Emmanuel – God with us!

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As the Christmas season and New Years has been in full steam this year there has been one word that has just been stuck in my head, Emmanuel – God with us.

As I think back over the year, I think of so many things that happened. It was a year filled with unspeakable joy and pain.

God was with me when I was sitting in the ditch beside my totaled car.

God was with me when joy filled by heart so full it felt it could burst.

God was with me in that hospital room when I said hello and goodbye to my tiny nephew.

God was with me in my victories.

God was with me in my sleepless nights.

God was with me in my hours of driving back and forth to work every week

God was with me when I felt all alone.

Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest. ~ Joshua 1:9

This year made me more aware then ever before that God was with me in everything. There were days when He felt far away, but He wasn’t. He was right beside me even though I didn’t feel Him. He was there for me when I cried out to Him. He was with me! The Creator of the universe never left my side… not even for a moment.

I’ve have been so blessed beyond words the last month just meditating on the fact that HE, Emmanuel is with us!!! No matter how great your joy this next year, or how deep your pain, never ever forget that He is Emmanuel – God with us!

Your Hand In the Fog

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I know you have plans for me

I know your plans are good

I try to trace your working hand

But sometimes it hidden in fog

Clouds of fog close around me

I beg to see your hand for a moment

I beg to see your plans for me

The chaos and noise threatens

Threatens to drown out your voice

Gently you speak, wait my child

Trust my hand is there in the fog

Trust I am working steadily

Though you may see nothing at times

So I put my trust in my faithful God

The one who always keeps his promises

The one who can see when I can’t

The one who’s plans are greater then mine

The one who battles His plans for me in Heaven’s courts

The one who turns my suffering into beauty

So I’ll follow patiently on through the fog

I’ll trust he’s working in the silence!

Faith When the Rubber Leaves the Road!

Rain splattered on my windshield as I drove mile after mile on my way to visit a friend. An hour and a half of mulling over faith was on my agenda for that drive. The last few days I couldn’t get the subject off my mind and what our lives would be like if we fully trusted God with everything. So there I was, driving alone in the quiet as I formulated my thoughts and contemplated if I should do a blog post about it.

What would life look like, I wonder, if Christians – if I – took God at His every word, if we based our lives completely on it? What if I had the faith to step out on the water when God said “come”? Instead I hide shaking in the corner of the boat, focused on the crashing waves and comtemplating if I would sink or not.

Sometimes He asks us to take risks for Him, but our eyes grow wide with fear, focusing on the risk. We forget about the faithfulness of the One asking us to take it and trust.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” ~Hebrews 11:1

“For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?  But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” ~ Romans 8:24-25

The rain continued to fall softly as I drove, mulling over faith and begging God to give me more of it, the kind of faith that has such a deep trust I’d step out onto the water immediately if He said “come”.

As I turned onto a winding road as I neared my destination, my concentration more on my driving, I left my faith ponderings in one of the many folders of my brain to be pulled up later and maybe written out. A few minutes later, I came around a corner that was sharper than I expected and hit a patch of water. I felt myself completely lose control of my car as it began to spin in circles down the road, bouncing from one side of the road to the other. Pieces of my car landed all over as it slid, as if someone had dropped a marble on the floor.

I finally landed firmly in the ditch and all the normal things of an accident happened. I sat shaken up in the ditch beside my car, which resembled a pile of smashed medal more than a car. God spoke to me through the chaos, “Will you live out what you were just saying? Will you trust me that I have a greater plan even though to you it doesn’t look pleasant right now?”

As I sat there, sitting in the cold, wet ditch splattered in mud, the thought hit me – why do I feel “safer” trusting my own faulty judgement and plans when I can’t even see the whole picture? Is it not better to trust the Creator of the universe who knows my life from beginning to end and knows just what would have happened had I not ended up in the ditch Saturday night?

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The fact that I walked away with only a sore neck when it could have been so much worse is astounding. A car could have hit me head on as my car spun 150 feet down the road, and I could have ended up in the hospital with serious injuries, or worse. It all reminds me of God’s overflowing mercy and grace.

I never thought I’d say I’m grateful for a smashed car, but tonight I am, as it reminds me that God’s plans are so much greater than ours!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  ~Isaiah 55:8-9

Will you join me in begging God to give us radical faith to cut the very limb we are sitting upon if God is underneath ready to hold us? Will we live our lives in faith and risk all, held by a faithful God? or will we continue to think we know better how to steer our lives than God? Every moment we’re alive we are risking our lives on faith in someone. Will you take risks trusting and leaning on God, or will you only take risks according to what you can see and plan and think best?

