Finding God in Hardest Times? (Part One)

There is a moment.

That moment when the world feels like it is crashing down on your shoulders.

That moment when you are sure you are alone, no matter how many people are around you right then.

That moment when God feels so far away but you have nowhere to turn, nowhere else to go.

So you pray. But, deep in your heart are the doubts that this prayer (or any, really) is reaching God. That He even cares. The lies Satan is whispering have taken root and are spreading.

And, we hurt. Because that moment is pain. It is deep, unrelenting, excruciating pain. When all we can scream is WHY?! Why me? Why now?

This story is indirectly related to why we later homeschooled the boys, but that is not why I am starting here. Somewhere out there somebody needs to hear that God is there, even when we can’t feel Him. That our prayers are not going into thin air. That we can trust Him, even when His answer isn’t to turn back time and somehow make the bad news, in this case the diagnosis, go away.

The date was April 1, 1997. My husband was 27, I was 24. We only had two kids at the time: a 26-month-old easy-going, talkative son (Alex), and our 10.5-month-old daughter (Angela). Because Angela was our second child, her doctor,  Tim, and I noticed some red flags in her development. For example, she only weighed 14 lbs 9 oz, and was about 20 inches long (a nine-pound weight gain and only about two inches in length in 10 months). She was tiny and not growing well. She also couldn’t sit up, roll over, hold her head up, or interact with us; she choked on all solids, and she didn’t really play with toys. And, as a mom I knew, absolutely knew, there was something wrong. (Of course there were other things as well, but you get the idea.)

Angela with Grandma Lee – August 1996

So her doctor referred us to Children’s Hospital in Seattle. They sent us a schedule that had us in appointments from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. First on the list was aptitude testing, so they could get a baseline, as well as a variety of other tests throughout the day.

After being told Angela was 57% behind other kids her age, I was already feeling … lost. But, we had yet to see a doctor. So, the second appointment was with a geneticist. She walked into the room, introduced herself, and then asked us three questions. Just that. Three. Questions. She then left the room and came back less than 10 minutes later with a book. And a diagnosis.

It was that moment.

Because feeling something in your heart and being told something concrete, with proof, are two completely different things.

Now, I am not going to tell you that getting the diagnosis that your daughter has a permanent disability is the hardest news ever. Because it isn’t. After all, we could have been told so many other things. However, it was devastating and the loss of a dream.

By 3 p.m. that day, I had a raging headache and felt dazed. Too much information, too many tests, too much emotion. Honestly, it was just too much everything. And the emotional pain, I cannot describe the pain – or the guilt that seemed to come from it. Could I have done anything differently? Did I have caffeine, not get enough water, not eat enough? What did I do wrong? The moms out there know this guilt. It’s called Mom guilt, and I can tell you from years of experience, it’s a useless emotion that Satan uses to derail us.

Angela was diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS for short). This can be genetic; however, after blood testing it was concluded that hers was a mutation that occurred at conception. There was quite literally nothing we could have done differently. At the time of her diagnosis, there were 2,500 cases known worldwide (there are now more than 2,500 people in my Facebook group alone), and they didn’t yet know which gene or chromosomes were involved. There is a lot of information about those afflicted with this syndrome at www.cdls-usa.org since I could fill pages and pages with just details about it. I will also be sharing more about exactly how the syndrome has affected our lives and her medical, physical, and intellectual challenges in my next blog post.

Angela in 2014 – taken by her teacher at school one day.

And, that was just the beginning. She had more tests added to the schedule that day and over the next few days. Then, her first surgery was just 16 days after that. We went from thinking we had two healthy kids, to one healthy son and a daughter with needs we were only beginning to understand (and still struggle with, if you want the truth).

In that moment (and many others) I related to Job when he said, “I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look,” Job 30:20. I felt so alone in my grief, anger, and pain. But, just like Job, I wasn’t going through it alone. God was there the whole time. Jeremiah reminds us in Lamentations 3:55-57, “But I called on your name, Lord from deep within the pit. You heard me when I cried ‘Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!’ Yes, you came when I called; you told me, ‘Do not fear.’” Oh, thank YOU, Lord! You are there, even when we cannot feel You. You have not left us or forsaken us. There is a relief in that thought, isn’t there?

