New Story Charity

A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to sit in on a TedTalk and later meet with the Co-Founder and CEO of our next organization of the week. This is the last organization that I’ll be highlighting. So without ado, the organization for this week is:

New Story Charity.

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The vision of New Story started in Haiti in 2014. When Brett Hagler, the CEO of New Story, wasn’t okay with what he saw. Thousands of were people living in tents. Young girls getting snatched in the middle of the night. Mom’s having to stand the entire night holding their babies in their arms because rain water and sewage flooded through their “home.”

Brett teamed up with few other 20 year olds (Matthew Marshall, Mike Arrieta and Alexandria Lafci) to start New Story Charity.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, watch this video, because they can tell you this story better than me.

Incredible, right? Well, it gets even better. New Story Charity has joined up with a company called Icon and they are planning to build the first 3D printer community. See a 3D printed house. This project is set that start in early next month.

The thing that I so appreciate about Brett and his team is that they shoot for the moon. Shooting for the moon means overcoming a lot of obstacles that most people don’t want to push through. But, New Story Charity thrives on overcoming obstacles.

After I heard Brett speak, he graciously gave me an hour of his time to pick his brain on his organization and to ask him what fears he had to fight since starting New Story.

This is what he shared:

“At the beginning, I had a lot of things go our way. It was a unique situation. I was more excited than anything.

But one fear I fight is not feeling qualified for my job. I’ve never run a company of 30+ people with a 15 million dollar organization. I’m constantly trying to deal with things I’ve never dealt with before.

My current fear is “what if” we aren’t able to deliver on this 3D printed community. That would be a huge hit for my organization.”

I couldn’t help but walk away inspired and encouraged when I finished my time with Brett. He is a remarkable man. He is kind, humble and ambitious. I think we all, at one time or another, look at problems in our world and think, I wish I could do something, but we rarely do. Brett and his team decided to not stop at that thought, but actually do something about it.

I think the thing that’s stuck out to me the most in interviewing the CEOs/Founders of organization’s is that every single CEO/Founder at some point in our communication has expressed their inadequacy. So, I think it’s safe to say that if there’s something burning in your heart to do— you can’t wait until you feel adequate. You just have to do it. Don’t let fear hold you back. God has given us each gifts that He wants us to use. For you it may not be starting a nonprofit. It might be writing a book, starting a Bible Study, networking, building a business. My encouragement to you is this:

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” — C.S Lewis

And

Live your life in crescendo. Your most important work is in front of you.” — Stephen Covey

In closing, I want to leave you with two points Brett shared in his Ted Talk:

1) Dream big — start small.

2) Work hard — never give up.

Please take a minute to check out New Story Charity I know you will be encouraged by what you see. Thanks for being with me on this journey!

Hope Women’s Centers

This organization is near to my heart for a few reasons:

  1. My Dad was on the founding board
  2. It’s always been a part of my life
  3. It’s so incredibly needed

So, without further ado the organization of this week is:

Hope Women’s Centers

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Hope Women’s Centers (not original name) was founded in 1987 by several Pastors in Broward County who wanted to help women who found themselves in unplanned pregnancies. They wanted a safe place for women to come to be heard and helped — not shamed and harmed.

A few years later they merged with another clinic that also had the same desire to reach women.

Currently, Hope has three clinics. They offer free pregnancy tests, STI testing, options counseling and ultrasounds. They also offer nutrition classes to help new moms know how to take care of their bodies when carrying a baby. Once they complete the two session class, they are given a brand new car seat and headrest.

Everyone who works (and has worked) at this organization is passionate about what they do. They serve sacrificially and with all their heart. They show up every day no matter what’s going on in their personal lives. When women and men come through the doors scared, confused, anger, and whatever other emotion each patient has, they are greeted with an understanding staff member or volunteer.

This organization has been protested against, slandered and berated by those who oppose them. But I can tell you one thing, the staff is there because they care. It says a lot about a place that women come back even after they’ve decided not to initially receive the help offered by Hope. Patients come back because they know this is a safe place. I say this because I have the incredible opportunity to work here.

Ironically, 30 years ago, my mom went to get a pregnancy test from Hope. She found out she was pregnant. That pregnancy test read positive. That baby was me.

Hope is not only full of incredible staff, but also incredible volunteers who come in week in and week out to help us serve women and men in our community. They are our unsung heroes.

I asked my boss, Ariana Reid, who recently took over from my former boss, Nancy McDonald, to share her thoughts on fear. Here’s what she shared:

It is truly humbling to oversee an organization that is standing for equality in and out of the womb. It has been a lot of hard work and determination.

When I found myself in an unplanned pregnancy everything in me cried for help. And from my experience I knew I was not the only one. I was determined to help encourage and equip women and men who found themselves in an unplanned pregnancy.

All I wanted to do was help one person. The next day I woke up, I wanted to help one more. I desired for our organization to be the best and provide valuable services to help women and men, and their families.

Becoming the Executive Director of a million dollar organization was overwhelming to say the least. I am a woman, of color, and a millennial, because of that my biggest fear was rejection and feelings of inadequacy. How would I be received by our donors, staff, and the community?

