Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas!!  🙂

I hope you spent this Christmas season with your family and friends celebrating the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.

My grandmother is still recovering from her insomnia, depression, and back pain, so we did not spend Christmas day at my grandparent’s home as we usually do.  Grandpa, however, did come and visit us on the twenty fourth to be encouraged and to share his gifts with us.  I was surprised he had gotten us anything, since he has been caring for Grandma for the past (almost) two months.  Thankfully, Grandma is sleeping again and has no more pain.  She simply needs to be able to think clearly again and get out of the depression.  We are hoping that will happen in the next month.

Last night was also our church’s candlelight service.  It was wonderful to celebrate Christmas with our church family, and singing ‘Silent Night’ while holding a candle is always fun  (though it was a bit more interesting this year as I helped my three year old sister hold one too).  🙂

Then this morning, my family and I went to sing Christmas carols at a nearby nursing home with some church families.  Seeing some of the residents sing with us was sweet. 🙂

Afterword, in the afternoon, the four oldest girls went to see Les Miserables with our neighbors.  It is an amazing movie!!  If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  Redemption, Mercy, Justice, Love, and Freedom are a couple of the main themes.  I was very happy to see that the director of the film kept all the great themes the book brought out.

Les Miserables poster

Since this is Christmas time I thought I would share a few of the similarities between Les Miserables and Christianity/The Bible.

#1 I’m sorry, I have not yet memorized the names of the characters…. so bear with me.  The main character, who was put in prison because he stole bread, gets out on parole.  He then finds himself at a convent of sorts and is invited in for a warm meal and bed for the night by a kind priest.  During the night, he steals as many silver objects as he can find and runs off.  He is basically throwing insults at the people who are trying to help him out of his predicament.

In the case of Christianity, we view Jesus as the priest.  We are slaves to sin, unable to free ourselves.  We even mock God and blame Him for our woes.  When Jesus came on earth two thousand years ago, people killed Him.  But even though we continued to hate Him, He gave us another chance at redemption—even after we have insulted him.

When the main character in the movie is captured by the local law enforcement agents, he lies and says, (to paraphrase) ‘The priest gave them to me.’  Of course, the men don’t believe him for a second and they cart him back to the priest.  But here is where the story takes a surprising twist.  Instead of taking back his silver, and having the thief put in prison, he says, (again, paraphrased) “You should have stayed longer, I wanted to give you these” (while handing him two large silver candlesticks).  He then remarks that the man should make a new and honest life from the precious silver that is now his.

When Christ gives us the gift of eternal life He doesn’t just give it to us so that we can continue in our old way of living.  He wants us to begin to follow Him and (with the Holy Spirit’s help) begin to produce the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Although… we can’t steal the gift of Life from Him, like the man did in the movie. 🙂

#2 Much later in the film, the main character has the opportunity to kill the main law enforcement officer who has been after him ever since he broke his parole and became a mayor.  But, instead, he helps the man escape and shows him mercy—something the other man has never shown.

We deserve to die.  If we were only held accountable before God with the things we judge others by we would be condemned ten times over.  Jesus, however, offers us mercy and forgiveness.  I appreciate how the movie shows the difference between total justice with no mercy and justice with a merciful and forgiving spirit.  God is both loving and just.  It is a tough concept to grasp because we always want justice to be given!  If we are truly honest with ourselves, though, we should not want this all the time.  We justly deserve hell—separation from God forever because of our sin.  He loves us even in our ugliness and filth of sin, but He is just as well. He cannot simply say, ‘Your sins are gone…  I will ignore them.’  A just God can not do that.  But, a merciful, forgiving, and loving God can come up with a solution to the problem.

That is where Jesus comes in.  Because He is God’s son, He was perfect, without sin.  Because He became a man (while still being fully God), He could die for us and be our lamb offering (in the Old Testament Jewish sense).  His blood paid for our sins so that we could now come near to God and He near to us.

I could go on… the movie had so many excellent redemptive portions!!  I hope you will go see it. 🙂  The music is superb as well… and with all the emotions flying around??!  It’s an emotional film, and it will pull at your heartstrings more than once.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!!

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Thoughts on ‘Blessings’

I love the song “Blessings” by Laura Story. Several new connections (or thoughts) jumped out at me when I was re-listening to it recently.

“We pray for peace,…”

Israel and the Middle East is the first thing that comes to mind. So many lives lost on both sides. So much hatred. Because of my multi-cultural friend circle, I get to hear about it from both perspectives. The hatred is what really hit me.

Recently, a family friend and history buff visited and gave us a thirty minute condensed summary of the history of this war. Mind you, this is only the tip of the iceberg regarding this issue. I need to do more research on the topic, but for now I’ll recap what the best history teacher I know said. (Don’t quote me, I did not take notes (unfortunately) —this is simply what stood out to me).

