NovelSisters

watching, reading, and writing stories

Death is not the end

Hopefully I’m not ruining the new Avengers movie for anyone, but if you haven’t seen it and don’t want any spoilers, maybe you should wait to read this blog post, although I won’t give anything too specific away.

This last week has brought a lot of change for me and a lot of interaction with death and it’s nearness. Last week my grandma started getting hospice treatment. She started with still doing her normal routine of coming to the kitchen for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But she soon had a harder time walking to and from her room and then last Sunday we had her moved into a hospital bed and our nurse said she’s not leaving the bed. That was a big change for me. I didn’t realize how fast this was going to go. I knew she had liver cancer and she was slowing down and eating less, but going from walking to bedridden was a big step and seemed to happen too fast.

Since then we’ve learned all about caring for her while she’s in a bed, how to help her sit up and move around and get changed. And hospice has been great with helping us through that. But in only a week I’ve seen her go from a bit of conversation, eating, drinking and even playing dominoes, to barely responding to our voices and mostly sleeping. We’re getting close to the end now. Last night our nurse came to check on her and she said it’ll be about a week.

I’ve done a lot of crying, especially when all her kids and grandkids gathered to sing, pray and share stories with each other and her on Saturday. It’s hard to let go, but I know she’s going to a better place and this is not the end.

And well, in the middle of all this I saw Infinity War. In the movie a lot of characters die, but the first time I watched the movie I didn’t cry at all. It’s like I just knew this isn’t the end and there is hope, partially because there is a part 2 to this movie and the next one will probably have a lot or all of the characters come back to life.

But I just found it interesting that with the movie and my grandma I can still find hope even in the midst of the death. It is sad and I don’t want to say goodbye. But for those in Christ, we have a sure hope that there is a Part 2 for us too, that there is a future for us, one without pain or suffering, or death. I also was finishing reading Revelation this past week and it was so nice to read about the new heaven and new earth and what all I have to look forward to.

So in case anyone else out there is going through something similar. Here are two verses that are bringing me comfort.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!'” Revelation 14:13

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Maturity

I’ve been thinking recently about what it means to be mature. There are many different expectations that people have for a ‘mature’ person. In our American culture, there seems to be an unwritten expectation that to be mature, or considered a real adult, you must be able to afford your own place to live, and support yourself financially. For many people, this just isn’t the case, either from poor job availability, or the expenses of an apartment or house, sometimes you just can’t make it on your own.

Now maybe living by yourself isn’t the real test when it comes to maturity, maybe it’s being smart, knowing the answers to lots of problems, or being confident in yourself, but either way I think our culture has a real obsession with independence. When you can do what you want, when you want, that means you’re grown up. It means you can make your own decisions and take care of yourself. Isn’t that what being an adult is all about?

I don’t want to say all of this is wrong, I think working and contributing to society is important. But something my pastor said last week has been stuck in my head. “Maturity is measured in dependence on Christ, not independence.” As humans we want control, we want our way, we’re selfish and self-centered and obsessed with getting what we want. But when we are in Christ, we put to death this old way of thinking. Instead we recognize that it isn’t about us and we have never been in control and never will be. God is the One who holds it all together and His plan is the one that will come to pass. And the more mature we become in Christ, the more we are okay with that. We are happy to let God have control and to rely on His help and guidance in all things. The more we depend on Him and not ourselves, the more mature we become.

I’ve seen this at work in my own life. When I try to be independent, and make my own plan for the day happen, every little hindrance gets me so frustrated and short-tempered and I can end up acting like a little kid who didn’t get their way. But when I give up my desire for control to God, and trust Him with how the day will go, I find that all the little unexpected bumps don’t matter. He already knew that traffic jam would happen, or that mess I need to clean up would occur. And He has a purpose for me in it. Then I can sit patiently, knowing He will get me where He wants me, when He wants me to be there. And some of those interruptions, are actually opportunities to do His work, show His love, be kind and display His glory to those around me.

So anyway, I hope my ramblings have encouraged you today and reminded you that you don’t have to have everything together or always know what to do or take care of yourself. Let go, and let God be in control and trust that He will work things out in the best way.

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Thankful

Me and my Mom

This month always reminds me that I should be more thankful and not take things for granted. But I am particularly thankful this year because my family has been going through some hardships recently and the response from my family in Christ has been so amazing.