Fear is false evidence appearing real, it isn’t real. And love cancels that fear. Every day I do my best, I love, and the feelings of inadequacy diminish, but I know it’s because God is adequate. I am grateful for the opportunity to lead and for the Lord’s faithfulness. Each day is an opportunity to push past the fear, love, and do something big and bold!

I realize the work we do is an incredibly polarized and political issue. More than that, it is deeply personal. I want to say that if there are anyone reading this has experienced the pain of abortion (physical, psychological, or emotional) I am deeply sorry. I once heard one of our volunteers say, “My abortion didn’t take my motherhood away, it just made me a childless mother.” I also know several women who have told me, “I didn’t have all the information. If I did, I wouldn’t have had an abortion.”

I don’t know what your story is, and I am sorry if this is a hard post to read for you, but I want to share that Hope also offers a post abortive Bible study where you have compassionate and confidential meetings. If this is something you feel like you need please email: info@thereishope.org or call 954-372-7089 to learn when the next class is. You don’t even have to say your last name on the phone. We understand this is a very personal, private and hard issue.

I want to thank Dottie Wobb, Margy Richardson, Nancy McDonald and now Ariana Reid for helping fight for life with grace and grit. It has been an honor to serve alongside (most of) them and to see the integrity, compassion and excellence in their work and in their lives. They are all heroes in my book. Thank you!

*Ariana is the beautiful woman center sitting down

All Things Possible — Victor & Eileen Marx

It was early in 2015 when I happened to tune into one of my favorite radio programs. Within a few minutes, I found myself frozen at my dining room table with tears streaming down my face.

Some of these girls have been raped 30x before lunch.” The voice on the other side of the radio said.

The voice was Victor Marx. He and his wife Eileen were not just saying this because they were raising funds to give to someone else. They were sharing because they were going into the thick of the battle themselves. They were running “High risk mission operations in Iraq.”

After hearing Victor and Eileen Marx on the radio, I knew I had to get in touch with them. Later that year, we had the privilege of having them on the TV Show I was working on.

So, without further ado, our organization of this week is:

Victor & Eileen Marx | All Things Possible Ministries

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Victor Marx began his ministry in 2002. His ministry initially started because he had a passion to help kids who society had given up on. He began speaking inside juvenile detention centers. Since Victor has an extensive background in martial arts (and is the fastest gun disarmer), he’d display some of his talents.

Victor’s deep seated compassion comes from deep wounds. If I’m not mistaken, Victor had to go to 140 counseling sessions to help him process his PTSD all from childhood trauma.

As a child, Victor was severely abused on multiple levels. Before that, he is was conceived by rape. His father, who had not really been in the picture, showed up one night raped his mother.

To learn more about Victor’s story watch his story here.

As for Eileen and her support and steadfastness has also been a huge part of Victor’s wellbeing. She is a mighty woman of God who also has an impressive background in martial arts. They really make an incredible team.

It was both their decision to go to Iraq when ISIS decided to go on a rampage. They went in when everyone else was fleeing. I’m sure they had to fight fears, but they didn’t let that stop them.

Victor and Eileen have helped over 25,000 kids with their trauma from ISIS. They have done 8 high-risk missions to Iraq and now are working on helping a young girl who was raped and left for dead. Victor and Eileen fight for those who can’t fight for themselves— many of those who they have helped were left for dead.

Victor and Eileen are the real deal. They don’t sugarcoat anything and they are quick to fight for the justice of those who have been wronged.

Unfortunately, because of their schedules right now, they were unable to share some of the fears they’ve had to overcome. So, instead of hearing from them, I want to leave with a personal story about them:

Without going into too much detail, the ministry I was with when I met Victor, started to take a shift. A lot of things were happening that were confusing. There was some very painful and hurtful things that took place and I decided it was no longer healthy for me to stay. I decided the best thing for me to do was to resign. I didn’t know what was next. I didn’t have any answers just a lot of questions and a lot of wounds. A few months after I left, I got a text from Victor. He asked if I could call him when I was free. My stomach turned into knots.

Oh no! He probably wants to schedule a call with my former boss. I wondered what I should do. What should I say? There were so many thoughts going through my head.

He probably doesn’t know I’m not with that ministry. I continued to think. I’ll just tell him I no longer work there, and maybe that’ll be the end of it.

“Hey Victor, if you want to talk to _____ you’ll have to call this number. I am no longer working there.”

My stomach eased a bit until my phone vibrated again a few minutes later.

“I know. I heard. I’d like to speak with you when you get a chance.” — Victor

Now I really didn’t know what to think. I set up a time anyways and prayed for the right words.

A few hours later I was on the phone with Victor. Long story short, he was concerned. He called me to find out why I left — figuring there might be a problem. He spent the next 30 minutes to an hour on the phone with me listening to me and then praying for me.

I was so touched. This man who is running a large ministry took the time to talk with me and make sure I was okay. Then he spent the remainder of the time encouraging me. When you are wounded by leaders in the Body of Christ, it can be easy to just walk away. Not many people came chasing after me to see if I was okay— a few did and to those I am deeply grateful for. But Victor, who I only met in person one day, took time to find me out and encourage me. For that, I will always be grateful. He and Eileen are truly some of the most remarkable, genuine and truthful people I have ever know.

Please be sure to check out the incredible work Victor and Eileen Marx do at www.VictorMarx.com. Be sure to also check out their movies on PTSD (Triggered and Triggered Too).

