Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Christmas Blog Swap Part IV

Today is the last day of the Christmas Blog Swap!  I hope you've enjoyed reading these posts as much as we have!  It's been so much fun writing and swapping posts with other bloggers this Christmas season.  Today I'm back on my blog concluding with the last, forgotten character of Christmas.  Please head over to the other three blogs and check their final posts as well!  Merry Christmas :)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:16-17

The last, overlooked member of the Christmas story is you.  Without you, the story would be incomplete.  Without a lost, wretched soul drowning in his unending sin and despair, there is no need for the Christmas story.  We don't need God if we can fix ourselves.  We don't need a Savior if our lives are perfect.  We need a baby in a manger because we are destitute and helpless.  Because for century upon century, we -- humanity -- have made no solution to our own desperate problem.  We discovered electricity, cured diseases, eliminated so many "inconveniences" on this earth, but we cannot create beautiful freedom from sin.  

If we look at Christmas as a sweet sentiment or fanciful story, then its purpose is destroyed.  If Herod's madness, Simeon's belief, the innkeeper's provision -- if that is only a nice story, then we've missed it.  But, it's impossible to see ourselves as a piece of the story and still misunderstand its point.  When we look to our Savior, sleeping in a stinking manger as a tiny baby, healing the sick that lie groveling in the dirt, then see Him gasping for breath on the cross -- and we still can't see that He did it for us, then we've missed the most important point of our existence.  

Jesus came for you and for me.  He lived and died for us.  And if we fail to see it, then we'll have missed the most breath-taking, beautiful Love that has ever pursued us.  This Christmas, I pray that you will remember all that makes Christmas important -- the provision and blessing that God has in store for you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Blog Swap III

Here's the Christmas Blog Swap number 3!  Today I'm swapping with Hannah!  I've just recently met Hannah through this blog swap and really enjoyed her posts about Christmas traditions.  This post that I'm sharing today is especially fun for me, because she's talking about one of my favorite traditions, too!  After reading Hannah's post, you can head over to her blog to read my Christmas post, and the one's on Lizzie and Shelley's blog, as well!

Christmas Traditions: Candlelight Services & Christmas Carols

When I think back over holiday memories, I remember being so excited about our church's Christmas Eve service! It was so exciting to go to church and sing Christmas carols with friends. It was exciting to praise God and take time to remember the true meaning of Christmas--Christ's birth. And as a kid, it was always exciting to hold a candle and sing in the candlelight. 

When my family moved from Massachusetts to Florida when I was in high school, our new church didn't have a Christmas Eve service. But my family made sure to set aside time to sing carols together! And we even lit candles or would light a fire in our fireplace. 

I want my kids to grow up singing Christmas carols! I love how many carols are so worshipful and can direct our attention from the busyness of the season to thinking about Christ's birth. I started playing Christmas carols for my 1.5 year old and he loves "Angels We Have Heard On High" because of the part where we sing "Gloria"…now when he sees a Christmas angel he sings "Gloria!" 

Other favorite carols are "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", "We Three Kings", "O Holy Night" and I could keep going! I love how these songs focus not only on Christ's actual birth, but also on why He came--to lay down His life for our sins so that we could know the Father! 

I would love to hear about your favorite carols and why! Last year I shared some carols with my Compassion kids and asked them to share songs that they sing during Christmas. It was fun to read some of the songs! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Blog Swap II

It's time to swap blog posts again!  This time I'm swapping with +Lizzie L, my wonderful sister and fellow-blogger.  Enjoy her post about traditions in Haiti, and then go check out her blog!

Because I have been thinking a lot about my Samantha this week, I decided to see what Christmas traditions take place in Haiti!

Christmas is celebrated and enjoyed by all the people in Haiti!  It is a time of celebration and cheer.  Christians in Haiti often view Christmas as an opportunity for a new start, recognizing their need to repent and have new life in Christ.  The people will decorate a tree or pine branch with ornaments and lights.  Then they place a large nativity in front, which will likely take up most of their living room.
Christmas for a Compassion Child

The children in Compassion projects can forget that their lives are different from the wealthy on Christmas.  The projects will give them gifts and a good meal.  They have celebrations and activities to participate in too.  Some of the kids place their shoes with straw in them in from of the Christmas tree or on the porch.  Santa Claus comes in the night, removes the straw, and places gifts in and around the shoes.

Most Haitians observe Christmas on Christmas Eve.  People may go caroling or attend a mass4.  However, most churches do not hold a traditional US Christmas Eve service.  Instead, they will have a midnight mass.  After the people come back from the mass, they will have a "reveillion" (meaning "wake up") supper.  It is more like a breakfast, though, as they start the meal in the early morning.  The usual Christmas or reveillion meal is fried chicken, rice, and beans.

