In The Midst of the Mundane

So this blog will be short and sweet… I hope that it encourages you!

A few nights ago we had people over to our house for dinner. Reiner cooked (You are welcome family who came over. Him cooking means I didn’t… 😉) , so it was my job to do the dishes. And that is where my story begins…

I started washing the dishes and put on some worship music. As I was scrubbing and singing along, I just felt the presence of God. It was such a sweet time.

It was a good reminder that God desires to be included in the seemingly mundane tasks of our day.

When you are cleaning up your toddlers play room for the fifteenth time that hour.

When you are stuck in traffic coming home from work.

When the dishes are piled up and the laundry seems to be never ending.

While you wait in line at the grocery store.

While you sit in your cubicle at work.

While you sit and wait for your students to finish an assignment.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, God is there.

And that makes even the most boring tasks (like scrubbing apple pie off of the dessert plates) a sacred moment.

Don’t miss it.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

It’s Not Mine

So I have been very quiet on this blog! Life gets busy and writing takes a backseat, but I’m going to TRYYYYYY to be better, I promise. 😉

I don’t have many super deep thoughts to give to my loyal readers…ummm…reader… (Hi mom!), but I do want to share a quick testimony of God’s faithfulness.

As you know, Reiner and I took over as Pastors of Living Word a little over a year ago. We love it. It’s been a stretch, but one in a good direction. I love seeing him grow in the calling that God has for his life. I’m a proud wife. 😊

But just a little background info: Our church is located in a big orange building at a busy roundabout. We love the location and it’s perfect for us. We have rented out two floors, one for the adults and one for the kids. The only downside to this is the cost. Rent in town is more expensive and our offerings do not cover even half of it. Thankfully Living Word-South Africa has been a great backing for us. But you can imagine, between the rent and other church expenses, it becomes quite a stretch sometimes. And when you are the Pastors, the financial responsibility ultimately falls on you.

There were several months in a row that we had to take out of our own pockets to pay the rent and other expenses for the church. We were thankful that God provided us the funds to be able to do it, but our bank account was also seeing the cut. We needed to make a decision and that was whether or not to keep the second floor, which is the kids church room. We gave it a deadline and said if something doesn’t happen, we’ll have to give it up.

As you know, the children’s pastor in me was REALLY trusting God for funds! About the time that we were making the decision, the kids church began to grow. We were at over 20 kids and the kids were really starting to warm up to this weird white lady that came and taught them every week. It was (and is) amazing!

So the deadline came and nothing had happened in the financial world, but thankfully I have a great Pastor who supports kids and his wife (who also REALLY loves those kids. 😉) We decided to take a step of faith and keep the floor. And not only that, we would have a fundraiser to be able to decorate the kids church, which is where the #MiniMadaMarket came into play for those of you on my FB friend list. 😊

At that time (and still today!), we had/have no idea how these funds for the rent will come in, but can I just share something cool? Since we made the decision a few months ago to keep the floor, we haven’t had to pay any extra into the church rent! I can honestly say that I don’t know how (in the physical sense) it has worked out the last few months, but when we have needed to pay the rent, it’s been there. God has just done His thing, and we get to reap the reward!

The other day, Reinier and I were talking about finances for the Wellness Center project. We had just gotten some bad news and it just wasn’t the best day in the world. But Reinier said this and it really got me thinking: “It’s God’s project so it’s His responsibility, not ours.”

Wow.

Yes, we work hard. Yes, we make sure that we are good stewards of what He has given us. Yes, we continue to do what we can do.  But in that process, we realize that it’s not really ours to begin with.

I don’t think it is any coincidence that the kids church started growing during the decision-making progress. I really believe that God wanted us to take the step of faith, continue to invest in those kids, and then let Him take the responsibility for how it all gets done.

And ultimately, that’s what we are called to do. Take the step of faith. If it’s His vision and His calling, it’s also His responsibility.

-Be blessed!

Kristen

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Our other “home” 🙂

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The view from our church building

The Inconvenient Detour

Hey guys! So I’m really excited to have my brother as a “Guest Blogger” today.  Get to the end. I promise you won’t regret it. I know it was something that I needed to hear! 🙂 Enjoy!