So to start the story, back in October, the 23rd to be exact, my mother woke up with very bad back pain that was shooting down her right leg. She has experienced something like this before, and thought as long as she went to the chiropractor, everything would be fine. So she went, and used all her normal tricks to relieve the pain, but it didn’t go away, it just kept getting worse and worse.

The next day the pain was bad enough that she couldn’t drive and it was torture to walk. So we borrowed my grandma’s walker and I drove and then wheeled her to another chiropractor appointment. He ordered an x-ray and MRI scan since the pain was still not going away. We got the x-ray but had to wait a few days for the MRI.

The next day was probably one of the hardest days of my life. I woke up to a phone call from my mom. She was ‘sleeping’ downstairs in our living room, since going up the stairs was too painful. She hadn’t slept and she was in the worst pain I’d ever seen: crying, screaming, and breathing like what a woman does when she’s in labor. She said she couldn’t take the pain anymore so we were going to the doctor’s office so they could give her something for the pain. She didn’t even want the walker or a jacket because it was cold outside, she just wanted to go. So I drove her to the doctor and we ended up using a wheelchair, since she couldn’t walk without crying. They gave her shots and a prescription for the pain. And finally, after she got the pain pills, she was able to get some relief.

The next days were a whirlwind of more appointments and prescriptions and finding out from the MRI that she had a herniated disk that was pressing down on the nerve. Adding this to the normal routine of caring for my grandma, working for my Dad, driving my sister to her appointments, and serving at church and I was feeling pretty overwhelmed.

But God is faithful and my church family is amazing. First, one of my friends at my small group offered to bring a meal. Then one of my oldest friends called to check on me and let me just talk and cry and see her cute baby on the phone screen. Then as time progressed, more and more people said they were praying for me and my family and checked to see how we were doing. One family even set up a Care Calendar for our church to bring us meals.

It was a little weird for me to be the recipient of help, because I’m usually the one giving it, but it made me realize just how blessed I am to have so many friends and brothers and sisters in Christ who care. So I am thankful for all of them today. And I’m happy to report that my mom is making progress. The injections, and chiropractic treatments are slowly helping. She can now walk for short distances and today she drove a car for the first time since all this started.

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Response to Hardship

This past week has been crazy busy with all sorts of things, big important work duties, a friend’s wedding, my brother’s birthday. But then yesterday, things seemed to take a turn for the worse. My mom started having severe nerve pain that just would not stop. Sometimes it was so bad she started crying. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom in such pain. Add onto that work stuff frustrating my Dad, and pet concerns worrying my sister and I suddenly felt like I was stuck in the middle of multiple spiritual attacks.

But in the midst of it, I felt like God was telling me to just worship Him. To take my eyes off of all the problems and fears and worries and stress and just worship Him. So I started singing, I started meditating on scripture, and I grabbed my Dad and asked him to pray with me. Not all the problems went away. My mom is still in a lot of pain, my sister still has pet issues and I’m not sure what to do to help. But I felt a sense of God’s peace, when I stopped and worshiped last night. And I want to hold onto that. Even in the midst of storms, He is present. Even when life is hard, He is still good. Even when you don’t see a way out, He has a plan. I’m learning to hold on to Him and trust Him for myself and others.

So I’m still in the midst of the storm and I’d appreciate the prayers. I’m so thankful that I can ask my brothers and sisters in Christ for help and support. But I’m also in the arms of my Loving Father and I trust that He will bring me and my family through this current trial.

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Response to Evil

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Our world constantly bombards us with sin and its effects. Shootings, riots, murders, natural disasters, hate, racism, prejudice, envy, cynicism, pride, selfishness and so much more. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. A lot of times I don’t know what to say, how to react, or what I should do in response to these things I know are wrong.

On the one hand, I want to speak up against the evil, say it’s wrong, and point people to do what’s right. I’ve seen a lot of this type of reaction on social media in the aftermath of Charlottesville. And I agree that staying silent is not the answer, trying to pretend these problems don’t exist is not a Christ-like response. Jesus entered into our pain and problems, into this sin-filled world and He chose to love.

The more I’ve been reading in God’s word, the more I see Jesus not only pointing out sin and it’s root: our hearts. But I also see Him choosing to love the people who are sinning. Along with standing up against evil and saying this is wrong, I think us Christians also need to speak in humility and love and pray for people. Without Christ, this is where we’re all headed; to selfishness, pride, sin, and hurting the people around us.