I really enjoyed learning about some ways that my Samantha and Lucie will celebrate Christmas.  It is so excited to know how they will celebrate the birth of the Savior!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Christmas Blog Swap, Part One

Today is the start of the Christmas Blog Swap, which +Lizzie L masterminded to help spread fun and excitement this December.  Today, I bring you a thoughtful, Christmas post from Shelley, over at Unforced Rhythms of Grace.  Although I don't know Shelley very well (I actually just met her because of this blog swap!) she seems like such a wonderful person -- completely sold out for Jesus Christ and His mission for us here on this earth.  After reading this post from her, you should definitely head over to her blog and check it out.  Also, you can read my Christmas swap post on Shelley's blog today, too.  The other bloggers in the swap are on the other blogs listed around this picture, and I definitely recommend checking out their posts as well!

Anyway, without further adieu... here's Shelley!

I can’t believe its December already.

College finished for Christmas last Friday, and we followed tradition by sharing in a Big Breakfast (Full English meets American, anyone?!) followed by one last chapel service. 

The message brought this year was one that I’d never thought of before, so I could think of no better way to start this wonderful Christmas Blog Swap than sharing with you the beautiful, profound message that greeted my heart last Friday.

So often, when we read the Christmas story, we focus on Mary, the angels, Jesus, even the shepherds and magi. But there’s one character that often gets overlooked. He’s shoved somewhere near the back of the traditional nativity scene, and his part in the Christmas story isn’t often read for all it’s worth. Joseph.

We read in Matthew 1:18-21:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

This story hinges just as much on the obedience of Joseph as it does on Mary. Joseph was presented with a choice (and praise God, he made the right one!). He had a choice to accept Mary and Jesus, or he could have divorced Mary quietly as he had planned to and moved on with his life.

But what would have happened if he had followed his own plan? Society in Bible times didn’t look favourably upon those who were pregnant outside of marriage, so Mary, if she wasn’t killed for being pregnant outside of marriage, would have had an incredibly hard time raising a child on her own, so there is so much more to Joseph than simply not divorcing her. He was protecting her from being killed or shunned by society, and that’s a big deal, especially considering that people today are of the opinion of getting rid of something that you’re not happy with. Joseph was prepared to take responsibility for a child that was not his. He was prepared to be obedient to God and trust that He knew how this was going to work out. 

The challenge I want to present to you this Christmas is to take hold of God and trust in His instruction and direction. I often wonder if Joseph was fully aware of just what he was signing up for when he was obedient to God, and if he understood the impact that his obedience would have on the world. We don’t know the difference one simple act of obedience might make in someone’s life, so let’s try and be brave enough and give it a go.

Shelley x

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rip These Tendons. They Hinder My Reach Toward You.

A friend of mine introduced me to this beautiful song, that I really want to share right now.  It's so perfect.  Mostly, it's perfect because it's raw, and broken, and so deep.  The only video of this song that I could find doesn't have the greatest sound quality, but I still get chills when I listen to it.  Don't be scared away by how long it is.  I think it's worth it.

Here are the spoken lyrics from the middle of the song:

If the Titanic was made to sink
Then so was my heart
For I made sure it was impenetrable
Oh, what a wretched man I am
Who will save me from this flesh
Paul whispers in my ear,
“Oh, don’t worry my friend …
You’re in good company”
Poets before me have tried
to measure this love
And if 40,000 brothers cannot
with all of their quantity of love
make up this sum
Then how can my heart contain this mass
It would only burst at the seams into
a million tender pieces
So what then
What good is a broken heart to You
Could you even hear my heart from there
And like a father assuring his son
to come home
“Oh my son, it’s enough, it’s enough”
So who am I to accept this grace
that just falls like rain
‘Cause we all know I chose to lay
my head in this desert
But like a fish out of water
We only know then what it means
to be parched
So if Christ is alive, the love,
and the groom
Then take heed my friends
For chivalry is not dead
For I know no other lover who would
have met me here in this place
So I awake and I rise from my bed
of complacency
Oh, my God I’ve been sleeping
with a corpse
Oh, and these bed sores they still
rest in my bones
Oh, how I’ve made a beautiful dance
with this cadaver but my audience
is appalled
Oh, how strong these tendons
How they desperately need to rip
from this ancient Adam
So light up the sky and
Set me a flame
Burn this bone and tissue
For I no longer want to be
entangled in this sinew
That hinders my reach towards You.

"Oh, my God, I've been sleeping with a corpse, and these bed sores -- they still rest in my bones.  How I've made a beautiful dance with this cadaver, but my audience is appalled."  It's not the normal lyrics to a normal song.  It's the raw, open heart crying out to it's Creator saying "Look at who I am!  I am so blind, so weak, so inadequate.  See my sin and hypocrisy!  How can you possibly still love me?"  And God looks down and whispers "Yes."  Even in our brokenness and despair, in our ugly sin, our blind complacency, God chooses to wrap His strong arms around us and drown us in His impossible love.  

And I am spellbound.   

