Category Archives: Miracles

Every day miracles, “coincidences”, God-incidences

The Best is Yet to Come

Is there any way to fully capture the feeling of falling in love?  Any way to adequately describe it?  To really do it justice?  It stirs the soul.  Joy-saturated energy rises up from somewhere inside and overtakes you.  In that moment, you can conquer the world.  You can take on any obstacle.  You can overcome any fear.  You can be fully alive.

I just listened to “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” by Switchfoot from their film and album, “Fading West” and that’s exactly what I felt.  Fully alive, overflowing with that joy-saturated energy.

I always enjoyed Switchfoot’s music: “Dare You to Move”, “Meant to Live”, “This is Your Life”.  Good songs.  Great anthems.  Powerful lyrics.  Strong.  Motivating.

But in the summer of 2014, when I first watched the film, “Fading West“, I fell in love.  Not with the guys (although they are adorable), but with the feeling behind this film.  The breath-taking scenery from all over the world, watching the guys surf monstrous waves, play concerts, interact with fans, each other and fellow bands on tour.  And the music.  Oh, that music.  It lifted my soul.  This was actually the beginning, the spark, of everything that happened in the fall of 2014.  My miracle started here.  If you don’t know that story, you can find it here:  My Story

That particular story concluded on my birthday, 10-19-2014.  And here I am at another birthday.  I always post a blog on my birthday.  Sharing these posts has continued to be a daily joy and I can’t imagine 2017/2018 without sharing a new one with you.

It started in 2014:  Moment by Moment  (all that junk – yep, Jesus redeemed that)

It continued in 2015:  Through Heaven’s Eyes  (what does God see when He looks at us?)

And this was 2016’s installment:  Treasure Hunting  (can we really live every day better than before, or is this as good as it gets?)

And for the entire month of September 2017, all I heard was “the best is yet to come”.  Everywhere I went.  Here are just three examples:

  1. Craig McGlassion of Paradox Church gave a message on 9-10-17 called “Plan for Rain“.  Craig told of hiking the Grand Canyon and finding himself wanting to stop and camp at every turn, so beautiful, massive and enchanting.  Thankfully, Craig was with people who had gone this way before and they encouraged him to keep going because they knew what was ahead.  Every stop was more amazing than the last, and he was thrilled that he listened to them and kept going.  Craig tied that story to our lives today and said, “Our best days are yet to come….  Your best days will always be in front of you instead of behind you….  Don’t be satisfied….  Don’t spend more time reminiscing about what God did than dreaming about what God is going to do.”
  2. I was blessed to be able to attend Beth Moore’s Living Proof Live Simulcast in person in Toledo, Ohio on 9-16-17.  Beth spoke on regaining our vision.  She said that we may have had an “initial vision”, but something happened along the way and we lost it.  Maybe we gained an “unwanted vision” in the process, and saw the darkness in the world and in ourselves, which lead to cynicism.  We wanted our eyes to be opened to good and evil (like Adam and Eve did), but we weren’t expecting to see our nakedness.  We wanted to see grandeur, not gore.  So, maybe we lost our vision.  And now it’s time to “Re-Vision” our future, which may include our original vision, but it will most likely transcend it.  This new vision will probably be harder, but it will also be more meaningful.
  3. And then on 9-24-17, during the first week of the message series called “Leave a Mark“, at exactly 1 hour 15 minutes, Chris Zarbaugh said, “We are incredibly grateful for all the past stories of success and life change, but THE BEST IS YET TO COME.”

So, why all of this encouragement to keep going?  Craig McGlassion put it this way:

“Where are you camping in your walk with God?  When the past of what has been satisfies us more than the future of what could be is driving us, we’re camping.”

Camping.  Yep, I’ve been camping.  Actually, I think of it more as “coasting”.  I’m 46 today and I’m coasting.  If my great grandmother, Willie Katherine Saylors, had lived three more weeks, she would have been 96 years old (February 13, 1908 to January 20, 2004).  So, at 46, if I live to be 92, I’m only half way there.  Coasting?  For half of my life?  Why?

Christopher Cook answered this for me.  On 10-5-17, I received an email survey regarding Chris’s podcast, “Win Today”.  In the process of completing the survey, we were asked to read the story behind his company, which included this statement:

“I was safe and stuck in my very small world, with arms wrapped tightly around every aspect of my life in an attempt to control and prevent further pain.”

Why am I coasting?  Chris said it: “To control and prevent further pain.”  If I stay safe in my own little world, maybe I can protect myself from pain.  But notice that Chris said he did this “in an attempt” to prevent pain.  In practice, it doesn’t actually work.

At the simulcast, Beth Moore took a deeper dive:

“We can so protect ourselves from being hurt that we protect ourselves from JOY….  We think it isn’t worth the risk….  Lord, grant us courage to live.  To really live….  Awake me to the wonder of You, finding wonder in the every day….  Wonder cannot be held.  These are moments.  But they are worth it….  We live in the Now and Not Yet.  The world is a mess, but we’re still called to rejoice in it and to love each other with His Love.”

Back on 5-13-17, I received a “Whole 90 Devotional” email written by Cliff Johnson, our Birmingham campus pastor.  Cliff expands on Beth’s thoughts:

“In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul reminds us to remember not only how we were saved:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not of works, so that no one can boast,”  BUT WHY WE WERE SAVED, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do.”

I have not only been saved FROM something—like death, sin, hell—but I have been saved FOR something.  God actually has moments waiting for me to boldly engage to advance His Kingdom.  For those of us longing for new stories, this truth should be music to your ears.  Although the journey has been painful at times, sharing the story that God has crafted in me through both heartbreak and healing is part of the future He has laid out for me.”

And that future is worth living for.  The Prophet Isaiah said it this way:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”
-Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

In 2016, Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s lead man, did a TED Talk at the University of Nevada called Live Your Song.  Check it out.  It’s nineteen minutes of pure inspiration.  After the first of three songs, Jon encourages us to keep on keepin’ on:

“You matter.  And there is a void in the symphony of life when you are silent.  The pain, the anger, the frustration, the dissonance.  Be brave.  Sing through it.  Be brave and sing the truth, one note at a time.”

Don’t be silent.  We need you.  Fill the void with your song; a song that only you can sing.

And join me in falling in love, letting yourself be overcome by the exhilaration of being fully alive, belting out “Love Alone is Worth the Fight“:

We’re only here for a season
I’m looking for the rhyme and reason
Why you’re born, why you’re leaving
What you fear and what you believe in

Why you’re living and breathing
Why you’re fighting it and getting it even
Let’s go headed down the open road unknown

And we find what we’re made of
Through the open door
Is it fear you’re afraid of?
What are you waiting for?

Love alone is worth the fight

-Switchfoot, “Love Alone is Worth the Fight“, from the film and album “Fading West

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”
– Colossians 1:9-12 (NIV)

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Meet Your Maker at “The Shack”

If God is so good, why did He allow my little girl to be murdered?  That was the question that haunted Mack and kept him stuck in The Great Sadness.  How many of us are stuck in a great sadness of our own, brought on by one tragedy after another, day after day?  Would we jump at an opportunity to have our questions answered by God Himself?  One day, Mack received an invitation to meet God at “The Shack” to do just that.  I would like to invite you to do the same.

Have you ever invested hours and hours of your life in great book, only to go to the movie theater and be completely devastated by how a wonderful book could be turned into such a disappointing use of two hours?  This is not the case with the movie “The Shack”.

I spent much of the summer of 2013 listening to “The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity” by William P. Young on CD in my car.  I listened to it a full three times before the library insisted that I give it back.  And when I found out that the movie of “The Shack” was going to be released on Friday, March 3, 2017, I grabbed my print version, which I had never actually read, and dove in.  I’ve invested a good 25 hours of my life in this book, and the 2 hours and 12 minutes that I spent on Saturday, March 4th watching it unfold on the big screen did not disappoint.