Alhadaf

Exciting things are happening! Kevan’s book — We Carry Kevan was JUST released yesterday! Please go to your nearest Barnes and Nobles and buy his book! You will find it in the new release section!

This week’s organization is: Alhadaf

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It was almost exactly three years ago when I receive this text:

“While you’re in Jordan, you should meet with Allen with Partners and Maran. She is a friend of [your coworker].

This message came as I was feverishly working to compile our travel schedule to Ammon, Jordan. My team had back to back conferences on opposite coasts, and another oversees trip two weeks after our Jordan trip. I was overwhelmed but I knew the importance of these meetings.

The trip to Jordan was life altering on several levels. One because that trip personally caused me to evaluate my job, and because meeting Maran and seeing her organization permanently marked me.

Maran ma’ay’ah abujaber is the founder and CEO of Alhadaf. Alhadaf’s mission is: To inspire children and their families, placed in the Kingdom of Jordan and are affected by the world’s injustice, to achieve positive change in their lives.

Alhadaf does just that. They work primarily with Iraqi refugees who had to flee because of ISIS. They do art therapy, offer limited medical assistance, provide meals, haircuts and opportunities to learn and grow. Ultimately, they help reestablish dignity after many of the refugees were left with just the clothes on their backs.

Here is some of their art therapy. The picture on the right is what the one child drew right after they escaped ISIS. The left is what that same child drew several months after doing art therapy and working with some of Alhadaf’s employees. Each employee is a certified PTSD counselor.

Maran and her team breathe compassion. They strive to be a firm foundation. A stepping stone towards healing for each person who comes to Alhadaf.

While I was in Jordan, Maran took us to an apartment where (if my memory serves me right) five refugee families were sharing one apartment. Their faces are ones I cannot forget.

There was a hollowness in their eyes — a hollowness that I had never seen before. They were still in shock, numb, seemingly lifeless. But, they were grateful for Maran. Alhadaf was their only silver lining.

I asked Maran to write on what fears she has faced since starting Alhadaf. This is what she shared with me:

Christi, the fear of failure is something I’ve struggled with especially coming from a household of all girls, as well as living in an Arabic country. I always had this feeling my sisters and I were not strong enough because we are women. So, I always feared that.

That feeling was overwhelming. Several times, I had to go to the people around me to encourage me to try my best to fight that fear. That is until God talked

to me through the story of Ruth. He told me not to worry about being a woman,

or belong to a certain tribe, or, about coming from a house of all girls. He said, “You are strong in Me! Like Ruth and Naomi. When Ruth went to another place, she began to understand her identity: Your God is my God and that’s where my strength is — in my God.”

I would say that my continuous fear is that because I work among orphans and refugees — specifically Iraqi refugees— The funds are very low and limited. There are lots of times that I fear losing my vision because I need funds. This is something I always struggle with. But eventually I came up with a strong strategy that God called me to. And just because I have limited funds— God reminds me that in my weakness He is strong. This

helped me worked around my fear— knowing that God will provide.

I have another fear. The fear of

not being there for my kids because of the number of hours I need to put in because of the amount of work there is to do. The fear of not being the

perfect mom. So, I’ve lowered my standard a bit, and it’s okay if I am not perfect all the time. I realized I don’t have to be perfect. That helped me deal with that particular fear.

As you see, I have lots of fears that I had to go through. I also struggle with anxiety. I do all I can to lower my anxiety. But I just take step at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time, and in my weakness, I remember He is strong.

Maran is truly the real deal. She has the biggest heart. She gives all she can to everyone around her no matter what they might look like, or what their status is. She is a woman of conviction and of action. It is truly an honor to know her! To learn more about Maran and her work, please go to www.Alhadaf.org.

Maran and her husband Emil, have three beautiful boys. They currently live in Jordan and have dedicated their lives to others. If you would like to help Maran and her organization, she will be in the States later this month so she will be able to receive donations easier than a wire transfer. Please contact me via email or via the comments so I can help arrange this. Thank you!

We Carry Kevan!

I was thinking for new ideas for my blog. And I realized I know some incredible leaders of amazing organizations. So, I decided over the month of April to highlight some of my favorite organizations. Some organizations you’ll will hear directly from their founder/leader and others more indirectly.

This week’s organization is:

We Carry Kevan

The first thing you should know about Kevan was that he was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Shout out to my fellow FTL-er!

Before Kevan was a toddler he was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy— leaving him wheelchair bound.

In 2015, Kevan decided to test the limits. Instead of writing about it I’ve linked a video to show you — Watch this!

So now that you know a little more about Kevan, I’d like for you to hear directly from Kevan. He is a man of integrity. He is genuine, incredibly gracious, and kind. I know you will be blessed by him sharing his acquaintance with fear:

“Christi, I have struggled with writing this—even starting it—for the past few weeks. Divulging fears is no small matter, you know. I had a revelation this morning, though. I was laying in bed, thinking of what fear to share. It needs to be something I’ve worked through, or at least *am* working through. It needs to be (I thought to myself) vulnerable, but not too vulnerable. And most of all, it needs to be a good story, with depth, a fall and rise, so on. Then, suddenly, the Lord said, “What are you afraid of?” A question I’d asked myself a dozen times in light of this task, but it sounds different coming from God. It pierces more. When he asked, it wasn’t, “What in your repertoire of experiences can you present as an example of fear?” It was, instead, a pointed question, “What are you so afraid of? What’s keeping you from writing this?”