Prior to WWII, many Jewish people started to feel the tension growing in Europe. So many of them began searching for somewhere to live and call their own. The Jews did not have a country of their own at that point. They were a spread out people group. What they did have, however, was money—in the form of family silver, heirlooms, etc. But they did not want riches. They wanted land to call their home. Several Jews came into modern day Israel (called Palestine back then). They offered to pay the Palestinians two or three times the amount their land was worth. Thinking the Jews were stupid to give so much money for the land, they happily agreed.

Gradually, the population in Palestine became more Jewish. At this point Britain said, “No more Jews are welcome to Palestine.” (Britain was in charge of that area at that point).

With nowhere else to go, the Jews continued in. Then the problems started. The Palestinians, who had fairly and enthusiastically sold their land, realized something. “We have no home now.” The other countries surrounding them did not take kindly to their Arab brothers’ plight. So they decided to go back to Palestine and buy back the land from the Jews.

I can only guess what the Jews were thinking at this point. “Wait a second… you sold us this land happily. This is our home. Now you want to buy it back again?! No way!!”

After the Jews refused to sell their land, the Palestinians decided to take matters into their own hands—or rather, their own weapons.

And that, my friends, is the five minute story of why Israel and her surrounding Middle Eastern countries hate each other (save Egypt—because they traded peace for the Sinai Peninsula) and fight over the land. Both sides have killed, and neither is innocent. But, I found this little glimpse of history to be quite enlightening on the whole topic.

“We pray for your mighty hand to ease our suffering. …”

I think about persecuted Christians around the globe. Compared to what they face every single day, we really have nothing to complain about here in the US. Yes, we have a huge national debt, businesses are being forced to provide birth control & abortion pills to their workers, and free speech is limited in many cases (unless you agree with what’s politically correct), but… we can still worship freely together with other believers on Sunday (or any other day of the week) without fearing imprisonment, fines, or beatings. We can own a Bible and not even think twice about it, when our brothers and sisters in North Korea face execution if a Bible is found in their possession.

We have so much to be thankful for, and no matter what you think of the recent political choices, we have the most religious freedoms anywhere in the world (though they are under heavy fire).

Join me in praying for Christians all around the world to hold fast to the word of God and to never lose sight of the reason we run run this race.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1-2

“All the while, You hear each spoken need.”

God knows what we need, and He always hears us.  Even if we don’t get an immediate answer—He hears.

He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
Psalm 121:3-4

“What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near?”

This reminds me of B.J. Higgins.  When this vibrant young teen, on fire for God, contracted an infection on the mission field, he used his six week opportunity to unite Christians and witness to everyone he came in contact with.  His parents knew God was near, but through this ordeal they learned to trust Him entirely—having to give God their only son.  B.J. died from the infection, but God took the seemingly hopeless and terrible situation to bring many souls nearer to Himself.

“A greater thirst, this world can’t satisfy.”

I like to play games—especially computer games.  What I have found (and sometimes forget and have to re-learn), is that no matter how good you get and no matter how long you play, it does not satisfy.  Ever.  I always want something more—the games may give a fake brief sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it does not last.  And then I am left looking for something better.  Or rather, someone better.

Things of this world will never fully satisfy.  Only a personal relationship with our creator can fill that void.

I hope you were able to take something from my insights, or just enjoy hearing the song again (or for the first time).  What thoughts strike you when you hear these lyrics?

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

Applying to College

When I was little, I dreamed about what I would grow up to do.  I didn’t realize how quickly life would fly by.  Yes, folks, I am applying to college for the Fall 2013 semester.  Let’s take a moment of silence to remember my childhood… *silence*

I’m afriad, you’ve caught me in a silly mood.  I don’t feel old enough for college, however, I do have several things I would like to do after I graduate–and college is one way I can prepare for them.

Over the past few months my future has been rather hazy, or as some people, like a bend in the road (i.e. unseeable until I arrive at the bend).  I knew (and still know) that God had/has specific plans for me, I just had no clue what they were, when they would happen, or what they would entail.

Two adventures this summer helped direct me towards my vocation.

First — My TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) 18-day certificate course in July.

Second — My 9 day trip to Ukraine.

At TESOL I discovered my love for teaching the English language.  I’ve always dreaded public speaking–even after being forced to attend several 1-day speaking classes.  So, I was almost shocked to realize that speaking about the English language to students was not only doable but also enjoyable. (of course in a good ESL classroom, the teacher does only 30% of the speaking)

I think I’ve struggled in the past with public speaking because I don’t know what to say or I urn out of things to say on the topic at hand (A rare predicament for me, since I never run out of words, even when I’m asleep).