I could have been one of those people rioting except by the grace of God, I could be a murderer, except by the grace of God. I am no better than the racists, murderers, and judgmental hypocrites. My only hope is Christ, and this world’s only hope is Christ. We cannot make ourselves be good, we cannot make ourselves care for other people, we cannot make ourselves live the way we should. God has to change us at the root of the problem: our hearts.

We have to realize that we can’t beat sin on our own, not in our culture or politics or classrooms, or neighborhoods. We have to let Christ remove sin in our own hearts, and pray, asking Him to do the same in our friends, relatives, congressmen, neighbors, and even in the racists and hypocrites.

And we do not have to despair about what is happening in our country, because we know that this is not our home. Although we can try to make it the best it can be, this place will never be perfect. But one day Jesus will return and He will set up His perfect Kingdom where there will be no more slaves, no more marginalized, no more poor, no more racists, and no more selfish sinners. He has promised His followers this perfect future, and we must believe Him and put our hope in Him. And while we are living here, we must live for His eternal Kingdom and point our world to the only hope there is.

So anyway, that’s how I want to respond to this most recent violence. I’m stumbling and fumbling along to do it Jesus’s way, to love, forgive, pray and seek opportunities to speak truth in love. And even though I fail again and again, He has changed me and He is continuing to transform me. And one day I know He’ll take me home. So I hope this post encourages you today to not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

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Jesus Changes Things

Now that summer is getting closer, I’ve been thinking about how it’s going to look different than past summers. For the past thirteen years (since 2003) I have taken part in our church’s summer outreach called Great Adventure. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you’ve seen some posts about it in the past. Looking back, it really has had a huge impact on me personally. The first year I attended a Backyard Bible Club as one of the oldest children. (I was going into 7th grade). It’s similar to a Vacation Bible School except that the high school and middle school students from our church would go into different neighborhoods to run a club for a little over an hour. Adults helped drive the students and host the clubs but the students did the teaching.

The next year when I was going into 8th grade I joined one of the student teams and helped teach grade school kids who came to the clubs. It was a huge growing experience for me. I learned how to talk in front of a crowd, connect with kids, share the gospel with different illustrations, and be a part of a team. The next year I was stretched even more. I was going into high school and old enough to be a captain or leader of one of the student teams. It was intimidating, but I felt like God really wanted me to say yes, so I did. I went to several training camps for the first time (I should have gone to one of them the year before, but was on a vacation during it). That summer I learned so much about relying on God, trusting Him, and stepping out in obedience. I got to see kids come to Christ and see my own growth in sharing the gospel and doing what was uncomfortable.

After that year, I was hooked. I wanted to do Great Adventure every year. It had changed me, made me more confident in what God could do if I trusted Him and obeyed. It was exciting to see Him answer prayers, give us energy and work in the lives of the children we were teaching.

Although I wanted to be a part of it, I didn’t exactly want to be a leader again. I thought I’d done my time and now that there were more high schoolers in our youth group, I could let someone else be the captain. But God had other ideas. I ended up being a captain every summer after that up until I graduated from high school and went to college.

You know how when something really works for you, you think it should work the same for others? Like you don’t want it to change? It’s easy to make a good thing into a tradition. I totally do the same thing with restaurants. I keep going back to the ones I’ve been to before and am more hesitant to try new places. But anyway, for the next four years I always returned home for the summer and helped however I could with Great Adventure. It usually meant going to the training camps, taking pictures at the clubs, organizing supplies, and just helping others with what I had learned.

I started seeing changes though. When I had done Bible Clubs, we had gone to two clubs in the morning and 2 in the evening. At one point we even had clubs Monday through Friday and then a huge carnival called Summerfest on Saturday or Sunday. It was a pretty huge commitment and it took a lot of hard work.

But as the years passed, things changed. We ended up switching to only evening clubs, stopping on Thursday, and instead of a huge party at the church, we had individual block parties at each club. We also started writing our own curriculum instead of using other church’s scripts. And we changed the name to Summer Bible Clubs instead of Backyard Bible Clubs. Some of the changes I liked, others were hard to accept. But each year it seemed like God wanted to do things a bit differently. Those “good old days” I’d had in my high school years weren’t the same. But somehow it was still good. I guess God has a better plan than me.