My friend, I’m afraid, and I’m afraid of others knowing just that. I’m vulnerable up to a certain chalk line and then that’s it. People can see enough of my weaknesses as is—they’re plain as day. Why do they need to know my sinful, broken heart as well? I’d rather tell stories of my friends and me having crazy adventures, staring the impossible in the face, bla-bla-bla. It’s a lot easier than sharing about sitting in my dining room with no idea who’ll put me to bed that night; or the screaming matches I’ve had with Abba Father on long walks alone about everything from romance to disabilities; or the countless calls I’ve gotten over the years about friends passing away, and the whole gamut of reactions I’ve had to the news. Talk of my crew’s plans to hike this or that in two years is a lot more fun than the constant whisper in the back of my head that says I’ll be all alone in five.

I feel trimmers of fear in my gut every day. Fear of being abandoned, forgotten, let down. At least twelve times a day, I’m lifted out of my wheelchair and carried somewhere by friends, and every single time, no matter who it is, I have a fear of being dropped. So, there is the literal *and* metaphorical “drop” I struggle with. And what do I do with that? How do I deal with that fear every time I’m picked up? I let them pick me up and up and up again. And they don’t drop me. Even if they did, I’d have them pick me up again.

I settle into the fear, like sitting in a dark room and realizing everything’s still okay. Fear is just fear. It’s not a bear attacking you. It’s not a house burning down on your head. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just fear, with no substance or sway. So, I have my friends pick me up, again and again, because it’s needed for living. And I confess to my friends, I allow them to see my heart, because that’s also needed to live fully and freely. And they remain. When we decided to travel with me in a backpack (which was in itself the handling of fear), I had to open myself up to the public in interviews, films, and a published memoir—nothing to hide behind. And I write this blog, to be a little more vulnerable than before I wrote it. It terrifies me, but I’m doing it and thus giving fear less footing than an hour ago, when I started. Fear might still be there, but it’s not in control. It’s just a bug in the corner, and eventually, by the grace of God, it shrivels up and dies.”

Kevan’s book “We Carry Kevan” is available for pre-order until April 23rd. Please support a fellow author and pre-order his book, I know you will be encouraged by it.

To check out more about Kevan you can go to: http://www.wecarrykevan.com

Fighting the Fear of Living Out A Missionary’s Life

I am excited to introduce you all to my friend Sara! I met her sometime during the year we were at Bible College. It was a small school so eventually you met everyone. I was never very close with Sara, but as the year went on I saw how much she changed and grew. She became determined to live a life worthy of the gospel — no matter what the cost. I have always had a deep admiration for her.

She is the type of person who once she sets her mind to do something, she will do it with her whole heart. It truly is a gift to know her. Sara currently lives in Montevideo, Uruguay with her husband and three beautiful children. I know you will enjoy what she has to share today!

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My first year out of high school, a year after becoming a Christian, I was sitting in a mission’s conference. I learned about missionaries all over the world. When I heard that there were people groups who still didn’t have God’s word in their language, I knew God was telling me to go. It wasn’t a hard decision. Just like it wasn’t a hard decision to leave the states 5 years later with my new-ish family and head to Montevideo, Uruguay to help form a new church in the capital city. The packing and support raising and leaving were difficult, but the call was clear. And we were excited and nervous, not fearful.

The first few months in Uruguay were fun and adventurous. We were like honeymooners in our new life, learning so much and experiencing so many new things. But as we settled in and started the hard work of language learning, and actually living (not vacationing) in a culture not our own. I was surprised by the fears that arose within me. We weren’t being persecuted or even living in a dangerous country. But, before I knew it, my zeal and love for communicating the gospel, turned into fears about my ability and adequacy. My linguistic, and cultural weaknesses became a stumbling block for my faith.

Should I speak about Him if I can’t communicate His message clearly in my host language? What if I share the gospel and they don’t understand me (literally)? Does my life really reflect His love under all the stress our family is experiencing in a new country and culture? What if I mess up and offend them? What if I share a truth poorly and they misunderstand who God is and what He has done?

While many of these wonderings were legitimate concerns for wanting to respect and love the people around us. They also revealed an even greater fear that had been lying dormant in my heart for a long time. Could God really use me and all my weakness on the mission field?

The truth is, these fears have never left me. We are four years in and these same doubts are sometimes my daily battlegrounds. The fear of not being enough is not just a fear for the mission field. I know the same fear in my life as a homeschooling mother, as a friend, as a wife. It is a fear that touches the core of who I am and what I was created to do. It is the question of identity and it pervades every area of Christian life.

Thankfully God answers this question thoroughly in His word and through the very message of the Gospel. In a society where we are constantly being told that we are enough. Or, that we need to just believe we are enough, the truth of it all is that we aren’t enough. We see our own insufficiency and it bothers us. I do not speak Spanish well enough. I am not patient enough with my kids. Our family does not have it together enough. I don’t know enough theology to answer every doubt or opposition to the gospel. And, I do not have enough wisdom to be a perfect mother or missionary. I am not enough. And trying to convince myself that I am is looking only toward the flesh and not toward the Savior. The answer will and should always be no. But I don’t stop there. The gospel continues with transforming hope.