Friday, November 8, 2013

Faith in the Unbelievable

I was thinking about hope and faith the other day, and wondering what the difference was.  Aren't they both about living without seeing?  I've always thought of hope being the expectation of something that can't be seen yet.   And I've thought that faith means believing in something that can't be known.  Which, pretty much is the same thing.  But then I read through Hebrews 11-12:3.  It's quite long, so I won't copy the whole thing down.  Here is a snippet, though:

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, ofDavid and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword.They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

This is the great "Hall of Fame of Faith," the verses commemorating the men and women who gave everything for Jesus.  And that's when it hit me.  Hope is longing for things unseen, but faith is acting on that hope.  God never called us to believe that He exists.  He called us to act radically changed because He exists!  These great Biblical figures spoken about in Hebrews 11 would never have been mentioned if they simply hoped, intellectually, that God was real and that He had a purpose for their lives.  They are cited as examples of people believing in the Unbelievable and DOING something about it.  Because faith is an action.  And love is a verb.  If we truly have our hope in the right place -- in our everlasting, beautiful Father -- then we can have the faith to live radically different lives.  Not just being blind and accepting it, but being blind and walking forward into the darkness.

That's my inspiration for this week.  I keep going over and over this whole chapter, marveling over the faith, the strength and courage, of these men and women.  And I'm challenged to go join them, in an ever-growing cloud of witnesses.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Beauty.  It is a relatively short word -- only six letters.  Only two syllables.  Yet it is anything but a simple word.  At first glance, it appears simple.  Beauty is in the autumn trees, the painting by Monet, the melody of a song.  But beauty is also what drives us to stand in front of mirrors for an hour or more, staring at our bodies, painting colors on our faces, plucking, primping, fixing.  It compels us to buy so many shoes -- ones that, when we wear them, make us totter on the balls of our feet, pain shooting through us.  It makes girls feel the need to no longer eat, no longer feel loved or needed.  Is it beauty's fault?  Not really.  But our perception of beauty is what kills us.

I'm just a seventeen year old girl, with a loving family, friends, a place to live.  I know Jesus.  I feel content with the way my life is going.  Yet, there is that lurking doubt.  I see the people on tv.  Or the girls who look so put together at the mall or even at youth group.  And they are, to me, perfect.  They have glossy hair and smooth, glowing faces.  They are comfortable with themselves.  They are popular, and have boyfriends, and look so happy.  And sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it wrong.

Like, if I straightened my hair and bought more product to put in it -- or maybe if I went out and bought the new clothing fad.  Or if I could talk with that kind of ease, or smile sweeter.  Maybe then I would look better.  Maybe I would be beautiful.

But even as those doubts slip into my mind, I know that they are lies.  Ugly lies.  Lies that say that I am not good enough, even though I am just the way God intended me to be.  I have no reason to be unhappy -- yet just on those days that I feel the most content, something will step in and make me feel less than enough.  And I know that it isn't right.  Beauty isn't in the false perfection of photoshop-ed models or people masked in layers of makeup and clothing that aren't themselves.  And I know it, but I still feel inadequate sometimes.

I was thinking about this the other day -- thinking of this problem of feeling imperfect and ugly when we are made by the Creator of the morning sunrise and the midnight stars.  And, suddenly it hit me.  I will never feel beautiful if I'm looking at myself.  I cannot wear enough makeup or enough of the right clothes or act enough like the people around me to be "beautiful."

Because when I focus on ME I am not beautiful.  I am selfish.  And selfishness is ugly.  When I am feeling bad for myself, I am ugly.  When I'm comparing myself to someone else, I am ugly.  And that is because, I am not being the way God intended me to be.  But when I forget about this clay vessel that I am, and start to focus on the problems outside of me -- the places I can serve in, the people that I can reach out to -- that is when I'm beautiful.

I realized this when I was reading an amazing post over at God's Gal's blog.  It was a letter to all the girls in the world who didn't have the opportunity to have an education, or choose who'd they marry, or simply have the freedom to step outside by themselves.  She was writing to the girls who have no hope and no freedom.

And suddenly I realized that my hardest decision of the day was which pair of shoes I was going to wear out the door.

Why do I care if I am beautiful?  There are women in Africa who cannot read.  Why do I worry about what people think about my sweater?  There are girls in Asia being pressured to commit suicide because their families didn't give their husbands enough of a dowry, and the husband wants to marry again.  Why does it matter if I am perfectly happy?  There are babies crying out for love and life when they have been abandoned because of deformities.

How can I think about beautiful when I see the suffering and despair around me?  And how can I be anything but beautiful, the way God intended, when I reach out my heart to a lost and hurting world?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

It Is Autumn

Today seemed like autumn to me. I know it technically started a week ago, but it finally feels like fall.  It isn't even that the weather is cool -- it isn't, actually.  But several trees were completely converted to bright golden hues.  And there was a man sighting in his shotgun down the road (hunting season is a big part of fall, and winter, around here).   But most of all, it was autumn today because there was cider and doughnuts and my grandparents over for dinner.  There's something warm and comforting about fall for me.  Something contented and cheerful about the season, even though everything outside is slowly dying.  Fall is characterized by hay rides, camping trips, and turkey dinners.  It's about warm tea and cider, and wood fires, and cozy sweaters.  I like fall because it seems like a happy time.  Summer is muggy.  Spring is very wet.  Winter is brutal, with snow and short days.  But autumn -- it's crisp and cool, with a hint of winter in the air, yet a memory of summer lingering on.  It feels like things are slowing down, becoming comfortable and routine again.

