O.K., I hope you’re ready for buck shot – I have had a few different recurrent themes on my heart recently and I think they came together.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “home” for a while. I was recently home on furlough and it was wonderful. The combination of spending time with people I love and getting to travel to new places, meet new people (and add to the afore mentioned list) is amazing! But when the e-mail came that said my visa had been issued and I would receive it is a couple of days the first thing I said is “I get to go home!” Maybe I’m fickle (though I don’t think so, I root for the Twins and Atletico Mineiros even when they are losing), more likely I’m blessed to have two places where my heart is at rest.

A second thought came with the passing of a precious brother. Antonio has been the caretaker of the retreat center here in Campo Mourao for more than forty years – and so much more! He was the driver for Pr John Abel during evangelism trips,  he has mentored many, many young people. Basically, everything he did, he did to the glory of God. Antonio had a heart attack and passed away at the age of 85. One of the verses shared at his funeral was Psalm 116:15 (ESV) “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. “ I’ve heard the verse many times before, but it has been rolling around in my mind – the death of Antonio, precious in the sight of the Lord.

Finally a little clip has been playing in my mind is of Brandy. He was my dog when I was growing up and he was a pretty smart little fur ball. He knew exactly what time my school bus arrived in the afternoon and five minutes ahead of time he took his position on the back of the sofa, nose aimed at the picture window so he could see the whole street. The moment I got off the bus he would freeze and when our eyes met, four houses down the block, I could see his little body start to quiver. Pure joy. What a precious thing it is to know that someone is waiting for you to arrive, that your arrival brings real joy to their heart.
And these three images finally came together.

As wonderful as our home is, it is an appetizer. God placed the desire for a place that we belong, a place where we “fit” because we have a better home waiting. And there is a reception waiting for us that is beyond what we can imagine. The joy of my little dog, over joyed that I was finally home is an appetizer. Imagine the joy of the Father, waiting for each of us to cross the finish line, the cloud of witnesses cheering and our hearts finally fully home.

Praise the Lord, when we are safely tucked in our homes, we know something even better is coming. And when it doesn’t seem like we will ever find a place where we really fit in (and sometimes it is easy to feel like that), hold on! The Father has more prepared for us than we could even imagine!

Taking Time to Really See

by Jonni Sliver

So I was driving from Springfield, Mo. to Hannibal, Mo. and I’m afraid I might have been a bit of a road hazard –the scenery was totally distracting! Even on the interstate the road turned and curved, was uphill and down. I was surrounded by what looked like a dense forest, but the road itself was cut out from granite and amazing stone walls occasionally lined the interstate, other times the rock jutted out , in rugged beauty. As I was driving, a song was playing on the radio and the chorus was:

“You’re the reason for every good thing, every heartbeat, every day we get to breathe, You’re the reason.”

The song seemed so appropriate and it made me think about how many good things we see so often that we don’t notice them anymore. The people who drive on the I-44 every day outside of Springfield probably don’t consciously see the rock formations or the sea of trees anymore. But for a visitor, new to the Ozarks, it is amazing!

I had a similar experience less than a week ago, but in a totally different setting. I stopped at a farm in Randall, Iowa because it had the prettiest barn. Yes, driving down a county road I saw a really pretty barn. If you live on a county road in Iowa (rural Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin or a lot of other places) you see so many barns on an average day you might be surprised that one stands out from another. I know the sweet young lady that came out of the house when I stopped in her drive way seemed a bit confused. But barns are not part of my day to day landscape and this one stood out to me.

It strikes me that God has surrounded us with so many “good things”, special, precious things to bless our hearts, but we get so used to them we don’t see them anymore, and we miss the joy.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  Psalm 19:1  (ESV)

All around us, all the time God has something prepared to remind us of His great love. Take a minute to really see what is around you today!

Bring Back the Wonder

by Sarah Langness

With the arrival of warmer temperatures, my little Ezekiel’s world has gotten so much bigger. I love seeing the wonder – and sometimes fear – on his face as his feet touch grass for the first time. As his fingers crumple a dead leaf for the first time. As his mouth tastes and encloses a rock for the first time. (Actually, the wonder was completely on his face on this one; the fear completely on mine. Zeke’s mouth is far too big for his own good.) Throughout this journey of parenthood, there have been countless times that I have wished I could remember that wonder, that awe, of discovering the world for the first time. I wouldn’t want to go back and re-learn everything; but I do wish I could remember what it was like to taste a banana for the first time. What it was like to take your first step. What it’s like to see snow for the first time or feel grass beneath your feet. To just simply be amazed at the beauty of creation.

