Monday, November 30, 2015

And Today Marks Twenty-Five Years of Life

[**Just a few days after drafting this post, my dad passed away unexpectedly and I forgot about having written it. Tonight as I read this post for the first time since then, it is so hard to trust the Lord's timing in all of this! But, I WILL wait on Him and hope in Him and trust Him and am SO thankful for this Truth, even in this hard season.]

Isn't it funny, how a quarter of the way into this thing, I am convinced I know less then I did when I first began. As I reflected on my post from a year ago, tears streamed heavy and thick. Honestly, that about sums up this past year of life over here.

Really, really hard. And really, really glorious.

James tells us about a joy we can choose through trials that produces a steadfastness within us. The Lord has been truly gracious to supply ample opportunities to practice this in my life this year, in ways I never would have asked for nor expected.
So for a rambling snapshot of the year--

The new year began with a brokenness quite unlike any I had ever known, when the man who pursued me to the point of marriage chose to step away from the relationship quite unexpectedly. The pain and questions ran deep, and for months all I could muster up was a resounding, "And if not, the Lord is still good." It wasn't what I ever would have expected for my story, but Jesus has taught me to walk with Him in a way I hadn't before, and through that season He really has become more precious to me then my daily bread.

With the spring, sprung a new job! After two sweet and exhausting years of nannying for a dear family, I said my final goodbye as I transitioned into a job that God had been preparing me for for several years, long before it even became a "dream job" for me. A season of inviting others to partner with me in this new job both financially and prayerfully, brought the greatest joy of glimpsing the Kingdom come here on earth and deepened my faith. God provided quite boldly and allowed over sixty families & individuals to transition into this new role right alongside me!

The fall brought hundreds of new students to good 'ole Fayetteville from all the corners of the world and  now I got the great privilege of helping them transition into life here at the University of Arkansas while also casting vision for others to come join me and do likewise!

By far the absolute greatest joy of this twenty-fourth year of life has been getting to pour my life into these beloved students who have become very dear to me. As you can imagine leaving your family, friends, culture, language and all that is familiar behind and coming to a brand new place on your own can be so overwhelming. Our Monday night "Village" in the dorm and Thursday night "Supper and Seeking" at my house have become a refuge of sorts, where some of these friends can unload before one another and a Father many don't yet know--time I so cherish each week. I have learned more about God's heart through these who He's made dear to me and am so blessed to be entrusted by Him as an ambassador of reconciliation among them.

This year took me overseas again, this time to a Desert in Africa where a woman who had never heard of Jesus trusted in Him for the very first time. During that time, God solidified a desire He put in me years ago, to give my life to a group of people in this area of the world who have also never heard. Now, onto tackling the Arabic language this year!

My adopted family welcomed another miracle baby girl (and she is precious!) and next month the oldest of my "lil sisters" says "I do!" God's great grace and faithfulness has been on display so boldly in this family and I am humbled and grateful for the way He brought them into my life FOUR crazy years ago!

My own dad continues to fight his alcoholism as several serious health risks seem to be catching up to him. There's no communication between us these days, though we did have lunch when I was home this summer which further confirmed his inability to play a healthy role in my life right now. Last month (while in Africa) my grandpa passed away unexpectedly which has brought great pain for my sweet momma and our family. And even today, it's strange to think I won't be getting a phone call from him to celebrate. The sting of death lingers some, but we know those in Christ grieve as those with a greater hope.

I'm so thankful for my church body and how dear they continue to be to me. Getting to work between the church and a campus ministry has brought SO much learning this year, and I'm grateful. I'm blessed to do life with some amazing families and beloved friends. Tuesday nights have become my time of refuge, rejoicing, and realness before the Father and among some whom are more then just good friends--they are my people in this season and I praise God for them.

Another year come and gone and now here I am twenty-five and Facebook just informed that this is the year the human body begins to die. The past few weeks of life have left me continually faced with that reality, as I groan inwardly waiting eagerly for that final adoption and redemption of this [dying] body!

