memorial [name] to all generations. (Exodus 3:14-15 AMP)

To me, “I Am” means, “I Am the Lord of your heart. I Am the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-pursuing God. I Am the God of your past, your present, your future. I am the God of your parents and their parents and the God of your children and their children. I Am the sovereign God who calls you by name. Forever.”

I am a very detail-oriented person. So I am often tempted to try to take details into my own hands and manipulate them according to my liking. I like to be in control, of myself, of my surroundings, sometimes of others. I realize that this is not God’s plan. “I Am” is the God of the details. And it’s His job to attend to them.

God shows me daily that this is the case. One way He does this is through the numbers “9” and “27,” which are my birthday (September 27th). Every day one way or another, that combination of numbers shows up, whether I happen to look up at the clock at exactly 9:27 or see it in a sign or a phone number, etc. Every day. It’s how I know God, my God, cares about the details in my life. He calls me by name (and knows what day I was born!). So I must conclude, if I can trust God with the little details, then I can trust Him with the big ones too. In fact, I can trust “I Am” with it all.

The Day of Discipline (18/40)

This past Saturday, my husband, Alex, and I ran a 5K race with our oldest daughter, Eden. At one point during the run, we passed by a Waffle House. I was reminded of my one and only visit to that particular Waffle House some five years ago. I leaned over to Eden’s ear and began to tell her the story. Eden has a phenomenal memory, so I wondered if she’d remember this, although it was more traumatizing for Mommy than it was for anyone else.

It was a summer weekday, so Alex was at work. Eden was about two and a half years old, and her sister Elianna, an infant. My father was visiting us for Elianna’s baptism. A big fan of Waffle House-type restaurants, he chose that location to have lunch together. After we had eaten, we were walking out the glass doors, Eden in front, followed by me, the stroller and my father. Suddenly, Eden began to wander into the middle of the parking lot, despite calls I made to her to come hold my hand. I didn’t feel like she was quite out of reach so I kept calling to her to come back. When I realized she wasn’t turning back, I left the stroller carrying Elianna stuck in the doorway and bolted out into the parking lot to grab her. I became absolutely terrified when I realized Eden was now running full strength, not just in the parking lot, but straight for the highway at the end of it. Eden was not slowing down as my mind also raced with thoughts of what could happen if I didn’t catch her. She was so much faster than I expected her to be at that age. Just before she neared the edge of the road, I jumped for her and tackled her to the ground. At last, she was safe.

Bruised, yes, with scraped knees and undoubtedly crying. How could Eden have known what she was getting herself into? What I had saved her from? Thankfully, I was able to leave the stroller with my father and not worry for Elianna’s safety as well. But somehow I had to get the message through to Eden never to run away from me again. All I could do was hold her and cry a little myself with relief that nothing disastrous had happened. And then Eden got her spanking right there next to the car with a firm admonishing to never do that again.

No, Eden did not remember that incident, but Mommy surely did. It was the scariest moment I have yet had to face as a mother of now three. Of course, I rejoiced that no harm had come to her and have kept a close eye on all the kids in parking lots ever since. But even beyond that, I have come to understand one of Jesus’ parables from Luke 15:3-7 to an acute degree:

So He told them this parable: “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one which is lost, [searching] until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he gets home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (AMP)

I left Elianna in the safety of her grandfather to pursue Eden with all my might until she was back in my arms again. God also pursues the lost one with passion until he or she is found, and then He rejoices. And, from what I understand, when a shepherd would find a lost sheep, he would break its leg, which is why he would lay the sheep on his shoulders. The sheep was now completely dependent upon the shepherd to return home and to be healed. The shepherd may be rejoicing that the lost sheep was found but also provided a form of discipline to admonish the sheep not to get lost again:

For the time being no discipline brings joy, but seems sad and painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness [right standing with God and a lifestyle and attitude that seeks conformity to God’s will and purpose]. (Hebrews 12:11 AMP)

I know that my Heavenly Father disciplines me when I sin so as to teach me what is right, just like my earthly father did. Discipline is never fun but worth it if it yields righteousness. While Eden might not remember that day at the Waffle House, she also never fights me to hold my hand in parking lots. So maybe somewhere deep down, she does remember.