When we enter into a relationship with Christ, we receive a new identity, old things are washed away and we are made new. Our not enough on our own becomes perfectly enough in Christ. At the Cross, Jesus took our shortcomings, sins, and fears and conquered them. But He was raised and us with Him. His resurrection clothed us in His righteousness and made us new vessels to be used by Him. In Him our weakness becomes strength and all our shortcomings become purposeful. And we have the surety of His Spirit who offers wisdom and sweet companionship along the journey. And so as Christians we learn to look to Him. Is HE enough to conquer death and sin? Is He enough to take a sinner and make her new? Is He enough to work through weakness and pain and difficulty and suffering? Is He enough to use my poor language skills to shine the light in the darkness? Is He enough to use my mite to bring life to a dead heart? The answer is always, and unconditionally, a resounding yes because all things are yes in Christ.

When fears arise within us we are never asked to suck it up and pretend we have it all together. Nor fake a smile to make it look like all is well. Instead, our fears tell us that we are lacking intimacy with our Father. To embrace and abide in the message of the gospel is to have true intimacy with our Father, and in true intimacy we find safety. John 15:1-11 is a powerful reminder to us in fear. It confronts our: ‘I can do nothing,’ with the glorious hope of the gospel:

“You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from me he can do nothing. Just as the Father has loved me, I have loved you. Abide in my love…these things I have spoken to You, that My joy may be complete.”

He abides in us! We are made clean! We are loved! And we will bear fruit! We have so much in Him. But how do we abide? We believe the gospel and walk in it. We reject lies, and we embrace the truth. We walk with Him, talk with Him, and enjoy Him. We spend time in prayer and fasting. We study His word and meditate on and memorize it. And when we do we will find that we bear much fruit, even in our weakness and inadequacy. Our hearts will fill with joy, He will be glorified in us and will use us to minister to others.

As we abide we can say with David:

“I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed…Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” Psalm 34

So, taste and see! Abide, friend. Take refuge in Him. Seek Him. Fear Him. And watch Him take away your fears and turn your lack into overflowing fruit for His name and kingdom.

Fighting the Fear of Living a Life You Didn’t Expect

I am so grateful to have my friend, Mary O’Brien, share with you today. Mary will forever be one of my saving graces because when I first met her, she came to my rescue!

I was at the National Religious Broadcaster Conference trying to carry 6 foot banners and a box of things for my boss’s book table. Suddenly a woman comes right by me, pulls on my dress and nicely said, “I’m sorry your dress was riding up, and your hands were full.”

How can you not become friends after that! I met up with Mary again at a conference her church where my boss was speaking. Mary is someone after being around her, it makes you want to live better. It truly is an honor to have her as a guest blogger today. I know you will enjoy what she has to share!

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I grew up in a loving yet dysfunctional home. As I have aged – I realize that my younger years were wrought with fear of outcomes I could not control. If I could control a situation, then it hurt less or caused less stress. But that simply was not often possible in my home.

Faith was ever present, but it was not until college that I came to have a personal relationship with Christ. I came to know that God wasn’t a far off God, but a God who loved ME and was intimately involved in my life. He used a very traumatic incident in my 20’s to break me free of my false sense of control and fear of “what ifs”.

I was a single 27 woman when out of the blue I was diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis (an infection in the lining of the heart) and hospitalized. A few days later I was told I would need open heart surgery to repair the damage. I was in shock. I had gone from a normal, healthy young woman to being told I would have congestive heart failure within the next year if I didn’t have this surgery. Within a few days came another blow:

“Did we mention that depending on the outcome of the surgery you may not be able to have children?”

Um no, no one had mentioned this.

My mind was racing. Who would want to marry me if on the first date I had to tell them: Oh! By the way, I cannot have children and I have a foot-long scar down my chest.

I went into control mode. How can I be sure to manage the options so that is not the outcome (there were a few extreme options available to me that might have prevented this possible outcome).

As a believer who had just begun studying the Word seriously for a few years, I knew enough to know I needed to run to God and His promises. But this was so hard (I was still learning about God’s sovereignty and His goodness).

I thought maybe I could handle this better. There were several Scripture passages that really ministered to me at this time…

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 139:16

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

As I explored my options, the Lord confirmed to me that what I needed to do was let go and trust Him. Trust that whatever the outcome of the surgery was – He was good and faithful, and nothing was outside of His plans for me.

I recall kneeling by my bed a few nights before surgery and through tears just telling Him that I was giving this to Him. I was trusting Him. I knew that He loved me deeply and no matter what happened, He would see me through it and had a plan.

I woke up to good news- the valve had been repaired perfectly and there was no need for the strong medications that may have altered my health and ability to have children. I was so comforted in many ways by this. And, in my limited vision, I saw this as His promise for what life would hold for me.