 

The Inconvenient Detour

Let me start off by saying, writing like this is not my thing. My sister is the one with the meaningful, thought-provoking blogs, so if you make it only 1/3rd through before returning back to your Facebook page to see your friend’s post about what he is having for lunch, I’ll completely understand. And please forgive any grammar or punctuation errors. I’ll just be happy if my sister-in-law with her masters in English can read half of this without punching her screen. ☺

With that disclaimer…

The Trip

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to meet up with my sister Kristen, Brother-in-law Reinier, and my mom in South Africa for a 4 day safari. In the past, I’ve traveled to South Africa as a missions trip, but this time, it was just for pleasure and to spend some time with my sister and her husband who were visiting from their home in Madagascar. They only come to America once a year, so it was great to get to see them in person during the year instead of having to wait until their yearly voyage to the U.S around Christmas time. This trip was extra special because not only would I get to spend quality time with my family, but our safari was going to be in Kruger Park. Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa (about 7500 sq miles) and is one of the coolest places on earth. It’s one of the few places that you can take your own car, travel at your own pace, and see exotic animals up close without a cage in their natural habitat. You can drive for hours, and even when you’ve been down the same dirt road before, it’s always a new adventure because there is always the possibility to see something you haven’t seen before. It’s not like the private game reserves around the area where people own the land and are more like a huge zoo. This land is purely the “wild”. It only has a few entrances into the park and unless you are staying at a camp within the park, you have to be out by a certain time. I have been on South African safaris before, but this was the first time it truly was the wild, so this was definitely something on my bucket list.

There are a few rules that you have to abide by while in Kruger. The most important rule is that you can never get out of your car. The only exceptions would be is if you are inside a gated camp site, or at a place designated by a sign that said you could get out at your own risk (like a lookout point). You can also be outside of a vehicle If you were with a group and armed guide during a “walking safari”. Another big rule is that you had to be back at your camp ground or out of the park by 5:30 pm (unless you were on a night safari with an armed guide). During this time of the year, this is when the sun starts to go down and the predators start to become active. There are no street lights anywhere, so being out after dark could be very dangerous especially if you were to get lost. Also, the speed limit is strictly enforced. Animals walk out in front of vehicles frequently, so it’s safe to say you wouldn’t want to be traveling at 40mph and hit an elephant straight on. The elephant might not notice “the bump” but your car might. You also wouldn’t want to be flying down the road and run over some small endangered animal crossing the road at the wrong time.

So that brings me to the actual events of one particular night…

It was Thursday evening, the last night before my mom and I headed back to the U.S. It was around 4pm and we were just hanging around our camp house resting after a long day of driving. Reinier had suggested going out one last time before the camp gate was shut at 5:30 for one last chance at seeing the animals that had eluded us the days before. We finally decided that just the 2 of us would go out, and give my mom and my sis some final mom-daughter bonding time before the end of our trip.

Reinier and I then headed out to explore the long single road that lead into the camp before making a u-turn and heading back. It was about 5:15pm and we were about 5 minutes from the camp entrance when a van coming from the opposite direction slowed down, and rolled down the window to tell us that an elephant had pushed over a tree blocking the road into the camp. He said there was no way to get around the barrier and the only way to get back to the camp was to go back down the long single road, take a huge loop detour around the park to the only other entrance to the road, and approach the camp site from opposite end. The only problem with that plan was that it was 10 min before the camp gates closed, and there was no cellphone service to call my mom and my sister what had happened. Reinier estimated the detour to be around 1-2 hours going the speed limit.

This definitely wasn’t what we had planned and it was frustrating that we had no way of contacting our family to let them know of the situation. All they would know is that the gate closes at 5:30 and we are nowhere to be found. No one else would have known about the tree in the middle of the road, and it’s not like they have a road maintenance crew that gets called out in the middle of the night to clean up issues like this. Not sure I would want to be in the middle of the dark, hacking at a tree with an axe and flashlight while a leopard is nearby scouting out his next snack. For the situation, we had no other choice but to go the long way around, and pray we weren’t pulled over by the game reserve guards for being out after curfew. The car that had warned us said we could follow them around to the other side, so we quickly made a u-turn and got in line behind the 2 cars.

