Monday, July 25, 2016

Sister to Sister: Looking at God, part 1



Dear Sisters,

Over the past year God has been teaching me more than I can write in one letter, which does not mean I’ve fully matured or reached a benchmark in sanctification. It’s more like I’ve been relearning the gospel as I struggle to accept grace and truly agree that what Christ has done is enough. It’s easy for me to get distracted or absorbed by my thoughts, feelings, and actions. God has given me a sensitive spirit; however, because of my sin nature, this also means I can become both self-reliant and self-absorbed. 

While I want to enjoy and glorify God, I often become so preoccupied with trying to fix myself that I approach Scripture and prayer more like a self-help blog or to-do list instead of the living, breathing, and active Word of God, the story in which He is the main character (not me). This often leads to despair. About two year ago, I came across a quote by A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God that, although convicting, is another comforting affirmation that my perfectionist ideals do not equal God’s holiness, nor does He expect me to sanctify myself in the midst of some cosmic mind game.

While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves — blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very thing he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him.

Yes, I trust God for my salvation, but many times it’s as if I am trying to do all the little but life-long changes in my soul intended to make me more like Christ. Thankfully, whether through friends, books, or prayer, the Holy Spirit keeps reminding me that acceptance of God’s grace and the ensuing submission to His work in my life involves seeing my desperate need for a holy and loving God and submitting to Him, not determining how I’m going to make myself holy for Him. Yes, I have responsibility to be obedient, but it’s God who enables me to be obedient in the first place. What a reminder to rest in Him.

Grace and peace,

Chelsea

About the letter writer...


Chelsea teaches middle school English and Latin at a small Christian school. She graduated with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Union University in 2012. She enjoys writing, reading, drama, fencing, drinking tea, and convincing her sixth graders she's married to C.S. Lewis. She lives with her parents and five younger siblings, who provide plenty of inspiration for her stories.

Friday, July 22, 2016

An Interview with Emily: Her Heart Story

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This post was first published over three years ago and has become one of our all-time most popular posts, so we wanted to share it with you all again.  May it encourage you today!


We hope you'll be encouraged by this interview with Emily, Bloom! Photographer and Designer, about her heart surgery years ago and how the Lord has been using that in her life.

Tell us a bit about your heart issue.

I was born with TAPVR (Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return). The pulmonary vein that should have taken oxygen from my lungs and sent it through my heart to the rest of my body was connected to the wrong side of my heart. Therefore, I could not oxygenate my body at all. Within a few minutes of my birth I started turning blue. I was quickly flown to Dallas Children’s Hospital where I had open heart surgery at barely a day old.

So you had heart surgery. You were a baby and won't remember it, but what have your parents told you about it?

 photo scan0007_zps1276ea1f.jpgI have heard the story so many times that it seems like I do remember it. So, what exactly did having surgery do? The surgery snipped the vein and reconnected it to the right side of the heart. The incision was patched with a portion of my pericardial sac that according to doctors serves no other purpose than for the repair of surgeries. My surgeon said it's as if God put it there for that purpose alone.


The funny thing is that the story of my heart surgery doesn't even feel like it's my story. Even though it was my life it doesn't seem like my place to tell. It has affected so many people - or rather, God affected so many people through my surgery. I had so many people praying for me. I have been told that some people said their first prayer for me. How humbling is that? Me. God used little-day-old-me to bring people to Him. They didn't even know me or my family. If I were to sum it all up in one word it would be: humbled. Incredibly humbled. Humbled that so many prayed for me and humbled that God chose to let me stay.

God showed Himself in so many ways through the rough beginning of my life. Again, as I type this I think how very little this actually has to do with me. I could list off all the people who came, who gave, or who prayed, but that would take way too long. I could tell you about the stranger who came up to my parents as they were flying out to meet me at the hospital and told them that my surgery had started and that I was stable. I could list off every little detail of how God uses what we may, at the time, view as bad for something truly good, but that could take a very long time!


What are a couple examples of how God used your heart issue for His glory?