However, years later, at around 39, I was in a place of striving against where the Lord had me as a single woman with no children. I just didn’t understand His plans or why my life didn’t look like I thought it was going to. In a place of fear – what if what I always thought my life would be doesn’t happen – I recall saying to the Lord that I felt a little bit tricked by Him. Why did you do that with my surgery only to NOT give me children. And in such a loving way I recall Him revealing to me that what He did was for my good, for my best. He took the best care of me with an outcome that allowed me to have a perfectly healthy life with no further concerns or issues. He never said it was about kids and marriage, but I had wanted it to be about that. He was simply taking the best care of me as a loving Father and blessing me with that outcome.

Around 42, he did a big work in me. He released me from the striving, and frankly the shame I had of being an older single woman whose life didn’t look most everyone else’s. I began to see His sovereignty and faithfulness in a new way.

Fear is natural, but the more we recognize the character of God the more we rest in knowing we have nothing to fear. He gave His Son for us. He knows every hair on our head. He knows the ugliest parts of us and loves us, graciously working to refine us and call us out of shallow waters into deep ones with Him. I love that I can look back on these times in my life when I start to get anxious about a situation and recount His goodness and that I have nothing to fear when He is in control.

Two Words To Keep You Going!

I was sitting outside reading a book about how life rarely turns out as we plan.

When I couldn’t help but tear up. I wanted to pray, but at this point in my life, it’s still a challenge. If I am being honest, praying biblically hurts too much.

I remember praying hard for a specific thing several years ago. It ended with me sobbing in my closet. I met someone that I thought would be the guy for me. He was everything you would want in a husband. But, I knew the Lord was telling me, no. Why? I wish I could tell you. To this day, I still don’t know why God said no.

I wish I could tell you I understand it, but I don’t. So, asking God for something along the same lines, is a challenge. Why? Because I know if it’s a no, it will be one more thing to grieve. Can I be honest? I’m really tired of grieving and I don’t get much better at it as life goes on. In fact, it gets harder — not easier.

Occasionally, I think about getting a tattoo. I used to never care for them. But, then, after I lost my Dad, I’ve contemplated getting one.

To me, it would symbolize the tattoo that will forever be in my heart this side of eternity. I already have a mark on my heart, I might as well have a mark on my body. Since I love words, I often think what words I would get as a tattoo. Last week, I had two pop into my mind. I put them together and I realized that is the essence of the Christian life— no matter what the circumstances.

The two words are:

Persevering Faith

Life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t slow down in the good times and it doesn’t pick up in the bad times. It just keeps moving at the same pace it always has, and it always will.

In life, we have to keep persevering. It may not be pretty. In fact, we may stumble through it, but we cannot quit. Coupled with perseverance, is the need for faith.

Picture perseverance as your legs and faith as your mind. When you run, you need your legs and your mind to run a race. The mind will keep you going even if your legs feel like quitting. The same in true for our spiritual lives. We will hit walls that will feel like we aren’t going anywhere and other times, we will feel like we are going a million miles an hour.

So, whatever you may be praying for and holding out for, keep persevering and keep hanging on to faith because no matter what you may or may not have, you will be able to finish your race with those two things.

Life doesn’t always have a happy ending but that doesn’t mean we cannot finish our race strong and encourage others to to finish their race as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Finding God in the Dark

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a woman’s fellowship. This was the talk I shared. Given that, this reads a bit differently than a blog, but I hope it encourages you.

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Before I begin my message, I would like to tell you my testimony. I think it’s important to understand people’s stories.

I was born into a Christian home. My mom was a missionary to Turkey for nearly three years until her first husband was martyred there when she was 8 months pregnant with my older brother. She came back to the States and a year later married my Dad who was a pastor of a local church. My Dad pastored that local church for over 30 years. Together, they worked with International college students for over 25 years.

So I grew up in a home that was very mission oriented and local church focused. Which I am grateful. I prayed that prayer of salvation with my Dad when I was six, but as I got into my teen years, I became very depressed and had suicidal thoughts. I knew enough to know that drugs, drinking, and guys were not the answer but I didn’t know what I was missing. I contemplated how to take my own life, but I didn’t ever want to hurt my parents. I felt stuck.

At that time, my Dad was taking our youth group to a youth event. I basically walked in the first night and said, “God, if you want me than you’ve got to do something.” The conference lasted three days and on the third day, during the last speaker, something became so clear to me. I was missing a personal relationship with Jesus. I was doing all the things my family was doing, but I didn’t have my own time with Jesus. So, I decided that day to get to know Jesus for myself.

My perspective and outlook did a 180. I was learning new things every day and would find so many treasures in my personal time with Jesus. About six months after I made my faith my own I lost a mentor of mine in a car accident. She had been someone who I considered an outlet. Being a pastor’s kid, it’s hard to know who to talk to in the church. This woman was outside of that circle because she lived in another state. I knew that day, I had a decision to make. Walk away from God or walk towards Him. I decided to walk towards him.

Over the years, I’ve had to make that decision over and over and over again.

I’d love to say that, losing my friend was the only loss I’ve had, but I would be lying if I did.

In the summer of 2017, my Dad was in a terrible car accident. He suffered severe head trauma. The doctor called my mom and siblings into a small room and said, “The Bill you knew this morning, is not the Bill that’s here today. On a scale from 1 to 5 … 5 being the worst, your dad, husband, grandpa is at a level 4.” It was only seven days after that, that my Dad passed away.

I’ve titled this message… “Finding God in the dark.”

