Dec 29, 2010

Looking Back on 2010: A GIANT Year-End Review

Well hey there! I know, I know, long time no see. Or rather, long time no blog. Sorry about that...November & December were not very conducive months for blogging! Actually, this whole year has been quite hit & miss with blogging, so I wanted to take a compacted look back on the highlights of each month of this year, complete with pictures! Consider this the Reader's Digest version of my year!

Actually, January 2010 I reflected a lot on January of 2009. Everyone has turning points in their life, & the mission trip our youth group took to Peru was definitely one of mine. The months leading up to that trip, I was headed in the wrong direction spiritually. I believed that having a boyfriend & getting skinny were "it" in terms of satisfaction & I was determined to do whatever it took in both areas. One big problem: I was considered one of the "leaders" & a "good teenager" at church, & I was really worried about losing that reputation. I lived to please people; both my boyfriend at the time, & the people that I looked up to in my church family. As you can imagine, those are two very different groups of people & I ended up living a very hypocritical lifestyle. It came to a point where I needed to choose which path I was going to take: pursuing a godly lifestyle & a genuine, pure relationship with my Savior, or living to please my flesh. I remember very distinctly the depression I was in the week before the trip & the Lord in His goodness spared me from seeing my boyfriend that week & making a huge mistake. As we set off on our journey, I really only wanted to go for the warm joke. Great reason for a missions trip, huh? Shows you where my heart was. One of my clearest memories from one of our layovers in Miami is pretty pathetic. We were just about to board the plane to Lima, Peru, when I was overcome with the realization that I was in a relationship where I was sacrificing my convictions & still felt empty. I found a corner, sat down, & started sobbing like a little kid. I didn't want to go on the trip, I didn't want to go home, I didn't want to be me! The whole group was waiting for me to get it together so we could board, & one of my friends came over to pray with me & challenged me to leave my issues in the States & try to be open for what God had for me in Peru. Full of doubt, I agreed that I would try to be at peace & help however I could. I really didn't expect anything though....thankfully, God had other ideas. Through the whole experience; meeting the Peruvian believers, living with the missionaries, & being broken through all that the Lord was teaching me, my life was completely changed. It wasn't all at once, but God gave me different priorities through that trip. I came home & broke up with my bf, got rid of a lot of the things in my life that I knew were displeasing to God, & started pursuing the Lord with all of my heart. Yeah, January '09 was worth reminiscing about =)

One of the big highlights of this February was something called "Heart Conference" at Northland. It is a conference held every year to encourage pastors in the area. About 100-200 pastors & church leaders come & there are seminars & sessions with special speakers. This year's Heart Conference focused on prayer, but God worked on my in another area as well. He revealed that I had really been struggling in accepting God as my heavenly Father. I had begun to believe the lie that I had to perform & do all these things in order to gain His approval & love. When I messed up, I would feel ashamed to come to Him in prayer, but He taught me during this time that it's not about anything that I have ever done or could ever do, but it is all about what  Christ did for me on the cross.

In January of this year, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake & my heart broke for them. I had been praying about going on another mission trip for over a year, but the Lord never opened a door. When I heard about the earthquake, I asked the Lord to give me an opportunity to go to Haiti. I prayed for several months & then received word of a possibility to go in August. I prayed some more & it really appeared that this was a step that the Lord wanted me to take, so I began to prepare to go to Haiti. Little did I know the adventures that God had in store for me!

I have to say that my favorite memory of May was the concert at the Heyde center. My former piano teacher & her husband have a concert there once a year & she has invited me to play several times. Obviously, I was also in college at this time, so it was a little hard to learn an extra song outside of my required exam pieces, but it was worth it! Both of my parents came, & my brother, Jeremiah, was also able to come. That made it extra special since I rarely get to see him anymore. We had so much fun, and it was also a great experience to play in front of that big of a crowd. Here's to hoping I get invited back again in 2011!! Haha =)