So that's my ode to autumn.  I'm in a thoughtful mood today.  I was going to write about the bike-a-thon that we're doing tomorrow, but I'm not sure what to say.  Maybe I'll have more to write about after we do it.  So, I think I'll leave you with a song.  And that is all.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's Been Awhile...

I'm afraid I've been gone too long this time.  School and an internship and applications and everything suddenly hit me like an avalanche and it's still pretty snowy all around me :)  I'm working on digging myself out and conquering this thing called Senior Year.  We shall see how I do!

Yikes!  I can't believe I'm making metaphors about snow already.  It's barely autumn here.  Last week, my family went upstate a bit to go camping.  Here's some pics from the trip --

A perfect night to be out on the lake

Me, the warmest I felt all week

My new G+ profile pic, taken from the edge of our campsite
It was so beautiful out there, with crystal-clear water, thick mountain foliage turning shades of gold and red, and deer gliding through the shadows.  Oh, yes.  A deer pic should follow now --

I couldn't help but see the splendor in God's creation and how it glorifies Him.  Every perfectly constructed spiderweb, every mountain wreathed in pine and beech trees, every fish with scales glittering under the surface of the lake -- everything proclaims the name of its Maker.  Nothing reminds me more of God's perfect plan, His intricate designs, more than stepping outside and seeing nature.

"The heavens declare the glory of God,

    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard."
(Psalm 19:1-3)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Turning Worry into Peace

If I had to pick a word to describe last year for me, if would be Worry.  Not a good word, not a word I'm especially proud of, but it's what characterized the year for me.  I let it overtake me at times.  I was so stressed out about the future.  I felt so small and impossibly insignificant, like I had no control over everything that was going on around me.  Not like my life was spiraling out of control and I could do nothing about it -- but I'm a teenage girl, and it's easy to dramatize life and blow it up bigger than it is.  Because learning to drive stick is not an impossible situation, just a hill to climb.  And the enormity of college costs and the vast future before me is not something to stay up nights, my stomach in knots.

But lately I've felt a distinct peace wash over me.  As I sit here filling out college applications and scholarship forms, as I drive myself to the grocery store, as I start to make decisions that directly affect my future -- I find a sort of stillness.  A bit of quiet.  Because I've decided life is sort of like knitting lace.  The charts are long and confusing, but if I tackle it one stitch at a time, I can conquer the entire shawl.  It's a weird analogy, but it makes sense in my head.  If I decide to live each day at a time, without worrying too much about the day after today, I find peace.  Because today is about writing a blog post, and filling out a form, and grocery shopping, and reading Psalm 31 -- and that is all.  Whatever else happens this day is a blessing.  If I find more time to read the Bible, or to sit and reply to emails, that is a blessing.  Because I want to live in this day, the one and only day created just for today.  There will never be another day just like this one, never a day with the same words or thoughts or clouds that drift out of sight.  And everyone knows that tomorrow never comes, there is always another "today" that comes and replaces the last.  So I want to decide to leave tomorrow to my Father, who is the only One who can reach tomorrow today.  And that gives me Hope.

"But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!"
(Psalms 31:14-15)

Monday, August 19, 2013


I've blogged quite a bit about my family, but I don't think you've been formally introduced.  Today I'd like to take the time to introduce you to my wonderful family!

This is me!  When I first started blogging a couple summers ago, Elizabeth and I agreed to use pen-names.  I chose Aylin, and my friend became Elizabeth.  It wasn't a big deal with just the blog, but because I created a Gmail account under that name, my G+ went under that name -- and so I made my Ravelry account under that name.  And so it was complicated -- mostly when I circled friends on G+ who didn't know who Aylin was...  So now I've decided to gradually shift everything back to my actual identity.  Just thought I'd let you know ;)

Lizzie is my sister and my best friend.  She entered the blogging world last year and has since gained more followers and connections than me.  But guess what?  She totally deserves it!  Lizzie is ridiculously passionate about helping children in poverty and she has found a deep connection with the advocates and sponsors associated with Compassion International.  She's started her own line of sponsor bracelets and even an annual fundraising event to help impoverished children.  Beyond that, good things to know about Lizzie are: she will become your most devoted friend if you feed her ice cream, she is great at packing clothes into extremely small duffel bags (especially mine!  She may have my mom's magical organizing abilities), and she will persuade you to sponsor/correspond with a Compassion child if you know her long enough!

Belle is my youngest sister.  She is everything I am not -- tall, tan, and freckle-less :)  I am not sure where she got the genes from, but I think she'd make a great basketball player.  She's only ten, yet she's as tall as me.  Besides that, Belle is the resident cheerful person.  She always sees the good in people and loves chatting with anybody about whatever they want to talk about.