However, as you all know, prayer is hardest when your faith is weak. And, the devil strikes then! The deceiver wants us to feel alone in our pain. Have you ever felt that your prayer isn’t going past the ceiling? In a recent discussion about prayer, someone mentioned that David said in Psalm 23:4, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid; for you are close beside me. Your rod and staff protect and comfort me” (emphasis mine). What a comforting thought!! “God is right there with us,” my friend said, “listening to every word we say.” We don’t have to worry about the prayers not going past the ceiling, He is sitting with us in that moment!

I won’t lie to you and say that feeling of being alone went away quickly. It didn’t. I won’t tell you I felt God’s arms around me in that moment. I didn’t. I will tell you I did slowly start to feel less alone and could eventually feel Jesus holding me as I cried, raged, and screamed out my pain. And, I did keep my faith, even if I was hanging on with torn fingernails.

And, He is right beside you in that moment, and the next, and the one after that. Let me say that again: JESUS IS SITTING WITH YOU RIGHT NOW! The pain and anger may keep you from feeling Him, but turn to Him anyway. Our Lord is waiting with open arms, a big lap, and strong shoulders to cry on. Let Him comfort and heal you. No, it’s not an easy process, but it is worth it.

An excerpt from Footprints in the Sand, author unknown

There is so much more to tell you (and look how long this one was!) that I have to make this a two- or three-part series. So, watch for my next blog to hear more about Angela, her diagnosis, learning to cope, and learning to trust God with all of it. For now, I leave you with this thought:

Lamentations 3:20-24 (NLT)

20 I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![a]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”

Lead Me Lord, Please!

Prayer: a starting and ending point for all we do as Christians. While this post talks more about where I feel God is leading for my 2018 posts, it really is about prayer, learning to trust the paths shown to us, and following where God leads. I hope you find this encouraging, if in no other way than to at least know what is coming later in the year.

Before I start writing a blog post (or anything really), I pray. A lot. I pray for guidance, for a subject, for the right words, and most importantly I pray for each of you and each word I type. While I don’t have the right words all the time or even the subject, God does. My trust is in Him; in where he wants a blog post, skit, play, sermon, blog post, Facebook comment or post, or anything I say to go — and who HE is trying to reach.

We come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures around the world. Some of us are married, some are not. Some of us are young, and some of us (cough, cough) are not. Some of us have littles, while some of us have only teens or adult kids. Some of us are new Christians, and some of us dedicated our lives years ago. We are moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, or brothers. All of us are just doing the best we can with what we have and what we know. All of us need Jesus in our lives to do it. So, while all our experiences are not the same, we do share some commonalities, and I keep feeling led to find ways to encourage you all as you journey down the various paths you take.

When LaDonna asked for volunteers to become blog writers, I jumped at the chance. I love to write (and talk – seriously just ask anyone). I love to share about how Jesus has worked in my life. LOVE IT! He has performed more miracles than I can share in one blog post (although I will be over the course of this year). And, I love homeschooling my kids. Right before she posted her request (and I mean minutes before), I had just finished asking God to expand my horizons and lead me to a path to share my story, or more appropriately, His story through my life, with others.

The Sabbath before she posted I had given a sermon at my church, which turned out to be more of a testimony than I expected to give (in case you want to see it https://youtu.be/JRf0cirwH8A). It was a very personal sermon. But, God is in control — where he leads I follow. Always. Even when it doesn’t feel like that is the right path. Even when the sacrifice seems bigger than I can bear. Even when it hurts. And honestly, it was one of the hardest things I have EVER done. The pain was worth the result, the people reached and impacted. The sacrifice seemed trivial in comparison to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And the path ALWAYS turns out to be the right one. ALWAYS! The sermon turned out to be the right choice. Or, more accurately, saying “Yes” to God was the right choice.

Where was I? Oh, blog writing. Asking God for a path and taking said path are two very different things. He didn’t just show me a path — he practically shoved it under my nose. And to be honest, I nearly turned tail and ran! I very quickly became overwhelmed with sharing those deepest parts of me with all of you. When I finally sat down to write that first blog post, I was nervous; ok, slight understatement there, I was terrified. So, like I did before and during the writing of that sermon, or any of the dramas or skits I write for church, I prayed. I prayed because, knowing what I know about myself, how was I going to get all these ideas about God, living, homeschooling, etc. onto paper (or laptop), without seeming preachy or condescending? I have not had an easy life (and I promise to share more about that as the year progresses). I wasn’t raised Adventist and I am far from the perfect Christian woman. I am not the best mother ever created. I have made and will continue to make more than my fair share of mistakes with my kids and in my marriage. Who am I to try and encourage each of you in your walks with Jesus and through homeschooling?