The sun was going down quickly and as the pitch black approached, we determined the 2 cars in front of us were completely disregarding the speed limit. They were flying! We had no choice but to keep in line with the caravan so we didn’t get lost, which meant we also had to go super-fast down the twisting and turning dirt roads, and up and down huge hills wrapping around mini-mountains. Now earlier that day, while driving at a snail’s pace, we had at least 20 elephants, 4-5 Rhino, Buffalo, and countless Impala and other deer-like animals all cross the road in right in front of us. Some would just be standing in the road, and others would dart across the road so we’d have to hit the brake. Going 30-40 miles an hour in completely dark is not the ideal thing to do when you can’t see around the corner and animals bigger than our car tend to chill in the middle of the street. Needless to say, we had our prayers working the whole way. I think it was half fear, and half excitement that kept us going so fast, even though we knew all it would take was one animal to ruin our trip and Reinier’s borrowed car.

After about an hour of driving, and us nearing the needed camp road turn off, the 2 cars in front of us screeched to a sudden stop. As we slammed on our break in turn, we looked up to see the head of a massive male lion poking out of the bushes right next to the road. Lion sightings aren’t exactly rare, but to see one up close like this didn’t happen all the time. When lion sightings happen during the day, it’s usually via binoculars and you have to jockey for position with 20 other cars trying to get a small glimpse of the lion sleeping off in the distance in the bushes.

The other cars paused for a minute to take in the cool view, then slowly pulled forward to complete the journey back to the camp grounds. After Reinier and I had completed our excited “WHOOHOO’s” at just the chance to see the top of a lion’s head that close, we started to pull forward… and then the unexpected happened. The massive cat arose from his resting spot and calmly proceeded to walk across the road, just inches from the front of our car. He looked right at us as he casually passed by and entered into the bushes on the opposite side of the road to disappear in the darkness. Wow, what a sight! I had seen lions before, but never one so close. Reinier and I suddenly included a series of high fives with our excited “Whoohoo’s!.” In that moment, all of the frustration of the situation that existed just minutes before was no longer there and we were more anxious to get back to the camp site to tell the family of the sighting rather than the inconvenience of the detour.

Once we got back to the camp, the gate was opened for us, and soon discovered that my sister and my mom had found out what happened from the campsite guards and were patiently waiting our return. We readily told them of all that occurred and how we just happened to be at the right place at the right time to catch such a great view of the huge cat.

When the excitement slowed down and the night concluded, as I lay in bed still on a high from the night’s adventure, I felt this thought of “was that sighting really a coincidence?” What are the odds that we would be on that very road, at that very time after curfew, and what are the odds that the lion would wait until OUR car pulled up for it to rise and pass right in front of us? I guess anything is possible, however it did get me thinking.

At the beginning of the evening, the tree in the middle of the road was a huge inconvenience. No one likes it when you are going down the road, almost to your destination and there is a sign that says “Road closed,” with signs pointing to the long way around. We didn’t like the fact that we had to drive an extra hour without being able to tell our family what was going on. We also didn’t like the fact we had to put our lives in danger by speeding down twisting and turning roads not knowing what danger could lie around the corner.

But by the end of the night, our frustrating inconvenience turned into one of the top highlights of our entire trip. We would have been perfectly fine getting to the camp site on time that night and would have still enjoyed our time that evening. We wouldn’t have known what we missed, and life would have gone on happily. But… if you would have given me the option up front to choose taking an hour detour to see a lion up close, vs getting the camp site on time, I would have GLADLY chosen the detour.

I guess that’s when the realization hit. How many times have I had an inconvenience in my life that turned out to be something much better than what I had planned originally? Either I prayed for something or expected something to happen in a certain way and then all of a sudden, the plan changed. An elephant knocked down a tree in my path and I was forced to head in a different direction completely out of my way. When things don’t go as planned, my initial reaction is frustration and the need to vent to God, usually with attitude that it’s His fault and why would He let something like this happen to me. I tend not to pause and consider that this all may be part of a bigger plan that includes a happier ending than what my initial prayers were for. And then when I look back on the situation, I would have gladly chosen the inconvenience to get the final reward. The funny part is that these inconveniences tend to happen pretty frequently and when God does present a better result than my original prayer, it doesn’t stop me from getting any less frustrated the next time an inconvenience comes my way.

