Going Home?

by Velma Amundson

“DAY O, Day ay ay oh, Daylight come and me wan’ go home”. Ok, I know, strange way to start this blog. But then again, why not? This song is about banana workers who have finished their shift, done their work and want to go home. My mother has been with us for a month. We’ve had a great time together. But, as it gets closer to the time for her to go home, I can see her missing her home, her friends and my brother and sisters more and more. She wants to go home.

There is an old gospel hymn that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” I think of that song often. It reminds me that I have a heavenly home waiting for me. Somewhere that I’m promised every tear will be wiped away and I will get to be in the presence of my Lord and Savior forever. It keeps me going when the way gets rough and I feel like nothing is working. It also keeps me going when everything is going my way. It reminds me that the things of this earth are temporary and not all that important. What is important is the treasure I “lay up in heaven”. When I allow God to use me as His witness, showing His love and compassion to those around me, I lay up treasure in Heaven. And someday, when my work here is done, I will get to go there. Not because of the work, but because of God’s grace and mercy.

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Lame? Lazy? Extraordinary?!

by Sarah Langness

I like to-do lists. I even have a planner that I write my daily to-do list in. Part of the reason behind this is so that I actually  remember  to do things; if I don’t do the task immediately or at least write the task down, it could be days before I remember that I needed to vacuum the corners of our bedroom or clean the bottom of the fridge. But I’ll be honest: sometimes, I write already completed tasks down on my to-do list so it just  looks  like I accomplished more on a particular day. Because there is something about our human nature, or maybe it’s just our culture, that thrives on being busy and accomplishing.

The other day I was asked, “So what do you do all day?” This particular person knew that I was a stay-at-home-mom. In that moment, I felt like I had to come up with a long, large, impressive list of daily tasks that I accomplish around the house, at church, or in the community. But all I could come up with was: “Well, we go on an hour walk every morning. And we both take naps in the afternoon.” Lame. And it sure makes me sound lazy.

So what do I do all day? Well, I guess it depends. I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees, playing peek-a-boo around the kitchen island as my baby boy crawls after me and giggles. I spend time reading books to my little man, or at just holding the pages open so Zeke can turn the pages on his own. I spend time changing poopy diapers, preparing food for the three of us, washing dishes, making sure Zeke doesn’t eat any electrical cords, cuddling with him, and holding him high enough so he can pull the cord to the ceiling fan.

And why does that somehow, in my mind, seem so unimpressive? So unimportant? I wish it didn’t; it shouldn’t. Because it’s things that I love. Things that I would not change for anything.

Maybe it’s because I’m looking to fulfill the world’s definition of success and importance. Maybe it’s because everyone around me seems to be doing so much, to always be busy, to always have somewhere they have to be. Maybe it’s because, for some awful reason, it seems like spending quality time with my son doesn’t seem like an “important” enough task.

I’ve found great encouragement regarding this in the following words from Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freemen (can you tell what I’ve been reading lately?):

“In the midst of my insecure emotions, I picked up a book written by Major Ian Thomas called The Indwelling Life of Christ. My eyes went directly to this: ‘It is not the nature of what you do that determines the spirituality of any action, but the origin of what you do.’

If what I do is done in complete dependence upon the Father, then it doesn’t matter what that thing is, rather who the one is doing that thing. Is it me? Or is it Him? Colossians says that by faith, it is beautifully and mysteriously both. ‘To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me’ (Colossians 1:29 NIV). Who am I to decide what is extraordinary? The Father has already decided. He says He Himself is extraordinary. So anything I do as I depend on and partner with the Extraordinary One, I suppose that is extraordinary too.” (emphasis mine)

Even changing diapers for the tenth time that day. Even patiently teaching an eight-month old how to self-feed. Even washing dishes, doing laundry, and cleaning the carpet. May it all, even in the un-importance of the task according to the world’s standards, be done by His strength and for Him alone.