I came across a verse after I losing my Dad that has stuck with me. It’s an aspect of God that I’ve wrestled with. The verse is in Psalms 88. Before I get to that particular verse, I’d like to share the whole Psalm.

Psalm 88 (A song of lament)

1 Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.

2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.

3 I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death.

4I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.

5I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.

6You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

7Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

8You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape;

9 My eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you.

10 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you?

11 Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?

12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

13 But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14 Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair.

16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.

17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.

18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.

The verse that stuck out to me was verse 6:

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

When I first read that verse, I went back and re-read it. Surely, the “You” cannot mean God, right?! But, I went back, read the context, read commentary. And, yes, it is talking about God putting us in a pit.

Have you ever felt as though the darkness is all encompassing? Like you’re surrounded by darkness? Maybe it’s because you are in a pit.

There are certain aspects of God that are too much for us to understand. I once heard a godly woman say, “If I knew everything about God He wouldn’t be God.”

There were others who had their pit moment — like Jeremiah…

Lamentations 3:1-20 says this:

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.

8 Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.

9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding,

11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.

12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.

17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Did you notice verse 2?

He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;

The reality of life is that there are times that God either places us in a dark pit, or makes us walk in darkness.

Walking through the dark is never fun. It’s hard. Figuring out how to continue on, especially after a loss seems near impossible. So, how do we find God in the dark?! Is it even possible?

Luke 23:44-46 says this:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Verse 44 says, DARKNESS came over the whole land. This DARKNESS CAME DURING Jesus’ Crucifixion. I’ve read some historians who’ve reported that there was actually an eclipse that happened at the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion.

BEFORE I comment on these verses in Luke, I’d like to share a story.

As I was preparing this talk, I came across an article in Readers Digest about a man named Joe Serna who had served 17 as a Green Beret in the Army.

He shared one of his traumatic experiences:

There was one incident that caused the majority of his nightmares. As part of a convoy, he and three other Special Forces soldiers were inside a 19-ton RG-31 mine-resistant truck, driving through Kandahar, Afghanistan, to recover a fallen brother who had died after stepping on a mine. Just after midnight, as they were driving along a pitch-black dirt road that was flanked by a canal, the narrow road gave way. The massive armored vehicle fell sideways, slipped down the bank, and toppled into the canal.

“The truck started filling with water, and I couldn’t release my seat belt,” remembers Serna. Helpless, he felt the water rising over his feet, then up to his knees, then his chest. His heart pounding, he heard his team members screaming for help as the water swallowed them up. This is it, he thought as he struggled to free himself. I’m going to die.

But then one of his brothers came to the rescue. “When the water had reached my chin, I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor,” Serna says. “Sergeant James Treber picked me up and moved me to a pocket of air.”

The truck’s hydraulic system had been knocked out, so the doors wouldn’t budge. The soldiers were trapped. Because there was not enough space for both of them in the small air pocket, Treber dived into the water to find a larger one. Suddenly some fuel cans broke and contaminated Serna’s air pocket with gasoline. He passed out.

“I thought I’d died,” says Serna. “Someone pulled me out of the truck. When I came to, I saw three bodies lying on the ground. Everyone else in the truck, including Sergeant Treber, had died.” To this day, being stuck in a confined space can trigger flashbacks for Serna.

Serna turned to alcohol to cope with his post traumatic stress. He ended up in a treatment program, which required him to be tested for alcohol several times throughout the year. During his time in the treatment center, he got to know a judge who helped with the program.

A few months into the program, Joe tested positive for alcohol. He lied to the judge but then felt guilty about it. He went back to court and told the judge the truth. The judge sentenced him to one night in jail. The trouble was, tight spaces would trigger Joe’s PTSD. The judge remembered Joe’s story of the convey and the canal the minute he saw Joe’s Face after sentencing him to one night in prison.

The judge pulled some strings and had Joe sent to another jail where he would at least be alone but the cell space was still the same size.

Joe arrived at his cell and within minutes, he felt as though the walls were closing in. He was about to freak out when he heard the jail cell unlock. It was the judge with two trays of jail food.

“Here” the judge said.

Joe was baffled. He asked the judge what he was doing. The judge responded. Staying with you.

Joe didn’t know how to respond. True to his word, the judge stayed the night. The judge was a former veteran himself. He knew where Joe was coming from. That night they both swapped stories of their deployments, and Joe slept like a baby that night.

At the end of the article, the Judge tells a story that he once read about a veteran who was suffering from PTSD:

“The veteran was in a deep hole. First his family threw down a rope, but he wouldn’t come out. Then his therapist threw down a rope, but again he didn’t come out.

Then his minister, with the same result. Finally, a second veteran came by, and he, too, threw down a rope. But this time, he climbed into the hole with the first vet. ‘What are you doing down here with me?’ the vet with PTSD asked. The second vet answered, ‘I’m here to climb out with you.’

Now I’d like to comment on the crucifixion of Jesus in Luke. Because of the crucifixion of Jesus, because He came to earth as a man and yet fully God, He experienced darkness. He experiences being in the grave for three days. If anyone knows darkness it would be Jesus.

And when we first heard the story of Jesus we might have been tempted to think, why would He come the way He did? Why would He suffer the way He did? Why would he die the way He did?

