Saturday, August 13, 2016

Where I'm At: Victoria

In ten days I will begin classes at college, and my Junior year of college will be under way. It is crazy to think that I am already halfway through college, and that I will be an upperclassman on campus. I am looking forward to seeing my friends, and meeting the freshmen.

This summer I worked as a server at a Japanese Hibachi Grill and Sushi Bar. It was an experience I am grateful for. You see, it looked as though this might be another summer where I couldn’t find a job (as happened last summer). I had applied at some Christian Summer Camps, but none of those worked out. I had a couple interviews in my hometown, but yet again no offers came. Then somebody at my church told me to apply at this Japanese restaurant. So I walked in, spoke to the owner, and started the next day! I had never been a server (though when I was younger I entertained dreams of becoming one!). I learned a lot on the job and was sometimes overwhelmed when there were quite a few customers, and only me as the server. But I learned that even in the craziness, I eventually got through it. I’d have to say my multitasking skills probably grew a lot, as well as my confidence in dealing with strangers. Because it was such a small staff, I got to spend lots of time around my coworkers, and was thus surrounded by different languages every day (Vietnamese and Spanish). My coworkers were in many ways the best part of the job, and I will miss them.

I learned in serving that there are three kinds of customers – the demanding, rude ones (I hardly ever had to deal with these thankfully), the indifferent ones (most people), and the really sweet, sincere ones that actually see you as a person (the ones every server lives for). I think it would be great if everybody had experience as a server. You learn a lot about people. You learn patience (hopefully), and realize how important it is to treat those who help you with respect (when you’re not treated with that very respect). You learn to read people better, and appreciate kindness and genuine smiles. You learn to appreciate wonderful coworkers and bosses. These were things that I learned. I also learned once again about God's provision. Looking back, I can just laugh at how little faith I had that God would provide a job for me. The day I left college for summer break, the lady at the mail office told me that God would provide for me, when I told her I didn’t know what I was doing for the summer. Sure enough, He did!

In addition to working, I also got to play keyboard and sing at my church, helping out a worship team whose leader left partway through the summer. My pastor and his wife each told me in their own ways that it looked like God did have a purpose in me being home for the summer. Yes, looking back I can see this. I can see that spending time with my family (and Joanna for part of the summer!), being with my church through a difficult time, and helping out at an understaffed restaurant that desperately needed me as a server were some cool things God had in store for me during a time I thought would be useless. He always knew there were things He had planned.

As I look forward to this new year, I know it will in many ways not meet my expectations (my imagined futures rarely do). But in many ways it will exceed my dreams. It is just important to believe God always has purpose in what He does.

Also important to believe is in God's beautiful, individual love for each of us. This summer I have come to realize the importance of believing this. Sometimes it is hard for me, but there's a verse that I have found helpful, that says it is true. 1 John 4:16 (NASB) says, "We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him."

Monday, August 8, 2016

Known God

Book Review: Children of the Storm

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Children of the Storm is an autobiography of Natasha Vins.  I didn't know any background on the book when I picked it up to read so I wasn't sure what to expect.  What I found in the pages was a true account of persecution in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s.  The unwavering faith of these Brothers and Sisters in Christ is soul-stirring and spirit-uplifting!  Even as a child, Natasha is persecuted for her faith and stands strong in the midst of it all.

I found myself flying through the pages of Children of the Storm without even meaning to do so.  It was just a natural response as I read of God's incredible faithfulness and miracles that were happening in Russia during intense persecution and war.  Natasha's father becomes a leader in the underground church movement and is imprisoned for his faith.  At one point, Natasha's grandmother is also put in prison for her faith in Christ.  Through it all, the Vins family remains committed to Christ and sharing Him with others, despite the risk of being imprisoned themselves.  Natasha becomes involved with the underground printing press, printing Christian literature and Bibles for her fellow people who often are without.

One of the many encouraging things about this book is the fact that Natasha and her husband Alexander are continuing to spread the Gospel in Russia.  They are carrying on her father's vision to share Christ with his countrymen.  You can find out more on their website!

If you're looking to learn more about the unwavering faith of our Russian Brothers and Sisters, then Children of the Storm is definitely for you!  You'll be taken along on a journey of pain, joy and challenges and finish the last page with praise for the Savior on your lips.  To me, that's the best kind of book!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sister to Sister: Looking at God, part 2

Dear Sisters,

Part of looking at who God is (instead of focusing on self) has revealed that I often assume God is just like me. Very. Scary. Thought. Thankfully, He is a jealous God (Ex.34:14), and adamant about who He is, and who He is not, and so I’ve received many gracious reminders such as these passages in Hosea, where God graphically exposes Israel’s rebellion, reveals His right to wrath and judgement, and shares His faithful, compassionate, and forgiving heart. (You’ll notice I’ve emphasized key phrases, but included several verses for more context.)

My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to wrath. (Hosea 11.7-9)

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. (Hosea 13.4)

In the middle of Isaiah 55, when God is urging people to repent and turn to Him for grace, emphasizing His compassion, He says:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as high as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is. 55.8-9)

From those three passages, I’ve been reminded that:

  • God, whose anger is righteous, is often far more gracious than I am.
  • God is the Savior, not me.
  • God’s ways of daily making me like Him are not always what I expect.

Christmas before last, my parents bought me Focus on the Family’s C.S. Lewis at War radio drama, which also includes an audio of Mere Christianity. Having Mr. Lewis giving his talks on my way to and from work has been another reminder that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, nor his ways my ways, so I’d like to leave you with one of his simple but wise illustrations:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right, and stopping the leaks in the roof, and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably, and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. 

Grace and peace,

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.