Monday, October 20, 2014

Tales from Taiwan: #final


Dear sisters,

How can one process a year and a half of life overseas into one post?  It isn't possible.  Nor is it possible for me to completely understand and express what God has done in my life in Taiwan.  Since that's not possible, I've chosen to share brief snippets throughout the year and a half as my final Tales from Taiwan post.  It's been a joy to share with you, readers around the world, what our King has been doing on one small island that's very near to my heart.  Thank you so much for the prayers, for the support, and kindness.  I'm one blessed girl!

So, here's glimpses of my time in Taiwan:

I learned that...

~ worshipping with fellow believers in another language is challenging and rewarding.  Sometimes the language barrier gets in the way, and yet, sometimes God breaks through that barrier and the fellowship you experience doesn't depend on words anymore.

~ chicken bowels don't taste good and they don't taste bad.  They're just kind of plain.  And slightly gross if I let myself think about it.  But I tried not to.

~ living abroad changes you, inside and out.  God uses it to mold you and conform you more like His Son and it's a terrifying and thrilling experience.  You're pushed out of your comfort zone (sometimes thrown out!) and suddenly you're experiencing things you never thought you'd ever know about.

~ hugs from village kids and orphans are simply the best kind of hugs around.

~  cultural differences really are...different.  I grew up learning about them, but wow, living in the midst of them is a totally different story!  I realized that it doesn't mean they are bad, but simply different and I must respect them.

~ getting lost on your first Sunday in a new city in a new country is nerve-wracking and good and crazy.  And totally used by God to remind you of your dependence on Him.

~ being a white foreign girl in a Taiwanese hospital is quite an experience (and I had many of those, unfortunately!).  Hearing your name called out - your Chinese name - and then raising your hand to indicate it's you is also quite an experience.  Especially when the guy tries to convince you it's not you he's calling, since he's expecting a Taiwanese girl.

~ teaching an English class during the time the Buddhists practice their temple drums is hard and a good reminder to pray for the lost.  Plus, it gets your voice some extra practice speaking as you strive to get your students to hear you over the loudness of the drums!

~ God is good.  All the time.  I saw that over and over again in Taiwan.  And I know without a doubt it's totally true.  He's good when a friend comes to know Him and He's good when I lay in a bed in the emergency room.  He's good when I struggle through the four tones of Mandarin and He's good when I have ten village boys listening intently to the Bible story.

He's good all the time, sisters!

謝 謝 你 (thank you) for your support!  I feel so privileged to have spent 1.5 years on this beautiful tropical island where the kids play hard and hug hard and ask questions like "Teacher, how do I pray?".  I love that I have 3,000+ kids across the ocean that I know and that I shared Christ with, in small ways or in big ways.  Now as I'm back in the States, I miss Taiwan and yes, I'm homesick, but I know this small island will never leave my heart, nor God's.  So I pray and trust and hope for a future trip...because you never know what He might be planning next!

For His work continuing in Taiwan,
Joanna

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Where I'm At: Victoria

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I realize it has been close to two years since I last wrote a “Where I’m At” post. To say that a lot has happened since then would be an understatement! I will share what I’m doing right now, and some major lessons God has taught me, and is still teaching me.

I have since graduated from high school, and I sit here writing this in my dorm at college. I am a freshman at a Christian liberal arts college. I’ve not even been here two months but it feels like home already. I love it here, and am so glad God paved a way for me to come!

It almost didn’t happen, and I really didn’t think I’d get to attend a Christian college. I remember back in March telling people it would take a miracle for me to be able to come to college here. Well, let me just tell you – God does still perform miracles! The ways He provided for me were awesome!

One of the major lessons I’ve learned in the past year is that money is like nothing before God. There is no amount too big. He is, after all, in charge of the universe, so why would I think He wouldn’t provide? Even though I know this, it’s still hard to trust at times. 

I’ve learned this lesson in two big ways this year. One was getting more than enough for my mission trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong. (You can read about that here) The other way was getting scholarships to be able to attend this college.

Another big lesson I’ve learned this year is that success cannot be measured or even seen. Success isn’t based upon the results. It is based upon following God’s will. I learned this while in Hong Kong. You see, when I went on the mission trip, I went expecting results. I wanted to lead a child to God. I wanted to see fruit. So when that didn’t happen, and it didn’t seem like I was making much of a difference, I became discouraged. I remember the night before we flew to Hong Kong, which was our final city. I was crying and telling myself that this trip had been a failure for me. That I was a failure.

One day in Hong Kong, I was looking again at the schedule. There was a lesson on the last day that we would teach entitled “Success/God’s Will.” I’d seen it before on the schedule in other cities, and had even taught a lesson on success. But this time I saw the words with new eyes – I saw the words together, connected. And it became clear to me suddenly. Success was following God’s will! As simple as that! I felt freed of the burden I had been carrying that made me believe I had to change the kids. I quickly began to connect this concept to other areas of my life, too. I saw that I would not be a failure if I went to a local community college. If I tried my best to get in elsewhere, and was led to go there, then it was good. If it was God’s will, then I would, in fact, be successful by going there.