Ahhhh, summer =) God was so good to me this summer. I was able to spend about 8-10 hrs a day at the pool, about 5 of those in the water, 5-6 days a week. I taught swimming lessons & lifeguarded. Oh, I also finally learned how to do the butterfly stroke, which is now my favorite. Lol! But I was also able to head up a Bible study with two of my best friends: Stephanie & Krystle. This is a picture of me & one of the girls that came, her name is Destiny. God just taught me so much during the preparation for the lessons, discipling, & also just through fellowship with the middle school & high school girls. It was such a blessing to see the girl's desire to grow in their relationship with the Lord & to have the privilege of having a small part in their lives for a short time =)

More summer!! I love summer....can ya tell? Haha =) In July I was able to spend a lot of time with my family in between work & everything else. My sister Rebecca was 8 months pregnant & I was able to take some maternity photos. I discovered I love photography!! Well, I've known that for a while, but I've never had a great camera, or such beautiful subjects! I still don't have the camera, but I borrow whenever I can. Lol! 
My niece, Aubrianna, also came for a visit over 4th of July, so I was able to do a quick picture session with her too. Only about 15 minutes though because she was grumpy. Haha! Still got some cute pics though =) I was also amazed to see how the Lord continued to make provision for me to go to Haiti, & how He was shaping my heart & preparing me for the blessing & challenges ahead. 

The long awaited month of August finally came. I set off for Haiti not really knowing what to expect. I only knew 2 other people going on the trip & would not meet with them until I got to Florida. I had all of the vaccinations that were required & enough hand sanitizer to last a year in the States, but about a week in St. Raphael Haiti. Haha! This week I had a lot of firsts: first time eating goat & not having to shove the meat in my pockets (long story, ask me later ;). First time finding a tarantula in a pickle jar at the breakfast table (it was found crawling on the curtains the night before). First time hiking up a mountain with a witch doctor's nephew & apprentice. First time holding a 4 foot snake. First time hearing voo-doo drums outside while trying to fall asleep. First time being near to witch doctor prayers (he prayed for a wife, & chocolate....weird. Lol!) And first time ever fully realizing just how incredibly good God is to us & just how powerful He is over all things!!! But I'll save that for another blog post =)
 The Haitians were so precious. The girls were very, very cold to us the first few days & had little to no interest in the gospel. But the Lord began to work & by the end of the week they began warming up & becoming more receptive to the Truth. The little girl in the green with the adorable smile is named Pafwinda. She was my little buddy for the week =)

 Malaria was in peak season & out of the 200 people that were on the compound that week, over 10% of them were suffering with the disease.
 Cuteness overload!!! This is one of the cook's sons.
The girl that is in the blue flower skirt is named Dolly. She spoke Creole, obviously, but also spoke some Spanish & English. We were able to talk quite a bit & became good friends. She was incredibly sweet, & I miss her a lot!
 Teaching Sunday school on one of our last days in Haiti. I loved it & would love to return again in the future. Please keep the Bower family, (the missionaries we stayed with), in your prayers as they continue to face many challenges in Haiti.

Me, Ashlee, & Jen!

Back to school!!! By the end of the summer, I was ready to get back into the busyness of school! I just didn't realize how insanely busy it would be!! I guess I was a little bit overly-ambitious because I took on some extra credits....and a job. Lol! But God was faithful in helping me accomplish everything, & not fail any classes =) This semester was a little bit different because 2 of my best friends didn't return this year. God had different plans for Emilee & Ashlee. But Ashlee was able to come for a visit, which I was very thankful for =)

Spirit week at school!! Our room was the "Nerd Herd." Lol....very fitting. I honestly don't remember a whole lot from October, except that it was extremely busy! For the first month and a half of school, I was literally in class, practicing, or doing homework from 7 am until midnight almost every day. So October was basically made up of piano practice, classes, piano practice, homework, work study, & did I mention piano practice? Haha! It was good though. I know I'm where God wants me & I am confident that I am in the right major, so it wasn't hard to put forth my best effort with the Lord's help.

Bri bri!! In November, I was blessed with visits! Lol. My sister Amber & my niece Aubrianna came for a visit one weekend. It was so much fun! We had some great talks, and ended up going out for dinner since Amber was even less fond of Northland food than I am. Haha! I also got to see an old friend that I hadn't seen in almost two years. The missionaries that we stayed with in Peru are in the States for a while this year & their oldest son came to Northland for a weekend b-ball tournament. So it was good to see him again after such a long time =) That was also around the time that it seemed like God started testing my dependence on Him. With the end of the school year approaching quickly, November was a very intense month. Projects, papers, & practice seemed never ending. I deal with stress in unhealthy ways sometimes, & so I ended up forgoing meals in favor of de-stressing with some P90X or time on the treadmill. But between Thanksgiving & Christmas cookies, I think it evened out. Lol!