This is one of my family’s favorite verses. It just never occurred to me that in order for God to give “better” prayer results, sometimes we HAVE to be inconvenienced…

Ephesians 3:20
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…

And hopefully the next time I’m “inconvenienced”, I won’t be so quick to be frustrated, but rather thank God up front for what he is shielding me from, or what better victory He has in store for me.

Maybe this thought was just for me, but just figured I’d share it in case anyone else has had an elephant block their path recently.

For those going through a struggle, just remember….behind every blocked road, there could be a the victory of the lion waiting.

My reminder…

lionphotojoey

Pay Attention.

Being in Madagascar, my “normal” has changed. It’s a different way of life here, and a lot of times, I really forget to look around at the sights around me. But when I do stop and take things in, I just have to smile. Whether it’s a live pig getting carried on a cart, living his last few minutes of his pig life or a man walking ducks down the street, the realization of my “normal” is definitely different than it was in the States.

But most of the time? I am so caught up in my own thoughts or trying to avoid accidents driving or walking, that I don’t really stop and pay attention.

So today, as I walked from the school to the grocery store, I decided to do just that:

Pay attention.

There is a man, holding a rooster who lets out a loud “cock a doodle doo”. I wonder if the rooster knows that today is probably his last day here.

On the way back, I see a young boy holding a chicken, taking it back home for lunch.

I hear the sound of cars honking and engines running as people sit still in traffic. Patience in traffic is an art I have yet to perfect!

There is a man yelling, calling people to come buy things from a table full of clothes. It reminds me of a very loud garage sale on the side of the road.

The money collectors at the back of the buses are also yelling, getting people to climb on to get to their destination.

In one of the booths, there is a lady fixing old shoes, with her toddler sitting next to her. There are so many children on the street, sitting with their parents while they earn their income.

In another stall, close by, the owners are playing music.

On the side of the road, you can buy car parts, fruit, vegetables, toothbrushes, candy, toys, fried snacks, jewelry, cell phones, accessories, etc. You name it. You can probably find it.

There are people sitting in other booths, eating their lunch of noodles or rice. It’s Madagascar’s version of fast food.

Need a small balloon on a stick? There is a man walking around, making his income from selling them to children.

You can turn into the market area and pick up your fruits and vegetables and eggs for the week.

There is also meat hanging or sitting on the counters. The animals were alive this morning. It’s quite the sight and the smell!

There is a woman balancing a large basket on her head.

Outside of the market, I see a man having to push his bicycle because it’s weighed down by a huge bag of pineapples and other fruits.

There are men pushing carts of wood or fruit or yellow buckets of water or whatever else needs to be transported.

If I ever need a colorful mattress, there are three sitting on the side of the road.

As I’m walking, I’m avoiding people, bicycles, salesmen, and cars.

I hear a few people say “hello” in Malagasy and French directed at me. There is even a whistle. I ignore it, as always. Being a “vaza” (Foreigner) here definitely makes me stand out.

So many sights. So many sounds. And so many times, I miss it all, simply because I’m not paying attention.

What about you? What are some things around you that just make you smile? Maybe it’s something new and exciting or maybe…just maybe, it’s the “normal” in your life.

As you go throughout your day today, stop and pay attention.

You’ll be amazed by the beauty of it all.

Everything. (Part 3 of Blog Series)

This is part 3 of the 3-part Blog Series. I hope that you have enjoyed the last 2! I look forward to reading your comments and seeing what you have to say!

Luke 15 has been a great chapter to dive deeper into. Between the sheep, the coins, and now the sons, I think it’s safe to say that Jesus did a great job directing us to the fact that one soul matters. These parables really open our eyes to the love that Christ has for us and for the responsibility that we have. What an honor!