Actually, the only criticism I’ve heard about the movie is that “Father God”, also known as “Papa”, is played, for most of the movie, by a an African American female actress.  If God is our Father in Heaven, why is He portrayed as a woman in a dress?  That’s another question Mack wanted answered.  Papa responded:

“To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure, with a flowing beard like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”

I would say this entire book (and movie) is all about challenging our religious stereotypes.  How many of us struggle with God as a Good Father simply because we have no earthly example of a good father?  Might it be freeing to see God through fresh eyes?

Consider Genesis 1:27:

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

If God made us male and female in His image, then His image contains both male and female attributes.  God demonstrates this throughout the Bible by referring to Himself not only in “fatherly” terms, but also in “motherly” terms.  Here’s just one example.  The Apostle Matthew records Jesus lamenting over His children with a Mother Hen analogy:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Matt. 23:37 (NIV)

Papa has full knowledge of Mack’s “father wounds” that keep him far from a Fatherly God, and so He presents Himself as Mother.  And this is just one example of God’s goodness and kindness portrayed in “The Shack”.

Another example has to do with the rest of the Holy Trinity and another character known as “Wisdom”.  Papa is an African American woman and, later in the movie, a Native American man.  Jesus is a Middle Eastern Hebrew man.  The Holy Spirit is an Asian woman.  And Lady Wisdom is a Hispanic woman.  What a beautiful picture of God’s Kingdom:

“Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Clare Herbert Woolston

So, if you’re red or yellow or black or white or purple, if you have questions for God about good and evil and why He allows such things, I urge you to go see “The Shack”.  And if you want to know more, read “The Shack” (or take it out of your library on CD and have it read to you). Eugene Peterson, who wrote “The Message” paraphrase of the Bible, is quoted on the front of my print copy of “The Shack”:

“This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.  It’s that good!”

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Treasure Hunting

I haven’t written a lot in the last year.  Why not?  Well, I’ve been medicated, which is a beautiful thing (thank you, Jesus, for good meds!), but the same mechanism that stops the downward-spiral of anxious thoughts also stops the creative process of writing. So, you could say, my muse has gone on vacation.

But it’s my birthday and I always post a blog on my birthday.  Sharing these posts has become a daily joy and I can’t imagine 2016/2017 without sharing a new one with you.

It started in 2014:  Moment by Moment  (all that junk – yep, Jesus redeemed that)

It continued in 2015:  Through Heaven’s Eyes  (what does God see when He looks at us?)

And for 2016, I’d like to take a little deeper dive.  Let’s start here.  This fall, my best buds and I joined a Bible study by Angela Thomas-Pharr called “Redeemed: Grace to Live Every Day Better than Before”.  That title intrigued me.  Can we really live every day better than before?  Really?  What if this is as good as it gets?

I’ve been a Christian for 22 1/2 years and today is my 45th birthday, so I’ve been a follower of Christ for exactly half of my life.  After all of these years, why don’t I have this down yet?  Why am I medicated?  What is there to be anxious about?  I know my identity:  I am in Christ and Christ is in me.  “If God is for me, who can be against me?” (Rom. 8:31)  So, why can’t I just calm down and enjoy my life?  What am I missing?

CS Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) said it this way:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensees 10.148)

Pascal’s quote has been summarized/ paraphrased as, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.”

That’s actually the quote that Dave Wilson used in his message in April of 1994, during my first visit to Kensington Church.  That’s what got my attention.  Yes, I had been trying to fill that God-shaped vacuum with all kinds of created things and none of them were working.  And for the past 22 1/2 years, my focus has changed, but I’m still searching for something.  What am I searching for?

Angela Thomas-Pharr took a considerable amount of time in her study to teach about the three unique stages of redemption.  I’m so glad she did, so I could share them with you:

  1. The day you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are redeemed, “changed from an unbeliever to a believer” (salvation/justification).
  2. As you live out your life from that day forward, you are being redeemed, “being changed into the image of Christ” (sanctification).
  3. When you leave this earth and go to be with God in Heaven, you are finally and completely redeemed, “eternally changed into the likeness of Christ” (glorification).

The writer of the Book of Hebrews defines Jesus’s sacrifice this way: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” -Hebrews 10:14 (ESV)

We are being perfected (sanctified) every day we’re alive, but we won’t be completely perfected (glorified) until we get to Heaven.  It’s crazy that I spend so much time and effort trying to reach perfection (or at least perfect contentment) here on earth, because I’ll never get there this side of Heaven.  And why would I want to?  Adam and Eve had perfection in the Garden of Eden and they must have found it so boring that they chose to disobey God.  Hmmm, maybe that’s a big part of the deception.

Deception?  Yes, there is an enemy of our souls, the deceiver, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and his job is to keep us from God, the Father of Truth.  But if we’ve already accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, what’s our enemy to do?  If he can convince us that we need perfection on earth, we’ll keep striving for it, wasting our time, wearing ourselves out, running in circles, looking in all the wrong places.

Do that for long enough and a new lie begins to surface.  Beth Moore has said that we can be so paralyzed in our pursuit of greatness that we do nothing good.  If the enemy can keep us busy, distracted, beaten down, ineffective and exhausted, we just might stop trying all together.  Angela Thomas-Pharr describes this way:

“Maybe you know this.  When you are tired and your spirit is heavy, the heart begins to mumble the saddest word:  Whatever.”

Yes, we are being lied to.  If we believe the lie, we’ll get stuck.  It’s an effective tactic.  It works.  And our job is to fight against it with truth.  The truth is, whether we “feel” it or not, we are actively being redeemed by the God who perfects us as we live and breathe.  The Apostle Paul knew this truth and he explained to the philosophers in Athens, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ … ‘We are his offspring.’  -Acts 17:28 (NIV)

Offspring.  Yes.  We are not children of the enemy, that we should obey him.  We are children of God.  Living “every day better than before” is about knowing who we are and Whose we are, growing closer to our Father until we get to Heaven.  And isn’t that what Heaven is: the place where we are completely and eternally redeemed, fully in the presence of God?

Isn’t that how Jesus brought Heaven to earth, perfectly connected to the Father?  That’s what he wants for us.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  -Matt. 6:10 (ESV)  If we allow Jesus to live through us, connecting us to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring a little bit of Heaven to earth.  And as children of God, we need the encouragement of our brothers and sisters to keep our focus.

The Apostle Paul taught about this spiritual battle and he encouraged the church of Galatia:  “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” -Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

Don’t give up.  Don’t quit.  Stay connected.  Stay awake and pay attention to every little miracle.  Be a treasure hunter, hunting for every scrap of joy, every gift, every moment, fully engaged.  And be a treasure hunter for others too.  Help them to see the gifts all around them.  Life is hard and we need each other.

That’s why it’s so important that we stay connected to a community of believers; other people who can point us to the truth.  No church is perfect.  How can it be?  The church is made up of imperfect people.  But if all of us, in our imperfection, can point each other to our Perfect Heavenly Father, then we have hope.  And that’s why I love my church.  That’s why I go every week.  Not because I’m a “super Christian”, but because I’m not.  None of us are and we need all of the encouragement we can get.

A few weeks back, my church started a new series called “Heart & Soul”, exploring seven core values that can define our lives.  If you missed the message on the first core value, check it out here: Heart & Soul: Identity

Towards the end of the service, Chris Zarbaugh reads Max Lucado’s “You Are Special”, Danielle sings “Out of Hiding, Father’s Song”, followed by a video called “Identity”, by Dan Stevers.  It was so powerful with each piece building on the other.  And the words of the video tied it all together:

Before Christ
I was a different person
This person was my old nature
My old self
But that person died
And my life is now hidden
With Christ
I am in
Christ
And He is in me
I am a new creation
This doesn’t mean that I will never stumble
Or fall back into old patterns
But I will call them what they are
Old patterns
Old habits of the old person
I will confess them
I will thank God for his forgiveness
I will make amends
And then
I
Will
Move on
Not because I am taking sin lightly
But because I am taking seriously
Who God says I am
Holy
Pure
Unstained
Without blemish
Not because of anything I’ve done
But because of what God has done
For me
He has wiped my slate clean
I am blameless before God
Therefore shame
Has no place in my life
Because I am
A new creation
And all of the ugly parts of my story
The parts I want to pretend never happened
Have been redeemed
And they have become
The moments in my life
When God’s grace is most on display
Thank you God
My mistakes do not define me
My past does not define me
Because God has defined my identity
I am his beloved child
In whom He is
Well pleased
This is my identity

–Dan Stevers, “Identity” preview video (click the red words to see the video)

In Angela Thomas-Pharr’s study, she tells of a man who was asked, “How long have you been redeemed?” He answered:

“I was redeemed by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago when He gave His life to atone for my sin. But I only found out about a year ago.”

