Monday, March 6, 2017

It's New and It's Good

The first of the five phrases that keep playing over and over in my mind, the truth getting stuck in my head  that I feel like I can share with you and make some sense out of is this one, "It's new and it's good."

These flowers are new and they're very good :-) 

A few months ago I was sending text messages with a dear mentor and friend who lives all the way on the other side of the world from where I am, but this friend is so good at continuing to track with what's going on in my life and my heart so when we get the chance to talk it's as if we saw each other last week. I'm blessed and grateful to have such people in my life. On the occasion that this phrase came up I was beginning a new teaching season with new students (hoping they would enjoy the curriculum I've developed and feeling a bit nervous about so much Khmer speaking after a 3 month break from teaching!), had just started working with my new personal assistant (and was praying that we would build a good rapport with each other), my good friend and roommate for the past 2 years had just made the decision about going back to America (and I was already missing her and trusting that God will provide either a new roommate or that He will help me get everything He has for me out of a season of not having a roommate) and I was beginning to drink deeply from the Truth of my identity in God's kingdom like I never had before (which has come with some heavy resistance from the enemy...).

I was typing things like this, "It's just so new and I don't know what to expect and I'm scared and I feel so out of control and I don't know how to do it right and I want to go back to the way things used to be but not really and I'm still scared..." I was more uncertain about things than I've been in years. I found myself up against GIANTS that I'd never had to face before and it left me scared, desperate and in need of God's voice like I've never been before.

"It is new. It is all so new and unknown." my wise and sweet friend replied, "and... it is good, too".

And during the pause after I read those words my spirit was able to calm everything else in me. Because when we feed our spirit Truth then it can do what it was made to do which is live fully alive, in abundance, dependent on Him to guide and give peace that surpasses all understanding. Romans 8:5-6, "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what the sinful nature desires; but those who live according to the Holy Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Holy Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace."

"...and it is good, too." Yes. It is. Everything God does is for His glory and our good. I remembered, then, some of the other seasons of "new" I've come through with God and was able to see that now when I look back on those times I can recognize how He was glorified through them and how they benefited me in growing closer to Him, continuing to become more like Jesus and being able to trust Him more and more and more....

Fast forward to right now, today I had that phrase cross my mind a few times...
-God is using people in my life to show me what His love looks like in ways I've never ever experienced before... it's new and it's good because I'm recognizing Him in ways I've never seen Him before and as I see His love through them and am able to call it love and not pity it flows to some deep, deep places in me that have never experienced His love and I am changed, I am healed and I am filled with the fruit of His Spirit in those places.
-Some deep, deep wounds are being healed by God's love... it's new and it's good because as wounds receive healing I can walk in confidence, in freedom, in joy-those things reflect His glory and I like them a lot!
-Another season of not having a roommate has begun... it's new and it's good because I'm learning even more about what community with others looks like and what communion with Him looks like.
-I've begun a season of replacing some old things (spiritually, emotionally, even materially) with new ones... it's new and it's good because I want all He has for me so I'll let go of the old (okay, reality is that sometimes I'm very reluctant to let go, pray for me that my grip gets looser) and receive the new.
-Upcoming plans to visit America are different then they've ever been during the past 7 years... it's new and it's good because I'm discovering more and more about how to take each little step with Him instead of having to have the whole thing planned out in my mind.
-The church that I not only attend but also work with has just moved into an incredible new location! There are so many opportunities to build relationships with people who don't know Jesus yet and it's going to be lots of fun to watch God's plan unfold in that place. It's also a totally new physical environment that I cannot navigate on my own and in reality probably won't get to a point where I can simply because of things that move every  hour like motos, people and plastic stools in the aisles. Me and Jesus are finding the good in this part of it too because I know He has good in every part of my life.

And.... Here's the part where I take a deep breath..... This needs to be my new "normal". The one thing that is going to stay the same forever is God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). As long as I'm following Him, committed to hearing His voice about decisions I make, then I can be confident that every time I face something new it will also be something good. I can be confident.

We. Can. Be. Confident.                                                                                          

Things are new and they're really good.
Things have been new and they've been so good.
Things will be new and they'll be even better.

And, I'll keep reminding myself of His goodness in the past so I can go forward with confidence. I'll keep letting His love reach the places it needs to (and I'll keep learning to say "sorry" when I'm not so good at I can actually receive what He's giving through His family), I'll keep fighting for the Truth and I'll humbly receive help when I need it.... Because I know that God will help me in ways that will probably be new but will certainly be good.   

What about you? Is God doing anything "new and good" in your life? Keep your heart open so you can look for the good and find it when He reveals it. God always does good things but, maybe it's not new, maybe you know His ways; and every time He responds in the good way you know He will it's a sweet reminder for you of who He is....celebrate those things, my friends, celebrate them!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Getting Truth Stuck In My Head

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Or, maybe it's been even worse than that and you've had a jingle from a tv commercial stuck in your head? Some people tell me that when they have lyrics sticking around for a while it is helpful to actually sing the whole song, listen to the whole song or watch the commercial and then it will be done with. But, that just doesn't happen for me! Although, to be honest, I don't usually try singing the song because that would not be pleasant for anyone besides Jesus :-)

Sometimes words get stuck in my brain like that, just words though, there's no music to go with them. The enemy of my life, and yours -Satan, really likes to use this tool against me because he knows that our beliefs are effected by our thoughts so he tries to get us to focus on thoughts that are not beneficial for our lives. And, the longer I walk with Jesus the more I'm learning how to fight back.

God created all wisdom though so this strategy actually belongs to Him and us. That's why studying, meditating on and memorizing the Bible is so important in our spiritual lives. It's a tool God has given us that we can use to push back the evil one. God must absolutely love it when we get His Truth stuck in our minds!

Some of the words of Truth that God, and His family have helped me fight for

Recently I've had 5 phrases that are on repeat in my mind and they came from God.  They began in November last year. I'm going to tell you what they are now but, I'll give you details about them in other posts. So, can you all be patient with me as I continue to figure out what they really mean? I'll tell you more when I can. It'll be worth the wait, God has promised me that.

Take a deep breath.... Here are the 5:
"It's new and it's good."
"I'm loved, not pitied."
"God kept me alive because He chose me and me set me apart, not independence."
"The truth about family is that it is built out of two way relationships."
"I'm a daughter."

Okay, so for me those are actually rather intense declarations. Like full of meaning, full of transformation for everything about the way I live my life. That's why I can only try to tell you about one at a time. Oh yeah, that and the fact that I'm discovering new things about each of those E.V.E.R.Y single day right now.

I know that they came from God, but it is a serious war to hang onto them. Each of them runs through my mind at least 3 times a day and each time I have to decide if I will hold onto the Truth in it or if I'll just let it fall to the ground.  Some days it takes a lot of effort to grab the Truth and hold on.

Sometimes.... it's not easy at all. During those times I'm distracted by the enemy or I've heard one too many lies whispered in my ear and not rejected them or I've been reminded through something during the day that independence and pride feel really good or the not fully healed parts of the unloved, unprotected, unheard kid in me tries to be the boss...

But, God is so good, so kind, so patient, so fiercely on our side that He knows exactly what we need AND He gives it to us! So, the Holy Spirit brings to remembrance the Truth I've heard, the Truth I've seen, the Truth I'm learning (John 14:26).
He does this 
through Bible reading, 
through prayer, 
through family, 
through friends, 
through mentors, 
through sermons, 
through movies, 
through Facebook posts.... 
God uses any way He wants to send those Truths my way lately and then it crosses my mind multiple times a day. Sometimes, I'm awesome at grabbing it, I take hold and don't let go, I know I need it and I am humbly positioned to take it! Those are sweet moments. 