The last parable that Jesus shows us in this chapter is one of two sons. Both worked for the father and would later on receive an inheritance from him. One son decides early on that his time working at the family farm is done. He asks his father for his share of the inheritance and hits the open road. He parties and has a temporary season of fun. But then… he runs out of money. Life makes a sudden turn for the worst and he is now in search of a job. The only one that he can find is feeding pigs. I can imagine the smell and even worse, the shame that this man had. The Bible says that he longed to even eat the food that the pigs were eating. He was that hungry!

He realizes quickly that this is not the same life that he had imagined before he left his father’s house. He thinks and decides that he will go home…not as a son, but as a servant. Surely his father will let him be a servant. He comes home, rehearsing his speech for his father. What he didn’t expect is what he saw from a distance. There was a man running. He was getting closer and closer. Who could it be?

Was it his father?

His father was running towards him…. Laughing…smiling… rejoicing!

What a sight! The father… a symbol of our Heavenly Father running towards the lost son. It’s beautiful!

The father heard the son’s speech about wanting to become a servant, but would have nothing to do with that. He was and would always be his SON! There was a party and food and dancing and gifts and…

one angry brother.

The other brother. The one we don’t talk about much. He’s the one that stayed at home. He never left the house. He did as he was told. And now his wayward brother has come home and all he hears outside his window is music and rejoicing.

When his father came looking for him, the son made his opinion known.

“’Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends…’”

But I love what the Father says in response. This first sentence can change our way of thinking if we let it! 

“’My son,’ the Father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’”

EVERYTHING I have is yours.

Wow.

It’s so easy to miss this seemingly hidden truth at the end of this chapter. When we are under the protection of our Father, when we are serving, loving, and obeying Him… EVERYTHING he has is ours.

Grace. Mercy. Joy. Strength. Love. Provision. Creativity. Faith. Life. Friendship. This list can go on and on.

If you need it, He’s got it. My favorite verse is found in Ephesians 3:20 and it shows us that His everything is more than we could ever need or imagine.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us.”

So if you are a child of God, I want this to be an encouragement for you! He has EVERYTHING that you need. Trust Him. Keep the faith. Don’t give up.

Your daddy’s got this!

-Kristen

One. (Part 2 of Blog Series)

This is part 2 of a 3-part blog series. If you haven’t had a chance to read one…you can scroll down and read. Studying Luke 15 together is a great way for us to see new things about a scripture that we have probably heard over and over. We just finished the story of the shepherd and his one-hundred sheep. Now we are looking into the woman with ten coins. Feel free to comment and let us know what stands out for you in the passage!

So on the last blog, we really paid attention to the sheep. We are told in the Bible that we are like sheep. We need our shepherd to guide us and protect us and to ultimately save us when we lose our way.

But today I want to look at this woman with ten coins from a different perspective. I know that it is Christ that truly finds us. We see that in the first story and throughout the Bible. But what if we put ourselves into this parable? What if we, as Christians, are the woman in the story?

You see, this woman has ten coins. She loses one of them and searches her whole house to find the one lost coin. She does everything that she could possibly do to find that coin. And when it is found, she rejoices!

Think about it like this: The coins are souls of people around us. People that we have influence over. People that we come in contact with. Souls that are either going to Heaven or Hell.

I know when I look at my own life, I am convicted.

Because I see that I am surrounded by my nine coins. The coins (people)that are safe. The ones that are following the Lord. They have their hearts and minds in the right place. They are not lost.

But what am I doing for the one lost coin?

Am I really searching the whole house? Am I REALLY doing all that I can to find that coin?

Am I really doing everything that I can to reach that lost person in my life?

This lady could have said that she had nine coins and that life was good. Nine was enough. The one coin that was lost wasn’t really that necessary. I mean, she had nine great coins! She could spend time with those coins. She could love those coins. These coins were nice and clean. Surely these coins would do!

She could have said that she didn’t have the time for the one lost coin. She could have said that searching for that coin was inconvenient. She had better and “more important” things to do than search for this one coin.

So many times, I think we do the same thing. We are comfortable with our nine coins. They are reliable and fun. They think the same way that we do. They act the same way that we do. That lost coin? It can be inconvenient. It can challenge us. It can lead us to places that we never thought that we would go.