Comedian Jeff Allen was on Smile FM a couple weeks ago.  He said he spent a lot of his life waiting for an explanation from God, but what he really needed was a revelation from God. I think that’s what the man in the quote above received: a revelation from God. He is redeemed. I am redeemed. And if you’ve received the gift of Jesus’s forgiveness, you too are redeemed.

I pray that today we might receive a revelation from God.  A revelation that we are redeemed and our identity is in Christ, but it’s going to take a lifetime of “day in and day out” to walk this thing out, together.  Grab your best buds, the ones who point you to the Truth, and hang on tight.  We are brothers and sisters and we need to keep reminding each other:

keep going
keep treasure-hunting and
keep focusing on Dad, our Abba Father.

We are His beloved children and He is well pleased with us.

Want to know more about my “revelation day” back in 1994?  Here’s my story told through the story of my son:  Joshua The Prophet

And those meds, why do I take them?  Well, they help me to drown out the voice of the enemy and to focus on the One and Only voice that matters.  They help me “come out of hiding” and connect with others who can encourage me, so that I can encourage them, and we can treasure hunt together.  We’re blessed to be a blessing.

“Baby, you’re almost home now
Please don’t quit now
You’re almost home to me”
Out of Hiding, Father’s Song by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook

Want to know more about the power of community?  Check out Heart & Soul: Community

Costa Rica 2013 / 2017?

In 2013, when Joshua was 11, he and I were blessed to be able to go on a mission trip to Costa Rica with Joshua Expeditions through Kensington Church.  I brought my iPad with me and sent email updates home every day to keep all of our trip supporters “in the loop”.  Once I got home, I compiled all of the emails into a sort of “blog”, added pictures and sent out the PDF to all of the friends and family who had supported us on our trip through their prayers and financial gifts.  I’ve always thought about sharing that “blog” here, but I’ve never really felt the push to put the work into doing so.  Until now.

Beth on the catamaran heading to Tortuga Island
On the catamaran heading to Tortuga Island

You see, I’m still shocked that I went on the trip in the first place.  Looking back, it was an amazing trip, but it was also full of new experiences and uncertainty, which would normally put a person with my anxiety issues over the edge.   When I first heard about the trip and read that it was “ideal for first-timers” and for those “11 and up” and realized that Joshua would be turning 11 a couple weeks before the trip, I knew we had to go.  And it was that certainty that pushed me through all of the uncertainty.

Joshua at sea
Joshua at sea, heading to Tortuga Island

But when we returned home and I thought about all that we had done, I couldn’t see myself going back.  What if it didn’t turn out as well?  What if I did completely fall apart?  What if I didn’t have the energy to push through the challenges?  So many “what if’s” (from the enemy, of course, as that’s where most “what if’s” come from), that I thought the only way I would go back was if John would come with us.  So, for the past 3 years, we’ve casually talked about John and I taking Joshua and Jordan in 2017 when Jordan turns 11.  But John really doesn’t have an interest in going, so it remained casual talk.  Safe distance.  No commitment.

Something changed last week.  I had dropped Joshua and Jordan off at SpringHill Day Camp in Troy and was driving home.  As I drove, I had this vision of taking Jordan to Costa Rica, just the two of us, or maybe the two of us with another mother-daughter team.  And I knew exactly who that mother-daughter team was, I just didn’t know if God would give them the same vision, or if the vision was just to encourage me to take Jordan.  A gift from God to light a fire under me.  So, I came home, asked John what he thought of the idea, he loved it, and I sent an informative email off to my friend.  Included in that email was this blog.  I thought I would share it with you as well.  It’s about time.  🙂

 

All 57 of us in front of the church - 57 Heinz Varieties
All 57 of us in front of the church:  57 Heinz Varieties

Friday 7-5-13 @ 10:24pm

We’re at the Marriott by the airport, getting up at 2:45am to catch our 6am flight to Costa Rica.

Night-night!
Love, Beth & Joshua

Some of our 11 year old boys at the airport in Costa Rica
Some of our 11 year old boys at the airport in Costa Rica

Saturday 7-6-13 @ 2:30am

Got 2 hours of sleep, woke up, got ready and now I’m sitting here drinking coffee waiting for time for Joshua to get up.

Blessings to you!
Love, Beth

Joshua drinking Costa Rican coffee at the hotel with his buds
Joshua drinking Costa Rican coffee at the hotel with his buds

Saturday 7-6-13 @ 9:42am

Good morning!

Feels like afternoon, but it’s 8:25 in Houston CDT.  Costa Rica is on CST, so we will be 2 hours behind you.  Our flight doesn’t leave until 11:30 (about 3 hours from now).  We just found bacon and eggs for $14 for the 2 of us.  Yikesters!

Love this Logitech keyboard.  🙂  Happy Mother’s Day to me.

Love you and talk to you soon! -Beth & Joshua

 

Saturday 7-6-13 @ 10:31pm

Good evening!

We are home from a lovely dinner and settling into our rooms for what will hopefully be a much longer night sleep than last night.  🙂  Two hours was not nearly long enough (nor was Joshua’s 3 hours), but I did manage to sleep on both planes (Joshua didn’t – he was too busy visiting with friends – can you imagine?).

Country Inns & Suites - home base
Country Inns & Suites – home base

We are at the Country Inns & Suites, so any contact info you had for the Radisson is not correct.  That was a mix-up of dates.  They had plenty of room at this hotel for this week and it’s the hotel they’ve stayed at all 7 years, so it is the natural choice.  

You are all on the blog list, so you should be receiving a blog update each night.  Now that we’re here, Joshua and I plan on putting our electronics away for a few days.  It was great to talk to Ma, Papa, Jordan and John on Facetime tonight and also to Rick on iMessage.  I’m glad we got to connect with you.  But don’t be concerned if you don’t hear from us for a few days (other than the blog).  I’m so glad that Rick was able to help Ma & Papa get Facetime working.  Great job, Uncle Rick!!  🙂

Have a good couple days.  Much love to you all! -Beth & Joshua

Beth and Joshua in front of the church Sunday morning
Beth and Joshua in front of the church Sunday morning

Monday 7-8-13 @ 12:42am

Good evening,

Or really good morning, as I think it’s 12:30 am your time.  Getting out my iPad to set the alarm for the morning, and thought I’d send you and update.  I don’t think a blog post went out last night and we just got home from dinner, so I don’t know what their plans are tonight.  

Lunch! They fed us so very well every day. Yummy!
Lunch! They fed us so very well every day. Yummy!

Today was a great day.  Long, but wonderful.  The food here is so fresh and delicious and I had no idea that rice, black beans and scrambled eggs taste good together, but they’re fab!  Joshua mixed his together too and agreed with me – yum!

Counting and sorting pills for the medical clinic
Counting and sorting pills for the medical clinic
View of San Jose lights from the restaurant up on the mountain.
View of San Jose lights from the restaurant up on the mountain.

We went to church where we’ll be working this week, they fed us lunch (delicious again!) and we started getting ready for the medical clinic tomorrow.   SOOOO many medicines to unpack and repack (we could only take sealed containers through customs), but we got a big chunk of it done before it was time to go.  We traveled all around San Jose in our 2 tour buses, briefly stopped at an open air market and road the buses up the steepest hills I’ve ever seen to get to our dinner destination.  The view of San Jose was incredible – so many lights going on and on, twinkling and dancing in the distance.  There was beautiful dancing at this restaurant and we didn’t leave until about 9:30.

We’re up at 6am tomorrow to meet with everyone at 7am, 7:30 breakfast and on the bus by 8:15, so I better sign off.  It will be a busy day getting everything finished and ready to see 400 patients this week.