“Clothed in Integrity” (17/40)

Yesterday the world lost one of the greatest men that have walked this earth, Rev. Billy Graham, at the age of 99. He was well known for the better part of a century as an evangelist and a pastor to the multitudes, even to Presidents. I never had the pleasure of hearing him speak in person, but one thing has always been obvious to me: he was a man of integrity and of powerful faith. There are very few men in the public eye that anyone could say that about. His message brought people together and challenged all from youngest to oldest to really know God, not by just following a religion but by having a real, living relationship with Him.

I think it was very fitting that my devotional yesterday was based on Acts 2:21, which says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That was Billy Graham’s message in summary. Not just in words, but also in actions. How else could the message be fully heard? He himself said, “We are the Bibles the world is reading; we are the creeds the world is needing; we are the sermons the world is heeding.” He knew the eyes of the world were on him, and he used every ounce of his being to preach the Gospel of Good News.

Billy Graham gained all the wisdom he needed from the Bible, and then he acted upon it. He took the path less traveled. And he showed the rest of us how it’s done. So today there is no question in my mind that he is enjoying the presence of God with his savior, Jesus Christ. He is relishing in the beauty of heaven, dancing with joy and resting in the complete healing that comes with eternity there.

There is a true legacy of integrity that Billy Graham has left behind. I’m sure he made mistakes in life; he never claimed to be perfect. But many put their faith in his God because they trusted what Billy Graham said and did. As I think back, I believe my father was also a man of integrity. Never once did I question that he lived the same way in front of others as he did behind them. I know he made his share of mistakes too, but it’s the true test of man to admit when he’s wrong, which he did to me many times. It’s even more a test at times for a parent to admit that to a child. I also know that he, too, was a man of faith and that he is also in heaven with his parents, brother and others who have gone before him. I often see him in my dreams and know that a pureness of joy has overtaken him. I have great comfort and hope that I will one day join him and Billy. And I pray that others will regard my life as one lived with integrity as well.

“Clothed in Something New” (16/40)

I have a phrase posted on my wall in my bathroom which says, “It is what it is. Onward.” I find it emphasizes something I often need reminding of. It’s so easy to get stuck in the past, thinking, “Well, what if this?” or “What if that?” We can get caught up in regret, swimming in wishes that things were somehow different, that people were somehow different. Depression comes easily to those who drown in the sea of shame or tread in the water of disillusionment. Far too often I have lost myself in this manner, trying to come up for air using food or movies or anything else that could just take my mind off the discouragements I could linger in.

“It is what it is.” We can’t change the past. No time machine has been invented. But I do know a God that is above and outside of time who sees the end from the beginning. I don’t claim to know how it all works together, but He does. Not only does He know, but He works it all together for good when we lean on Him, trust and rely on Him. I know it’s not easy to believe it, especially when we’re in the thick of the hardest times of our lives. When I went through the two worst years of my life (2014-2016), at first I tried the avenues of escape but ultimately heard God’s voice speaking through Needtobreathe’s song, “Multiplied,” saying, “I have surrendered to Your design.” I couldn’t change my situation, so I chose to be content in it. I chose to believe, it was what it was. And God’s design is always better than my own.

“Onward.” I’m reminded of another song that helped me with this concept back in 2009 after we moved back to Atlanta from Peru. I had lost so much and been filled with so much pain, anger and bitterness. But my ears welcomed the words:

It’s time for healing, time to move on. It’s time to fix what’s been broken too long. Time make right what has been wrong. It’s time to find my way to where I belong. (Sanctus Real, “Whatever You’re Doing”)

I didn’t want to keep reliving that hurt and resentment. I had to come to God with it all…and surrender. As you can see, this has been a recurring theme in my life. And I know I’m not the only one.

Today is the first day of the 2018 Lenten season, Ash Wednesday. The word Lent itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten,” meaning “Spring.” Spring is a time when the old dead things are forgotten and when new, fresh things are born. The season changes as we prepare for Easter, a celebration of the new life that we have because of Christ’s resurrection. So I take this verse to heart, knowing that I am commanded to move on into a new season of my own life:

Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. (Isaiah 43:19 MSG)

I remember a friend telling me once to bury the dead things in my life and let them be. It was time. It is time to be alert and present in today so that I can perceive the new things that God is doing, which may even be miraculous and in answers to prayer. That may mean leaving a piece of myself behind too, but God is in the business of making things whole again, including my heart:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]. (2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP)

A new life. Not a different version of the old. If you are truly in Christ by faith, you have been reborn! Renewed! The old things are dead. Let’s not dig them up anymore. Let’s go onward, clothed in something new.