Of course, hope that is seen is not hope. But, if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Truthfully, my patience is wearing down. So of course, going into this twenty-fifth year, the Lord says: WAIT.

Wait for me. Wait for the pain of your broken heart to ease. Wait for the morning to come after that sleepless night. Wait for the season of darkness and oppression to lift. Wait for God to provide. Wait for the fall semester to close and a new one to begin. Wait for Him to point out people of peace. Wait for dear friends to accept the Truth of the Gospel as you share. [yes, even week after week, month after month, year after year.] Wait for the man I have set apart just for you. [and don't settle because you are MINE.] Wait for the day of raising up babies that belong to you. Wait on your call to go overseas. Wait on my provision of community and heart-friends. Wait until the day you will fully know your belonging. Wait and you will see my face. Wait, for I am still good. Wait for full on redemption. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Last year I shared God's promise found is Psalm 52, and I claimed it going into my twenty-fourth year of life.

 But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
 I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.
                                   [Psalm 52]

Little did I know, He wasn't planning to use it the way I thought. But looking back now, I'm tearful over His faithfulness that even when I had no idea waiting would become such an enormous part of this year, I know I will WAIT for His name, for it is GOOD. So, I wait with eyes on what I don't yet see, the eternal, because I know this thing doesn't end with what I can see (and praise God for that, right?!) This doesn't end with me waiting forever. You and me--we're being prepared for an eternal weight of glory in fact.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. [2 cor. 4:17-18]

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [Rom. 8:18-19]

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me! [Micah 7:7-8]

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. [Isa. 30:18]

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope. [ps. 130:5]

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the lving! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage and wait for the Lord! [Ps. 27:13-14]

My prayer for this year--that His Word will continue to be alive and active and I will hunger for it more then anything else. Oh Lord, help me to be so fully satisfied in you as I wait, and please be my LIGHT in this season!

And a word of encouragement from Piper--"So take these truths and PREACH them to your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In Which I Share At Dad's Funeral

Below is what the Lord gave me to share at my dad's funeral on Monday. My heart is broken and grieving so many layers of loss right now, but I am learning to chose to trust and rest in the love, promises, and nearness of my Heavenly Father through these days. 

Around the time the sun began to fall over the trees he would tell me we were going on an adventure. I would grin from ear to ear, run to get my shoes on. Though there was little mystery in the destination of this adventure for me, I always loved that he made it into a big deal. Sometimes, I even pretended I didn't know where we were going. Mostly because he loved to surprise me. And I loved that he loved it—that it meant he must love me.

Windows down, hair streaming across my face. Cigarette in his hand, we were off. A quick stop at his gas station, the one where they called him boss and responded with yes Sir. Over-sized slushy in my hand, our adventure continued.

Just up the road and a few turns later we would slow down. The curvy road weaved throughout thousands upon thousands of white headstones. We weren't here to see dead people. Or to cry over a lost loved one, though I did often see people doing so. The men and women buried;/ across these grounds were all war heroes, brought home here to be laid to rest. Sort of eerie, when you think of our adventure climaxing at a place full of dead people.

I don't often remember thinking that in my little girl mind though. I remember gazing across the sea of white rocks, always attentive with my head out the window as we crept along. Sun blazing closer and closer to the ground, a little more brilliant and beautiful with each tick of the clock. Then, just on the edge of the sea of white, coming out from the tress all attentive and hungry we would see one. Then two. Then a whole herd.

I loved when there were babies. "Look at that little one!" I would point my hand far out into the air as his foot would come down firm on the brake pedal. Courtney, do you remember what we call those? He would ask. "Oh yeah, they're fawns, right dad? Baby deer are fawns." Yes, that's right. "And those big ones with the horns—those are the dads right?" I would ask. Yes, those are the bucks. he replied.