Love you all! Beth & Joshua

Part of our medical team and patients patiently waiting in our hallway "waiting room"
Part of our medical team and “patients waiting patiently”  🙂

Monday 7-8-13 @ 11:47pm

Good evening!

I got to Facetime with Dad and Jordan for a few minutes before we left for dinner tonight.  I tried John, but he had already left the store (it was 8pm your time).  Jordan got to say hi to lots of people on our team of 57.  

Started out the morning with a small stomach ache (I’m sure I ate some hidden gluten yesterday, but not much), running a few minutes behind (really tired still from getting home so late last night and not getting enough sleep), and a bit unsure of what our day would look like.  

So many flip-flops waiting for new owners (thank you to all who donated them!)
Flip-flops waiting to bless some feet (thank you to all who donated them!)

Our day turned out to be wonderful.  I am on the welcome team for the medical team and our plan was to wash people’s feet and offer them a pair of flip-flops and maybe paint their nails if they wanted while they waited to see the doctor.  We weren’t sure if anyone would let us wash their feet, but out of the approx. 50 people we saw (34 adults plus children), all except about 4 let us wash their feet.  A couple women cried and I got to hug almost everyone.  They don’t just give you a hug and a pat.  They REALLY hug you and squeeze you.  Really, I was the one who got to receive the hugs.  It was just beautiful.  I told them “Christo te ama” which means “Jesus loves you” and they all said “Amen, amen”.  They were so sweet.  

Painting nails in the hallway waiting area
Painting nails in the hallway waiting area

We spent the morning finishing up our 400 first aid packets, counting out pills and putting Spanish labels on everything.  The first patients started coming around lunch time, so we stopped for lunch so that we could see them at their 1pm appt times (they were an hour early for the appts).  Our original plan was to wrap up around 3:30pm, but it was just after 5pm before we were done with the last patients.  Off to the hotel to freshen up quick before dinner (that’s when I tried Facetime) and then off to the restaurant.  Everything is so fresh and wonderful.  And when they say “fruit punch” it’s REAL fruit blended into a punch.  Or they serve a wonderful peach tea that everyone loves (especially Joshua).  

We arrived home about 8pm and shared together as a group until about 9pm.  It was really neat to hear about everyone’s experiences on all of the different teams.  The construction team got to meet the family today who is receiving the new house.  We all get to go see the finished product on Thursday before we head up the mountain to go ziplining.  

I better get to bed.  They need us to come earlier tomorrow, so we need to meet at 6:45am.  I got up too late this morning (too rushed), so I’m setting my alarm for 5:15.  

Love you all! -Beth & Joshua (who is asleep up in his loft bed – hopefully he’ll get a full 9 hours tonight, from 9pm to 6am, as he was REALLY exhausted tonight.  He even laid his head down on the dinner table when he was done and almost fell asleep there).  🙂

Beth and fellow foot-washer Rosemary
Beth and fellow foot-washer, Rosemary

Wednesday 7-10-13 @ 12:10am

Good evening!

Started out the morning taking pics around the hotel and posting them on Facebook.  I told Joshua he should be very proud of me for getting so much done on the iPad so quickly.  🙂  I tried to Facetime Mom & Dad (but I think I was too late – it was already 8:30 your time and I’m sure Jordan was already off to camp) and tried John, but he was probably busy with customers.  Tried again tonight, as well as Rose & Mr Dean, but no answers.  Thankfully, when we tried Rick & Delia, they were there and we got to chat for a few minutes before leaving for dinner.  Tomorrow night we won’t be coming back to the hotel before dinner, so we probably won’t be able to Facetime at all unless we catch you early enough in the morning.  

Me and my Sister in Christ
Me and my Sister in Christ

Today was a great day.  We saw about 50 patients yesterday and I believe we saw 101 today.  I didn’t wash nearly as many feet today, as I wanted to give other people a chance to experience it (VERY emotional for some people), but the couple people whose feet I did wash were very impactful.  One dear woman kept crying every time I looked at her.  We hugged a lot and one of our team members who spoke some Spanish came just in the perfect timing for me to ask her how to say that I am this woman’s “Sister in Christ”.  When she told her, the woman’s face lit up and she grabbed me and hugged me even harder.  She was so sweet.

I ended up making number tickets this morning and gave them to each adult as they came in to keep everyone in order better today.  So, my job revolved around welcoming people and getting them set up with clipboards to start giving us their medical info.  I also picked out a lot of flip-flops (matching up shoe sizes to what we have) and painted some nails.

Some of the medical team - love these ladies!
Some of the medical team – love these ladies!

Oh, Rick, I think the picture you saw of me in the blog was of me helping a woman pick out nail polish after having her feet washed. Our welcome area is a hallway, so it’s a bit crowded, but it works.  

Our meals were all great again today and Joshua’s highlight of his dinner was having a lizard of some sort (which was on the ceiling in the restaurant) poop right onto his hand and his plate.  🙂  He laughed so hard that the tears were running down his cheeks.  They offered him a new plate of food, but he was already done.  And it rather spoiled his appetite too.  🙂  He wasn’t nearly as exhausted today as he was yesterday.  He did manage to get about 9 hours of sleep last night, so that was great.  My body just really wants to wake up at 4:45 (6:45 your time) and I don’t have time to fall back to sleep again, so I just get up.  Makes for a more relaxing morning too having extra time.

We should be able to go see the completed house tomorrow after 4pm.  It’s up and the roof is started.  Our biggest challenge tomorrow is going to be something we have absolutely no control over – if people come on time for their appts.  We are praying that they will come on time or early and that we’ll be able to see everyone before 4pm so that we can head to the construction site.  I know we all want to meet the family and see the house.  We haven’t finished until after 5pm today and yesterday, so we would appreciate your prayers for tomorrow.  Thank you!

Sharing at our debriefing each night has been really special.  And spending time with everyone through out the day has really bonded us all together.  I really feel like we now have 55 more people in our family (plus Beth and Jimmy from Joshua Expeditions).     

Mom – Beth is Beth Andersen, the sister of Don and Dennis Andersen.  She looks just like Don when she talks!  And Jimmy is from Costa Rica and tells us all about the country.  We have decided that Jimmy’s bus (the smaller one) is the best bus and we all try to get on his bus whenever we can.  No offense to Beth Andersen.  🙂  She’s great too.

Ok, time to go to sleep.  Love you all! -Beth & Joshua

Joshua and Seb, having fun at the kid's camp
Joshua and Seb, having fun at the kid’s camp

Thursday 7-11-13 @ 12:32am

Good evening,

I feel like these e-mails are getting later and later each night.  And we just found out that we might be back REALLY late tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if there is no e-mail at all tomorrow night.  Maybe I’ll just write quick to tell you we’re still alive.  🙂

Today was another amazing day.  I spent most of the day charting kids’ heights & weights on growth charts.  It was more relaxing that doing the welcome/intake/feet washing/flip-flop fittings and a lot of other people still wanted the opportunity to wash feet, so I was good with that.  Later in the morning I had a chance to go up to the kids camp to see well over 200 kids in all different activities that our kids’s camp team had planned for them.  I also took my camera today, so I got lots of great pictures of the kids and of people back in the medical clinic.  I was really happy that I had waited to take pictures, as I really got to capture quite a bit of what I really wanted in a short amount of time.

Later in the afternoon, I got to go help out where the doctors work, filling prescriptions and saying goodbye to people as they left.  Some of them had seen me at the beginning and the end and they looked confused – like I had a twin or something.  🙂  The pastor taught me to say “God bless you” (Dios te bendiga) the other day and I got to say that a lot as people were leaving, as well as “Christo te ama” (Jesus loves you).  We’re all slowly building our Spanish vocabulary and it’s been really fun.