“Clothed in Freedom” (15/40)

“Freedom” is defined as “the power to determine action without restraint.” What an amazing power it is but also such an incredible responsibility. For those of us who follow Christ, we have been given that very gift through our faith in Him. For, “it was for this freedom that Christ set us free [completely liberating us]; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 AMP). But how many of us truly live out their freedom?

When I was in my early twenties, for my first car I chose my license plate to say “FREED.” I thought about what I would say if people asked me what it meant; actually, I was half worried that others might wonder if I was just released from jail! In truth, I wasn’t sure what else I would say if asked. Having been a Christian for only a few years, I don’t think I had much of an inkling as to what that really meant or how it applied to my life. I had sense enough to know that I didn’t know, no matter what my license plate read. I was only beginning to understand what personal freedom was outside of life under my parents’ roof or college life. I think it’s safe to say that most people in their twenties are really just focused on finding out the distance that personal freedom can take them.

Nelson Mandela once said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” That was not the kind of freedom necessarily on my radar as a young Christian. But scripture tells us that that’s exactly the kind of freedom God had in mind for us:

For you, my brothers, were called to freedom; only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the sinful nature (worldliness, selfishness), but through love, serve and seek the best for one another. For the whole Law [concerning human relationships] is fulfilled in one precept, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, you shall have an unselfish concern for others and do things for their benefit].” (Galatians 5:13-14 AMP)

My personal freedom isn’t meant to be about me doing what I want, when and how I want. My freedom is meant to be focused on the blessing of others. That is why over the last fourteen years my husband and I have devoted ourselves to missions work in Lima, Peru. What a joy it has been to travel there time after time to serve the people of Peru and share our blessings with them. I only wish it were just as easy to rid myself of my selfishness here at home. I am a mother of three beautiful children and strive to give them everything they need, yet I know that there still lives in me a great selfishness I feel I cannot escape, at least in my own power. Thankfully, I have also been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to lean on to help correct my ways.

But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage—our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit]. (Galatians 5:22-25 AMP)

That sounds like such an overwhelming mouthful when I think of trying to do it in my own strength. But God means to empower us if we will simply turn to Him and allow Him to do it. There are examples of such living all around me as well. My amazing husband, Alex, serves his family daily with tireless diligence and honor, just like he serves his employer. He is a true example of what freedom is for. His is the lead that I follow alongside Christ as we strive to walk in a manner worthy of the freedom He died for.

“Clothed in a ‘Calm, Well-balanced Mind’” (14/40)

What makes each of us different are the choices we make in life. Today in itself is a choice. I can choose to walk in “stinking thinking,” or I can choose to be positive. I can choose happiness. I do not have to choose fear.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control]. (2 Timothy 1:7 AMP)

Within that spirit of power, love and sound judgment, I can choose to feel blessed—because I am, in fact, highly blessed! I just have to open my eyes to see it. And God has given me the personal discipline of thought to do so.

Recently, I started a new tradition with my whole family to end every night either at dinnertime or at bedtime by saying three things we are each thankful for. It truly blesses me to hear some of the things that my children come up with. My middle child, Elianna, who will turn six in three weeks and has behavioral problems at school, said that she is thankful for her teachers—the ones who discipline her and lead her in ways she doesn’t always take a liking to. But somehow in her little mind, she realizes that they are a great blessing to her and her future.

I want to have her eyes to see the blessings that may feel like curses now but in truth bring light to my future. Four years ago we decided to move out of our first home to find a larger one with a finished basement so that my mother-in-law could live in it. Unfortunately, she unexpectedly passed away the same week we put our house on the market. We continued on with our plan to move, as it was already in motion. However, mentally, I connected her devastating loss with our move as we began our search for a new home. And when we found one that didn’t quite fit the mold I had in my head (the basement wasn’t already finished), I sought the Lord’s wisdom about it. He said, “It’s an investment in your future.”

In that moment I had to make a choice. Choose to live by what I could see or choose to live by what God could see. How blessed was I to trust in a God who could see my future and know that this particular house would be a blessing. Not only did we welcome our only baby boy home to this house, but we have also been able to offer the basement as a temporary home to two other families so far. The blessing goes far beyond that in ways we can’t even imagine yet. And I no longer associate this house with the death of a loved one. My thinking has changed. This home is a blessing that God has made, just like today, and I will rejoice and be glad in it. I make the choice to do so every day with a calm, well-balanced mind.