There is a great passage in Isaiah that illustrates clearly what God taught me. Just because I couldn’t see the fruit, doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. God’s Word changes people, even if I cannot see it. God never fails. As Isaiah 55:8-11 says:

““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

I have been learning recently about following God. I have realized how important it is to do what He says, even if it’s not what I want. I don’t need to know the future, or even necessarily the next step. I just need to follow the Holy Spirit.

At this time in my life I think a lot about what I want to do with my life. About my ideal future. However, I know God could change my plans drastically. Or He could say yes but take me down a different road to get to where I’m going. 

Right now, there are multiple possibilities I am considering concerning my future. I am interested in Music Therapy; songwriting; teaching music in a third world country; teaching music to physically or mentally disabled people (related to Music Therapy); and getting my doctorate and teaching music at a Christian college. I will probably have to narrow that down, or I may get to do all of them! I really don’t know for sure. I feel like the direction God has been leading me in is using music to help others. But only He knows the specifics. I’m realizing that’s okay, though. I need to just follow Him one step at a time. I don’t have to see the bigger picture to know that doing that is true success!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Changing seasons

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Seasons can change so gradually, with changes almost being imperceptible.  Sometimes, the changes are quick with temperatures dropping quickly and leading us to run back inside because we need a jacket on. Here in California, we experienced a very dry spring and summer, and yesterday, I felt the first chill in the air that showed me that the fall season has come. While the changes in our surroundings isn’t as drastic as in any other areas in the United States, I enjoy the autumn time because the leaves start changing color and I like the crunching feeling when I step over them while walking around. The seasons, in a way, reflect the impermanence of things in this earth.

It has been a crazy year, and the past few months have been so filled and busy that I do have to hit pause at times and remind my heart to be joyful and to enjoy each season as it comes. Recently, both my grandmothers were diagnosed with some health issues and the past few weeks, both of them were rushed to the hospital for serious health problems. I faced some struggles in terms of a long-term immigration concern that was finally answered, but not in the way I had hoped for.  
In addition to that, I was in a job situation where I was overjoyed as I was able to openly share the Gospel in my classroom.  I could interact with the parents and build friendships with them. However, with God’s providence and direction, I was led away from that workplace and I find myself back in school and in a work environment that is just as welcoming, but is a non-Christian environment. It was disheartening because the job offer was unexpected and the realization that I wouldn’t be able to work because of some legalities that turned up was very sad.  

I entertained thoughts and feelings like, “But I really wanted to work there” and asked questions like, “Shouldn’t I be happy?” I felt so melodramatic, but I knew I had to keep my focus on Christ. In retrospect, it is a great reminder that God is the author of our individual stories and He holds all things in His hands. 

Oswald Chambers elaborates on it with a recent devotional I read, “We must continually keep our soul open to the fact of God’s creative purpose, and never confuse or cloud it with our own intentions. If we do, God will have to force our intentions. If we do, God will have to force our intentions aside no matter how much it may hurt. A missionary is created for the purpose of being God’s servant, one in whom God is glorified. Once we realize that it is through the salvation of Jesus Christ that we are made perfectly fit for the purpose of God, we will understand why Jesus Christ is so strict and relentless in His demands.”


It was not a pleasant experience, and there was pain involved, as with any meaningful thing in life. God taught me so much about His purpose, His reasons and His ways all alongside holding my heart during the process. It is with this truth that I can rejoice, because my Savior and Redeemer truly is my refuge in any season and He is gracious enough to reveal His purpose to me, in minute human doses while loving and disciplining me in the process.


But I said, “I have labored in vain;


    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.

Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,

    and my reward is with my God.”


And now the Lord says—


    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant

to bring Jacob back to him

    and gather Israel to himself,

for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord

    and my God has been my strength—


Isaiah 49:4-5

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Footprints


Happy Autumn, ladies!  Check out these links below to boost your weekend!

Ways to Serve

Looking for a way to actively live out your faith this fall?  Author and speaker Leslie Ludy has a wonderful and encouraging site called "Set Apart Girl" that has some great resources here to help you get started!

Pumpkin Bread

Need a dessert with fall flair to serve at church, a Bible study, or at home?  Look no further than this scrumptious pumpkin bread recipe, a favorite in my family!  The original recipe makes three loaves (great for freezing), but you can change the servings easily on the site.

The Briefing

Recently a friend told me about this fantastic podcast by Dr. Albert Mohler, The Briefing.  In a world where chaos seems to becoming increasingly the norm, along with a huge deficiency in Biblical wordview and standards, Dr. Mohler's podcast is a refreshing and welcome one!  Each weekday, Dr. Mohler takes some of the top world news of the day and filters it through God's Word and a Biblical wordview.  This is a great resource for us as young women as we seek to understand the world we're in, what God is doing, and what our response needs to be to the events that are happening.  Make sure to check out The Briefing and download it from iTunes!