And I realized it’s so that when we find ourselves being placed in a pit. When we find ourselves surrounded by darkness and people are throwing their ropes at us calling for us. Jesus gets into the pit with us and says, I’m here to climb out with you.

Hebrews 6:19- 20 says this:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

As I read this, I was reminded that you can’t see the anchor in the midst of the storm. You FEEL every wave of the storm you’re in. You SEE the dark clouds, but you CANNOT SEE the anchor. But the anchor is STILL THERE. It’s the anchor that holds us steady, even when we feel like we are going to get swept away. Jesus is our anchor. He stays with us through our storm and in our dark season. He will never let us go.

So, Finding God in the dark is not really about finding Him. It’s more about remembering He’s there.

Remember were we left Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:20? His soul was downcast within him?

Let’s read more of that chapter starting in verse 21:

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions NEVER FAIL.

23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.

29 Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope.

30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For NO ONE is cast off by the Lord forever.

32 Though HE BRINGS GRIEF, he WILL SHOW COMPASSION, so great is his unfailing love.

33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot all prisoners in the land,

35 to deny people their rights before the Most High,

36 to deprive them of justice — would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?

38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?

39 Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.

SKIP DOWN TO VERSE 55:

55 I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit.

56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.”

57 You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life.

So, my encouragement to you and myself, is that, if you’re in a pit season, a season of darkness, depression or grief, that you would remember that God is right there with you— even if you cannot feel or see Him. He’s waiting with you. He will help you when you’re ready.

And when you’re out… You’ll know how to help someone else out of their pit like Jesus helped you out of yours.

“There is no line…”

Disclaimer: I wrote this a few months ago. I wrote it to help me process my own feelings. For whatever it’s worth, I hope it helps someone else❤️.

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I have been watching a show called, “Burn Notice.” It’s about an ex-spy, named Michael Weston. Half of the time you can’t tell who he’s being used and manipulated by. People have threatened his family, friends, and very existence of who he is. He’s stuck in this trap of trying to be free. Every time he gets close, the target changes, or the carrot he’s been chasing get replaced, or jerked just out of reach.

As the series continues, the closer the fight gets. If you plan on watching it, you may not want to continue reading this….

Michael and his friends have been through everything together. They become more than friends. They become each other’s family. They all get into risky and questionable situations, but there is always an underlying trust. Even if the team doesn’t understand what’s going on, they trust the one calling the shots.

One sentence in this series won’t stop playing in my head… Michael is gaining ground on the person trying to take his life away, but it requires him to sacrifice some of his newer friends. His girlfriend (Fiona) decides that if she doesn’t take herself out of the equation, Michael won’t be able to make the right call. Since, Fiona has become the leveraging tool used by his newest adversary. He rushes to find her. When he does, she says, “I’m surrendering. I’m taking myself out. You’re losing yourself.” The reality of the situation starts to sink in for Michael. He is about to ruin other people’s lives to save Fiona. She speaks again and says, “Where do you draw the line, Michael?” And this is the part that keeps playing in my head… he says,

“There is no line when it comes to you.”

As I thought on what Michael said, I realized something. God is never going to stop coming after me. To you this may seem like a “no brainer” as my Dad used to say. But, after experiencing abuse from individuals claiming to be serving God coupled by the loss of my Dad… I’ve felt like Michael. I’ve felt lost.

In the midst of the fighting, Michael had lost sight of who he was. I know that Michael said, “There is no line when it comes to Fiona.” But it was Fiona who proved it.

Later on, when Michael is about to essentially “sell his soul to the devil” because he’s gotten so confused. He wants freedom so bad and there have been so many people after him. In the process, he’s lost so much that up he’s gotten to the point where up is down and down is up.

Fiona know he’s fallen prey due to everything he’s been through and he’s in the “enemy’s camp” . Walking in there could mean sudden death for her — That doesn’t stop her. She walks right into the enemy’s territory and right into Michael’s confusion — not knowing how he will respond to her.

In the aftermath of grief, there’s a lot of confusion and you feel lost. The normality of having your loved one is no longer there. Your mind keeps wanting to see them back at “their place”. Like at the end of the dinner table, at his work desk, or the rocking chair where he used to watching football. But, I’m slowly beginning to realize that I have to relearn the life I live. I have to relearn how to continue with a hole in my family and in my heart, and honor him and God in the process. I have to relearn who I am. The fact is, I’ve been changed. The Christi before losing her Dad is not the same Christi after losing her Dad. The same is true for each one of my family members. But, there’s still a piece of me that is there, and that’s the piece that I’ve got to find.

And, instead of Fiona rushing in, I can picture Jesus rushing in . When everyone else is running for cover. He crosses the line into my lostness. I can picture him saying, “Christi, look at me.” And just like Michael did, it takes a while because maybe you didn’t understand all that “the plan” called life entailed…

But at some point I’ve got to ask for the strength look up and find His eyes again. Somehow, I’ve got to walk towards the voice that’s rushed in to pull me out. It starts with a look up. He will help me relearn who I am and how to move forward, but not forget.

*Pictures taken from: https://www.pinterest.com/chompie97/burn-notice/?amp_client_id=CLIENT_ID(_)&mweb_unauth_id={{default.session}}