The beginning of December was consumed with finals & music exams, and let me tell you....I wasn't handling it so well. I wish I could say that I was fully resting in the Lord's strength & finding my joy in Him, but that wasn't always the case. I was struggling with several trials that God had allowed to come into my life & trying to deal with the fact that He had removed one of my close friends & several of my most respected mentors from my life at the time. But God showed my that I don't have to "get" everything that He is doing. He can see the big picture, I just have to trust Him. And guess what? There was SO much peace when I finally just gave over all of my worries! I had joy during my last week at school because I was once again relying on God for my happiness, but I definitely welcomed break! I slept 12 hrs my first night home, which was more than 3 nights at school combined!! Lol =) I've been able to catch up with friends, & spend time with my family. I also got re-certified to Lifeguard & give CPR again. Yay! Tonight, I get to see my brother for the first time in almost 8 months, & tomorrow the rest of my family will be up to celebrate Christmas.

 It has been an amazing year. God is truly incredible, & faithful in all of His works. Even when I can't see or understand. 

Bring on 2011!!!!

Dec 3, 2010

The Love of the Father: Part 2

Remember back in part 1 when I said that the Lord began teaching me more about His role as my perfect heavenly Father when I was studying Hebrews 11 & Psalm 103 in tandem? I never really explained myself in the first post because I wanted to take the time to explore those passages a little bit more than I could have in that post alone. In that post I focused on God's fatherly love, but in this post I will be sharing more about what God has been teaching me about the way He lovingly disciplines His children.

Since February of this year, I have really been digging into Hebrews 12; it is a familiar passage, & I think that because it is so familiar that I sometimes have the habit of speed-reading, but it is such an incredibly rich chapter!
I hope you'll take the time to read through the eight verses that I would like to focus on. Verses 3-11 say:

"Consider him (Jesus) who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?       

'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.'

  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. "

God's discipline looks different in each of our lives, but His discipline always has the same purpose in every believers life: to make us more like His Son. It is often said that God loves us as we are, but too much to leave us that way. Verse 10 of this passage says that God "disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness." This passage is also honest in acknowledging the pain that comes with discipline. There are times when God is working in our lives to make us more like Christ, & we just don't understand what He is doing, or why. We can be hurt, confused, lonely, & afraid, & it is all for the sake of discipline. You might be thinking that this all seems a little unfair, but consider again God's love & purpose in transforming us by any means necessary. We already established in the last post that God as our Father loves us more than humanly comprehensible. It is in these verses that we are confronted by the fact that if God truly loves us, He must discipline us, otherwise we would be regarded as illegitimate children. Many of the sweetest times I have had with the Lord have been during some of the most difficult times in my life.

During the midst of trials, we have a choice. We can either accuse God of punishing us & then ignore Him, like we are somehow "getting even," or we can accept that trial as a chance to show Christlike-ness. To be steadfast in our faith & grow in grace & in the knowledge that God is enough in times of confusion & pain. He has promised to sustain us & comfort us in every circumstance, if only we will ask it of Him. This is where Psalm 103 comes in. I love this. I was in this passage one evening & actually getting a little bit bogged down considering the discipline of the Lord, when I turned to this Psalm & read verses 8-17:

"The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
  He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
  He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
  For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
  as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
  As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
  For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
  for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
  But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to 
everlasting on those who fear him."

Isn't it comforting to know that the Lord doesn't punish us according to our transgressions? To know that He looks on us with compassion & sympathizes with our weaknesses? I don't know about you, but I think that the word "dust" is the perfect way to describe our human fragility. Although God our Father must discipline us for our good, He also understands our weaknesses & has compassion on us. I encourage you to really study these passages on your own & find more about the Lord's discipline. It is an encouragement to understand God's purposes in allowing us to go through hard times. As I close out this post, I'm going to end back where we began in Hebrews 12, verses 1 & 2. 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. "