May the peace and joy of Jesus be your companions this weekend!
Joanna, Krista, Megan, Emily & Victoria

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

No room for us

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{This is the third installment in my Reflections from Cambodia.  Be sure to check out part one and part two.}

Kim’s face is filled with regret.  He speaks in English, stumbling over his second language.  He profusely apologizes over and over.  I simply accept it and smile gently.  My friends do the same.  I nod and assure him it’s okay.  He apologizes again that the hostel got my reservations wrong.  That we don’t have a place to stay.  He tips his head down, eyes downcast, waiting.

He expects me to scold.  To rage and yell and threaten.  I see it in his eyes.  He expects me to do all that because I’m a foreigner and from his experience, that’s what foreigners do in Cambodia.

But I’m not just a foreigner – I’m also a Christ follower.  I seek to follow His example in each part of my life.  I’m not perfect.  Far from it.  But I follow the Spirit’s leading this day, calmly accepting his apology and telling him I’m not angry.

His head slowly raises.  His expression is incredulous.  Foreigners always get upset when he makes a mistake.  Yet I am serenely standing there, with a peace that’s not my own.  It’s that peace which comes from my Savior that overwhelms me there at the desk.

Together we work on finding other accommodations for the night.  Every minute or so, I feel him looking at me, trying to figure out why.  Why I am not lashing out at him, treating him like scum?  He tells me that almost all foreigners do so.  But I don’t.  My friends don’t.  He mulls over that the whole week.  He still can't comprehend it.  He sees such a marked difference in my friends and myself that he wants to know why.

Our week ends in Cambodia and we go downstairs to say our goodbyes to the hostel staff.  They are sorry to see us go - and not just because of our business with them, but because they know we treated them differently, with kindness and respect.  We leave with many well wishes from the staff, all smiles.

My friends and I write two notes – one for the staff and one for Kim, the desk clerk.  In these notes we share that we are followers of Jesus, that that's why we don't get angry or yell or treat them poorly.  I share the web address of a Christian radio that broadcasts in the country.   I tell them that I prayed for them and wish them a “God bless you!”.

Today I look back on our first arrival and my response to Kim’s apologies.  I kind of shake my head in wonder.  I didn’t do that.  I know that.  It wasn’t me speaking and smiling peacefully.  It was Jesus working through me, speaking through my lips.  He is the One who works in the midst of plan changes and interruptions and discomforts.  He’s the One who deserves the credit.

And perhaps that makes this story all the more needing to be told - because He's powerful and good and faithful and it's all Him.

I find myself whispering along with John 3:30, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
 
 Never me, always Him.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Heroines of History: Sara Frankl

When we first developed the Heroines of History series, our goal showcase the lives of faithful women, that together we may be inspired and encouraged to live a life closer to Christ.

Yet, do you ever look at these stories as a check list, and think that what makes these women remarkable is their actions? She started an orphanage. She rescued kids from slavery. She moved to dangerous places as a missionary. 

Impressive, impressive, impressive. 

I've made that mistake, too. But my sweet sisters, today I simply want to remind you that their lives, and our lives, matter not because of what we do but who we are and the faith we have. 

What matters is not how public our lives are, whether anyone ever oohs and aahs over something that we accomplish. Yet I know how much of a struggle it can be to believe that, especially in a world that is so performance-based, and especially if you battle perfectionism as I do. 

This past spring, both Joanna and I were super sick - continents apart! Thankfully, many of her ailments seem to have been simply temporary and awful. While I am still recovering, I am hoping this is something that also doesn't last but is simply a case of building my body back up. That said, there were many moments where I felt simply defeated. It was hard to work, I felt frustrated that I couldn't make a contribution to my family and required care instead, and I felt completely useless. The pain was a sideshow to the battle in my heart. 

It's still a battle, to be honest. But I want to learn from the spring, and respond with faith throughout various health problems. That's why today I want to share a little bit about Sara Frankl (link is to her personal blog). 

She had a very rare disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, which took away many of her abilities. She was a gifted writer, singer and artist, and I believe the symptoms started to become more and more pronounced throughout her mid-twenties and into her thirties. (In other words...my age.)

She perhaps never did anything you would think remarkable. She didn't move to a foreign country or start a nationally-recognized ministry. In fact, for many years near the end she was bedridden and would need to conserve her energy for several days to be up for a short visit with a loved one. 

And yet: Her faith was larger than life. Despite her inability to ever go outside due to reactions, her bed-ridden state, the fact that she had to give up her singing, her career, and her dreams of a family of her own - those who knew her described her as the most joyful person they knew. 

She chose joy, she chose praise, and she chose faith. In the midst of debilitating physical sickness and life circumstances she would never chose. 

And she made a difference in this world, just because she was faithful and chose to praise in the midst of deep pain. 

We will all have painful trials, both because that is how God refines us and grows our faith and because the world is sinful and broken. So if you need encouragement right now, please turn to her writings (link is to the (in)courage articles) and delight in her story. She brought praise and honor wherever she went, and that is a goal we can attain in any circumstance. 

We're learning right along with you, lovelies. 

"I choose the joy. When something is going badly and I’m dwelling on it, I think instead of something for which I am grateful. I swear to you, it’s as simple as that. You just have to decide today, and again tomorrow. And before you know it, you’ll have an attitude of joy more than any other attitude you have at your disposal." 
- Sara Frankl, Attitude of Joy