Lord, help us to recognize the many ways You send Your Truth and then show us how to grab onto it with everything we have! Help us to quickly reject the lies, help us to humbly receive the Truth and help us to allow others to fight alongside us so that we may be able to join the fight for them when they need it, too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dreaming in Cambodia

I am posting this here because as I prepare to visit a few cities in the next few months I wanted to make sure that everyone had the most up to date information about what I am doing and what I'm hoping for this year!

Hello friends!
Merry Christmas and happy new year! It was so fun to enter all of your names in the "send to" field and think about each of you and your families and how you might be spending your holiday time this year.  I'm really very blessed to have you as part of this amazing story God is putting together with my life! 

This was my 6th Christmas in a row that I spent outside of the US (5 in Cambodia and 1 in India)! Cambodia has become a home in so many ways but, I think since I grew up in New York I'll always miss the cold weather, hot chocolate and fancy decorations that I always associated with November-January... If you're around such things, enjoy them a bit more for me, too!

2016 has been FULL of so many new things and experiences as it was my first year working with NewLife Fellowship teaching with their internship program. I can tell you with confidence that I LOVE my job! God's plan and timing of transition for me has turned out to bring so many new reasons for joy and fulfillment. I look forward to teaching each class I have (they're between 4 students to 29 students depending on the day and subject) and am always praying, "Lord, please let this lesson, these words and this time together change these students forever as they discover more of You." 
It's also wonderful that I get to keep my relationships with HPC Khmer staff and foreigners, they'll always be part of my life :-) 

I want you all to know that I am immensely encouraged by your prayers for me.  The fruit of them is evident in the favor I've built with Khmer friends, the amazing protection I've experienced from both sickness and harm as well as the ways that I've been so abundantly blessed so that I am able to give to others and even run my own course and not have to ask the Khmer church here for finances.  I really am blessed to be a blessing as Abraham was and it's a privilege to do so here. THANK YOU!!!

As i look ahead to 2017 I'm really excited about all of the opportunities I can see God putting in front of me:
-I have hired a personal assistant. Her name is Sokchea and she was one of my students last year.  She helps me develop Curriculum and teach 3 and a half days per week and the other 2 days she helps me with things that are super hard for a visually impaired person to do on their own in Phnom Penh (grocery shopping, paying bills, buying supplies for teaching, going to various places for meetings...).  She has known Jesus for a little over 2 years, is the first in her family to begin following Him and I LOVE having the opportunity to invest in her in such a personal way! 
-I have begun (once every two months) translating sermons at my church from Khmer to English! So, any time there are English speakers in our church services I am the one preaching the sermon for them! This is SO challenging and keeps both me and my amazing Khmer teacher on our toes!!! 
-I would like to take Sokchea to a conference about spiritual revival in Asia this January in Thailand.  It will be her first time out of Cambodia!!! The cost for her travel, lodging and conference attendance will come to $600.
-I am co-leading a small group of Khmer young adults at church with the purpose of getting to know God and each other. This is the first small group of this focus and I love being part of their lives.  
-I have been in Cambodia for almost 7 YEARS (what??!!??! I know, it's been so long already...) and am strongly considering FINALLY purchasing some wooden bookshelves, a real cupboard for dishes, pots and pans (right now, I use a wicker shelf) and maybe even a couch someday :-)
-I get so excited when I think about my  students and all the ways they are going to grow and change as they experience more and more of Jesus throughout the year! 
-I am honored to be a board member for a ministry here that was started 3 and a half years ago by some of my very good Cambodian friends.  My heart, literally, leaps as I have more and more opportunities to empower and equip Khmer people to know that they have something to offer to their own people! 
-I will visit the States during 2017!!! 

There is one more thing I am dreaming about and that is being able to attend the wedding of a dear friend in America in June 2017.  I hope to be in the states beginning in April and come back to Cambodia after the wedding in June. This will mean that I will leave my responsibilities here for a while (good thing I hired a personal assistant!) and that I would need a bit of extra funding this coming year to provide for travel and other expenses while in the states during June. 

So many great things going on and lots of BIG dreams for things to come! I do need some more partners who can give financially in order to continue at the pace I'm going and to see some of these fun things He's put in my heart come to fruition. Let me know if you'd like to give on a monthly basis or as a one time donation and I'd be happy to get you the info you need! 

Please stay in touch with what is going on through my blog ( as well as the Facebook group, "Yvonne's Stories From Cambodia". I would love to hear from you so if you have any questions or encouragement don't hesitate to send a reply!

Following my Redeemer,
Yvonne Stiles 

Following my Redeemer,

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas to Me

It's almost 11pm on Christmas night here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and it has been a very sweet day... i spent about an hour with Jesus first thing this morning followed by a quick and cherished video chat with one of my younger brothers in New York, then my roommate, and I had cinnamon rolls (a true luxury of imported goodness!) and coffee while we opened gifts that her parents had left for us after their visit a few weeks ago and the grand finale of the morning was when we had BACON with breakfast (and eggs and grits....but, seriously, compared to BACON they're not really worth mentioning)!!! I got a phone call from my brother in the middle of his super busy day just to say, "hey, merry Christmas!" Then I spent the afternoon and evening with a missionary family here who will be leaving in July and we watched Christmas movies, some Jimmy Fallon clips and just enjoyed each others company and air conditioning.  And, just before I sat down to type, I accomplished washing two sinks full of dishes (and I'm feeling quite victorious about that one!).  A very sweet, joyful day...

Such a glaring contrast from how Christmas was spent when i was a child.... Back then I was surrounded by people who didn't know Jesus, didn't value family moments and couldn't seem to get through a holiday without some sort of domestic violence... I came to dread most major holidays because I knew they meant upheaval at home and school was closed which meant no place of refuge.

But, this year? I'm kind of, a bit, shocked at how the day went.... I wasn't looking for such a sweet day. I didn't pray for it, didn't try very hard to make something happen but yet it all did happen... God gave me gifts that went straight to my heart... Gifts like time with Jesus, a video call with a brother I haven't seen in years, gifts were peacefully opened, there was yummy food and coffee, I received a phone call from my brother here in Cambodia in the middle of his super busy day just because he wanted to call, I spent time with friends that was filled with laughter even as we talked about the "crazy" that was Christmas during our childhoods...

God gives such good gifts because He knows our hearts!!! He delights in giving us exactly what He knows we desire even when we aren't sure what we desire... 

And, this year I even found myself enjoying some of the things I thought I'd never really enjoy. The preparation, the build up of the Christmas season....I enjoyed it, found things about it that brought me life and delight! A fresh pine tree scented candle, the purchase of a Christmas tree that is taller than me, decorating that tree, wrapping gifts for friends, teaching about advent, watching Christmas movies with friends throughout December... I found myself excited instead of anxious and I really like that contrast.

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays (along with Easter and my birthday...).  For me, it's the celebration of God choosing relationship and that means so, so, so MUCH to me.  I am one of the most relational people, always choosing people over task and learning to appreciate the ones around me who can help me reach goals! A few months ago I wrote a blog About how much i treasure relationship....