Knowing the answer didn't change the fact that I loved hearing him tell me again. It didn't change the fact that I tasted his love for me in these moments. I was starving. A rare glimpse into a life I longed to have—life with a daddy who knew how to love me. This daddy-daughter experience breathed into the depths of my emptiness, this hunger for his affection that I still struggled to satisfy well into adulthood.

You see, we are all created with this capacity and need for love. We all feel it. I have no doubt my dad loved us kiddos probably more then anything else in his life. I just don’t think that He knew just how loved He was, by a perfect heavenly Father and how such a love changes everything.

For years of my life, I, like my dad, tried to satisfy my pain and emptiness in all the wrong places. But none of it ever filled me for any lasting time. After I spent years trying to gratify that emptiness inside of me that even my dad’s imperfect love couldn’t touch, God gave me another option. There was a PERFECT Father who had created me in HIS image and made the greatest sacrifice for me because He loved me that deeply.

God is holy and perfect and fully in control. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. He even created man in His image and likeness. Sadly, man chose to turn away from God by disobeying His instructions. As a result there is now a separation between man and God. You see, all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! None of us are perfect, we have all messed up, we’ve all blown it. But a holy and perfect God can’t stand in the presence of imperfect and broken people. So He chose in His grace to intervene on my behalf, on YOUR behalf. SO, while the wage of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ!  His Word tells us we can receive that gift if we simply confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. And one day is coming back and we will get to spend eternity with Him.

All I know is that decision has changed the entire course of my life. Since that day, God began teaching me about Himself through His word and others who walked with Him. I learned He was a PERFECT FATHER even though none of our earthly dads can be. And now nothing, not even this really hard season of loss, not even death itself, can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

A couple years ago, I was driving along in the big white van with a family I lived with at the time, when all of a sudden in the back little voices began to cry out, "A buck daddy, there’s a buck! There's another one!" As the car slowed to a stop and began backing up, the boys climbed over the rows of seats to get to the front, real close to daddy, up in his lap, pointing out the open window, pure bliss in their eyes.

Watching these little ones hunger for this moment with their dad and the deer awoke that little girl in me too, even at twenty-two years old. At the time, my dad was in tough spot in life and I was wrestling hard with his decisions and their implications in my life. Upon reaching the safety of home, I ventured out into the darkening field and wept.

I think there is a legitimate and appropriate grieving that takes place when we lose something—something we were created to need, at that. This time, though, the tears weren't so painful or so personal. They weren't as angry. They didn't lead into hours or days of introspection. There was no bitterness or resent. They were simply little girl longings and adult needs finally being met by incredible grace, as I recognized just how deeply I was loved by my heavenly Father, sweet forgiveness and redemption dripping down my cheeks.

You see, that little girl searched for the love of her daddy for years. Yet that whole time, he had no ability to satisfy the needs of that little girl like her heavenly Father did, and honestly I think he knew it too.

And even as there are many tears today, I find myself grieving both the loss of a man who was my dad and the loss of what could have been, knowing through all of it that God is a good and gracious Daddy, perfectly in control, and the sufferings of this present time WILL NOT compare to the eternal glory of being with Jesus one day. Life is hard and messy but He gives us hope that truly does defeat the grave!

We weep and laugh and wrestle with much fear and trembling as we each are forced to consider life and death and eternity and love and hope.

In the days and months to come, the tears will fade but the Truth will stand unmovable. So even as we all grieve different loss, I also rejoice in this sweet memory of watching deer. I rejoice that even as we put dad’s ashes in the box tomorrow at the same place we used to watch those deer, the unfathomable grace of the Lord doesn’t change. So let’s life our eyes to hills from where our help does come, from the Maker of heaven and earth.

For today, maybe grace is simply slowing down to count the bucks and thank Him for them, as they point us to redemption and grace of our Heavenly Father, to whom we cry out Abba Father!

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
                        nor fruit be on the vines,
            the produce of the olive fail
                        and the fields yield no food,
            the flock be cut off from the fold
                        and there be no herd in the stalls,
            yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
                        I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
           God, the Lord, is my strength;
                        he makes my feet like the deer's;
                        he makes me tread on my high places.
                                                       (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Of course, when we buried dad's ashes yesterday, we were greeted by deer when we first pulled in! 

