Monday, February 20, 2017

Tales from Taiwan #20

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Dear sisters,

There's this little boy named Cody* (name changed) that I see every week.  And every week I never know what to expect from this mischievous fireball.   Cody specializes in grand entrances to class and I never know what it'll be...somersaults, an elephant, sirens or a sprint to tackle the teacher (me!).  Then one minute he's happily coloring and the next he's trying to give me a kiss because he put my Set game cards down the toilet.  

If I ever wonder if this is really making a difference or doing any good at all, God uses what happened next to show me that the answer is a definite YES:

Recently after Cody had misbehaved, I wanted to talk to him but he's a fast fella and I couldn't catch him (hey, I run half-marathons, not sprints!).  I prayed about it and then continued on with helping the other kids.  


After our class was over and I was walking through the building, I spotted Cody.  I walked up, knelt down and asked him if I could talk with him for a minute.  To my surprise, he agreed.  After we finished, he said "Teacher, I will try to be better next week!"  I really couldn't believe he said that.  Cody never says things like that.  He gave me a hug and smiled big.  He's changing.  Slowly, ever so slowly but goodness, it's change either way!  In my eyes, that's big.

God keeps working and working on these little hearts and on mine too.  Maybe it's the small changes and small seeds that often lead to the greatest and most beautiful things after all.  Maybe it's the countless hours and the dirty fingers and tight hugs and my card game in the toilet and ABCs mastered and the joy of Jesus that brings this all in to focus.  

No matter where in the world you are, no matter what season of life God has you in, no matter what you're facing today, may God bring it in to focus for you.

After all, it's all about Jesus.


For Him in Taiwan,
Joanna

Friday, February 17, 2017

Grace and Curiosity in a World of Fear





Have you felt an increased sense of bitterness, fear and chaos in the world since the presidential election really heated up a year ago?

I see it in the news stories, in my social media feed, on bumper stickers and in the midst of regular conversations. Confusion and fear are rampant, especially with the controversy over several of our president's executive orders. Regardless of which side of the political aisle you may fall - or whether you identify with a party at all! - this has dominated the national conversation.

How should we respond?

With grace + curiosity. 

It feels like the president has a lot of power. But in reality? We are the ones shaping our families, communities, and world. We can create a culture of kindness, sensitivity and hospitality in our spheres of influence, whether that's the high school cafeteria, your office, or among the neighbor kids.

There is a lot of fear in our world today. And that fear builds walls. It's so easy to dehumanize someone we don't understand, to make them a two-dimensional caricature of their beliefs. But do we know why they believe that? Are you sure that they even actually believe that?

Grace recognizes that emotions and opinions are valid, even if we disagree with them. Grace embraces the other. And curiosity tears down that us vs. them barrier. It pushes us into conversations and thoughtful questions.

What is their story? Why is this important to them? More importantly, who are they outside of their political leanings?

Fear causes arguments, threats, and desperation. But we don't need to give into that fear. Through Christ, we have the power to offer hope and kindness, grace and curiosity.

As Switchfoot sings, "Is this the world you want? You're making it, every day you're alive."

And you are. You're shaping your world, right now, today.

Political issues are nuanced. There's no black and white. There are only people and stories, hurts and hopes and dreams. And when we listen, ask questions, and love anyway - that's when Jesus shows up.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Trusting God with our Hearts

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Happy Valentine’s Day, lovely ladies!
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Since there is no avoiding the dangling red and pink heart decorations today, I thought I should just go ahead and write about them.
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Write about our hearts, that is. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a relationship or not – trusting God with your heart will always be of utmost importance.
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For the record, never doubt God’s sense of humor. I’m really writing to myself, because this last week has been very difficult for me to trust God. My emotions skyrocketed for no particular reason, and I paid way too much attention to them, per usual.
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What makes it difficult for you to trust God with your heart – with your dreams and hopes and future, and even the confused and hurting pieces?
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Is it your dreams themselves – ones you don’t want to give up; ones you’re afraid to let go? Is it your rollercoaster emotions? Distrust of trust? Not knowing if God is really trustworthy? Fear of being hurt, again?
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It has been, and still is, all those things for me.
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I’m afraid that if I let go of my claims on my life and heart, the things I want to happen won’t happen. I’m afraid God won’t actually come through for me; that I could create my life better than the one who actually created my life.