Jesus is God, He always has been and always will be. He has always had the power for victory over sin and death. But, the way He chose to use and display that power, that's what I love about Christmas! He chose to come as one of us, to experience what we experience in this fallen world, to know our emotions.... He chose to put Himself in a position of dependence as an infant.  He chose to endure pain and sickness (these things are not sin but the result of sin in this world and I believe Jesus experienced them as we do). Because He came as a human, because of Christmas, I have a God, a Savior, who knows what I feel because He chose humility... I LOVE Christmas because in it I am convinced that Jesus wants to know my heart, that He can handle anything that comes at us together, there is nothing He hasn't felt already so I don't need to feel alone... He knows me.... And, even with all of His knowledge of the poor choices I'll make, the moments I'll let my feelings speak louder than His truth, the times I'll forget His love for me, even in all of this He still chose to come at Christmas as a baby, just like one of us... His love is too great for me to comprehend.

I'm so glad that because God created me with such high value for relationship, for being known,Christmas has become one of my favorites. I love celebrating that I have a Savior who understands me and wants to know me, it truly is an amazing gift to have been given by God. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ready for Rain

When I was a kid I enjoyed the rain so much! When we went outside while it was raining I got to wear my bright purple, shiny, slick plastic raincoat and rain boots to match, there were umbrellas to twirl around and I would jump in EVERY puddle no matter how big or small! The movement and splashes made me laugh and feel alive.  Rainy days usually meant watching Disney movies while eating Top Ramen soup and grilled cheese.  The predictable warm food and laughter made me feel secure and safe. Walks along New York City streets during the rain were visually exciting as I watched reflections of car headlights zoom along wet pavement. Thunder and lightning though....not so fun as a kid, but God has redeemed those wonders!

Living in Cambodia has given me new appreciation for rain. I have friends whose families are rice farmers and they depend on rain in ways I never did. The rain is a necessity for them to be able to provide not only for their personal families, but for many other families as well. The ground needs the rain if it is going to be able to produce its crop. 

It is much the same in our own personal lives. Our hearts represent ground, they are the places where things grow. We choose what kind of seeds we allow to be put in our ground and then we care for those seeds and they grow. 

"He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills." -Psalm 147:8

Hopefully, we choose good seeds and we use our influence to give good seeds to others.  Seeds that will give us fruit such as love, peace, faith, joy, wisdom, generosity, kindness towards others, deeper intimacy with God, desire to serve, passion to see people know Him more....this is the kind of fruit I long to be produced in my life.  They grow well, they are healthy for the heart, they make the ground soft and ready to receive more. 
Unfortunately, sometimes the seeds we allow in the ground that is our hearts and lives are not the good kind. And, sometimes, when we are young, the grown ups around us allow harmful seeds to fall in our fields. Seeds that produce bitterness, anger, doubt, fear, selfishness, pride, jealousy, independence... These are not good for the ground of our hearts and lives, they become rocks and thorns that make our hearts hard and slower to receive what God wants to produce. 

It's our job to make sure our own heart, the ground we've been given is ready to receive growth. 
When rain falls growth happens. 
Only God can send the rain. 
Only He knows how much we need for our ground. 
He won't give us too much; we won't drown. 
He won't give us too little; we won't lack. 
We don't need to fear the rain; it's His blessing. 
If our hearts aren't ready the blessing won't be received.

"He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful." -Isaiah 30:23

God and I, we're working on preparing the ground of my heart for the blessing He wants to give, the growth that will surely happen when its season is here. I've had many seasons of preparing, receiving and growth in the past so that gives me confidence and hope like never before during this season of preparing. I didn't know until-through some friends, some words, some experiences, some prayers, some reading- God helped me see that there's an entire section of my heart, our ground-mine and Jesus'-that was not prepared to receive His rain. In fact, as I've let Him guide me I've been discovering giant boulders of unforgiveness, stones of fear, thorns of insecurity...just to name a few... And He is helping me break them down, throw them far and pull them out so our ground can receive that rain of blessing and growth can take place. 

I'm looking forward to the rain, I've always liked it :-)

And, do you think your ground is ready? What would He have you do to prepare for the rain and then the growth?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Choosing to Live Loved

A few months ago I wrote a post called, Live Loved.  The moment of revelation described in that post changed my life, but the moment wasn't the end.  God spoke to me that day in March but it has been up to me to choose to live out of His revealed truth or to say it's too hard and continue on in what was so comfortable and easy.  I know that the enemy of my soul wants to see me live all tangled up in lies about being pitied instead of the freedom given by the Truth of Jesus' love for me.


I am determined to choose redemptive Truth as I come face to face with shadowy lies.
I am persistent in choosing to view my circumstances through His eternal perspective instead of seeing through my very limited viewpoint.
I am diligent in choosing to search for His goodness instead of simply taking things just as they are on the surface.
I am steadfast in choosing to count my blessings instead of being overwhelmed by the schemes of the enemy.
I choose to be grateful for each moment when I'm able to recognize His love and goodness instead of desperate in the moments of lonlieness and struggle.
I choose to be joyful in the restorative times shared with friends who have become family instead of hopeless for what has been stolen.
I choose to be passionate in standing with Him for the victory He promises instead of being weary when faced with the battle.
I choose to be resilient as I tell mountain after mountain after mountain to leave in Jesus' name instead of allowing the obstacles to steal my will to keep going forward.

I need to speak and write these declarations -often!- to remind my soul of the things that matter. I need others to hear and see these declarations so that we can remind each other.  I need God to breathe these declarations into me -over and over and over again...- so that I can continue living loved.

In the day to day of life this means choosing to cherish moments, words, experiences that God gives to show me that He hears these declarations and the He is faithful to provide for the dreams He breathes into my soul...

God reminds me that He hears and will be faithful to fulfill in so many ways...  It is my job (and yours) to choose to see His faithfulness and to even find it in the small things.  During the past few months I've seen it in things like....
Gifts of peanut M&M's.
Subway rides in Singapore.
Those moments before loved ones leave and you say, "love you" to each other because it's normal that you matter to each other.
Shared flavored coffee creamer from America (the superior liquid kind, not powder!).
Lunch brought by a friend when a migraine shows up.
Brothers who drive a little slower when I'm on their moto.
The sky when it's deep blue before nightfall. 
Conversations in Khmer about the deep things of God and life. 
Swimming in the afternoon on a day off.
Riding on a moto through rainy season floodwater to spend time with friends.
Phone calls and text messages just to say, "hey, thinking about you, how are you?". 
Being prayed for by ones who know me even when I don't have the strength or courage to pray for myself. 
When someone says it's okay to eat with my hands. 
Apple cinnamon bagels showing up at the grocery store in October. 
Photos of sunsets sent to me by friends who know my heart.
Meals shared in my home and the homes of others.
Times when God speaks so clearly and personally...even when I'm in a room with thousands of other believers.
Skype conversations that are filled with laughter and hope.
When people say they feel at peace and safe in my house because His presence is surely there.
Little ones who shout my name and are excited I came.
People who aren't afraid to speak His truth even when it's hard for them to say and for me to hear.
Phone calls from sisters to share stories of victory.
So many more moments...

Some of His Reminders 

These are a few of the ways Jesus reminds me that the constant, determined, persistent, diligent, steadfast choices to live loved are seen by Him.  He knows it's not easy in this world and He knows we have a choice and He delights in every moment when we choose His love.  Choosing His love instead of the easy, comfortable opposition of old habits and mindsets is work but I promise the results are more than worth it.

What will you choose today?  How have you seen His faithfulness?  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Treasuring Relationship (Part 1....)

Friendship is one of the things I cherish most in life.  I'm probably one of the most relational people you'll ever meet, which, does at times have its downfalls- like I always choose relationship over task and sometimes don't get the task in front of me accomplished, but I wouldn't trade it in for anything.