I put my heart and soul into my writing. It is a true expression of my innermost feelings. All my fears, regrets, pain, joy, love, and encouragement go into every word I write. Whether I am letting you know you are not alone in homeschooling, trying to get you off the worry path, or helping you find ways back into the Word, these are all things I have either experienced or am currently experiencing. Although, I did manage to not truly share myself in those posts.

I have been feeling convicted to go deeper. That what you really need and what I haven’t done yet, is share with you who I am and how God has worked in my life. I haven’t shared how or why we came to homeschool our boys. I have mentioned I have a child with a profound disability, but not how this has truly changed our lives. You don’t know I deal with chronic depression and PTSD from childhood abuse and how I cope with that. I haven’t explained how I survived, faith intact. How Jesus and getting into His Word literally saved my life. And more importantly, how I regained my trust in God afterwards. You don’t know how often I retreat into books rather than dealing with frustrations, anger, or worries. You don’t know that I struggle with parenting, marriage, homeschooling, my faith, or physical and emotional pain. You don’t know that I am or have been where many of you are now. Yet.

While telling all of you these things won’t be the easiest path I have ever taken, I do know that God is not only with me on this path, he guided me to it and is carrying me down it. While I don’t know or understand His reasons for me sharing these pieces of myself over the coming months, He does. I know that His ways are good and true and that He has not only my best interest in mind, but yours as well.

Credit: https://i2.wp.com/www.jeremybrummel.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/study-862994_1280.jpg?resize=350%2C200&ssl=1

So, whoever you are — the one(s) God is trying to reach — I pray for you as I write these words down. I will continue to pray for each of you as I share the good, bad, and ugly of my journey to this point. There will be tears and pain, but there will also be release, joy, and love. At church, we have a saying about our big productions. “If only one person’s life is changed by what we have put together, then all the time, effort, skill, and work that has gone into it was absolutely worth every drop of sweat and tear shed. We are merely the vessel for God’s word to touch those around us.” I am the vessel of God, so I will share these things with you and pray.

Ultimately, my prayer is that you are blessed and enriched by my words and thoughts. That Jesus should lead and guide each letter I type. That He will protect my heart and mind as I share and my story will somehow bless you in your journey. I ask that you join me in prayer, and that our faith and trust in God will grow through this shared experience.

Time With Jesus

The new year is coming. I have friends who make resolutions and plans to lose weight, exercise, eat better, work harder, get a new job, or change their life. Ugh. I do not make resolutions. I break those within minutes of midnight. I do, however, make goals — goals to be a better person than I was the year before. Yes, even goals to lose weight, eat better, and exercise. But, my most important goal is to continue my walk with Jesus and to be closer to God. While these general goals never change, this year I want to make it with intent. And honestly, this came up because I have let my personal worship time suffer.

The devotional book is 5 Minutes with Jesus by Sheila Walsh. It literally takes five minutes to read that days devotion.

One Sabbath in September I was wearing multiple hats at church. I was worship coordinator, the six-minute social volunteer (a fellowship time right after the service), and I even stopped in my Juniors class (for about a minute). From the time I got to church until I left that afternoon, I focused on the details: who was moving this, who was playing here, who needed mics, getting the attendance count, and setting up juice and crackers. And, you know what? By the time I walked into my house after church, I had walked 5000 steps (approx. 2.5 miles) – AT CHURCH!

I did a lot, but do you know what I didn’t do? Listen to the sermon. Oh, I caught a few minutes of it, but I didn’t get much nourishment that morning. I didn’t even get a chance to open my Bible, something I find myself saying a lot throughout my week. And, I crave that relationship with my best friend, Jesus! I want it. I need it. I long for the time and the energy, to be honest, to fellowship with Jesus. I must find time to spend in the Word and in prayer.

Taken Aug. 5, 2017. From left to right: Me, Alex – my newly married son, Geovana – my new daughter-in-law, Angela (21), Tim – my husband, Aaron (17), Adam (15).