 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of your inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” – Colossians 2:23-24 (emphasis mine)

God Goes Before Us

by Lynn Wellumson

We have enjoyed for years getting Christmas cards and letters from friends and family.  They, without exception, highlight the good times had by the family through the past year.  This has included new births, job promotions, children with stellar grades, new homes, and exotic vacations.  We have most years written a letter of our own recalling the blessings and joys of the past year.

One author, after a glowing report, of unusually gifted and talented children, job promotions, and a dog with perfect manners closed his letter with a P.S which read “other things happened too, but they don’t look good in print”.

How thankful we are that God has gone before us in 2013.  We can trust His mercy and grace will not only be sufficient but will cover us.  We are thankful for His promise of forgiveness and mercy to those who call upon His name and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  In our humanness we need His promise of eternal life and the joy of entering His kingdom.  We can face the future with optimism and hope even with the knowledge that things will happen that wouldn’t look good in print.

The Potter, the Clay, and Do-Overs

by Jonni Sliver

I am having a really hard time writing you today. I am feeling fine, but am completely distracted because I have Daniel in a stroller next to me and he is just too cute to not pay attention to! Daniel is five months old and is the son of Odette, one of our house mothers. While she is making lunch and working with the children Daniel spends a fair amount of the morning in our office, distracting the staff with baby conversation and adorable aerobics (biting his toes, practicing for a swim meet as his little arms and legs swing with impressive rhythm). This precious little guy is firmly convinced that he is among the most amazing of children, because he is surrounded by people who tell him every day.

On the other side of the wall is another little one – Emily is 2 and a half and when she arrived a month ago she was convinced that she couldn’t trust anyone. She was afraid of everyone, the house moms and the rest of the staff, the other children. Fortunately she arrived at the beginning of a two week period when there were only a few children in the Home, because she needed time to adjust. By the end of the first week she trusted one person – house mom Neide; but when Neide went home she cried until she fell asleep. By the end of the second week she trusted all four of the house moms, but no one else – not even the other children. By the third week she had begun playing with the other children (a good thing, because by then we had several new children!) as long as she could see one of the moms she trusted. Now, after a month, she has begun laughing and even lets adults who aren’t one of the moms pick her up – if she can see a mom!

Now, why would a two year old have such a firm conviction that you can’t trust people. Because, like Daniel, she was surrounded by people who taught her. It is heartbreaking to think of, but her father regularly abused her, and even as a tiny little girl Emily knew that her mother and grandparents couldn’t or wouldn’t stop him. So she learned that grownups are people that hurt you or let you be hurt.

If I stopped now, you may never read another of my blog entries, it is just too sad. But there is good news! We didn’t go out and find Emily; God brought her to us! And He brought her to us for a reason; He has healing for this precious little girl. He is the Potter and she is the clay; though others have done their best to mar this young life, the Potter is able to remove every mark and create in her the strong, joyful spirit He intends for her. We can’t undo what has been done to Emily, but we can rejoice and participate in the bright future she has before her, and I am so glad for that!

Gifts For His Glory

by Sarah Nelson

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12:6-8

Like many of you, I have served as a Sunday School teacher, VBS coordinator, director of church Christmas plays, as well as in several other “church lady” roles.  Also like some of you, I am a Mom. In all of those capacities, I have encouraged, urged, and yes, I’m sad to say, even shamed some children (including my own),  into doing “their” part in church and Sunday School.

The error of my ways hit me full and center when God blessed me to be the mother of some little ones with special needs and challenges.   Memorizing long lines, being in front of a congregation of grown-up faces, and being dressed in itchy costumes didn’t just cause jitters, it caused full fledged anxiety.  Required singing by the Sunday School children on a monthly basis at one church slowly grew a fear and a dread in some of my children of going to church.