" that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." [Eph. 3]

Monday, October 26, 2015

On a Journey Through the Desert: Who's That?

After several hours of winding and weaving through the desert on the main highway, our driver abruptly turned off the road. As we continued down this path, the minutes ticked away, the bumps grew, and the mountains thickened. The “flattened” dirt was set out to resemble a rough path of some sort, and mile after mile, the deeper in we got. There was not another car in sight. Mountains of rock and sand as endless as the sea were all consuming to the eyes. Every once in a while, a tree would pop out in plain sight and you wonder how such life could ever sustain here in this endlessly dry wilderness. There were no snakes or spiders even, as they couldn’t survive in this land. It was dry and desolate.
Just when you think you’re so far from any possible civilization, that’s when our driver points up ahead and suddenly you see it – a few cube-like boxes of concrete walls and little brown faces that nearly blend into the landscape. The dogs are barking and the faces are moving closer at remarkable speed, and the anticipation builds. As we approached this village where we were to sleep for the night, my stomach began to twist into knots.
How in the world is it possible for these people to survive here? How is it that these beautiful women serve us all through the night and even sleep right beside us? How is it that they live here? How is it that they cook and clean, guard the sheep, marry, and have babies? How is this their home, the only existence they have ever known?
IMG_0842And how is it that when we tell them a miraculous story of Jesus’ love for them, they are quick to respond with, “Who’s that?”

I've heard about and lifted up these groups of people who have never ever heard, but I never could have imagined what it would be like to reach out and grip her hands, drink her tea, love on her babies and exchange deep grins in the middle of this wilderness land laced with the glory of this Father who loves her, sees her and desires to be reconciled to her right here in this place just the same as He loves you or me.

“And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of Him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’” (Romans 15:20-21)
These men and women and their kids had never heard about this “Isa al-Masih,” this Messiah. Many of the B-people practice a “folk Islam” as they are often taught by stories and rules passed down from one generation to the next. Only certain parts stick and others seem to dissolve. This makes for a very broken understanding of who God is and what they are created for.
As we pulled into that village, there was a woman, cloaked in red and gold, waving us to a place to park the vehicle. She yelled things at our driver in a tongue unfamiliar to us, and it seemed clear she was welcoming us to stay. This was becoming a norm—to pull into a village and look for a person of peace. If they received us, we stayed, and if not, we kept going. As the sun lowered behind the mountains, it began to settle in that we are about to sleep here, under the stars. I have never felt quite so small.
We talked, drank tea, ate good food and told stories inside the wall of this woman’s home late into the night, all gathered around the fire. We got to experience life with these people. This woman (who we will call ‘Joy’) sat and listened to us the whole night. Even when she couldn’t understand, she just sat there, her eyes following the speaker and soaking it all in. As the other women and kids came and went about their evening, she didn’t move. Every now and then I’d glance up and catch her eye, she’d grin and we would grab hands. She was a woman of peace; there was no doubt about it.
Later in the night, we got to share God’s story of redemption with her. She asked many questions and took great interest in the topic. Her biggest question that night was, “ How could my old heart possibly become a new heart?”
The next morning, the ladies from our group took Joy for a walk away from the village. We hiked through the sandy rock and down a hill where no one in thevillage could find us. We found some shade beneath an Acacia tree and sat on some rocks in a circle. Soon our translator found us and we proceeded to share about how that old heart becomes new. For hours, we talked and she asked questions and contemplated. We couldn’t understand everything going on towards the end, as the discussion was quickening and intensifying.
Suddenly, our translator stands up and declares, “We have a new sister in the faith—let us rejoice!” Let us rejoice indeed! Our new sister Joy had accepted the Truth and placed her faith in God’s ability to remove her heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh! We gathered tight around her, gripping her tight and praying. We held hands all the way back.
Y’all, there is no greater joy then witnessing a woman hearing the name of Christ for the very first time and responding in obedience to that call. Miss Joy is one of eight believers in this desert, among a people group of two million. Next week, she will be getting married and moving to another village. Join us in praying and believing for our Father to strengthen her faith and for the Spirit to teach her from the Word, and that as she goes, she will make disciples.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise!! You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. I am the Lord and besides me there is no Savior”. – Isaiah 43

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In Which We Have More Hosts then Students!