Like all of you, my life is busy. My oldest got married this last summer, but I still have three kids at home. Angela, 21, has a profound developmental delay and medical issues. Sadly, this means she is a toddler in mind and an adult in body. So, her care is 24/7/365. Sometimes balancing her needs and the needs of the rest of the family is difficult. My two youngest boys are 15 and 17, and of course I am still homeschooling. Between their homeschooling, volunteer work, youth group participation, and Boy Scouts — and since neither one drives yet — these are also my things to deal with. Every Friday right now I teach two classes at our local faith-based homeschool co-op to kids ages 12-18. I have even started volunteering at the local church-school every Tuesday morning to help in the library. Then there are chores, bills, shopping, etc. You get the idea.

OH! I forgot one – I am a student. I am back in college myself now and maintaining a 3.7 GPA. And, I am supposed to find time to exercise, eat right, cook healthier meals, spend time with my husband, and be with friends from time to time.

Yes, we have seasons in life where we are busier than others, but Satan is always there with an excuse we can conveniently use. When all four of my kids were little, I had the excuse that I was too busy with them. As they have gotten older, I have had new reasons to not focus on that most important relationship. I tell myself I am too busy, I don’t have time, that my life is too full.

We cannot be lights in this world (Matt 5:14) if we don’t understand the true “light” we have been given. How can we truly love what we don’t know? The Word is our greatest defense, our deepest joy, and our most sincere love.

His Word is our food — our spiritual food, yes, but it is as necessary to us as breathing. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” So, if we are not spending time reading His Word, learning His character, finding that trust, finding that spiritual renewal – how can we KNOW Jesus? Because, as John goes on to say in verses 2-5, “He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” The Word is Jesus, Jesus is the Word.

So, how do we find time in our schedules to meet with God. Well … just that way — we schedule a meeting with God. I have a friend who gets up early every morning to spend time in the Word and with Jesus before she goes to the gym and then goes to work. Another friend says to Jesus every day, “Let’s do lunch.” I know a couple that studies and prays together in the evenings, after they have put the kids to bed.

Another friend who homeschools her seven children and helps her husband with their ministry, recently told me she felt like she was drowning. She was struggling in her personal worship life. After some prayer and talking to a friend, she decided to start getting up at 4:30 every morning. Yes, I said morning, now pick up your jaw! She takes that time every morning and studies and prays. And, you know what? God BLESSES that time. She has the energy to teach, play with, and enjoy her kids and husband all day long every single day, because she chooses to get up and spend that time with Him.

If you just cannot find 15 minutes or more in one block, that’s OK. Spread it out. Even five minutes while in the bathroom (yes, I hide there too) can influence the rest of our day. Read a Bible verse while the eggs cook or while sitting in the car waiting for a kid. Consider listening to the Bible; find an app that will read it to you while you are vacuuming or resting. Take advantage of nap time, PE, or other time when the kids do not need direct supervision, and read a page from a devotional. And, don’t forget to pray throughout your day while doing the dishes, driving, or dusting. Do what you must to get that few minutes in the Word and with our Savior; He will bless those minutes. And once you start, you will find you have more time than you thought.

Jesus desires that relationship with us as much as we do with Him. There is a craving in each of us, a hole in our hearts, a hole that can only be filled by Jesus. He went to the cross with intent — intent to save us. We can set aside time in our lives with purpose and intent to spend with Him.

Let it go, let it go, let it go … Let the worry go

We homeschool our kids; therefore, we worry about our kids. Right? Wait, shouldn’t that say we are parents; therefore, we worry about our kids? We also homeschool; therefore, we worry about our kids, their schooling, curriculum, nutrition, money, bills, food, clothes … in short EVERYTHING! Hmm, no, something is still wrong with that statement. After all, we don’t have the monopoly on worry, do we? I have friends who are working parents, and they worry about EVERYTHING. And, other friends who are stay-at-home parents and send their kids to a brick-and-mortar school, and they worry about EVERYTHING! So, it seems that first sentence should say, “We are human; therefore, we worry about EVERYTHING.”

As homeschoolers (Ok, parents/grandparents to young children), we get up running. There is food prep for the day, lessons to plan, and our own time with God, before they get up. Then the first thing we do is start worrying about getting the “proper” (whatever that means) breakfast into our kids. Then we start working on getting our worship time in, chores done, and school started for the day. But, little Suzy wakes up in a mood, and so it looks like it’s going to be “one of those days” for the whole house. So, now we worry about why Suzy is in a bad mood, whether we can afford to take the day off school, and whether her mood will affect Joey and Billy. And, all of this before lunch. Sigh. That day’s lunch becomes the pizza found in the back of the freezer. While they eat, we worry if we can get Suzy to do her math, Billy to work on penmanship, and Joey needs to work on his algebra. But the arguments start, and it seems the mood has indeed infected the rest of the kids. The stress mounts and so does our frustration. Our spouse gets home, only to find a dirty house, the kids fighting, and no dinner, which sometimes becomes a new set of stressors. The prediction rang true – It really was “one of those days”.