But clinging to control doesn’t work very well, either. It’s a burden too heavy for me to bear, and one I was never meant to carry. I wind up stressed, tired, and anxious.

Have you ever seen a little one determined to help their parents carry something? “I’ve got it, Daddy, I’ve got it,” they insist, staggering under the weight of the milk jug. They’re weaving all over the grocery store aisle, and the smarter ones will relinquish the milk by the end of it, watching in awe as their father easily picks it up. It’s easy for their father to carry, but it was never meant for a three-year-old.

Likewise, we can’t even carry the weight of our own hearts. The control that we so desperately want brings with it fear, worries, and frustration. Have you noticed this? I know that I have.

Trusting is choosing to believe that God knows what He’s doing. Trusting is allowing him to shine light on the scared and hurting pieces of your heart that are hiding in a corner – or marching behind a ten-foot wall. It’s being vulnerable (when appropriate) because God already accepts you.

And another important part of trusting God with our hearts, especially when it comes to relationships, is trusting that He will meet our needs. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, dating, or married - no guy will ever be able to fill your heart’s desire for intimacy, acceptance and love. -That desire is a good thing, even when it seems more like a burden or a bottomless hole. It’s good because God put it in our hearts Himself, to draw us closer to Him. He knows He’s the only one big enough to satisfy it, and that we’ll run around trying to fill it until we finally find the source of love.

And the truth is that we are loved already, more than we could ever know. The truth is that God has a plan for us – a plan that is bigger than we could ever imagine. (That doesn’t mean pain-free, much as I wish it did. But it does mean that He is big enough to bring good out of the hard times). The truth is that God knows what He is doing. The truth is that He died to ransom and redeem us. The truth is He will never fail you, never walk away from you, and never let you go.

This has been one of my favorite verses recently, as I learn what it means to trust God with my heart: “I am still confident of this: that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14).

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Agree, disagree? What has kept you from trusting God – and what do you find it especially hard to trust Him with?

-- from the archives

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sister to Sister: No Pain, No Gain

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Dear Sister,

"No pain, no gain" is a saying that I heard a lot last year.  Whether it was on a t-shirt, a friend jokingly reminded me or I heard it in a conversation, it sure showed up around me quite often.

 Perhaps one area that I apply it to the most is as I'm working on school and deadlines are fast approaching and I'm far behind.  I whisper "No pain, no gain" to myself and forge ahead, determined to finish all the projects before the midnight hour.

But what about chronic illness?  Does that fall under that "No pain, no gain" category?  When I first considered that, I immediately wanted to shake my head and refuse to consider it further.  Somehow it keeps coming up, though.  So I turned to Scriptures to see what I could find on this topic.  Quite a bit, it turns out:

  
Those are only a few.  Turns out, God's Word talks about trials, pain and suffering quite a bit - even more than I first imagined! 

But can I really accept that God can use my chronic illness for His glory?  For conforming me more like His Son?  I want to shake my head and run away from such thoughts.

Then I'm reminded - God is more concerned about my holiness than my happiness.  Don't get me wrong - God isn't a God who is sternly watching over us and fiercely punishing us and never giving grace.  Just the opposite!  So when I take a step back to pause and reflect on all this, I realize - isn't intense suffering and pain what my Savior suffered while on the cross?

And not just on the cross but on the cross for me!  For you!

No pain, no gain.  Jesus suffered on that cross so that you could have gain – fellowship with Him and life everlasting.

It’s not all just pain though.  There’s grace.  His abundant, overflowing grace for you.  When I find myself acting selfishly or sinning once again, it’s His grace that reminds me that I don’t deserve the cross.  I don’t deserve it, that’s for sure but oh, am I grateful that He chose to bleed on it!

I don’t know what season of life He has you in right now but one thing I am sure of – He’s there for you no matter the pain or difficulties.  His grace is for you. 

Cheering you on in the Good Fight, dear sister!

Your sister,

Joanna


Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday Footprints



5 Creative Ways to Read the Bible that WON'T Be Boring

Read this.  This article by Nathan Johnson contains inspiration and fresh ideas for how to dig deeper into God's Word this year.

Dancing and Trusting

I (Joanna) found this article by Karen Springs to be just what I needed to hear today: "Every time I attempt to control and lead on the dance floor I feel like there is a mirror being lifted before my face reflecting how I try to control God- to put him in my box of the way I want things to go-- because I think I know the steps better."

May God bless you!
Joanna, Megan, Krista, Emily & Victoria