Have you ever considered how lonely it would feel to move to another country, learn a new culture, study in a different language, eat strange foods, and be so far away from your family?

Right now, the "honeymoon" phase of coming to a new place is ending as hundreds of international students here in Fayetteville are beginning to face this difficult reality and the homesickness is hitting hard! Recently, three of my dear friends shared how last weekend, all weekend long, their phones never buzzed, and they felt so alone. 

This is why the University's I-Friend Program is so amazing--it matches American families or American upperclassmen college students with an international student for the year. Actually, the I-Friend Program was how I really began spending time with international friends! The goal is for them to invite their student to come over or go do something at least once a month. It is an awesome picture of how God sets the solitary in families, even for seasons! Every year, there are always far more students who desire to get matched with a family then there are families available to match them with, which is a sad reality. 

My hope was that as I got to meet with families (specifically from my church body), and share more about international students and their desire to do life with Americans, that more families who had never participated in the I-Friend program would give it a try! 

Two weeks ago I received an email from the international office at the U of A saying, “Hi Courtney, thanks to your efforts, we actually have more American hosts then international students this year! Since you know so many of the hosts and students this year, we would love for you to come and help us match them this week.” 
Meet Ameel (to my right!), one of my new I-friend
"daughters" this year from Morocco!  

Ya’ll, every year we have too many students and not enough host families to match them with—this is HUGE! Wow!

What an incredible picture of the body of Christ catching a vision and running with it. University Baptist Church now has a reputation with the University as being a people who are willing to meet a practical need to the glory of the Father! We have gotten to bless the University and invite these students from Macedonia, Brazil, Morocco, Korea Iraq, etc. to sit at our dinning-room tables and hang out with our families.

Not to mention, there was SO MUCH favor in the University inviting me to come help match, because it enabled me to hand-pick students I’ve gotten to get to know and match them with many UBC families, even with many of you who are now welcoming them into your homes! Last week three different international students came to UBC for the first time, with their I-friend families! Even today, another student came for the first time with his campus cousin! I'm SO excited to see how God continues to reveal Himself to these students, even as we consider them more significant then ourselves! 

If you’re local and still interested in being matched with a student, a whole new group of internationals arrive in January! How awesome would it be to once again have more host families then students to match them with?! 

Meet Lorrene from Brazil! One of two new students I got
matched with this year through the I-Friend Program! 
My hope for us as a body of Christ locally, is that our presence on campus among international students would continue to grow, and that our increased involvement would become the norm! I thank my God for each of you as we labor together for His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom among our beloved international friends at the U of A!

Friday, June 19, 2015

a support story: Mercy Gives Back

It was six years ago now, when I lived in a residential facility for young women with life-controlling issues. Sometimes I wish I could put those two girls side-by-side, the girl I was back then and the one He's breathed to life now. Truthfully, I think it would be hard to believe they were one in the same. Some may call it a transformation, a miracle, a good program, or simply behavior modification.

But I know it to be--redemption. That process of what was once dead becoming alive & new.

That's the crazy thing. I wanted to die. I spent years literally trying to die. Spiritually, I was dead.

But GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, EVEN WHEN WE WERE DEAD in our trespasses, made us ALIVE TOGETHER WITH CHRIST--by grace you have been saved. [eph. 2:4-5]

Praise God, He had a plan for my life which so far exceeded my own.