When we finally go to bed that night, after reading 18,000 bedtime stories to Suzy (so she will pretty please just go to sleep, already!), we are wiped out. But, of course, now we can’t sleep, no matter how tired we are! Our brain is spinning in circles. It has decided we need to relive every conversation we have ever had, go over the grocery list for tomorrow, next summer’s vacation, and curriculum for 2019. SIGH! So, we lay in bed staring at the ceiling, our spouse peacefully sleeping beside us (which, let’s face it, we resent) and worry. About EVERYTHING!

Credit: http://soulinmotiononline.blogspot.com/2010/12/good-worrying.html

Worry is exhausting! It becomes frustration, resentment, and stress. The stress often translates into yelling, lashing out, bad moods, and crankiness for everyone in the house. And, the longer it goes on, the harder it is to break the cycle.

Worry is a human trait and we carry it like a badge of honor. However, and this is important … that is NOT how God has asked us to live. In Matt 6:25-34, Jesus asks us to trust him and rely on him for those needs such as shelter, food, and clothes. God takes care of the birds in the air and Jesus even goes as far as to remind us that we mean so much more to God than the birds. Jesus said, “… I tell you not to worry about everyday life …” in verse 25. And, He goes on to remind us that our “heavenly father already knows all your needs” in verse 32. Now isn’t that a comforting thought! We serve a faithful and loving God, and He loves us so much that He will provide our every need!

Credit: https://achristianpilgrim.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/matthew-6-33-34.jpg

Of course, this isn’t going to stop us from worrying about all of this. It does, however help us to focus upwards when we have those bad days. God is ever-faithful and that was proven when He sent Christ to die for us on the cross.

Phil 4:6-7 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

We have been directed to turn our worries to God. To not only give Him the burdens, but trust Him completely with them. Which, of course, means not yanking the worry, fear, pain, or problem back to deal with on our own! I have used the analogy that I sent my prayers to God in a balloon, but I keep the string attached to my wrist, so if I don’t feel He is working fast enough for me, then I can yank it back and take care of it for myself! (Can you say control issues?) The problem with that method is two-fold. First off, it means I don’t have the trust in my Savior, Jesus Christ — trust I should have for someone who gave himself over in sacrifice for my sins! The second issue is that yanking it back causes more stress or worries to build up. I am not gaining anything, well, except wrinkles and weight, by not giving these issues to God. I am, however, losing sleep, peace, and joy.

I fully believe we were led by the Holy Spirit to homeschool our three boys. It was not an easy decision, and there was a lot of worry about curriculum, money, what people would think, and yes, even socialization. But we chose to take a leap of faith and all the worrying in the world wouldn’t make it any easier. I had to trust God in this.

I learned a lot about trusting God in the years we have been homeschooling. There were seasons of fear about food, clothes, bills, and shelter. But, even in the hardest times and darkest days, God provided the food, clothes, and shelter we needed. My worry was not welcome, not needed, and only served to make me sick.

Credit: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSPSMVtHV_Kx_XtdHWV6MzvBu2QtOldtfzqdREwrrcKNOQ4pCbW

There is a simple joy in letting go. A definite peace in giving all of that to God. A freedom in knowing Jesus has me in His arms. That in His loving embrace I can rest and trust He will meet my family’s needs.

International Service — A Personal Outlook

Malawi Camp GLOW

My girls and I at Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Malawi

From the age of nine through my senior year in high school, I had the opportunity to go on six short-term mission trips. In my junior year of college, I studied abroad for a few months. After college I lived in Malawi for a year and a half as a Peace Corps volunteer. I am here to share with you my experiences.

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A Sabbath afternoon hike to a cave in Honduras

I always had a burning desire to travel. I thought it was a glorious thing! Travel is still wonderful, but I’ve learned the value of the closeness of family and friends, and that I don’t need to go far, far away to be “valuable” or “successful.” I’ve proven my independence and have learned a great deal about myself in the process.