The boys with their new buddy Joan
The boys with their new buddy Joan

Sonja (our trip leader) and the camp director (Flory, which means “flower”) were leaving to go to the kids’ camp over in Guarari about 3pm and Nancy, our medical team leader, said I should go with them, as I was done with my job.  Thank you Nancy!  What a wonderful opportunity to drive over with a small group of women and one little boy from the neighborhood who Flory watches.  We also called him Flory’s GPS, as he tells her how to get around that side of the city.  🙂  Joan (pronounced “Joe-an”) was his name and everyone loves him.  When we got to Guarari, Joshua said, “Joan!”  He was very happy to see him.  What a special little boy.  We all prayed for him later at the construction site, as Mariela really felt that he is going to make a huge impact in his life.  He’s just that kind of kid.  It was beautiful to hear Joshua join in on that prayer for Joan too.

I love this picture of our team leaders, Sonja and Dean, in a huge embrace after a long day of hard work
I love this picture of our team leaders, Sonja and Dean, in a huge embrace after a long day of hard work

We were only at the Guarari kids camp for a few minutes before it was time to head over to the construction site.  The kids had been there since about 1pm and their time was up.  We did get a few pictures before we left, but I can’t share them until I get home and can download them on the computer.  When we got to the construction site, we were all overwhelmed by the fact that people live in these kind of conditions.  Susan shared tonight that she’s been in a lot of proverty-stricken places in her life, but that city poverty feels much worse.  Being in Africa out in the bush, at least you’re surrounded by nature.  But in the city, it’s just filthy.

The construction team getting ready to present the family with their new home
The construction team getting ready to present the family with their new home
Setting the table, waiting for the family to arrive
Setting the table, waiting for the family to arrive

What a bright spot in the middle of all of this to see the newly constructed home.  And we got to completely surprise the family with the furnishings.  They had no idea that the house wasn’t empty.  After everyone on the construction team had a chance to share, and the pastor prayed for them, they got to go into the house all by themselves.  They screamed when they saw the inside.  Screams of joy.  We let them have some time and then came and knocked on their door as their first visitors.  But it had rained through our whole ceremony, so our feet were pretty muddy and we didn’t want to dirty their brand new house, so just the construction team went in and the rest of us took pictures from outside.  I’ll share those after we get home.  It was just beautiful.

Waiting outside with the pastor while the family sees their new home for the first time
Waiting outside with the pastor while the family sees their new home for the first time

We went directly from the construction site to dinner and arrived back to go directly to our debriefing.  Lots of people shared tonight and it was a wonderful meeting.  The kids and teenagers commented that these people have so little, yet are filled with so much joy.  Joshua agreed – why are they so happy?  He concluded that it could only be the love of Jesus that fills their hearts with joy.  I completely agree.  Our “stuff” weighs us down, but these people are free to be generous with whatever God brings into their lives.  It’s really beautiful to see.

They've got the "joy, joy, joy, joy, down in their hearts"
They’ve got the “joy, joy, joy, joy, down in their hearts”

Tomorrow is our last morning at the church and Beth Andersen warned us tonight that it will be very emotional saying goodbye and that we need to leave plenty of time to do so.  She said “Saying goodbye takes a long time in Costa Rica”.  🙂  We have to leave the church no later than 1pm tomorrow to get to the zip-lining mountain on time.  But God completely answered our prayers today and everyone who wanted to see a doctor got to see one and the rest of the medical team was on the bus by 4:05.  Whew!!  I know He will answer our prayers again tomorrow.

We got to talk to John on Facetime this morning and maybe we’ll have a chance to try Mom & Dad & Jordan again in the morning.  We’ll see how it goes.  

Love you all! -Beth & Joshua 

Joshua and lots of new friends
Joshua and lots of new friends at kid’s camp
Beth & Joshua with "poor man's umbrella" leaves behind us in the rainforest
Beth & Joshua with “poor man’s umbrella” leaves behind us in the rainforest

Friday 7-12-13 @ 12:27am

Good evening!

As promised, I am writing to tell you that we are alive.  🙂  We did all 12 zip lines today and they were AMAZING!  We finished up at the church this morning with a very emotional send off from the pastor and were off to the zip lines.  Then we went from there to dinner & shopping and this time we managed to buy a few things (no bargaining this time).  

Beth & friends after zip-lining through the cloud forest
Beth & friends after zip-lining through the cloud forest

We have to be on the bus at 6:30am, so I am going to bed now.  Figure I need to get up at 4:45 to be ready on time.  We take a tour bus 1.5 hours to the catamaran, then eat breakfast on the dock and then take a 1.5 hour catamaran trip out to Tortuga Island, where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.  Tortuga means turtle.  🙂  We’ll be on the island for 5 or 6 hours and then we take the 3 hour trip back to the hotel.  I’ll try to send another quick “we’re alive” e-mail tomorrow night.  🙂  We have a 6:30am flight on Saturday morning, so we’ll want to head straight to bed tomorrow night.  

I just gave my SD card to Sonja for her to use pictures for the blog, so check it out Friday.  You may see some of my pics from Thursday (the only day I took pictures).  Just go to Sonja’s e-mail from a couple days ago with the link to the blog and then click “home” to get to the home page (which will probably show you today’s blog once it’s done).  Please pray for Sonja.  She looks exhausted.  Too many late nights up working on the blog, thank you cards, and other trip details.  No rest for a great leader.  

Sonja and Joshua hanging out after dinner - this place was amazing!
Sonja and Joshua hanging out after dinner – this place was amazing!

It was great to talk to Mom, Dad & Jordan this morning on Facetime.  I don’t think we’ll be Facetiming again until the airport, if I can find a wifi signal.  

Love you all!
-Beth & Joshua

Hello from Joshua, Tortuga Island
Hello from Joshua, Tortuga Island

Friday 7-12-13 @ 11:55pm

What a day!  On the bus to Tortuga Island at 6:30, breakfast on the dock at 8:30 and to the island by about 10:30.  Took more pictures today on my camera, so I’ll download those when I get home.  The camera battery is now dead, so I’ll charge that at home too.  It lasted just the perfect amount of time.

Joshua and Jack kayaking off of Tortuga Island
Joshua and Jack kayaking off of Tortuga Island

We snorkeled in the ocean (lots of beautiful fish!), road on a banana boat being pulled by a fishing boat (with a 75 HP Yamaha, may I add), ate a lovely 4 course meal on the beach (in the shade – very nice), rented a 2 man kayak for an hour so that the boys could paddle around and it ended up being used by about 6 people, which was really cool, played in the water, and watched as 9 people from our group got baptized in the ocean.  Wonderful! 

Dean Maletta, Joshua Bacarella and Beth Andersen enjoying lunch on the island
Dean Maletta, Joshua Bacarella and Beth Andersen enjoying lunch on the island
Joshua on the catamaran ride back to the main land
Joshua on the catamaran ride back

Then we got back on the boat for another 1.5 hour ride, which was really nice, and a 1.5 hour bus drive during which most people slept (you guessed it, I was talking the whole time).  🙂

 Dinner, shower, packing and now heading to bed.  Joshua was so exhausted that he took his shower and went right to bed with no dinner (he wasn’t hungry).  I could only eat veggies, as we were having pasta tonight, but it was the perfect night for it.  I wasn’t really hungry either.

Taking a picture of myself up in the loft before bed. Capture the moment.
Taking a picture of myself up in the loft before bed. Capture the moment.

Joshua fell asleep on my bed, so I’m up in the loft tonight.  I just posted a quick pic on Facebook.  Bittersweet tonight – happy to be going home, but really sad to leave.  It’s been an amazing trip for everyone. 

Should be home in about 24 hours if all flights go well.  We should get into Detroit about 8:30 tomorrow night.

Love you all and see you soon! -Beth & Joshua

An Acronym for LIFE

Why are we here?  What is this life all about?

Dan Kopp’s 4-3-16 message, “The Power of Now” focused on Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment: love God and love others.  Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, I’m guessing you’ve heard that commandment before.  In his message, Dan put an interesting spin on it: we can’t love someone that we’re not aware of.  Just as we can’t love those around us if we’re not paying attention to them, we can’t love God if we’re not aware of God.