People make our lives richer.  The Trinity of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit models friendship, Jesus had LOTS of followers but only a few friends and those were the ones He built Kingdom with.  Yes, He brought Kingdom through lots of people in their interactions together, but He built Kingdom with the ones who were close and chosen as friends.

I have SO MUCH I can say about this and I will in later posts (a promise of sorts that I'll write more...).

Last weekend I went on a personal retreat with some friends.  We set aside 3 days to spend more time with God than we normally get.  It was soooo good! God gave us gifts of an amazingly beautiful place to stay, nature all around us, He spoke His word to each of us in ways we hear Him best, we built relationship with each other through lots of laughter and times praying together.  Friendship with Jesus was the goal and He gave us even more as our friendships with each other were built up as well.  He gives such good gifts, all the time!!!

Me & Monirath laughing, enjoying God's good gifts, building friendship

This photo is one of my very favorites from that time together and quite possibly one of my favorites of all time so far! It says many things about why I treasure friendship...
-Full of laughter (um, this is true of most of my friendships!)
-Built over shared experience
-Built in my second language! (This one feels like a very special part of this particular friendship! WOOHOO for the benefits of focusing on the task of learning so I could deepen relationship!!!!)
-Enjoying God's good gifts together
-Not being distracted by posing for a "good" picture (By the way, I think this one is great, not just good) but just enjoying the moment together
-Great memories were being made of this shared experience (that we will probably laugh lots about in the future!)
-There was another friend with us who saw the value in the moment and kept snapping pictures
-I believe God was smiling and laughing with us because He knew how much we were enjoying all He had given us AND because He knew what this picture would speak to my heart today
-Safety- it takes feeling secure in God and with the other person to be able to laugh the way we were
-Friendships God chooses go deep, fast.  We have only known each other for a little more than a year but we have a mutual friend who we both love a lot (my little brother = her boyfriend) and oh how my relational heart LOVES that shared relationship is what set the foundation for our friendship!

What are some of the greatest things you treasure about your friendships? God designs relationships.  He has strategic purpose in them.  Think about it, there's purpose in the laughter, tears, new experiences, connections that open doors you never would have dreamed of, watching tv/movies together, traveling together, conversations over coffee, tea or ice cream... God knows the moments of our lives and He gets really excited about each of us building community that represents Him and His Kingdom.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Exchanging Sand for Bricks

Right now I find myself in a season of life that is really unlike any other I have experienced before and it's good...and rough....and really good, most days the really good is stronger than the rough.  Most days, but there are those few days when the rough stuff seems to win.

I don't mean rough stuff as in circumstances around me- I enjoy my job so much, I have a group of amazing friends here in Cambodia and I'm part of a thriving, growing church community in the capital city! Circumstances around me are nothing to be called "rough".  Especially when compared with the things that I actually do find myself calling "rough".

God has decided, and I have agreed, that this is a good time for me to do some of the really h-a-r-d work of uprooting lies, rearranging some sand-like foundations of beliefs in my personal life so that bricks of Truth can be put down in their place.  It's work because I am the kind of person who likes to know what I'm getting into, I like to be sure of something before I fully agree with it.

I want you to know that this doesn't remove faith- it takes lots of faith for me to be sure that I trust who He is so I can also trust the reasons for what God will ask of me, the actions He and I will do together, where God will lead me... and then I can allow Him to take me by the hand as I declare with all of my heart that I do indeed trust Him even when I don't see the whole picture yet.

It's a bit of a chaotic place when bad foundations of lies built out of sand are being kicked up all around you.  Especially when the liar who gave it to you is standing by watching, accusing you of betrayal, telling you that you're being a fool to let go of what has seemed to work for so long and doing all he can to show that the new foundation, bricks made of Truth, will eventually crack....

Yet, here I stand.  Not alone, Jesus is with me and He's invited a few of my friends along who can help me identify sand from bricks.  As we reach into the ground underneath my feet there is sand and brick together.  There were moments and people in my past that lined up with the bricks God planned for me to have.

There's also lots of sand.  Some of the sand I hate the most is when it actually has chunks of brick in it.  There are bricks that God gave me for foundation and that enemy got in there when I was young and he broke apart some of those bricks and mixed them in with his sand!!! I've been so convinced for so long that the sand was solid that sometimes I don't want to get rid of it so fast because I'm actually afraid that as those lies are pulled up I won't find solid ground.

But, you know what? Bricks will certainly be more solid and more firm and in fact, as those  Truths become the ground I stand firm on I won't have to worry about being shaky, uncertain or unstable anymore.

It will feel different for a little while though.... Kinda like when you get a new pair of shoes... It takes your feet a little while to get used to them.  Sometimes, they even cause blisters if you don't take care of the shoes and your feet properly.... It will take some time to get used to standing on new ground, it might feel really uncomfortable as I begin to let go of phrases, thoughts and habits that have been so much a part of me.... I will have to spend time and energy to take care of my thoughts and actions so that when the liar comes back and wants to put sand in again I can tell him no.  I might even have to be able to quickly admit to a friend that I need help...

I'm pretty sure though that as long as I keep looking at Who God is, Who He has been in my life, Who He has been for so many who I love.... I think I'll decide the bricks are better than the sand.

Friends have been standing with me as Jesus picks up handfuls of sand from my past and asks me to replace it with bricks.  They are helping me recognize that pity and love are so very different, that hate and abandonment are not in God's character towards me, that fears I used to think were monsters are really only shadows trying to block God's light, that beliefs that don't line up with He word about me are actually hurting me...

Yeah, it's a work in progress.  BUT, I'm no longer trying to decide if I want to do it, I'm in! Both feet in, surrounded by sand and bricks and God and people who love me.  Satan's trying pretty hard to get me to keep some of that sand but I know he doesn't have any authority to make me keep what I decide I want to get rid of.

My words, my questions, my concerns.... God's not afraid of them.  Sometimes it's just me and Him during prayer and journaling and other times He invites my friends, my community, to be part of the process with us and He lets me take a moment (or a few days sometimes!) to get all the effects of standing on sand for so long out of my mind, through my mouth, and then there's a reminder that the Truth hasn't changed just because I said a bunch of things that didn't agree with it.

A few years ago I would have said I never wanted other people to be this close to my sandy foundation, but it's so good for my heart to have such a real sign that I HAVE GROWN and AM BECOMING MORE  LIKE JESUS! I am glad I don't have to do this alone, I'm glad I don't want to do this alone!  As God has shown me how to allow people into this process and who to allow into which parts,  I have been loved, I have been valued, I have seen that I'm worth fighting for, I have been heard, I have seen that my victories matter and not just to me!  I wouldn't have had any of those experiences if I had decided to do this alone.

God is good.  I trust Him.  I love Him.  I'm learning to recognize sand for the false ground it is.  I'm willing to be uncomfortable as things change (that's the hardest part for me!). And, I'm glad I'm not alone in it.  Those are some bricks of Truth I didn't have before :-)

I think that as we live life on this earth we all experience moments when some sand gets slipped into our foundation almost unnoticed.  I'd encourage you though that if it seems like Holy Spirit might be trying to point out something like than.... Let Him.  Ask Him to show you, ask Him to help you get rid of it, you don't have to figure it out alone.... God is Trinity because He LOVES community and relationship... Find a friend or pastor who can help.  It'll be worth it.  It may take some time, but then again we value things we invest in, don't we? 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Restoring Awe During Storms

I used to be really afraid of storms.  I hated thunder, wind and lightning.  I remember exactly when this fear began, I was 8 years old there was a hurricane in my neighborhood.  The actual, physical damage from the storm outside wasn't very bad at all. The damage caused by the fight my mom and stepdad had during the storm though, that was awful.  I was an only child at the time and hid under my bed during the whole thing.  When both storms finally settled down- no more thunder and rain, no more screaming and shattering glass- I cautiously emerged from my spot of safety and it looked as though the hurricane had happened inside our house.  Furniture flipped over, broken picture frames, clothes had been thrown out windows, my 25 year old mom was crying as she told police she never wanted to see my stepdad again.  But, things got cleaned up and the next day he was welcomed back in so we could all wait for the next storm,... Or maybe it was just me who knew there would always be another storm.