An article by Tarja Parssinen, entitled “We’re not meant to do this alone: American individualism is destroying our families,” had a quote to which I related: “It’s as if Americans must always be Lewis and Clark on a brave embarkation, and if we’re not, we are provincial, frightened, and uneducated. Unlike our ancestors, young people today are not concerned with America’s place in the world. Instead, we ask ourselves, ‘What is my place in the world?’”

I definitely started out being a stereotypical American individualist, but now value and respect the collectivist culture of other countries. Probably I still have individualist qualities, but I think I have achieved a balance, and that is always the preferred state with most things.

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Buying greens at the local market in Malawi

If you ask, “Should I send my kid on an overseas mission trip?” I would 99 percent of the time say “Yes!” But, it may not be for the reasons you would expect. Yes, it is for an honorable cause, to help the less fortunate, but that isn’t the only reason, nor is it the most significant thing that will happen. There is no way that a person can go into this type of service without coming out changed. The opportunity to see a new way of life, have a new cultural experience, make lots of new friends, and learn to love the unpredictable…is priceless.

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There were so many incredible experiences and learning experiences:

  • Not ever being sure of how things would work out, but they always would
  • Having faith in my fellow man while hitchhiking in Africa
  • Driving, seemingly aimlessly, around the savannas of Guyana in the middle of the night
  • Sleeping on a very narrow wooden church pew on a hot night with mosquitoes buzzing around
  • Washing girls’ hair with a water hose, treating for lice, and giving them pretty new hair clips and combs
  • Being put under house arrest while under the investigation of Hugo Chavez’s government
  • Backpacking, just able to put one foot in front of the other

Things didn’t always go according to plan, but those were some of the most memorable experiences.

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Hiking Mt. Roraima on the Venezuela side

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I made it to the top!

Sometimes I look back and wonder what it was that I accomplished? Well the truth is this — maybe not much. But, that’s okay. Sometimes we have to lower our expectations. That’s not something you typically tell your children. Usually parents say, “You can be whatever you want, you can reach the stars,” which is an awesome, positive message and should be encouraged. The thing is…you can’t expect to always achieve whatever it is you set out to do. It may be that you started out with unrealistic expectations, not through any fault of your own, just that you didn’t have the whole picture. It could be cultural differences, not taking into account the other “human” factors in the equation, or that God had a different plan. I may never be able to measure my impact on others, but I know that my life was changed, in a big way, by the gracious people who befriended me.

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Waiting for a ride to my village in Malawi

I look back on all the mistakes I’ve made, and one specific incident sticks out in my mind. I was a speaker for an evangelistic series in the Ukraine when I was 16. I was so nervous at one point that I skipped an entire page of slides of essential information on the topic “Who is the Beast?” I can only pray that God blessed this talk in His own way. Maybe it did have an impact on someone, but I won’t find out until heaven, and it will certainly not be to any “glory” of my own.

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Teaching a health lesson in Malawi

Some trips were very adrenaline filling, especially the short term trips where we rushed in to “save the world.” At one point on a trip, we had kids lining up for our autographs! And, we obliged. Looking back on that, was that really the message we were there to send? Probably not. But, it’s easy to get caught up in the glory of being a “famous American.” And yet, the job isn’t always glorious. On one trip I remember being stuck on the clean-up crew after meals instead of being at the job site. In naivete I complained that I should be able to help with the “real work.”

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Hanging out and eating sugar cane in Malawi

Additionally, there was often a layer of hidden danger that, as a naive traveler, I was unaware of. There were forces at work to stop the job we were there to do. In a way this goes to show that God was using us to do His good work.

  • Priests from other churches working to shut us down
  • Being accused of spying for the U.S. Government
  • Kids chasing us with rocks because they wanted more candy (because they were hungry, and the only way to cut that hunger was by sniffing airplane glue)

There was even more danger to workers who lived in the countries we visited. Soon after a trip to the Ukraine, we found out that the pastor we had worked with was shot and killed by one of the teenage boys we had come in contact while there. The struggles are real: drugs, spiritual war, poverty, poor hygiene, lack of water, and on and on. We take many things for granted in everyday life. Once in a while a reality check can be very grounding.

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A village girl in Venezuela

Preparing for experiences like these are impossible. Even if I knew then what I know now, I doubt it would have changed any of my decisions. That is a blessing. I value all the friends I made, all of the “unknowns,” the tough adventures.

My message to you is this: Find a purpose in whatever it is you are tasked to do, and relish the experience.