A few years ago a thought occurred to me –  Do we ask adults or rather, tell adults, what they will do to serve at church?   Do we require someone gifted in administration, but not with musical ability, to sing a solo?   Do we demand that someone who is more at home serving in the church kitchen, design and create new church banners?   Of course not.  If we did, we would soon see hurt feelings, frustration at not being able to use the true gifts God intended us to use for His glory, and eventually a possible exit from the church.

A simple solution we as a family and church began using was to have our children serve where they are gifted,  and not where we wanted or thought they “should” be.  One child designed and printed our Christmas program bulletin, two served as ushers, those with musical and acting abilities shared them generously,  and another child helped with props and scenery for a program.  We gradually saw a love for working within the church body return.  More importantly, they began to serve God and others with JOY, because they were exercising their God given gifts.

Have you like me, put the pressure on others to perform rather than serve within their giftedness at church?  If so, we have a gracious and forgiving Father ready to forgive us from those mistakes and to make us sensitive to the needs of others.   Have we unintentionally put a sour taste in the mouths of our children and teens as to what church is, rather than allowing the sweetness of unity and working together to be a welcome memory as they grow older and mature in their walk with Christ?  Again, our Father is more than able to forgive us for the past and plant a new desire within us to build up rather than to (even while not knowing it) discourage others.

As a body of believers, we need to encourage one another to discover the gifts God has graciously given to us.  We need to use those gifts corporately for the body to function as a whole, in a healthy and Christ honoring way.   Today let’s use our God-given  abilities and talents along with those given to our brothers and sisters with JOY  – for His glory and honor!

Thoughts on Expectations and Following Jesus

by Sarah Langness

I was pretty excited this past weekend to have a named winter storm headed our way. Gandalf was coming, and supposedly he was bringing a significant amount of snow, lots of strong winds, and some frigid temperatures. Since Gandalf was going to be so intense, I expected to hunker down inside: no morning walks with my baby boy, an increased consumption of hot beverages, dozens of cookies baked as the wind howled and snow fell; maybe even having my husband trapped inside and unable to go to work. No such luck: we only got a couple inches of snow and the wind didn’t seem extraordinarily fierce. I was able to walk on Friday morning after all. I didn’t drink more coffee than usual; I didn’t even make hot cocoa. I didn’t bake cookies. And Jordan still had to go to work. My expectations sure weren’t met.

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about my expectations in regards to my service to Jesus. If you would have asked me ten years ago how I would be serving Jesus today as a 24-year-old, I don’t know what I would have said. Probably something lofty, obviously important, and amazing. Like living in Africa serving in an orphanage. Or working in a children’s ministry at a church alongside my youth-director husband. Or missionary service at a homeless shelter. Emily Freeman sums up my thoughts in her book Grace for the Good Girl:

“I am struck by how I have lived in a constant state of high expectation. I compared my current life to the one I thought I would be living. I compared my Jesus walk to the way it seemed it ought to be. I had clear ideas about what important Jesus work was supposed to look like, and it had nothing to do with cleaning the toilet.”

This past week, I’ve been challenged to change my thinking on what it means to follow Jesus. All too often, it is easy for me to focus on the big things, the obvious things, that people do to serve the Lord. But there are ways in which we are to serve the Lord that may go completely unnoticed by others. Like clamping our mouth shut when we want to participate in gossip. Like putting others’ needs before my own. Like bringing a meal to someone in need. Like getting to know my neighbor across the street and sharing Jesus’ love with them. Like giving more than I’m receiving. Like telling the truth instead of lying. Like not envying that couple’s house or those girls’ friendships. Like being the best mom I can be to my little Ezekiel and the best wife I can be to Jordan.

Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him probably includes those huge, mountain-moving acts of faithful service like serving as a missionary in a foreign country. But I think, more applicable to the average Joe like me, it has to do with our daily living right here in HomeTown, USA. It might not seem as exciting or as important for the Kingdom – but it is.

However we serve, however we live, I pray that we would be working to hear these glorious words:

“‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'” – Matthew 25:21