After college I was able to intern at the church and help write the curriculum for several years. I brought all of my experience from the past but tried to be open to doing things differently. We added new games, changed how we shared the gospel with personal testimonies, and just tried new things to make it more friendly to unchurched families.

So that brings us to today and now the latest change has come. Instead of doing Bible clubs for one week, we’re going to connect to neighbors at parks throughout a whole month, and have groups within our church plan their own outreach activities. And instead of teaching students how to run a club, we’re going to teach them how to share the gospel with their friends and to view their schools as their mission field.

It’s kind of hard for me to let go of Bible clubs. I learned so much from them and they were a huge part of my life for the past thirteen years. But as I’ve seen Jesus change our plans every summer and still be faithful to do even greater things, I will trust Him in this.┬áBecause I do not worship a curriculum, a tradition, or my own preferences. I worship Jesus Christ. His ways are always best. He is always making things new and changing us from the inside, so I can’t expect Him to do things the same way forever. His purpose is unchanging. His goal is fixed. But His methods can be quite surprising and unconventional. So wherever He leads our church, I know it’s best, because He is always right.

Anyway, I hope you learned something from my ramblings about change and learn to trust Jesus in what He’s changing in your life too.

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Using Your Gifts and Talents

This past weekend, I was given the opportunity to make artwork for a women’s conference. I’ve always enjoyed making little paintings and watercolors, but in more recent years I’ve started to see ways how I can use this hobby for God’s glory.

It all started with my mom’s birthday a few years back. She wanted to celebrate with a lot of people, but she didn’t want a bunch of presents. So she thought we could have a few donation options for people to give to in lieu of presents. Our church had been doing a similar thing with Christmas where you could donate to a charity and get a small ornament to give to a friend or family member and let them know that you gave the gift in their honor. My mom set up the church’s charity as one of her options, so people could get an ornament if they gave to that. (Maybe I should mention my mom’s birthday is in December). Anyway, she had a couple of other charities that she wanted to support and she thought it would be fun to have something to give if you supported one of those. Since all of the girls in my family like art, we decided to make several small paintings. Then if someone gave $50 or more they could have their pick of a little painting.

Here’s a couple of the paintings:

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These were my first attempts at more inspirational artwork. And one lady at the party asked if we had ever heard of or done prophetic art. The idea sounded a little weird to me at the time, but I think I kind of understand it a little better now. We all have different gifts and talents in the body of Christ. And art, just like any gift can be used for God’s glory. He can sometimes speak to people in pictures instead of words and I’ve found that combining the two is especially meaningful to me.

So fast-forward a couple years and my parents got involved in a Healing Ministry that wanted to give artwork to people who came to be prayed for. My mother volunteered and got me in on the reoccurring project. We decided to make watercolors since they are quicker and cheaper to make, especially if you need so many for one month. As I began with these paintings, I started to focus more and more on God’s Word and verses that spoke to me. Sometimes I’d start with a verse and try to paint something to match it, other times I’d start with an image and then find a verse to go with it. But each time I was excited to see how it would turn out and how others were impacted by it.

Here are some of the watercolors I’ve made:

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So when the opportunity came to do some more for a conference, I said yes and got to join with a friend and do it together. It was a little new for both of us to be making art with other people around, but it was also fun and I hope all the women at the conference who ended up with one of the paintings or drawings was blessed by it. In any case, I’m excited that God has given me these talents and opportunities and has more in store for me in the future.

So whatever your talent or gift is, I hope you look for opportunities to bless others with it and glorify God.

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Rich in Christ

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I’ve heard the phrase “family in Christ” a lot and often think of my friends as being my “sisters in Christ.” But a few circumstances in the last 24 hours have broadened my view of what that really means.

It started with a few people’s random comments. The first one comes from one of my dear friend’s relatives who said she felt like I was one of ‘hers’ too. Like I belonged in her family. That felt really good. Then later, someone on Facebook commented that me and my friend look like sisters. We have no actual relation, but we are very close friends. And I was tempted to say, “Of course we look like sisters, we are sisters in Christ after all.”

Then this morning, I read this passage: “Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'” Mark 10:29-30

And on top of all this, on Sunday my pastor really emphasized that God’s definition of riches is very different than what we usually think of. Instead of riches meaning money and wealth, God sees riches as relationships. That really comes across in this passage and from what I’ve experienced this weekend.