My Mom
My mom is the all-round amazing person around here.  She is the professional organizer, scheduler, nurse, teacher, manager, chauffeur, chef, and consultant.  She makes the most amazing food, too!  Nothing beats her bolognese, made with linguini noodles, carrots, and tomatoes.  And her carrot cake.  And banana bread with little chocolate chips...

Ahem.  Moving on -- my mom also is my teacher in every subject, because she homeschools us.  So she's taught me how to write essays, figure algebra equations, and study for exams.  The only thing she has not been quite so involved in is biology labs.  And by that I mean frogs, worms, and fish dissections.  But can you blame her?

My Dad
My dad is the hardest-working man I know.  He owns his own business, which takes a lot of hard work and commitment.  Beyond that, my dad loves the outdoors, and has passed that love on to me and my sisters.  He especially likes fishing, hunting whitetail deer, canoeing, and camping.  Hiking and kayaking are my favorite things my dad's introduced me to.  He also builds perfect bonfires and cooks perfect venison steaks ;)

Although she is not a biological part of my family, May is practically a sister of mine.  We watch her five days a week.  May is just about as smart and tall as I am (well...not quite).  She is an escape-artist, too.  Like, you know those magicians who chain themselves up inside flaming boxes and escape alive?  That's May.  Doesn't matter if she's in a play-pen or blocked into the livingroom by two couches, an ottoman, a baby gate, and my watchful eye -- she'll eventually manage to escape.  Oh, and she has a strange fascination with sheep.

So there you have it!  My strange, wonderful family condensed into a couple of sentences.  And you are?

Friday, August 9, 2013

5 Things About Kingdom Bound 2013

This year I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Kingdom Bound Music Festival at an amusement park near my home.  It was four, amazing days where I was able to go and worship my Creator along with some of the greatest Christian bands in existence.  Here are five things that happened at Kingdom Bound this year:

1.  NEEDTOBREATHE singer Bear was in a car crash and couldn't make it to the festival.  In their place, Mercy Me came and played the last concert of the final night.  They were great -- even without any sleep within the last 24 hours, without half their equipment, or without much of a clue what they were going to perform.  And we worshiped together, because it didn't matter that everything didn't come together perfectly on stage.  They were there, their hearts were passionate about God, and they were honest and open and willing to come and serve even during their time off.

2.  Amusement park rides are terrifying.  And I've discovered that it's more fun to watch everybody else scream than to scream myself.  I think that people who ride rides like being scared.  I think they like the rush of adrenaline that accompanies fear.  Me?  I prefer laughing at the screaming masses while I eat Dippin Dots in peace.

3.  I learned that 3 out of 4 Christian teens will leave their faith during their first year of college.  And I learned how to equip myself to thrive in college, not just try to survive.  The seminars at Kingdom Bound were very awesome, and the one by Chris Kiegler gave me practical ideas about college.

4.  for KING & COUNTRY is such an awesome group!  Even though Luke Smallbone couldn't be with them, because he is very sick, the group did a great job together.  They were selling these bracelets and necklaces that have an amazing message.  The bracelets say "respect and honor" and the necklaces say "priceless" on them.  Basically, the idea with them was for girls to remember that they don't have to do enough, be enough, or look enough of a certain way to be loved.  They are priceless.  The world wants girls to feel cheep.  Like they have to give themselves away to be loved.  It isn't right and it isn't true.  So Joel Smallbone encouraged all of us girls, and told the guys as well, that we are priceless in the eyes of our Creator and that we never have to sell ourselves short of that.

5.  I got to see so many people!  I got to see my friends from camp and from the church I used to attend and just people I hadn't seen in forever.  And all the bands!  Mercy Me, for KING & COUNTRY, Audio Adrenaline, Thousand Foot Crutch, Colton Dixon, Hillsong United, Newsboys, and so many other groups that just blew my mind.  They have such a fire for Jesus, such a passion for ministry, and I'm thankful that I got the chance to see them and be a part of all of Kingdom Bound.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pardon Me, as I Spew My Thoughts onto the Internet

I have come to the part of my high school career where I must decide what path I'm going to take for the next four years of my life.  I'm applying to colleges.  Although I still have several months to decide between the ones that (hopefully) accept me, it's still a decision that's been on my mind a lot right now.

A couple weeks ago I got the opportunity to visit a state college that is about five hours away from my home.  It was a great college, in a rural setting with beautiful buildings and a good academic program.  It also has its drawbacks:  it really is in the middle of nowhere -- no Wal-Mart or fast food or anything, and the dorms aren't that great.  One bathroom/shower per 10 students.  Count it -- TEN.

Tomorrow I get to visit a college a little bit closer to home.  It's near a large city.  It has tunnels connecting its buildings for easy winter walking.  It has a stellar academic program and study abroad opportunities.  I don't know the state of it's restroom facilities, but I'm sure they're good :)  Of course, as with any private university, it costs a fortune.

And then there is a college out of state that I likely won't be visiting.  It's a beautiful, Christian college with just about everything you could ask for.  Nice campus (from the pics), the admissions counselors are very helpful, and the Christian values are exactly what I believe.  No legalism, no passiveness.  But it's so far away.