And sometimes – actually, a lot of times – I wish the same thing for my salvation. Growing up in a Christian home, growing up going to church, growing up hearing the wonderful message of the Gospel — unfortunately, the awesome loses its wonder at times. It shouldn’t. Because I’m still a sinner in need of that daily grace, that daily forgiveness. But I guess it’s just too easy to get used to the truths of Scripture; the state of what I was and have now become because of Christ. I wish it wasn’t.

So I decided that I need to pray the prayer that David prayed. And not just once, but daily. That every morning I need to humble my heart as I approach His throne and say:

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:12  NASB

I want the wonder back.

Filled With Joy

by Sarah Langness

You know what I love? I love the sound of my baby boy’s giggle when he rides on his daddy’s shoulders. I love the pure joy that lights up his face after I round the kitchen island in a game of peek-a-boo chase. I love hearing him make truck sounds as he pushes anything with a wheel. As a mom, hearing those sounds – as well as the countless other babbles, screeches, and songs – fills my heart with joy. I never get tired of it. And I can’t help but think that maybe the Lord feels the same way.

Maybe the same joy that I experience as I watch my son explore, giggle, learn and grow is the same joy that fills the Lord’s heart as we follow Him – as we truly follow Him. As we put feet to our faith. As we love on those who go unnoticed. As we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

I know we don’t do good deeds to earn God’s favor. We can’t earn our salvation based on the number of times we made Him smile. His love for us isn’t based upon such things. But I can’t help but think His heart is filled with joy as we carry the love of Jesus to the world. As we live as His hands and feet. As we obey even when it’s difficult.

So, how about we put a smile on our Father’s face today?

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth . . .” – 1 John 3:18-19

“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” – 3 John 1:4

Count It All Joy

by Sarah Nelson

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:22-24

Life has been a bit rough and bumpy lately.  I’ve been trying to navigate my way around potholes of health issues, loneliness, parenting challenges,  uncertain addresses, and other life situations.   There have been moments where I have felt like giving up and not pressing on to what I have been called and equipped to do on my life’s journey.   It’s been too tempting to stay in my pajamas while teaching math and science to my children, to heat up the umpteenth can of soup and call it a meal.

Yesterday morning was a tough one.  My natural inclination was to stay home from church, cocoon myself away from others, and try to grab some extra hours of sleep that have been in short supply the past few weeks.  I made it through the morning, albeit sans make-up, and almost got through a yummy potluck dinner at church before Micah experienced another of his massive nosebleeds.   After Dave got it somewhat under control, I took Micah home to get him cleaned up.  He was pale and not his usual zippy self, but he was determined to play in his basketball game.

While Micah was getting his team’s tee shirt on, and tying up his basketball shoes,  I gathered wipes and hand towels to bring a long in case another bloody nose came upon Micah.   We got to the gym full of enthusiastic first and second graders, parents, and grandparents.   Thankfully I had remembered to take some pain reliever for my already throbbing head.  An hour, I could make it through.

Finally Micah’s game began.  A game that is supposed to be basketball, but in actuality looks like a combination of football, wrestling and soccer, with some foundation of basketball underneath it all.  It’s entertaining.  It’s precious.   My son is not the fastest on the court, he has yet to make a basket, and he likes to guard his own teammates who are trying to make baskets.   He does it all with a smile and zeal. It doesn’t discourage him when others say, “What ARE you doing?”  He doesn’t give up when he is playing at half strength and looking pale as a glass of milk.   The loud buzz of the signal causes him anxiety, so he wears his bright orange earplugs and doesn’t care when other children stare at him.  He lives.  He goes on.  He presses forward.  He doesn’t let his different style and abilities hinder him.  He finds solutions, gets the assistance he needs, and continues on.   He is my little hero with a big heart and a giant love for life.  He is my teacher.  He is my son.

Let’s not lose hope, sisters, when trials come.  They are allowed by the Lord to make us more and more like Him.  It is so often during the times in life where we feel ill-equipped, inadequate, and out of our comfort zone, that Jesus shines most brightly through our lives.  This past week I’ve found myself singing, “Hide it under a bush, NO!  I’m going to let it shine!”   Let’s press on together, bringing the light of Jesus to a world who needs Him.