As I grew older, even though I hated thunder, wind and lightning, I began to feel safer somehow if I was outside during the storm.  If I was outside then I wouldn't be inside when everything crumbled.  The idea of being quickly carried off by wind or being terrified by the sound of thunder that was only a sound but never broke anything felt much safer to me than being inside a house where things would become loud, messy, violent... I wasn't impressed by the lightning or the clouds or anything like that, in fact I tried to ignore them because if I paid too much attention to them I would begin to be afraid.

Kansas City is famous for thunder and lightning storms and when I moved there in 2005 I had to figure out how I would respond.  There really were times when I would actually go outside during the storms because I felt safer.  When I did have to be inside because it was actually safer it took lots of courage and self talk or friends distracting me.  I learned to feel safer inside because inside really was safer.  I no longer lived with people who created their own versions of dangerous storms.

As I grow closer to Jesus I continue to learn that He is sovereign over every storm and that as long as I know He is in control I can feel safe no matter where I am.  And, not just in the case of physical storms but in all kinds of storms.

This is on my mind right now because I am currently in the middle of a strange storm that is not exactly like any other kind of storm I've faced before.  I'm living in Cambodia and going through a pretty big transiton having left one ministry after 5 and a half years to pursue a vision that God has given me which took me in a different direction.  Many of the things I had cone to know as stability here have been shifted and are no longer the solid ground they once provided.  New places, new people, new responsibilities are all opportunities for me to trust that when it feels like everything is being tossed and thrown He is in control.  I'm also receiving counseling (because transitioning out of anti-trafficking work is a big deal!) which gives me plenty of chances to trust that He is also in control of the story of my life, my past and how it impacts who I am and who I'm becoming....lots of times this feels like one big, crazy storm too.

Here's the REALLY AWESOME part though.... With God, nothing is ever just hard- there's always a beauty to be found, joy to be experienced, peace to be received.

For example, one of the reasons I used to be afraid of lightning was because it usually zaps across the sky so quickly that I don't see it unless I happen to be looking right at it.  So, when I would catch it in my limited sight I would get scared because I wasn't expecting it.

Photo from 2014 during a storm in Phnom Penh.

I used to try to avoid seeing lightning but, now I want to see it! Photography is my favorite art form because it slows the world down and allows me to see things that I couldn't see until someone takes a picture.  I really like this photo because it was just an ordinary night and I was telling my brother how cool it would be if someone took a picture of lightning so I could see it and he did.  Sure, we could have searched for images online of lightning but, those pictures were not that moment.  In the middle of that storm I got to see the same awesomeness my brother was seeing.  It is life giving for me to be included in the same moments as people around me (another blog, another day!) and this photo absolutely did that for me.  

This year as rainy began I found myself excited for the storms that will come because I want too experience more of God in them!!! My fear has been turned into awe.

I am in awe of lightning. 
I am in awe of how He settles the debris after a storm. 
I am in awe of how constant He is during the wind and rain. 
I am in awe of His ways of restoring what has been damaged. 
I am in awe of God during storms.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Restoration of Voice

Words have always been important to me.  Part of the reason is because I can't see very well so I need words.  A picture might be worth a thousand words, but if nobody tells me those words that picture doesn't communicate much to me.  For me a picture is usually just lots of color unless there are some words to go along with it! My brain also just works best in logical, articulate ways.  I appreciate when things are described or explained well.  So, me and words have been friends for a long time.

Words can be given life through one of two ways- writing or speaking.  Obviously I enjoy writing and I've always liked to write ever since I was a kid.  Speaking though, this is a different story....

There were attempts by the enemy of my life, Satan, to steal my voice before I was even born.  He wanted my mom to have an abortion but she didn't.  Then I was born 3 whole months early and by all statistical measures I should not have continued to live but I did.  And I do.

I had a stepfather who lived with me from the time I was 5 years old until I was 13 and for the first 4 years we had a very sweet relationship.  He didn't have any children and he absolutely adored me! He taught me how to ride a bike, we would read stories together before bed and he was always bringing home "surprises" of toys and trinkets for me.  Then, just before I turned 9, my younger brother was born and this caused my stepdad to kind of lose his mind because he went from absolutely adoring me to absolutely abhorring anything about me.

One of the things he began to do to display his hatred was any time I said something when he was in the same room as me he would cover his ears, make a miserable high pitched sound and say that my voice was the worst thing he'd ever heard and I should never speak. As a 9 year old being told these things by my hero I began to do just that, I stopped talking. Almost completely for 4 years.  When I did talk to my younger brothers it was in whispers.  And at school I would only answer questions when I was called upon but I would never volunteer.  I began to believe that I truly had nothing to contribute to the people around me, ever.  

Another piece of this very strategic plan of Satan was that there were times when I was supposed to speak at home.  When social workers or police would show up at our door I was expected to tell them that everything was tine.  I was terrified that if I didn't say the right things my brothers and I would be taken away from our mom and so I knew how to speak lies.  My days were full of believing lies and speaking lies.

My voice had been stolen from me.
But the God I know is a God who restores what is stolen.
"I will give you back what was lost..." Joel 2:25
"I hate robbery...and will faithfully restore..." Isaiah 61:8
"We are glad when we are weak and You are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for." 2 Corinthians 13:9

In order to receive restoration we must be willing to look at the damage.  When something is restored there is a combination of pieces of the original with new things that have been brought as enhancements.  Something cannot be restored until there is a vision for what it can become.  

Restoration in God's Kingdom honors what once was while at the same time moving forward into what will be.                 

It has not been a simple journey to figure out what my voice sounds like after those years of being silent.  One of the truest things I know though is that I value things that I have put effort into, things that I have gained with Jesus despite Satan's attempts to stop me from having all God desires for me.  I have spent LOTS of time with God and with the people He puts in my life figuring out how to verbally communicate my thoughts, opinions, likes, dislikes, sarcasm, hopes, dreams, fears, gratitude and so many other things.  And, as a result I cherish moments when others are listening to me.  I choose my words carefully never wanting to miss out on what might happen because of them.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that there is power to bring life or death in our tongues and I know it.  My stepdad used the words that came off his tongue to try to kill my spirit and I have a feeling that Satan thought he had victory when for so many years I didn't speak and then for years after than I was afraid to speak even as I was surrounded by ones who encouraged me that they wanted to hear my voice.  But, Satan doesn't win because there surely is power in the tongue.  Power to bring LIFE and the more I trust God the more He brings that life through the words of people around me, the Bible and the Holy Spirit in me.

Today God not only empowers me to use my voice to bring life, hope, joy, destiny, encouragement, sometimes correction and ultimately His character to those around me in one language,  butt in two languages! He really does give a double portion for what has been stolen (Job 42:10)!