I was in the hospital for a mere three weeks when my parents were told it could be six weeks to six months. After that I was at home on medications and feeding tubes. I could not come in contact with anyone besides my parents. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be them. They sacrificed so much for me. My momma ended up not finishing college because she needed to take care of me. She would probably tell you that through her extremely rough introduction to parenthood, God was preparing her for the kind of mother she would someday be. He used my heart issues to show her that she both needed and wanted to be a stay at home mother and later a homeschooling mother.

Another and really amazing way God showed Himself through my heart is the widening of a vein. When I was 18-months-old I went in for a routine heart check-up. The repair site had narrowed. To avoid another surgery the vein needed to stay at the size it was and even then there may have been another surgery. The vein really needed to widen, but according to the doctors that was medically impossible. 

Impossible. Is anything impossible with God? Absolutely not! After leaving the appointment, my parents decided that they were going to pray and get everyone they knew to pray. It’s impossible, right? Wrong. Six months later the doctor came in after my check-up with the news that the repair site had widened.The doctor asked my parents what they had prayed for. They told her that they prayed that it would widen. She said, "But I told you that couldn't happen." To which my Daddy replied, "But you aren't God and He can do anything." The doctor said, "And He did." This had never before happened in medical history. More doctors came in to see the miracle God had done in me. God had just proved to all these people that He is not only there, but that when you trust Him you have nothing to fear.
What has the aftermath been like? Did you have any further problems?

I have been extremely blessed! I have been able to do everything I ever could have. For example, the doctors said that I probably wouldn't like to run or like to play soccer. They were wrong! I love to run and my favorite sport was soccer. The only thing holding me back was my mother yelling from the sidelines, "Check your fingernails!" (To make sure I had good circulation.) or "Coach, I think she needs a break!" I didn't need a break, but Momma never believes me when it comes to the state of my health. 

There really hasn’t been anything that I could not do. What a blessing! As for doctors, up until October 2012 I had to go in every two years to have my heart checked. They wanted to make sure the repair was growing with me, that I had good blood pressure, and that everything was still good. 


In fact, had I been born just a year earlier I wouldn't have made it. I was actually part of a study where they used a new kind of medicine. That medicine saved my life several times. So after 17 years of appointments and my mother yelling, "Check your nails!", I was released. Now through God's grace and incredible planning, my heart problem is now my heart history. I feel so incredibly blessed! Not only did God choose to let me stay here, but He allowed me to live without further complications. He also gave me a testimony to share from day one. I have been able to tell everyone I know about my heart surgery and how God worked through it. Now, I'm telling you!



What has the Lord taught you through all this?

I don't think I could list everything God has taught me through my heart, but, here are a few lessons He has taught me: to never doubt the power of prayer, that He has a purpose for every life, and to never question His plan. He knows best whether we think so or not. Had I been in charge I probably would have voted, "No!" to my heart problem. I would have made a big mistake.


Maybe you or a loved one is going through health problems. I pray that you aren't and that you never have to. If you are though, remember that absolutely nothing is impossible with God, and remember that His planning is way better than ours. Just think how different my life would be had it not started the way it did!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tales from Taiwan #17

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Dear sisters,

My trip back to the States was quite eventful - having an allergic reaction on my 12 hour flight and realizing the only thing I could do was lean on Jesus and ask for Him to intervene.  He did and I was fine.  It's moments like these when I realize that He's really the only One I can hold onto, the only One I can trust - then and now.  He proved himself faithful again.

Then I was sitting on the runway for 1.5 hours because there was no open gate, running through the airport only to miss my flight by minutes and trying to convince the airlines I needed to get another flight booked ASAP.  I found myself in the restroom, sick from the airline food.  Then another run to my newly booked flight and almost missed it, too.  Made it with a minute to spare!

When I arrived at my final destination, of course my luggage hadn't made it.  But I wasn't really thinking about that - I was thinking how God had guided my day, even through all the mini disasters, and brought me back to my family safely.