And I wonder, how do I decide?  How do I figure it out?  Will I ever know enough -- will God shout it from the clouds -- so that I can sign my life away for four years with confidence?  It isn't just four years, either.  It sets the projection for the rest of my life, almost.  It affects who I marry, what job I get, where I live, what church I attend.  It matters.

And yet, maybe it doesn't.  Because God said go and do, and glorify Me there.  Will I screw up my entire life by attending the wrong college?  Not if I glorify God there.  Not if He is more important than a Bachelor's degree or an insignia on a sweatshirt.  I am just a teenage girl, scared about the great, black void of the future.  Wondering what it will hold.  What it will do to me, where it will take me.

But if I glorify God there, if I glorify Him here, does it matter?  If I make choices with the wisdom I have been given, if I pray and pray, if I let God take care of the future -- because He's been there already --then maybe it fails to matter.  It is but a dot on a globe swallowed up by the immensity of the Omnipresent One.  And He ought to be enough.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My Near-Death Experience, Take Two

As you may have noticed, me, cars, and nature make for a potentially life threatening combination.  I am not a fan of spiders -- and apparently ducks aren't a fan of me.  But let's start at the beginning...

It was the day before we left on vacation when I was driving my mom out to my grandpa's to drop something off at his house.  You must understand that my grandpa lives in a very rural area.  He lives in, what we call, a swamp.  Not a nasty, smelly swamp -- it's a beautiful swamp with cattails, deer, and plenty of ground that's high enough to be inhabited by people.  Anyway, it's very open, with lot's of wildlife everywhere.

On this particular day, I was driving down a nearly-empty road on the way to my grandpa's, when I happened to notice two cyclists.  They had humongous packs of luggage balancing precariously over their back tires as they pedaled up the oncoming lane toward me.  And there were also ducks.

Now ducks are not a big deal.  Normally.  The Swamp is full of geese, mallards, turtles, and small rodents -- never a big problem.  But on this day, the cyclists were baring down on three mallard ducks that were waddling across the shoulder of the road.  And we were driving on the other side of the road.  Suddenly, things started going in slow motion for me.

For a second, which seemed to last longer than that, I was watching the ducks inches away from the bicycles' wheels.  And I was watching the ducks, panicking, start to fly away.  But they didn't fly back toward the dike to the left.  They decided to fly in front of me.  I slammed on the brakes, wincing just as the birds hit the car.  Neither my mom or I remember seeing them hit the car.  But a split second later I was aware of everything around me and was slowing to the curb (Without my turning signal.  Whoops.)  And my driver's side mirror was gone.

It could have been so much worse.  I could have been going faster, and the birds could have catapulted through my open window and hit me in the head -- making me lose control.  Or I could have been going slower and the birds could have crashed into the windshield, cracking it.  Or it could have been a deer, which would have wrecked the car.  Or another vehicle.

It was scary for me, a new driver.  But God was holding my mom and me in the palm of His hand, as He always does.  And the accident with the mallards reminds me that there are many things that could easily happen to me every single day -- things I couldn't possibly know about or predict.  What about when we forget the cellphone at home and have to turn back home to get it?  Was there an accident that we would have been in up ahead?  Or when we decide to go someplace new instead of going the usual way.  There are hundreds of stories about people missing certain death by making one random decision.  Just ask the survivors of  9/11, or those who lived through the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or the people who should have been on a plane that crashed, or a train that dove off the tracks, or a bus that never made it to its destination.

My dad once told me a story he'd heard on the radio.  We were in the car, and he paused the music to tell it.  He couldn't remember all of the details, but the gist of the story went about like this:  There was a Olympic diver.  The man didn't believe in the existence of God, even though his friend kept telling him about One who loved him more than anyone ever could.  One night the diver went to the pool by himself to practice his dives.  He didn't stop to turn on the lights, because the pool had skylights overhead, and the moon was shining down into the room.  The man climbed up onto the highest diving board above the pool and turned around to do his dive.  He spread his arms wide -- the starting position for his dive.  Suddenly, he saw his shadow fell across wall.  It was in the shape of the cross.  Immediately overcome with emotion he could not explain, he dropped to his knees on the board and cried out to God.

Then my dad turned the music back on.  The story was mildly interesting.  A story of a man finding God on a diving board, his life changed forever.  I listened to the song playing in the car.  Then my dad paused the song again.

A minute later the janitor came into the pool area and flicked on the lights.  The diver stood up, wiped the tears from his eyes, and turned around.  The pool was completely empty.  Drained.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mail Call Monday

I got my first letter from my Compassion correspondent child Ricky!  Ricky lives in the Dominican Republic and is 15 years old.