And, the power in my words is not only to be used for others.  I am constantly learning more and more that the words I speak have enormous influence over my own life.  I used to spend so much time just thinking thoughts in my head and not speaking them out.  This allowed me to create my own beliefs and ideas about the world and people without ever being challenged on them because I didn't share them.  Now, speaking out loud the thoughts that run through my head has become a vital piece of the process that sets me free from deception that Satan still tries to keep me trapped in.  When I speak my thoughts out loud I am confronted with either their validity or their falseness.  Maybe you are too...?     

God knows us better than we know ourselves and He gives each of us the tools we need for restoration as long as we are willing to be honest about what was lost, stolen, broken...

God, would You reveal to each of us the amazing power You have entrusted to us through our words? Give courage to those who need courage to speak, hope to those who feel as though their voices have been silenced and restoration to those who have been silent for too long. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Live Loved

There are those times in life when God teaches me something brand new about something that I thought was so simple.  Recently, this has happened with the idea of being loved by God as opposed to pitied by others.  

What does it actually mean, actually look like to live as a person who is fully confident that they are loved by God?  Always.  No matter what else is going on around us.  Regardless of what ANYone tells us or says about us.  Whether we feel loved or not in any given moment.

I think the words, "any given moment" are key to this thing.  At least for how my journey with being loved by God is taking shape.  Many days I can only live loved (with any type of confidence) on a moment by moment basis.  And those moments are so full of power!

A few weeks ago God helped me discover, quite unexpectedly, the biggest lie that sets itself up every day to oppose the Truth that I'm loved by God.  I was sitting with one of my favorite friends on my bench swing on the front balcony of my 4th floor apartment here in Phnom Penh.  It was a really beautiful Friday morning; there was a breeze and birds could be heard singing instead of construction noise or wedding/funeral music and I was totally delighting in it! We began to talk about identity and the conversation progressed into the question, "Why don't you fully believe you're loved by God?" My answer came with such speed that it kind of shocked me. 

"Well, usually what stops me from believing I'm loved is the thought that I'm only pitied by people, not loved." Whoa.... Wait.... Did I really just say that??? So fast??? Yikes.  I didn't really know that was in there....  And so we talked about it a bit, me and my friend.  

Pity is defined as, "A feeling of sorrow for the misfortune of others, a cause for regret or disappointment."  I do not like pity.  I do not like others to define my circumstances as misfortune.  I've never liked pity and even more so since I have been following Jesus. Me and Jesus get to decide what my circumstances are and He never tells me that they are, "misfortune"

According to the standards of this world I have a disability.  I'm legally blind and have been since I was 2 years old.  And, reality is, it does limit me- I cannot play any contact sports (basically all this leaves me with as options are bowling and golf....super cool when you're a kid in school!), I can't speed read (I really wanted to take that class in high school, seriously, I thought it would be an awesome skill to have! But, I failed that and art 3 times) and I can't legally drive (although, I might have some friends who've let drive in parking lots...). Okay, so limitations, right? Well, I grew up quite determined to not live as if I were limited in any way and the pity I felt from other people only added fuel to that fire.  I saw friends' parents pity me because I wan't included in lots of the "fun stuff" of recess games and bumper car birthday parties.  I saw teachers pity me because I never could fully learn to write in cursive and couldn't copy my own notes from the blackboard and couldn't watch movies with the class when they would roll that tiny tv in on a cart.  They felt disappointed because I didn't fit the expectations.  But, if I hadn't picked up on their pity I would have been quite content.  Instead, I became very aware that I couldn't do this or that.

This played out in other areas of my life as well.  For example, I come from a very unstable home life- people pitied me because I didn't have clean clothes (they didn't help, they just talked about it above my 7 year old head as if I couldn't hear them), pitied because my parents were divorced and couldn't act civil in public and pitied when at 15 I finally became a foster child along with my younger brothers because our mom wasn't being responsible.  

I was always making lots of efforts to live in a way that wouldn't give others reason to declare my life "disappointing" or to feel "regret" over the "misfortune" of my situations.  Which leads us back to that morning on my bench swing a few weeks ago... 

I told my friend these things.  I told him all the lies the enemy of my soul has made me believe all these years. I told him how each time someone does something caring for me I still would wrestle with the question, "Do they love me or pity me?" He listened. He didn't argue with me or try to prove God's love to me. He didn't pity me by saying how disappointed he was for me or how sad this was... Instead he gave me options.  

He encouraged me to action.  He told me I could change the way I doubted love and called it pity.  He empowered me by drawing me closer to Jesus.  

"For I have drawn you with loving-kindness, I have loved you with an everlasting love," says the Lord." (Jeremiah 31:3) are the words my friend read to me right before he asked me if I wanted to pray. He had no idea that verse was the verse from 14 years ago that caused me to begin to believe that God could actually love me in a personal way.  He wasn't asking me to pray just any prayer, this was very intentional.  He asked me to pray how I feel when I live in the lie of being pitied and then to declare the Truth.

I found myself saying things like, 
"God, when I believe I'm broken and pitied it makes me doubt Your goodness."
"When I believe I'm pitied instead of loved it makes me doubt Your plans for my life."
"It makes me doubt who You are." 
"It makes me doubt the people You've placed in my life"
"It makes me doubt who You say I am"
"Doubting leads me to pity my own self..."

And then, then the Truth came....
"God, I want Your help to believe I'm loved"
"I want to see You in people first. You are in the people You have put in my life."
"God, You set up circumstances in my life because You love me. When people are at the right place at the moments when I need help it's because You love me, not because they pity me"
"When I choose to live out of being loved I see You in every part of my life."  

Jesus changed me during that time of prayer.  Not because I woke up the next morning and every thought I had was grounded in His love for me.   That's not what happened.  Sometimes, that is what God does but not this time.  That pity lie has been comfortable for almost 30 years and it is taking some W-O-R-K to get rid of it.  I ask God to help me recognize when I'm about to believe pity and then I make a real choice to let go of that assumption believe love instead.  It's an every moment kind of journey for me.  And, I'm being set free each time I choose to live loved.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Waiting With Jesus on Easter

"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3:25-26

During the past 17 years of knowing Jesus Easter is still my very favorite holiday.  It may have been my favorite as kid, too because it was so full of FUN- coloring eggs together on Saturday night (each person would get an egg with their name on it, even our multiple pets!), waking up on Sunday to discover an Easter basket full of jelly beans, chocolate and marshmallow Peeps and then the hunt to find all those eggs that had been hidden (Mom always had to write a list of where they were because there were so many!). Later in the day cousins and grandparents and the drug dealers who had become like family would all come to our house and we'd eat a big meal and....well, things usually went downhill after that. There was always all the fun first though and each year brought with it the hope that the holiday would end differently than the year before. 

And now, even more as an adult, I love what Easter means! A day set aside to celebrate what Jesus has done for us, WOOHOO!!! Literally, I can not and do not even want to imagine my life without Him. He CONQUERED DEATH and went through such extreme torture and torment to do it. I can only find hope and love in Him because of that.  He endured pain to the point of sweating blood and I have never experienced that kind of pain, this tells me that He understands pain that is more unbearable than I can conceive which means that He certainly understands all of the pain I go through.  That's comforting.  I really, really, really love Jesus and celebrating Him.  

So, I go to church on Easter and I worship, sing victory and shout hallelujah with all of my very being because I get what He has done for me! I know without a doubt that my life is worth living, that He is worthy of praise, He deserves glory that compares to none other!!! He lights my paths, He gives me deep rooted joy, He reigns over my whole life so I can experience peace, He sees me as holy and righteous because of who He is!!! 
Yes, let's celebrate Jesus!!!