Jacob felt that way in Genesis 28.  Verse 12 tells us that “As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven.  And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.”  God spoke to Jacob from the top of that stairway, telling him about his future, and reassuring Jacob that He would be with him, protecting him.  Jacob woke up saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  (v. 16)  When Jacob became aware that God was with him, he called that place “Bethel”, the house of God and the gate of heaven.

Guess who else is spoken of as the gate of heaven and as a stairway between heaven and earth?  Check out John 1:51 (NLT):

“Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.””

That was Jesus speaking about himself.  And in John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

In Matthew 1:23 (CEB), an angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife saying, “Look!  A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.  (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)”

Emmanuel.  God with us.  Jesus.  The gate of heaven.  The stairway between heaven and earth.  He is with us.  And what does this mean for us?

Dan went on in his message to quote what theologians have said about “The Power of Now”:

1) Greg Boyd, in his book Present Perfect, said “Over the last twenty-plus years . . . I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.”

2) Frank Laubach, known as “the Apostle to the Illiterates” and honored with his own postage stamp in 1984, said this in Practicing His Presence, “One question to be put to the test is this: Can we have contact with God all the time?  All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence?  Can we attain that?  Can we do His will all the time?  Can we think His thoughts all the time?  Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind?  I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”

3) And Brother Lawrence, in his classic book, Practicing The Presence of God, said “If I were a preacher, above everything else I would preach the practice of dwelling in the presence of Christ.”

Dwelling in His presence.  Did you know that the name Beth means “dwelling” or “house of God”?  I love that.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,  “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)  My name is Beth, but even if yours is not, you are still a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place for God’s presence.

I completely agree with Greg Boyd, Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence, but I didn’t know how to phrase it until now.  This is it:  “Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind?  I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”

So, back to this life of ours.  Why are we here?  I’ve been messing with an acronym for the word “L.I.F.E.” for quite some time now.  Listening to Dan’s message this morning brought it together for me:

Legacy
Impact
Focus
Emmanuel

Translated:

Our Legacy (later) and our Impact (now) depend on our Focus on Emamanuel (God with us).

You see, if God is with us, what have we to fear?  If God is with us, The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans:

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.  And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”  -Romans 8:11 (NLT)

LIFE to your mortal bodies.  But that LIFE starts with awareness.  Focus on Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.  And what’s the best way to keep our focus on Him?  Thank Him.  Praise Him.  Rejoice.  Once again, the Apostle Paul comes to our rescue with words that help us put this into action:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

100_5741
I love these verses so much that I had them engraved on the back of my iPod.  🙂

Keep in mind that Paul didn’t instruct us to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN all circumstances.  No matter how miserable things get, we always have something to thank Him for.  This is God’s will for all of us.  If you’d like to read more on this subject, please do check out these blog posts:  Moment by Moment, Life that Really Matters, The Swivel Chair, Daddy’s Shoulders, to name a few.

And here’s how Dan ended his sermon.  Again, the Apostle Paul to the rescue, this time to the church in Ephesus (and to us!).  Couldn’t be more appropriate:

“May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (AMP)

Martin Lowenberg’s Story

On November 1, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution designating January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I went to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan on a field trip with my 6th grade class in 1983.  I will never forget what I saw there.

When Joshua came home last year with a paper about a Holocaust survivor named Martin Lowenberg, who was going to come to speak to his 7th grade class, I knew I wanted to see him.  It was on March 6, 2015 that I met this extraordinary 87 year old man.  Here is the write-up that Joshua brought home about him:

“Martin Lowenberg was born in 1928 in the province of Hessen, Germany.  In 1933, when the Nazis came into power in Germany, Lowenberg lived with his parents and his siblings.  Initially, he attended public school, but in 1936 at the age of eight, he was sent to a Jewish boarding school and then transferred to a segregated school for Jews only in Fulda.  All attempts made by the family to leave Germany and remain together were unsuccessful.  It was virtually impossible for a large family, without relatives in foreign countries, to obtain the required affidavit of financial support necessary to obtain an immigration visa.

After the beginning of World War II, a decent life in Fulda became even more difficult.  Merchants refused to sell food or goods to Jews.  Beginning in September 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch on their clothing.  In December 1941, Lowenberg and his family were deported with approximately 1,000 other Jews to Riga, Latvia.  The train trip took four days.  From the train depot they had to walk in severe cold temperatures several miles on snowy and icy streets to a ghetto, called Moscow Suburb.  On August 16, 1943, Lowenberg, now fifteen years old and considered fit for slave labor, was sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga.  That was the last time he saw his parents and twin brothers who were at the time just nine years old.  

The Riga ghetto was closed on November 2, 1943.  The remainder of the ghetto’s inhabitants, including Lowenberg’s parents and his brothers, were taken to the freight depot and loaded on cattle cards and boxcars.  They were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where they perished.

In the Kaiserwald concentration camp, Lowenberg slept on wooden bunks without mattresses and wore striped prisoners’ clothes.  The food rations were barely enough to sustain life, consisting of one slice of bread and two bowls of watery soup per day.

In September 1944, Martin and his sister, Eva, were taken to Hamburg, Germany.  In Hamburg they were placed in the Fuhlsbuettel prison.  In April 1945, the Jewish prisoners were forced on a death march for four days and nights to the German city of Kiel, about seventy miles away.  

Near the end of the war, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler made an agreement to exchange truckloads of Polish women for the safety of his own family into Sweden.  Jewish prisoners, however, were substituted for the Polish women and Lowenberg and his sister, Eva, were liberated to Sweden.  They spent one year recuperating in three displaced persons’ camps in Sweden.  Three more of Martin’s siblings survived the war and they were all reunited in the United States.  All of his other close relatives perished during the Holocaust.  In 1960, Martin Lowenberg married U.S. born Carol and they have three daughters and fourteen grandchildren.

For more information on the Holocaust or on Mr Lowenberg, please visit the Holocaust Memorial Center website.”

When Mr. Lowenberg spoke to Joshua’s 7th grade class, he shared all of those details and so many more.  He stopped attending public school at eight years old because his teacher falsely accused him of sticking his tongue out at a picture of Hitler.  As punishment, his teacher had four boys beat him up and then his teacher pushed him onto a board covered with nails.  That’s why his parents took him out of the public school and sent him to a Jewish boarding school 150 miles from home.   This house was burned down, his synagogue was burned down, his father had served his country as an officer in World War I, but no one cared.  When they were forced to wear the yellow Jewish star with the name Jude (Jew) emblazoned on it, they couldn’t go outside without being accosted.  When they were forced out of their homes in 1941 to be “resettled” elsewhere, they were told to pack a bag and that it would be sent later.  Of course, the bags were never sent.  Yes, the train trip to Latvia took four days, but in old passenger, freight, and cattle cars where he was standing the entire time because there was no room to lie down.  Once they arrived in Riga, they had to eat snow for two weeks, as there was no food.

I can barely type these words, my hands are shaking so badly.  I urge you to read Mr. Lowenberg’s story on the Holocaust Memorial Center’s website:  click here for the full story.

In this interview, he was asked, “What message would you like to leave for future generations?”  His answer:

“Be kind to people, be good citizens, vote, be a religious person, and believe in the way you were brought up.  We were brought up as good decent people.  Love thy neighbor as thyself, this is the basis of everything, that everybody is equal, nobody’s different.

Do not hate.  Hate is such a terrible word.

The H stands for humiliation, horror, harassment, hunger.
The A stands for atrocities, anger, awful, abolishment.
The T stands for torture, torment, and trauma.
The E is for extermination, elimination, and evil.

Put a D in front of evil and you get the Devil.  That’s what I lived under, the Devil.  Hate is a horrible word.  Love is the most beautiful word.  Hate hurts, love heals.  This is my motto when I do my public speaking here in the United States as well as on visits to Germany.”

“Mr. Lowenberg has been a Holocaust educator for more than 25 years.  He is a regular speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center as well as at community functions and schools. Uniquely, Mr. Lowenberg frequently travels outside of the Detroit area to give lectures for Holocaust education.  He speaks throughout the state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula.  In 2006, Mr. Lowenberg was honored by the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families for his dedication to Holocaust education and remembrance.”