His letter says,

Dear Sponsor.  Greetings in the Name of Jesus.  I am very happy to write to you again.  (First letter I've received, so not sure about the "again" part)  I pass all my final exams.  I am very happy because I will go to summer camp and we will have fun and grow in my spiritual life.  I learn a lot about God.  Which is your country?  I like a lot the snack at the center, I have new friends, they are good.  I would like to have a picture of you. (I did send him a picture recently, so they probably crossed in the mail)  Thank you for your support is a great help and for be important for you.  God bless you a lot and give you a great reward in your life.  What is your favorite country?  Please, pray for me, my family.  Bye in the Name of Jesus.  Ricky.

I was so happy to receive this letter from Ricky!  It is such an encouragement when I get letters from my correspondent children.  Not only do I get to touch their lives, they deeply touch mine as well.  Hopefully Ricky will receive the picture I sent him soon!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Holding on to Hope

Being that Hope is my word for the year, I've been on the lookout lately for songs that speak to me about the Hope that God gives us.  The first one the radio that made me stop and listen was "Not for a Moment" by Meredith Andrews.  I saw Meredith at CMS @ the Chapel this spring, and she was such an inspiration to listen to.  This song really struck me as the perfect song of hope.

Never will Jesus forsake me, even when I can't see Him.

Sometimes it seems that Hope is like a vapor.  It appears for a second, but you can't grasp it.  If you reach out your hand to touch it, it vanishes.  Maybe you'll see it again, maybe you won't.  But God isn't a vapor.  And His plans for us are concrete.  It's not that God might help us.  He will be there for us, however He sees that we need help.  We may not see how He can be in a situation, but He will never forsake us.

The other song that speaks to me about God's constant presence in my life is Colton Dixon's song, "Never Gone."

God is always with us.  We never have to be afraid.  Sometimes we go through trials -- sometimes God sends us into trials, fully knowing that we will have difficulty -- so that we will run to Him as our strong tower.  For if our Hope is in the Lord, we don't have to be afraid.  He will not fail us.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Pair of Shoes

"Let me tell you what it is like to live in Kenya," he said, smiling.  In an instant we were swept up into his world, where there are no cars, hamburgers, or laptops.  "How many of you are wearing shoes?" he asked, looking under the tables at everyone's feet.  "You all have shoes!  How many do you have?  One pair?  Two pairs?  Three pairs?!"  I was afraid he'd turn to me and ask me how many pairs of shoes I have.  I wasn't sure how many, but I knew that it was a lot.  (I just counted them. Seventeen pairs of shoes.)

Suddenly I was fixed on every word he was saying, because I knew that as this pastor described the place he lived, he was sharing something truly important -- something I had never known and could not understand.  One pair of shoes.

I am not a shoe fanatic.  I am just a girl, living in America, in a middle class family.  I have shoes for church, for soccer, for winter, for mud, for water, for snow, and going to the store.  That is normal, isn't it?  But to a man in Kenya, it is inconceivable.

He spoke of more than shoes.  He spoke of children walking ten miles to school each day, and the how some of them are lost to roaming lions and elephants that cross their path.  Or crocodiles, if the children have to cross a river, sweep them away and they are never seen again.  Sometimes black mambas drop from the ceilings of schools, and children die from their deadly bite.  He told us of owning the only car in his village.  He's the guy who takes sick people to the hospital in the middle of the night.  He's the guy who shows up the hospital with a sick woman in his arms, and sees that there is no doctor on staff that night.  And he sits there, and watches her die.

No medicine, no clean water, no doctors or nurses, no hope.  I don't how to function in that kind of place.  But the thing is, Mr. Titus didn't cry.  He didn't speak to us in deep sorrow, or try to gain our sympathy.  Most of the time, he was smiling.  Even when talking about poverty and death, he smiled.  Partly that was because that is his environment.  It's what he deals with on a daily basis, and he is used to it, if it is possible to be used to such things.  But mostly, it was because he was on fire for God.  Mr. Titus has planted of thirty churches in Kenya.  He wasn't at my youth group to make us reach for or wallets and purses to give him money.  He wanted to challenge us to live with a different perspective.

Even though, by American standards, I don't have all that much, by world standards, I am wealthy.  I have a savings account, a house, a family, running water, and a high school education.  College isn't out reach for me, a job paying me more than $100 dollars a month is open to me (that is all Mr. Titus's wife makes a month as a school teacher), and a bright future is waiting for me.  But what am I going to do with it?  We, as young people in the United States, do so little.  We don't see, we don't hear, or taste, or touch the deep, empty despair of poverty like so many people our age around the world.

Mr. Titus challenged us to take this enormous blessing that we'd been given and use it to bless others.  We don't need to consume it all on ourselves.  We can change the lives of others, even with the little that we think we have.  God has blessed us beyond measure, and we are only His stewards of it.  Now we need to give it away to the world.

By the way, my sister happens to be advocating for a Kenyan girl in the Compassion sponsorship program.  You can read about her at Lizzie's blog, if you like.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lots and Lots of Questions

My dear Sister and Rebecca both nominated me for an award!  Yeah!

This award is for bloggers who have less than 200 followers.  It also has to do with the magic number 11.  Personally, I haven't found 11 to be very magical, but whoever created this award apparently liked it very much.