Recently a conversation I had with one of my village boys, Jerry* (name changed), keeps playing through my mind.  My friends and I decided to go swimming in a nearby village.  But when I asked one little boy, he told me he was too scared to go swimming.  It was the first of July, which means it's the start of "ghost month" in Taiwan.  I had forgotten about that.  People believe that you cannot go swimming during the month of July, because if you do, the ghosts might snatch you away from the water.  If I didn't know the culture, I might think it's just a myth.  After living on the island for awhile,  though, I know my little village buddy and everyone else in the area is serious - they will not go swimming!

The great part about all this?  I had an opportunity where I got to share how we have Jesus and don't need to be afraid.  Jerry was surprised and asked me if it was really true.  I told him we can pray to Jesus and then no ghosts will snatch him.  He was skeptical but agreed to give it a try.  All was fine until we got to the edge of the water.  Then Jerry stopped and looked up at me, his eyes showing he's nervous.  I smiled reassuringly and said, "Jerry, remember, we already prayed.  You're fine.  Jesus is watching over you!"

I practically held my breath, wondering if Jerry would actually take this literal step of faith and walk into the water.  He did.  We had a blast splashing and jumping in the crystal clear water.  Afterwards when we were drying off, I asked "Well, Jerry, are you okay?"  He looked a bit surprised, as if to just realize that he was still there and smiled, "Yes, I'm fine."  I told him it's because Jesus protected him and he didn't need to be afraid of ghosts but to always ask Jesus to protect him.

Rejoicing because our Jesus is working in one little village boy's life!

For Taiwan,
Joanna

Monday, July 11, 2016

Heroines of History: Elizabeth Gurney-Fry




























A heroine is defined in the dictionary as a woman who is well-known for courage and daring action. It's further described as someone who is noted for a famous achievement in a particular field or situation. In our Christian faith, we come across stories of women whose testimonies and actions have radiated Christ in their own lives and have inspired others to see that Light as well. The beauty is that these faith heroines point us to Christ and encourage us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received.


By Krista Rodriguez


Elizabeth Gurney-Fry was born in May 21, 1780 in Norwich, England. She grew up in a home of a prominent Quaker family where her parents were both bankers. When she was 18, she was motivated by the preaching of an American Quaker, William Savery. With this, she grew an interest in serving the poor, the sick and prisoners by collecting used clothing for them, visiting them and teaching children in some neighborhoods how to read. Two years later, she met and married Joseph Fry and had a houseful of children, eleven to be exact. In spite of this, she always found time to help the needy by bringing warm clothing, medicine and freshly made hot soup. 


In 1813, she visited Newgate Prison in London. The social and hard living conditions of the prisoners tugged at her heartstrings. She saw that the women’s section was overcrowded with both women and children, with some prisoners not even been given a trial. The women prisoners did their own cooking and washing in small cells with straw beds for sleeping. Because of this, she formed the Ladies Newgate Committee, a group of Quaker volunteers who helped start a school for children of prisoners and she supported other prison reforms. She managed to grab the attention of others by the way she treated prisoners with respect, kindness and dignity. 


Elizabeth Fry also helped the homeless, establishing a nightly shelter in the city of London, and further actions led to the institution of the Brighton District Visiting Society where volunteers visited homes of the poor to provide help and comfort to them. In 1840, she opened a training school for nurses, wherein her program inspired a young Florence Nightingale who then took a team of nurses to help wounded soldiers during the Crimean war.


Though, she started facing health problems and had increasing family responsibilities, Elizabeth Fry kept reaching out to the poor and the prisoners for the sake of Christ. Until her death in 1845 at the age of 65, her prayers were always, “Whatever I do in anything, may I do it as to Thee.”


Reading her biography reminded me of two verses, the shorter of the two being found in Micah 6:8, “Seek Justice, Love Mercy, Walk humbly with your God” and Matthew 25:40 which says, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

May we continue to be faithful and obedient to Christ’s examples, no matter where we are or the season we may be in.