Here is brief video clip of Mr. Lowenberg recorded on April 24, 2014 at 86 years old:

If you ever have a chance to see Mr. Lowenberg, or any other Holocaust survivor, speak, please go.  Please listen.  Please remember.  Let us never forget.

In memory of the eleven million victims of the Holocaust, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan has waived museum admission on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  If you’re in the area, please stop by today or any day, Sunday through Friday.  There are public tours at 1:00 pm each day, usually followed by a Holocaust Survivor Speaker.

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

I wanted to share with you a video that we recorded at our new building a couple nights ago.  It’s a “thank you” video to all of our customers at Sportsmen’s Direct, but it applies equally to our employees, founding ProStaffers, suppliers, friends, family, really everyone who has supported us over the last 6 years.  It’s been a crazy ride and we wouldn’t have made it without all of your support and prayers.

I also wanted to wish all of my blog supporters a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Thank you for supporting me and my blog over the last 18 months.

Here’s our annual Christmas collage card:

2015 Christmas

If you see me live and in person, please ask – I have a hard copy version for you. 🙂

If you’re in the Metro Detroit area (or the Orlando, Florida area), please join us for one of 46 Christmas Eve services at Kensington Church (your choice of 7 different campuses). Free tickets are available by clicking here.  If you’re not in the area, I believe Troy will be live-streaming their services: click here to live-stream.

And, lastly, I wanted to pass along several blog posts that have meant a lot to me over the past year.  Feel free to check them out if they sound like they apply to you:

1) What in the world was God thinking when he created us?  Worth It

2) Does life feel like one problem after another?  Life That Really Matters

3) Ever feel like you’re too much and too little all at the same time?  Won’t You Be My Love?

4) What does true love look like?  Grace, Truth and Audacious Dreams

5) What does God see when He looks at us?  Through Heaven’s Eyes

6) How can we really “let go and let God”?  Moment by Moment

7) Can I brag on my kids?  My Kids (including K-Rock’s 2015 Star Wars production)

Merry Christmas to you and your families!
-Beth, John, Joshua, Jordan Rose & the Charlie dog

2016 Update:

Here’s a link to the 12-30-15 C&G News article on Sportsmen’s Direct: C&G News article

Here’s a link to the 1-14-16 Michigan Out of Doors episode, ice fishing on Lake St Clair with a visit to Sportsmen’s Direct and an interview with Justin Clark:  Michigan Out of Doors

The Swivel Chair

When you hear the words “sin” and “repent”, does it make you want to run screaming in the other direction?  That was me.  I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life and I had absolutely no interest in anything having to do with God or Christianity.  Thankfully, that all changed in 1994 (you can read that story here: Joshua the Prophet).

After following Christ for about 20 years, I felt like God gave me some clarity on the words “sin” and “repent” and I wrote a very short post about them last year.  Have you read it?  If not, you can check it out here: Two “churchy” words

For the past year, every time I read the Bible, I read it in the light of what those words now mean to me.  And it’s brought such clarity that I want to share more with you.  How can I make it crystal clear?

The Swivel Chair in my mind
The Swivel Chair in my mind

How about this?  I have a swivel chair in my office.  I can choose to turn it in all different directions.  I can turn toward the computer, the printer, the file cabinet or the hallway.  It’s my choice.

Imagine that there is a swivel chair in each of our minds.  We have the choice of which direction we turn our thoughts.  But unlike the swivel chair in my office, imagine that this chair can only face one of two directions.  It can turn toward God or away from God.  And, just like in my office chair, we have the choice of which way we turn.

If it were up to God, there would be one moment in every human being’s life when we realize that we are not the king of our own universe, but that He is the King of the universe.  In that moment when we turn to God, acknowledging that He is our creator and the ultimate authority in our life, thanking Him for sending Jesus to take on our sin, we are what Christians call “saved”.  That decision is called “salvation”, when we are “born again” (John 3:3).

But it’s not up to God.  That’s not the kind of world He created.  Instead of creating robots,  He created human beings with free will.  Why?  Because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him.  If He demanded that we love Him, that wouldn’t be love.  Love requires choice.  And the choice is up to us.  He already made His choice.  He loves us no matter what.  But His desire is that we would choose to love Him back.

And when we choose to love Him back, accepting His love and forgiveness, we’re “saved”, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

But God speaks in the Bible over and over again about “repentance”; changing our mind and turning to Him.  Why do we need repentance if we’ve already turned to God?  Isn’t once good enough?  Are we unsaved and then we get saved again and again and again?

Nope.  Salvation happens one time.  But we are human.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that our fallen human “sinful nature” draws us back to our own devices over and over again.  Probably a million times each day, our thoughts turn away from God and back to our own selfish desires.  And that is “sin”.  That is turning away from God.  That is “missing the mark”.

Think about that swivel chair in our mind.  There are only two directions:

  1. Sin (pride, “missing the mark”) = trying to figure out life on my own
  2. Faith (humility, repentance, “changing one’s mind”) = turning to God for His direction

Romans 14:23 says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

From the swivel chair, that makes perfect sense.  There are only two directions: Faith or Sin.  We can look to God and see the world through His eyes (Faith) or we can look at the world however we think is best (Sin).  “There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.”  Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)

God created us to have a relationship with Him.  Intimacy with Him is the goal.  Not following the rules, but following Jesus. Not perfection, but following the Perfect One.

In Beth Moore’s “Living Free” study, she quotes a friend who was far from God, depressed and broken.  Her friend said, “I thought I couldn’t come to God with this sin in my life.”  When I read that, my heart broke for her.  I wanted her to understand that not coming to God WAS the sin in her life.  Turn around.  Come to Him.  That is repentance.  That is faith.  That is humility.

In “Living Free”, Beth goes on to say that “prayer keeps us in constant communion with God, which is the goal of our entire believing lives.  Prayerless lives are powerless lives, and prayerful lives are powerful lives; but, believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him.”

He loves us.  He created us.  He wants us, warts and all.  He knows we’re messed up.  He knows we’re broken.  But that brokenness is not sin.  That is part of being human.  Our sin is our turning away from Him.  Repentance is turning back, confident that He is waiting to receive us with open arms.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Beth Moore continues her study with the question, “How is intimacy with God different from the goal of being good enough to be acceptable to God?”  Here is my answer.  And my prayer is that it can be your answer as well.

Intimacy with You, my God, is knowing that, because I turned to Jesus who took on my sin, my “turning away”,  and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I’m already good enough, covered in Your grace, reclining at Your banqueting table, resting with You, my creator, enjoying Your presence and knowing that You enjoy me, just as I am.

Go ahead.  Read that again.  In the swivel chair of your mind, turn to God, seeing the huge  smile on His face, and read those words to Him.  He’s so happy to see you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Inspired by “The Cure”

Two days ago, I received an email asking if I was still writing blogs because she hadn’t seen any lately.  How sweet of her to ask.  She was right.  I haven’t written since April 11th (Won’t You Be My Love).

I realized yesterday that my blog’s one year anniversary is today, July 16th.  “If they asked me, I could write a book…” was that first post where I said, “I keep writing and writing, waiting for a book to pop out, but it never does.”  But now, looking back, I know that it finally did “pop out”.  If you’d like to read it, this is My Story.

It even had a sequel, a series of posts that expanded on that story:  Moment By Moment.

So, what have I been doing since that last post on April 11th?  Well, another interesting story has begun.  It all started on March 28th, when I realized that I wasn’t going to have something written in time for Maggie’s birthday party.

You remember Maggie.  She’s the young songwriter featured in the original Moment By Moment post.  If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve most likely received that post as my birthday present to you (written on my birthday last October).

You see, Maggie’s amazing parents were putting together a one-of-a-kind birthday party for a one-of-a-kind 16 year old girl.  They wanted to tell the story of Maggie’s life, honoring the God who made that life possible, and share the day with friends and family who had impacted Maggie’s first 16 years.  I was honored to be on the guest list.  And those on the guest list were asked to write something to bring to the party to share with Maggie.