     Thank the person that gave you the award
     Post the picture on your blog
     Share 11 random facts about yourself
     Answer 11 questions given to you by the award-er
     Award 11 bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers
     Give them 11 questions to answer
     No tagging people back :)

So, here are 11 things about me:
1. I've always wanted a pet skunk.  Unfortunately, it is illegal to own a skunk in my state.  I am trying to convince my parents to move to Ohio.
2. Knitting is one of my favorite things to do.  I especially like to knit Estonian lace projects like this --
3. I have discovered that I do not like Japanese tea very much.  My cousin's girlfriend visited from Japan earlier this year.  She gave some tea to my grandparents and they shared it with me.  I found it really bitter, unfortunately.  I think my, non-Japanese, favorite type of tea is either peach or chocolate mint.
4. My family thinks I am extremely odd because I am so often cold.  It can be 75 degrees Fahrenheit and I'd still be cold some days.  Apparently my doctor thinks that that is normal, because he hasn't hospitalized me yet.
5. I enjoy writing research papers.
6. I do not like writing lists about myself.
7. I enjoy running a tripod camera at my church.  There are seven of them (it's a large church!) and it's such a privilege to be able to serve there!
8. My favorite books are old, classic ones -- The Moonstone, The Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scottish Chief... the thicker the better.
9. I am (hopefully) getting my driver's license soon!!!
10. I enjoy going hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, kayaking, and camping.  I do not enjoy daddy long legs, black bears, the cold, and mud.
11.  Eleven is a lot more than I thought it was.

And now for the questions -- I'm combining all of the ones from Lizzie and Rebecca, so there may be more than eleven:

 1. Describe yourself in 8 words or less.
     Let's see... wait -- does that count as a word?  Umm...
2. If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?     Loving Jesus and trusting completely in Him only
3. Who has had the most impact on your life and why?     My mom.  She always has practical advice for every situation and she encourages me.  Not only that, but she's always there for me and helps me with everything I could possibly need.
4. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be and why?     Nunavut -- because who doesn't want to be in a polar climate?
5. What is your favorite TV show (or movie) and why?    Let's see... movie would have to be Voyage of the Dawn Treader, TV show is Psych. 
6. What is the best compliment you have ever received?    I don't know if it's really a compliment, but when Lizzie says such sweet things about me on her blog and when she calls me her best friend.   
7. What is your most memorable letter you have ever received?      I received a letter from Rosa (my Compassion girl) several months ago, and she said she wanted me to visit her because she loved me so much!  My heart just melted.
8.  Who is the most important person in your life?     It may seem cliche, since Lizzie said the same thing, but Lizzie really is the most important person in my life.  We go just about everywhere together and have so many awesome memories.  She's someone I can talk to and share with, and I know I could trust her with anything.
9. What would you do with a million dollars?     I would give it away!  Who needs a million dollars anyway?
10. What is your favorite memory?     My favorite memory is going to a campground near the St. Lawrence River.  My mom and sisters and I would go driving around, exploring long, winding roads, and visiting Amish stands together.  Plus, I went fishing with my dad and saw lots of beautiful sunsets on the water with him.
11. What is the most encouraging thing that you have ever been told and have you shared it with others?

     When someone tells me they love my artwork or enjoyed listening to me play the piano.  It encourages me so much to know that they appreciate the hard work I've put into those things.
12. Who do you relate the most to in the Bible and why?
     Peter.  He had such a great heart for God and others, but sometimes he just got confused or sidetracked and things didn't go so well for him.  But Jesus still took him back!
13. If you got to "make a wish" and spend one day doing anything, what would you do?

     Hmmm... I would go visit my Compassion children, Ricky and Rosa, in the Dominican Republic.
14. If you had to choose a completely different career/life path, what would you do?

     Well, I don't have a career, so that's a difficult question!  I guess if I couldn't go to college for graphic design, I would want to become a music therapist.
15. List the guests from your dream dinner party.

     TobyMac, Emily Dickinson, Wes Stafford, Meridith Andrews, Lisa McKay...
16. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

     The ability to be invisible.  How awesome would that be?
17. What makes you laugh? 

     Children.  They can be so adorable :)

I've had a little difficulty coming up with blogs to pass this award onto.  Most of the ones I follow have over 200 followers!  But, here are a couple that I would like to share this award with:

     Selects Wool and Flax
     Mindy in South Sudan
     Kisses from Katie

Some of these ladies are missionaries in other countries and probably can't accept the award by writing a post about it, but you should check out their blogs anyway!  They are such an encouragement to me.

Now for their questions:

1. If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?
2. Who do you relate the most to in the Bible and why?
3. What makes you laugh? 
4. What is your favorite verse(es) of Scripture?
5. Favorite Singer/band?
6. List the guests from your dream dinner party.
7. How many places have you lived, and which was your favorite?
8. What is your favorite memory?
9. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be and why?
10. Who has had the most impact on your life and why?
11. What is your favorite season?

Thanks guys!  This post has been a lot of fun for me, I hope you enjoyed it, too.