Then, almost exactly a month later, I flew to Ukraine, not knowing what to expect.  What I saw there totally blew me away and stole my heart (in a good way).  I became deeply attached to the people I met and a strong love for the people grew quickly.  I saw many opportunities for me to serve them through my teaching and though everyday life on life service.

The orphans we visited also touched me.  When I go back to Ukraine, I want to spend more time with them and show them through my love, how much Jesus loves each one of them and how God is their heavenly Father.

Returning to the topic of today’s post, I’ve decided to apply to Moody Bible Institute–a small college in Chicago, Illinois.

Why?

1) Because they are a heavily missions minded college.

2) Because I would get a Bible Degree as well as a TESOL Degree.

3) Because they have a TESOL degree (something few colleges offer as a major).

4) Because I will be able to be close enough to home to visit on the breaks.

5) And finally, because the schooling will equip me to knowledgeably serve the Ukrainians (or anyone else God sends me to).

This weekend, during our neighborhood picnic, one of my adult friends made this comment to me.  “For some unknown reason, when you were 12 or 13 the thought crossed my mind, ‘She’ll be a missionary someday.'”

She can’t explain what made her think that, and I didn’t know about this until Sunday when she told me.  When I was 12 and 13 I had my entire life planned out (or so I thought).  I was going to become a librarian and then get married and have 12 children.  🙂

I still love libraries and children (though… 12 ????!), but now I have a heart for foreign missions.

Some of the songs we practiced in drama yesterday fit well with this post… so I’ll leave you with the lyrics.

~

The Bend in the Road

The bend in the road, unexpectedly it came our way one summer’s day.
And who could have known it would lead us here to you.

For a bend in the road can lead you to a place you’ve never known,
But a bend in the road can lead you safely home,
For a bend in the road can lead you to your home!

~

Avonlea 

(insert Ukraine for Avonlea)

Come away, come away to Avonlea.
Take my hand to this land of Avonlea.

Can you hear on the wind it whispers to me?
Like an old and dear friend,
it beckons me to travel where the flowers spill o’er the hillside to the sea.

For the young, for the old from afar going home.
No matter where I roam, my heart’s in Avonlea.

No matter where I roam, my heart’s in Avonlea.

~

Marvelous Memories! (part 2 of ??)

Memory 2:  MUSIC!!

One of the rules at VOICE is that we cannot listen to music.  We can sing or play instruments, but we can not listen to CD’s, youtube, ipods, or mp3’s.

You don’t realize how much you love something until it is taken away.  I knew I loved music (of course!) I just did not know how much I incorporated it into my daily life.

Since my room was on the top floor (#4011) I became accustomed to running up and down the stairs.  The stairwell made an awesome place to sing (because of the echo) and I sang almost every time I walked, no, ran somewhere. 🙂  That’s the other thing I discovered about myself.  When I have to get somewhere on a college campus, why walk when I can run??

My favorite parts of the week were group worship time.  All 70 (or more ?) of us would join in the auditorium.  We would pray and then anyone could go to the front and share about how they had seen God working in their life.  The testimonies really encouraged me.

Afterwords we would sing!  We sang: “Jesus, Thank you“, “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)“, “Offering“, “Rock of Ages (When the Day Seems Long)“, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us“, “How Great is Our God“, and “我的心,你要称颂耶和华“.

My favorite song was “我的心,你要称颂耶和华“.  It is always neat to sing praises to God — even in a foreign language using words you don’t understand.

Kelsey taught some of us the sign language for, “How Great is Our God,” and so we sang and signed it in front of the group one night.

Tim did an amazing job on the songs for the “Queen of the Dark Chamber” musical.  The lyrics are excellent, and although some of the songs were challenging to learn, I now cannot get their melodies and harmonies out of my head.  🙂

I’ll mention one (wait, two!!) last memory under music.

I love to listen to the piano.  Even though I can only play a few songs, I can sit for hours listening to others play.  It seems to me that almost everyone could play the piano, but I remember best: Brianne (the musical’s pianist!), Natalie, Alex, Caleb, Daniel, Erik, Eric, Jemmie, and Samuel.

One song in particular became a sort of theme song for our TESOL group.  “What Grace is Mine” by Keith and Kristyn Getty.  I’ll leave you with the lyrics.

What Grace is Mine

What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light,

Called through the night to find my distant soul.

And from His scars poured mercy that would plead for me,

That I might live and in His name be known.

~

So I will go wherever He is calling me,

I lose my life to find my life in Him,

I give my all to gain the hope that never dies,

I bow my heart, take up my cross and follow Him.

~

What grace is mine to know His breath alive in me,

Beneath His wings my wakened soul may soar,

All fear can flee for death’s dark night is overcome,

My Savior lives and reigns forevermore!

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