So today I am thankful for how rich God has made me. I have so many deep and lasting relationships in my life. I can really see that my family in Christ makes me rich.There are so many people in my church that I see as another grandma or grandpa, or sister or brother, or mom or dad. And now that I’m getting older, I can even see how the kids of my friends almost feel like my own. God really knows what’s best for us and what is truly means to be rich.

So I hope you stop today to think about all of the relationships you’ve been blessed with and how rich God has made you, and maybe even say a little prayer of thanksgiving to God for all that He’s given you.

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Eragon and Superpowers

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So I’ve been reading the Inheritance Cycle series recently. I finished book two, Eldest this past week and began reading the third book, Brisingr. Usually I’m not too fond of reading about magic in books but as I was reading these books it came up over and over. And it got me thinking about how common it is to have some kind of special powers in books and movies as well. It seems that we all have a desire to be special and kind of wish we had superpowers. Whether it’s Percy Jackson being able to control water, or Eragon healing a wound with magic, or a superhero being able to fly or read minds, we enjoy the possibility of people being superhuman. And I think we all kind of wish we were able to do these things for ourselves; that we had a secret power that helped us overcome obstacles, face our enemies and do heroic things.

Unfortunately, it’s all make believe. Or is it?

I was reading a passage in Romans and something stuck out to me as I read Chapter 5. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Verse 5 NIV). God has poured out His love into our hearts and given us the Holy Spirit. If we are alive in Christ then we have access to the greatest power in the universe.

It reminds me of this song by Jeremy Camp called “Same Power” specifically the chorus:

“The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in us
He lives in us, lives in us”

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So even though I can’t use magic, or manipulate water, or any of those crazy things in books and movies, I am able to confront my circumstances with the greatest superpower ever; God’s love. No matter what I face, I can turn to the One who loves me and seek His help. For with Him, nothing is impossible. And it’s not make believe, or imaginary. He is very much real and His power is limitless.

So anyway, I was thinking about that this past week and thought I’d share it with y’all.

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Expectations

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Our church team praying before we left for Mozambique

Hello blogging world, sorry I haven’t posted in so long but if you hadn’t seen, I was out of the country for 2 weeks and didn’t have access to my laptop or even the internet. I had the opportunity to join my church on a mission trip to Mozambique. I had never been to Africa before and it was a wonderful experience. It may be hard for me to process all that’s happened and what all I learned from the experience but I’m hoping this blog will help me sort out my thoughts. So for the next few days or weeks, I will be posting a lot about Mozambique. I hope you enjoy and maybe even learn something.

So for my first post, I wanted to write about expectations. I think whenever you go on a trip, there are expectations that you have for yourself and that the people around you have for you as well. Especially for a mission trip, I feel like there’s this unspoken expectation that you are going to do something significant, make a difference, and achieve something. Often times we measure this with “projects.” It might be building a well, or a new church building, or providing food or clothes to poor people but we like having a specific mission and then achieving it.

Well going into this trip, I was very unsure what that “mission” was. I heard hints of showing the Jesus film and spending time with the Grannies (or caretakers of orphans) but I wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to do or what our mission was. Then right before we left, our trip leader told us that our main goal of the trip was to be a blessing, an encouragement, and a refreshment to the local missionaries in Mozambique that our church supports.

This goal might not have seemed very monumental but during the trip, I discovered how significant it really was. So often in America we focus on the physical world, like the “projects” to build buildings and provide food and clothing and solve problems. But on the trip I realized that all of those things are temporary. There are hundreds of buildings in Mozambique that are abandoned and crumbling. They aren’t allowed to tear them down, so they just sit there, useless and wasting away. Who’s to say that any project we work on won’t end up being the same way in a few years, eventually losing it’s usefulness and crumbling. Even the food we give out won’t fill empty tummies for long, and clothing will eventually wear out as well.

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An abandoned hotel on the coast

I realized that the only thing that really lasts, like for eternity, is relationships. People are eternal beings and when we engage with each other, encourage each other, build each other up and point each other to Jesus, that has an impact that lasts into eternity. So even though we did do a few of those earthly “projects” on this mission trip, what I’m most excited about is the time I spent with people, developing relationships. Because of this trip I now know our missionaries Mark and Les, and their local camp director Dilon, on a deep level. I now know how to pray for them and encourage them and I even if I never make it to Africa again, I will always be their sister in Christ.

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Some of the girls I built relationships with on the trip

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