But my brain wouldn’t cooperate.  I wanted to encourage Maggie with words of wisdom, something akin to Bart Millard’s “Dear Younger Me“.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but it just wouldn’t come together.  I always say that I need a lot of “space” in my brain to write, and I was seriously lacking in space.  I sobbed as I told my dear husband that I couldn’t do it.  And I almost decided not to go to the party.  Thankfully, John encouraged me to go anyway, even without something written.  I’m so glad I did.

The party was incredible.  I would have gone if only to be able to watch Maggie’s mom tell the story of her life.  It was beautiful.  And then friends and family shared and their stories added to the beauty of the day.  We all joined hands and prayed over Maggie.  I prayed that Maggie and her friends would never cancel their plans because they felt inadequate.

I cried as I prayed those words, because I knew that God wanted me there and I knew He wanted me to pass along that message.  I didn’t want them to ever miss an opportunity like that because, in engaging with others, we are in fact engaging with God.

Here’s how God engaged with me that day.  I sat with two friends who I hadn’t seen in years.  We spent some time catching up on each other’s lives.  I shared with them about my blog and about the miracle that God performed on September 13 & 14, 2014.  That was the beginning of my story: Redeemed – Part 1.  In that post, I wrote about seeing MercyMe in concert.  Bart Millard, MercyMe’s lead singer, had “been on an amazing road to transformation over the last couple years and it was exciting to hear his story.”

What if God isn't who you think He is and neither are you
The Cure: What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you

One of my friends said, “Do you know what started all of that?  He read a book by John Lynch called The Cure“.  She and her husband “just happened” to have been on the “MercyMe at Sea” cruise in January 2015 where they got to hear first-hand from Bart Millard about the book and why it was so impactful to him.  In fact, you can hear about it, right from the authors themselves, in this 11 minute podcast:  Sailing in the Dark.  MercyMe’s Welcome to the New album was directly inspired by this book.

Well, I went home from Maggie’s party and ordered the book.  And when it arrived, I devoured it.  Many times throughout the book, I literally laughed out loud as I read.  I could not believe what I was reading.  So many of the concepts I’ve written about in this blog are IN THIS BOOK.  Bart Millard never mentioned “The Cure” at the concert last September.  How huge is God that He was able to communicate all of this to me through MercyMe’s album, never having read the book that the album was based on?

If it was that important to God that I find this book, then I needed to know more.  I’ve since bought several other books by the same authors and listened to many podcasts on their website, TrueFaced.com:

Bo’s Cafe:  “The Cure” for marriage (devoured that one too)
The Ascent of a Leader:  “The Cure” for leaders (currently devouring this one)
On My Worst Day:  John Lynch’s story (this one is next on my list to devour)
Podcasts:  “Bo’s Cafe” informal chats with the authors, each only about 10-15 minutes long

And I’m blessed to be working through “The Cure” Small Group Study with two dear friends this summer.  We’re about half way through and it’s been wonderful.

But, first and foremost, if you’re intrigued, get The Cure.  And if you’re inspired too, please share.

And what ever happened with Maggie’s birthday present?  That 50th post, Won’t You Be My Love, was for her.  And this 51st post?  This one is for everyone.  After all, when you find the cure, don’t you want to share it with the world?

Won’t You Be My Love?

“Every woman I’ve ever met feels it — something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does.  An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is.  I am not enough, and, I am too much at the same time.  Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough.  But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy.  The result is Shame, the universal companion of women.  It haunts us, nipping at our heels, feeding on our deepest fear that we will end up abandoned and alone.” – Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, by John and Stasi Eldredge

Wow.  I just finished reading this powerful book.  This is not a “do these 10 things and you’ll be a Proverbs 31 woman” book.  The subtitle really sums it up:  “Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul”.  Sounds pretty, doesn’t it?  Boy, I’d like to think that I’m “mysterious”, because most days I just feel “messed up”.  John and Stasi nailed it.  I am too much and too little all rolled into one.

Beth Moore said something at her 2009 Living Proof Live conference that has always stuck with me:  “Repression will make you sick, rebellion will make you stupid.  We gotta be real.”

The Apostle James says it this way:  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NIV)  

Sharing our hurts is healing and I believe that positive life change only happens with other people.  Keeping it to ourselves only makes it worse, or in 12 Step language, “we’re as sick as our secrets”.  I spent most of 2013 in a Celebrate Recovery 12 Step Study and I learned that genuine confession leads to genuine change.  Telling our story is freeing, on so many levels.

Think of it this way.  If we keep it between us and God, there is no accountability.  We might say, “Hey, He forgives me, we’ll just keep this between us.  No need to get anyone else involved.  It’s a private matter.”  Just one problem with that.  No change happens.  We keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results, the very definition of “insanity”.   But when the pain of changing finally feels less than the pain of staying the same, it’s time to change.

So, here I am with you, my trusted friends, confessing my sin to you.  I am a mess.  I am too much; I am too little.  I am up; I am down.  I am happy; I am sad.  I am carefree; I am frustrated.  I am optimistic; I am pessimistic.  I am kind; I am harsh.  I am manic; I am depressive.  I am intelligent; I am hopelessly stupid.  I am encouraging; I am discouraged.  I am on top of the world; I am in the lowest pit.  I am an eagle soaring high above the clouds; I am Eeyore beneath the rain cloud.  I am free to dream the grandest of dreams; I am tied up in knots.  I am a woman of faith; I am a woman of fear.  I am filled with the love of Jesus; I am bound by the lies of the evil one.  I have it all together; I am completely overwhelmed. 

So much of it comes down to expectations.  Am I expecting too much?  Am I expecting too little?  Do I expect everything to fall apart?  Do I expect that I will be left “abandoned and alone”?  Or do I expect that God will come through?  Do I expect that He will take care of me?  Do I expect that He will never leave me, never forsake me, and that He has amazing people waiting to help me at just the right moment?  If I give in to despair, if I give up, will I miss out on seeing God come through for me?  Yep, I will.  I’ll miss out.  And something will be missing in the world that could have been there if I hadn’t given up.

Toward the end of Captivating, in a chapter called “An Irreplaceable Role”, John and Stasi remind us that we were each made with a unique purpose in mind.  No one else can live the life that we alone were created to live.  You are the only person on earth who can fulfill your purpose.  I love this beautiful reminder of who we truly are:

“You are a woman.  An image bearer of God.  The Crown of Creation.  You were chosen before time and space, and you are wholly and dearly loved.  You are sought after, pursued, romanced, the passionate desire of your Fiancé, Jesus.  You are dangerous in your beauty and your life-giving power.  And you are needed.”

Oh, there’s so much more.  Read the book (check your library).  We are needed.  We all have something to contribute.  Expectations can kill us, but hope frees us.  Hope of today, hope of tomorrow and hope of eternity.  Hope lives with Jesus.  And when we live with Jesus, we get to experience that hope.  And if we don’t feel it, we need to ask him to help us feel it.  But don’t wait on feelings.  They’re so fleeting.  One minute everything is amazing and the next minute everything has gone wrong.  But God is still working.  And He still loves us immeasurably.  And He’s fighting for us, as a groom fights for his bride.  I wrote about that in December when I started reading Captivating.  Check out The Beautiful Adventure if you’d like to read more.

I heard MercyMe’s “Won’t You Be My Love?” this morning and it stirred something in me that made me want to write for the first time in a month.  I hope it stirs something in you too.  And if you love it, the whole album is only $9.99 on iTunes.

“My friends are broke and lost
Looking for someone to lead them to my cross
I need your help, I need your help

Won’t you be My voice calling
Won’t you be My hands healing
Won’t you be My feet walking into a broken world
Won’t you be My chain-breaker
Won’t you be My peacemaker
Won’t you be My hope and joy
Won’t you be My Love”

We may be broke and lost, but even in our brokenness, we have something to give.  We are needed.  Our prayers are needed.  They are powerful and effective.  Our lives are powerful and effective.  God is powerful and effective and He wants His power to flow through us out into this broken world.  Our expectations may be unrealistic.  Let’s place all of those expectations on Him.  He can handle it.  His shoulders are big enough.  And, in that freedom, let’s go out and live the lives that we were created to live.