Over the six months I spent at Mercy Ministries, the Truth of God's word finally began to penetrate deeper then the lies which had dictated my life up to that point. I began to experience freedom and to trust Him. That emptiness I felt inside which I had tried so desperately to gratify with anything and everything was being filled with the love of Christ, and it satisfied me more richly and completely then any of the million other things I had tried to fill that hole with. I began to understand how He created me to be dependent upon Him, and to be satisfied in Him alone. Life since then has been full of challenges and victories, utter brokenness and great joys, but I do know He has been my hope each step of the way.

Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [john 15:4]

BEHOLD, all things are made new.

So fast forward six years and here I am, trusting Him in new ways through this support-raising journey, confident in one thing alone--that God has redeemed my life and has called me to share that same hope with students studying here at the U of A, literally coming from the ends of the earth, some of whom have never heard the name of Christ.

For the Lord has commanded us saying, 'I have made you a light for the gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth!' [acts 13:47]

This support raising process continues to provide countless opportunities to share God's story of redpemtion. The neatest part in all of this, is a full-circle moment which came with the very first partner to join my support team.
It was a Thursday when I saw the email come through. Just a week or so after my first newsletter went out,back when I had no idea how God was going to provide for me in this process.  This email was to let me know my very first supporter had given! I was so excited and grateful. There is something incredibly surreal and humbling about seeing that very first check come through. As the Lord would have it, that first gift was from Mercy Ministries, this very place which God first used to draw me to Himself & redeem my life from the pit.

How cool is that--only He would be sweet enough to use this ministry to point me to Christ through whom my life was made new, and now their impact carries over not only to thousands of hurting young women, but specifically to 1,800 interantional students literally coming from 112 different nations in whom God has called me to invest my life, and I can actually do that because of support like this from so many of ya'll--including Mercy!

"I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done. I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land." [ps. 142:5-6]

Today, I needed to recall his faithfulness in bringing to me to here. I needed to hear the gospel, the way He's displayed it in my life. He really does pierce through sin and shame to teach us where the only lasting, eternal satisfaction comes from--Christ. 

There have been so many humbling and deeply encouraging stories of His faithfulness though this support raising process, I just thought I'd start at the beginning. I have no doubt He will provide just what I need--and I have even greater confidence that He knows what I need far better then I do. 

to so many of ya'll--"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." [Phil 1:3-5]

Sunday, May 31, 2015

From Campus to Contients [& one month of support raising]

Exactly one month ago today, I waved a tearful goodbye to the kiddos I've spent the past two years with for the majority of their waking hours and cruised my way through those all too familiar hills and curves of Shadow Valley one last go round. It all felt oddly ordinary, so when my back wheels slid through that tiny black gate at the end of the curve and it all became suddenly real, I decided to pull over and weep.

I just needed a moment.

Those were tears of thousands of diapers changed and apologies made after loosing my temper at the end of a long day. Tears of a lil man's first steps and the day the twins finally learned the sound of "th" placed together in a word. It was remembering hundreds of trips to Chickfila and birthdays celebrated with the cow. Tears wept as I rocked a miracle baby girl to sleep day after day, begging Jesus to reveal Himself to her one day and pleading with Him to give me grace to trust bigger with my own too. Tears over the hunger these kiddos have to be loved and the way God entrusted them to a daddy and momma who are searching for that too. I recalled the meals I could make in my sleep and the paleo lumps that made me infamous amidst this little world that had become my calling, my people, my job, and my family through the craziness of life.

Floods of emotions and memories and struggles and joys and changes and seasons--all of which left me overwhelmed by His insane faithfulness through it all. Oh, if you only knew.

Thirty days later, here I am in continued awe of His steadfastness and my days look so vastly different. For example, in life with a 2 year old and a newborn, a successful week demanded a least 120 minutes of adult conversation to be scheduled in, for all of our sanity--and now I find myself perhaps too easily drawn away from the ones I came to visit with and find myself sitting on the floor in a pool of barbies and cars without a second thought. While 2:57pm no longer brings me to the side of the curb waiting for two big Kindergardeners to come bobbling off of the bus, that is still the time of day that my body calls for a snack--and caffeine! Funny how He allows those little reminders of His grace, reminders that He holds our days, our seasons and is fully worthy of our trust.