And yet... I'm still waiting for more.  And so is He.  It's Sunday, He rose from the grave, He is alive, alive forevermore and I will be with Him for eternity.... But, there's more... Jesus and me, we are waiting. Together. For more. 

We, me and Jesus, are waiting on this day of celebrating His resurrection.... 
We are waiting for loved ones to recognize the gift He gave.   
Jesus' loved ones who He gave His life for. 
My loved ones.  
And perhaps you are waiting with Jesus too for some loved ones to recognize the celebration.  
The sweet, good news is we don't wait alone you and I... 
We wait with Him. 

My heart aches so much on Easter.  Seriously aches, like the kind of ache you get from wisdom teeth times infinity.... I long for the ones close to my heart, the ones God designed to be so close to my heart, to know Him.  If only they would choose to taste for just a second how much better He makes life, they would not be able to deny Him so easily.  "Choose", though, that word is important for my heart to remember this Easter.  Jesus gave this gift out of love, He doesn't force anyone to take what He offers.  Instead He waits for each person to look at Him and receive the best gift ever.  Receiving involves choice.  And, just as my heart has that wisdom-tooth-times-infinity-ache His heart aches even more because He knows fully and completely what He has given.  

It's so comforting to know that He waits, He understands the pain, He has His own longings for the ones I love because He loves them.  He won't quit waiting either. He will never give up, He has already proven that through His suffering.  I don't wait alone and when I'm weary from waiting (like today) He encourages me through His own waiting.  

So, yep, me and Jesus we will wait together for our loved ones to join us in celebrating resurrection.  Jesus waits with you too.  He knows your longing, He knows your aching (maybe yours isn't like wisdom teeth but maybe you describe it as bumping your funny bone or stubbing your toe or maybe even a migraine....whatever the pain is like He gets it and He aches too) and He is with you in it.  

"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3:25-26

Thursday, January 21, 2016

First Field Trip = A Good Day

***Please note: I have permission from Place of Rescue to post these photos

Today was a really good day.
And I'm really glad for it because, lately the days have seemed kinda long and a bit hard and they just don't fit comfortably yet....

This morning I met my 5 students who I teach for two full days each week at New Life Fellowship (my home church here in Cambodia) and we piled into a tuktuk and drove an hour outside of the city to our first field trip! During the past 3 months we have been studying together about communities, Shalom, God's throne being built on a foundation of justice and righteousness and how the choices we each make have an effect on His heart.

As we step into this new year will continue studying about His character, especially as it relates to the oppressed and victimized, but we will also begin to learn from various organizations that are already working to bring His Kingdom realities to fruition here in Cambodia. My goal is that each month we will have visits from Khmer staff who work at varying organizations focusing on issues such as caring for orphans, education improvement, anti-human/labor trafficking, refugee assistance, disability advocacy and whatever else I can find connections to.  Then we will go to visit each site and see for ourselves what it is like to be in the middle of these things on a daily basis!

So, back to today... We went to Place of Rescue which is indeed a safe haven for orphans, people who are infected with HIV (and their families) as well as elderly widows.  I had visited before and was excited for this to be our first field trip! One of the great things that is done at Place of Rescue is that a visiting group can be no larger than seven people which I think is beneficial for both the people who call the place home and the visitors.

As soon as we were finished with introductions we were being led to homes of some of the adults who have HIV.  I began to pray for God to touch the hearts of my students and for them to step out in courage as we began this first of many experiences.  Before I even knew it, they were being asked to pray for a woman whose husband left her after he gave her HIV and got her pregnant.  She now lives in safety and her two year old son also lives at Place of Rescue.  I watched as two of my students got right in the middle of things and prayed with compassion and love.

As we walked to the next place I gently reminded them all that our words really do have power when we are praying so there is no need to be shy about it because we are bringing life and joy through Jesus in us.

The next house was a preschool classroom full of sweet 3, 4 and 5 year olds who belonged to the adults who have HIV! To my complete delight all five of my students immediately got down on the floor and began playing and talking with these persons ones! The room was full of laughing, hand games, hugs and praying!

It was so much FUN to watch my five throughout the morning as different ones' eyes lit up and came to life during different moments and interactions. I was so intent on finding the moments for each of them and then walking with them one on one to the next place so I could whisper to them about how I had just seen Jesus being displayed through them.

As we rode back to the city the conversation in the tuktuk was truly confirmation for me about why I am doing this... They asked questions about things they had seen. Questions like:
-why don't the staff wear uniforms? To which I replied, "Let's think about this, they said they want a family atmosphere so why do you think they might not have uniforms?" 
-Why were there no physically challenged people there? To which I  replied, "Good question, tell me what you think about the situation concerning physically challenged people in Cambodia..."
-The woman who started Place of Rescue (an 80+ year old ANOINTED Canadian) really hears from God, how can I know if I'm hearing from God? To which I replied, "Great question! Let's talk about that for a you think God was with us during that visit? Why?"

They were thinking about it, really thinking about it! They are being allowed access to something they haven't seen before and they are being told they can, they must make a difference.  They are beginning to understand what it really means that we can do nothing on our but must partner with what Jesus is doing around us....

I love my job.  Thank you to each of you who make it financially possible for me to be here and to those of you who faithfully pray for me! Can't wait to tell you more stories...! 



Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas Tree Redemption

The western holiday season officially began last week with Thanksgiving! There are some things I just love about this time of year- extra time to spend with people I love while we all have a bit more free time as we have off from work, the opportunity to buy gifts for people (and receive gifts! It's always been my top love language, in case you were wondering), quite often there's more chocolate around at the holidays and watching Christmas movies!

However, this season also carries some things that make my heart ache. Each year I find myself un-excited as I think about many of the things that used to give me warm fuzzy feelings. Things like traditions being passed on in families, conversations my friends have about which family members they will spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with, conversations about buying gifts for family members and decorating for Christmas... 

Although I grew up surrounded by people using and selling drugs, adults using money for their own addictions before the needs of the kids in their lives, lots of verbal/emotional abuse and a bit of physical abuse....still, until I was about 10 years old my mom made sure the holidays were special. We decorated our house for every holiday. We had massive Thanksgiving meals at our house, Christmas eve was alwasy spent with family coming to our house and there was always a real, taller than 6 feet Christmas tree piled underneath with gifts! As kids, my cousins, siblings and I were able to obliviously have fun during these times while adults got high and drunk together. When you're a kid you don't care that the gifts came from church charities, they were awesome gifts! 

But, as I got older 
                            I began to realize that every holiday was visited by police officers due to family violence that disturbed the neighbor's holidays....
                           and I began to realize there were other people whose families were really poor and we were taking their spot at those Christmas charities...
                            and I began to realize what hangovers and coming 'down' after a Christmas eve of being high looked like....

Even as I began to understand these not so festive things about my family, decorating the tree was always my favorite part of the holidays because since my mom was an only child we had all the ornaments my grandparents had saved for years.  We would dig into boxes of ornaments that were carefully, individually protected in layers of newspaper and tape. As we unwrapped each one there would be the "ooohhh" and "aaahhh" as the memories were discovered once again.  Glass icicles, tiny bibles with gold lined pages, beautiful bells that we hung on the doors, a full nativity set... I loved that these things were ours, I loved that I knew the stories so well I could recite them, I loved that it was something we all did together each year!

Then there was my 11th Christmas. That year we got the boxes down after the lights had been put on the tree, we opened them and found only about a third of the ornaments and none of the really good ones.  My stepdad had been selling them throughout the year.  
We didn't decorate a tree after that.  My mom went balistic, the police came and decorating a Christmas tree has never been the same again. The rest of the ornaments stayed in their boxes for 3 years and then we were evicted and the landlord burned our stuff. 