And all of it leads us to two questions:

Do I care enough about the one that I am willing to let go of convenience?

Am I willing to do everything that I can to see the one found?

I think it’s when we realize that the value of the coin cannot be really be measured by human standards, the answer then becomes a resounding, “Yes!”

And when we find that coin… when that person that we have invested in, loved, and spoken life into finds the truth of God’s love in their life…we realize that it was worth it all!

The lady in Luke 15 wasn’t upset about the amount of time it took to find the coin. She wasn’t angry that the coin was lost. Like the shepherd, she was simply rejoicing because the coin that was lost was now found. And we can rejoice too.

Why?

Because one soul counts.

Joyfully. (Part 1 of Blog Series)

I have had so many different blogs on my heart lately, but it seems like time has just not been on my side. So now that I’m finally getting to sit down and write, I can’t wait to share with you what has been going on in this head/heart of mine!

I am doing my first blog series. Throughout the week, I’ll be posting different blogs on the same chapter of the Bible. I encourage you to participate. If you have something to say, please comment or send me a message! Spend time in prayer over these things and see if the Lord wants to do something in you, like He has certainly done for me.

We’ll be looking into Luke 15. In this chapter, we see Jesus is telling three parables. A parable is a story about familiar things that helps us understand a bigger spiritual truth. All three of these stories talk about something lost. If you have been in church, you have heard these stories a million times. But as I have read them, I’ve really been asking God to show me something new. I hope that He does the same for you!

In the first one, we see the picture of a shepherd. He has one hundred sheep and he ends up losing one of them. He leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the one. When he finds the one, Jesus says that the man angrily yells at the sheep and tells him that he is no good and how disappointing he has been to the shepherd and…

Oh wait…Is that not how it happened?

In verses 5 and 6, we read, “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

The shepherd isn’t angry with the sheep. He isn’t frustrated that he had to search all of that time for the lost animal. He is simply happy because his lost sheep has now been found!

I can imagine this sheep.

He is used to being with his shepherd. He has been spending time with him. He has learned his voice. But something happens. He gets off course and soon finds his way outside of his protection. So now he is alone and he can no longer hear the shepherd’s voice. Sure the first part of his journey might have been nice. He had all of the grass that he could imagine. But as the sun is setting, he realizes that maybe being all by himself isn’t all that great. He starts to feel scared. He is alone. Did the shepherd forget about him? They had spent so much time together. Every night the shepherd would count. Surely, he was see that one was missing. Or could it be that he was so mad at him that he decided to stay with the ninety-nine? I mean…they followed his rules and did everything correctly. Maybe the shepherd won’t come find him after all… Maybe he could find his way home on his own…no… he would have no idea where to go. He would be even more lost.

But as he sits, the silence is broken. The sheep knows that sound. He has heard them many times before. They are footsteps. Not just any footsteps though, it’s the shepherd! The shepherd has come for him!

But wait…will the shepherd be angry? Will he punish him? What will we do? Suddenly, new fears spring up inside.

As the shepherd comes closer, the sheep sees… a smile? What? Is the shepherd smiling? And now…he’s laughing…and rejoicing! The sheep is picked up and put on the shoulders of the man. The shepherd walks swiftly in the direction of home. Home. He was going home!

When they returned home, the sheep hears his master calling his friends and family. They are rejoicing…over him! After all that he has done. After losing his way. After everything that has happened. There is rejoicing!

Throughout the Bible, we read that we are like the sheep and Jesus is our shepherd. And so when I think about this section of the chapter, I am reminded that our mistakes do not affect Christs’ love for us.

Have you ever felt like God has forgotten about you?

Have you ever thought that your sin was too big for God to forgive you?

Have you ever thought that He has left you on your own to figure out a way back home?

Can I just tell you something? We have all been like this sheep. We have tried doing things on our own and figuring out our own way. Maybe it was fun at first, but then we realize where we are. We realize that we are lost. We have escaped the protection of our master.

But, Jesus…sweet Jesus…is our good shepherd. He comes to where we are. He finds us…and He leads us home. Joyfully.

-Kristen