For those who don't know, a total chain of events only God Himself could have laid out, led me to serving as a missionary with the North American Mission Board as the International Student Ministry Coordinator for my church and a campus ministry at the University of Arkansas. If you want more details, I'd be happy to send you a newsletter or grab coffee and tell ya all about it.

Did I ever see myself here? No way.

If you told me I would agree to raising my own salary, working in ministry with college students from all over the world, and still living in Fayetteville five years after moving here I would have told you all the reasons that would never happen to me.

Praise God, that while the heart of man may attempt to plan his way, but the Lord establishes His steps. [prov. 16:9]

The four years leading up to now have taught me a deep and driving love for the nations and the students studying right in my midst from those very ends of the earth breathed out by the Creator. God knew what He was doing the very day He moved me to this crazy natural state, unbenounced to me of course. This is my dream job and then some, the story unfolding still blows my mind. It was a dream He put in me and brought to growth year after year. I'm beginning to expect Him to ask of me the very things I inform Him I will never do or be. I just picture Him, leaning back and laughing deep in His belly watching me, as I come to see His perfect plan unfold.

Oh the JOY He finds in displaying His great power through our weaknesses and lack. What a free place to be! I am so thankful that God is sovereign and yet gracious to give us His spirit and work through us!

"And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes….then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD. I have spoken and I will do it!" [ezekiel 36]

These days, this journey just leaves me in awe. The mountain highs and valley lows, the curves and straight-aways of a gracious Father's pursuit of a wayward daughter, a daughter so oblivious to the greatness of His glory and the wholeness of His love, a trail that recounts His faithfulness and new mercies over and over and over again. Then, behold all things are new. He alone transformed this heart which was once stone. Now He satisfies and is fully worthy of my life. Billions are yet to hear of His name. How can that be?

And a block away from my front door, thousands are going from one class to the next, thousands from those very ends of the earth that haven't heard, ambassadors of gospel right here in our midst. May I daily be bold in faith and speaking the gospel to these students. I pray I will be faithful to journey on in such a manner to which His name goes forth and ends with nations at His throne, crying out in unison, "Holy, Holy, Holy…" What a day that will be. Lord, make that the lens through which I see today.

I'm raising my support right now, a whole salary from those He leads to give and see fruit increase to their credit. I'm learning SO much of His provision and gift in the body of Christ, my local church too, as the trail forges onward, pointing clearer then ever to the God who redeems and holds my all in all. The only message that brings the dead to life. And so many need to hear.

I set out on a one-hundred day journey, a goal to be fully funded by August 1st. Thirty days in, I find myself 60% funded and in awe of His provision, encouragement and affirmation that I am right where He has called me to be. It's a good thing too, because He knows I'm a bit thick-headed and slow to trust.

Join me in praying this journey will continue to make all else grow strangely dim in light of His glory and grace. Pray for the 1,500 students from 112 different nations finding out right now, they're headed to Arkansas this fall.

I plan to write more and tell the stories that make this support-raising journey so incredibly humbling. Stay tuned.

And because I so desperately miss this crew...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

This Paleo Journey [a year later]

Twelve months ago, what began as a two week cleanse led to a journey that I never saw coming--or thought would even be possible for a girl like me.

As I come up on this one year mark, I am ever thankful for this journey becoming the steadfast type. The only way that has been possible for me, has all been dependent on where the focus hinges.

"…therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame." [Isa. 50:7]

I've learned this year that much relief is found in surrendering to the Lord, all things. Seeing myself in light of Christ. Yes, even that number on the scale. He made us after all, right? Perfectly in His image. He must know better then anyone what we need.