Oh, but Jesus is a God of redemption.... Like, really good, sweet, unexpected, amazing redemption! And, I have been made for capturing moments of redemption in my own life and the lives of others.  

 This year I had created a plan for redemption-I would get a small tree and have my friends come over for a meal and they would each make a paper ornament for my tree.  It would be a great way to catch up with lots of people I love and include them in my own new tradition! 
I also know the fact that paper ornaments aren't expected to survive through years so it would be normal to just have new ones each year.  
                        No holding onto things, 
                                                            no getting all sentimental, 
                                                                                                    no chance of things being destroyed. 
I could safely keep my distance from tradition and things mattering to my heart.  

Then, a freind gave me a real ornament before she left for the States in October. I put it in a drawer and thought about it.  
Then, other friends sent me 2 real ornaments  and I kept them in the package hidden from view and thought about it.  
Then, I saw some ornaments at a store here that I thought were beautiful- simple gold and red glittered balls and I didn't buy them but, yep, I thought about them.  

I couldn't bring myself to get past the pain and fear of becoming attached... It felt safer to just do paper and think about the real ones.

On Thanksgiving last week I had plans with 2 of my favorite people, my Khmer brother who has been part of my life for almost 6 years and his girlfriend who I've known for almost 6 months and I love already!  They knew I wanted to make ornaments with them during the day, he even offered to make the star! We went to lunch together and as we returned to my house he said he'd be back and got on his moto and drove off. No big deal, us girls went to my apartment and talked about our upcoming plans to go shopping together.  

After about 20 minutes he returned carrying a plastic bag from a nearby store.  He stood there holding the gifts, looked right at me and said, 
"You deserve real ornaments. God is a giver of good gifts and He has only the best for you."
Then he pulled out the exact ornaments I had been looking at a few weeks ago.  
Seriously-the. exact. ones. 
And a gold star. 
And even a Merry Christmas bow with bells that are now on my door. 

I feel so seen and loved by God through their actions.  He knows our hearts, His timing in our lives is perfect, He delights in restoring and redeeming.  I look at that Christmas tree, my Christmas tree, and I cannot stop smiling, every time! 

God has begun a new thing in my heart and decorating a Christmas tree will never be the same again. 

There are times in life when we experience pain and awful loss of hope but He really does delight in giving joy instead of mourning, beauty instead of ashes and restoring what's been stolen.  

Oh, and I'm still making paper decorations with friends and they are being used to decorate walls and windows :-)


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prayers of Heartache

Disclaimer: I'm a verbal processor and this post is about me figuring out some things that I thought maybe someone else might benefit from too. I don't claim to have it all figured out, this is only my journey... 

The past two days I have spent time praying for one specific situation as if it was the only thing I have had to do.  Generally, I really enjoy praying; I like being able to verbally pour my heart out to the only One who can actually orchestrate change, I take real joy in being able to participate with Him in the lives of others through my prayers for them, I value that prayer is often my offering to people in times of need and I think it's loads of fun to help other people experience what prayer can really be! So, in one sense it shouldn't surprise me how miuch I've been praying for this situation.  

But, I found myself a bit taken aback at the depth of emotion in my prayers for a situation of the men I count as my "for real Khmer brothers"-yes, we're family through His blood, of course, and we're family because we've chosen to be for each other.  I've known these two (who are biological brothers) since my very first day in Cambodia more than five years ago and we have grown, experienced and learned so much together over the years.  Truly, my life and who I am today would not be the same without their influence.  

Their mom has been in the hospital for more than two days and is in fact currently on the way to Vietnam in an ambulance with these brothers of mine, her two oldest children. 

While I haven't spent lots of time personally with this amazing woman (No, really amazing-she survived the Khmer Rouge killing of more than 2 million in the 1970's and has raised four of the most creative, loyal, hope-filled, influential young men many have ever met) I have heard and seen the love her sons have for her during the years. Their love for her has made its way into my own heart. 

And, my prayers for her healing (wait.....I'm praying, intently, for physical healing...? Yep.) have been fueled by that love. It surprises me, in such a beautiful way, how their love for their mom combined with our love for each other has brought me to tears over and over again.  Not just quiet tears either, but the loud snotty messy kind of tears. The ones that require multiple tissues during and after crying.  

The more I've thought about it, mulling over the silly questions of, "Why am I so emotional about this? What is going on?" the louder I hear Jesus tell me, "This is what My heart for my family is like."

Oh.....I'm beginning to get it.... It's been a long time since I've been in a situation with my biological family that has caused me this kind of immediate heart-ache.  They don't yet know Jesus and one of the effects of that is that we don't keep in touch very well. Add to that the fact that they live in America and I live in Cambodia.  Plus, well, a whole bunch of other factors about their lives that kinda hinder us from being in consistent communication...

Jesus is reminding me that I do have His heart of love for family regardless of the state of my biological one, the kind of love that actually hurts with those you care for and do life with, the kind of love that sits with people in the middle of pain, frustration and confusion that can't be solved, the kind of love that offers only concern and care without any judgement... And, He's also reminding me that this kind of love is very sweet, very generous, very meaningful and at times it costs the price of tears with each other.  

I've experienced this kind of love before.  And, I've had to work through the deception of the enemy when he tries to tell me that I'm only experiencing "borrowed" love from other families.  Now I know that is not the truth at all. Jesus doesn't do "borrowed love", His love, that He pours out through each of us, is meant, fully intended for each of us.  

I've experienced praying for people with compassion a lot.  I think God can give us compassion for any of His  children.  When His heart is hurting and we're in tune with His Spirit in us our hearts will hurt, too.  I also think compassion is different than love for brothers and sisters.  They are different words in many languages including English, Hebrew, Aramaic and Khmer... That kind of love, I think, is built over time, through experience and comes with a knowing-being-known familiarity among each other..  

And, this love makes me cry for days as I pray for healing for the mom of my Khmer brothers.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Emotions Can't Be Everything

There are so many things I could write about at any given point, usually one of the things that stops me from writing is that I can't choose a single topic to focus in on! And then there are days like today, days when I deliberately decide I'm going to finally sit down and write....and can't think of anything that I feel is worth saying! Sheesh.

Right now though I'm deciding that my feelings aren't going to dictate whether I write or not today.  Sure, I might not feel like what I have to say is worth being written but, so what? This is a blog! People read it because they choose to read it not because they're paying to read it (because, if you were paying to read it, I'd surely put more thought and effort into what I post. Just so you know, for like that one day in the future when I write a book and do ask you to pay to read what I wrote).

If we let our feelings dictate what we choose to participate in and to exclude ourselves from we take the risk of missing out on a lot and, on the contrary, sometimes end up in situations we were never meant to be part of.

For example (ahem...) if you feel unworthy of having an option about a topic maybe you will let that feeling stop you from writing or speaking when in reality what you have to contribute no matter how small or big could be exactly what someone was needing or hoping to hear.
And on the other hand maybe you feel like you really need to be part of something so you jump in when in reality you could have held back from that one and things would have been just fine and maybe even better.  Nobody is supposed to be everywhere and do all things.

The important thing is to be able to know how to communicate with God and to know ourselves well enough to recognize the difference.  So that we don't get held back by our emotion or allow them to pull us into things we shouldn't be involved in.

And, that's all I got today! My obedience of keeping myself in the game of putting my thoughts to writing.  Every post makes it more and more normal.