After finding myself perpetually sick and mentally fatigued, I realized I wasn't able to fully engage as He had called me to. I couldn't be apart of community as I had originally felt led nor could I focus when I was. It was this lingering heaviness which kept me bound. Depression, lack of sunlight, those extra holiday pounds, the frigid air, or the continual flow of germs from the kiddos--call it what you like, but I knew something had to give.

I remember sitting in a missions conference last year realizing, I most likely would not have been fit enough to serve with a missions agency which I really loved. If being unhealthy was going to limit my ability to go take the gospel to the nations, especially the harder to reach peoples who have never heard, than I needed to change something. I remember feeling defeated and enslaved.

I had done a cleanse once before so I decided that would be a good start. Those first two weeks were awful, there's no denying that.

But after they ended, I felt a world of difference. I decided to go for a month. Once that month was up, I began to wonder why I felt so different--on all levels--what was it that so greatly affected me? After doing some research, I discovered most people have some sort of intolerance to gluten and lactose, so I decided maybe limitation of those should be my main focus going forward.

By no means am I saying gluten and lactose are an issue for everyone or that a "Paleo lifestyle" is the be-all, cure-all. But if it does help someone the way it has me, then it's worth sharing my own journey!

As I learned just how much the way we process food today drains it of the very nutrients He put in it for our good [and His glory] from the beginning, all the pieces continued to connect in my mind. This has been a process--and lets just be real, there are some things I may never give up…i.e. dark chocolate! As the weeks gave way to months, and now months to a year, I have found a balance that works for me. Peanut-butter, rice, tortilla chips--certainly not considered "Paleo" and yet for me personally, they don't make me feel bad, so I enjoy them occasionally. I've found this only works when I'm focused on a lifestyle not just following rules of an eating plan.

I also began to learn quickly that my fast-paced lifestyle placed a demand for instant gratification upon my stomach that always left me feeding my body the quickest, easiest meals--which were generally the ones packed with the fluff and lacking the nutrients. No wonder I was always feeling so out of it! Luckily this season of my life has allotted plenty of time to invest in learning how to cook differently. I realize that's not always realistic. I have found that freezing half of what I make always helps for those busy weeks!

After spending over a decade enslaved to food and my body, I knew "diets" and "products" never really offered any lasting change, at least for me. Over a period of the past twelve months simply [yet not easily done] eliminating gluten, lactose and refined sugar, my life has truly changed. The freedom this year has brought in changing my diet has been such a victory--simply because this time it has not been about the food or the weight or all the crazy thoughts our minds cycle through in regards to our bodies.

This year, the focus has been how can I best serve Jesus with this body He's entrusted to me?! The numbers--scale, calories, miles run, pounds down, grams of sugar--they all seem so empty in light of God's plan to redeem man, to use us in that, right? And yet, oh how easily I forget in the day to day!

I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth. 
                                                                                                                                        [acts 13:47]

I'm not saying we have to deny the numbers or the physical changes that come as a result of a healthier lifestyle. Of course, seventy pounds lighter is something to be incredibly grateful for--as I am so much more healthy without that weight. But for me, the real celebration comes in the clarity of my thoughts and how much less "crazy" my brain seems to be these days, my ability to keep up with the kiddos I nanny, my growing LOVE for running, the discipline I am being trained by which lends to great joy, and the fact that I can use this body to go wherever and serve in whatever capacity God would call me to.

The best part is, this past year I have thought about food less then I have in my entire life. I never knew if I would get to experience that sort of freedom as long as my feet touched this soil--but God really has used this Paleo journey as a sort of protection around me, which has enabled me to spend a whole lot less time concerned with my daily bread and whole lot more time consumed by the words of his mouth.

I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food. [job 23:12]

People often ask if I will eat in this "Paleo" way forever--the truth, I have no clue! But for now, it seems to just be a normal part of my life. I am so grateful for the freedom the Lord has provided through this journey!

Crazy the difference a year makes…this has been a tough journey, but He has been faithful to use it to train my eyes to fixate on Christ, the author and perfecter.