Sweet Fragrance From The Scar

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I held a flow’r, I let it go

It fell softly to the ground

Forgotten it laid there all alone

Soon crushed by a hurried shoe

Delicate petals broken and bruised

Softly came the footprints of a child

Folks hurried not noticing the flow’r

But the child trotting, eyes to the ground

He let out a squeal and gently grasped it

Mommy, mommy, a pretty flow’r

She turned to see it bruised and broken

Son, it’s dirty, broken and no good

But Mommy, it smells so much sweeter

He softly touched the scars on the petals

There from the scar the sweet fragrance came

With the gentlest of hands he tucked it in his pocket.

So take heart pilgrims struggling and broken

Beauty still abides in the imperfect and broken

Junior Girls Week – Camp David – Part 2

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If you haven’t read Part 1 – Click Here

 It was a hot afternoon and the sun beat down on us as we walked across the long field to the horses so the girls could get their horse badge. My arms swung back and forth as I held the hands of Gabby and Chrissy. Meanwhile Katy was perched on my back. Everywhere we’d walk, Katy wanted to be holding my hand or perched on my back. All of the girls decided that they loved getting back-rides and would fight over who’s turn it was to get the next one. After 3 days of having a girl on my back multiple times a day, my legs and back were so sore, we walked quite slowly across the field! But how can you tell girls no when they tell you the things that meant the most to them is that you and Sarah listen to them unlike most adults who don’t want to ever listen to them and tell them to shut up, and how much they loved it that you gave them back rides?!  As we walked, I asked Katy, the petite little girl perched on my back, who was the person in her life she looked up to and wanted to be like. “I don’t really know,” she said. “I don’t really have any grown ups in my life that stay in my life.” Right at this moment I could name off at least 10 older people in my life that I look up to a lot! Can you imagine what it would be like to have none?? And if you ever did have one or get close to one, they would probably be ripped away in a few months when you were moved to a new home!

These girls have such mountain sized problems, and I wish with all of my heart I could always be there for them, but I can’t. But I do know someone who can and his name is Jesus, and he can be there for them and protect them so very much better than my meager efforts!  It was beautiful to see Chrissy, our Alumni camper who had gotten saved last year, living out her faith and running to Jesus in difficult times the whole week at camp! She just glowed with the love of Jesus and, even though she was only 10, she was very mature, selfless, and strong, yet gentle as a dove! Even though her parents aren’t in her life, and she faces so many challenges, God is faithful to her, and it’s beautiful to see beauty for the ashes of the broken pieces of her life.

The dreaded Friday morning came to pack up. Through the whole morning the girls clung to me and Sarah like we would vanish if they let go. One of the Friday morning activities was “Leave it Behind”. A hole was dug at the foot of the cross and each camper was given a slip of paper they could write a painful memory on that they wanted to leave buried at the foot of the cross. Each of our girls wrote something down and dropped it in. Katy pick up her paper and stared at it; I knew she could hardly write, and my heart broke as I saw her intense look of frustration and pain in place of her normal carefree, happy smile that she does her best to act like everything is perfect. I knew something very deep was going on in that little girl’s heart, and that whatever it was, she wasn’t taking it lightly. She walked up to me and said, “Jo, I need you to write for me.” “Sure”, I said. “Just tell me what to write!”  “There are some lies I am going to leave behind at camp today and I want them written down on that paper just like I say them because I am determined to not believe them anymore,” she said with a very firm tone in her voice. She began to list them to me and I wrote the simple words. Meanwhile, so much more than just the simple words were being written on my heart in that moment!

-I’m a failure and won’t be anything since I’m a foster child.

– I’m stupid and don’t know anything.

– No body in the world cares about me or loves me.

– I’m plain and ugly.

For my dear little Katy, those were not just simple words on a paper, but giant ropes that bound, held, and controlled her! Those were the whispers in her ear that told her to give up when she finally decided to try!  Those were the lies that held her back from being a butterfly and feeling shame to come out and shine! She requested that she be on my back when she dropped the paper of lies into the hole, so, perched on my back, my Katy and I walked to the hole, and she dropped that paper, so light, it floated to the ground, yet so very heavy, it carried the weight of hundreds of ropes of lies and hundreds of bricks of shame!

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We stood outside as the busses pulled up and they were told to load up. Katy held tightly on to me and said, “Can we please stop and pray that they won’t pick me up and I can just go home with you and be your little girl?” All my great plans of making it till campers were gone without crying so I wouldn’t upset them went out the window! I squeezed her so very tight and she squeezed me just a little bit tighter. I knew the awful reality would come and I would load her up in the big green van and have to wave goodbye to her. Arie and Brea walked up, the two sisters on our team. They made a little group and we just all stood there and hugged, trying to prolong what we all knew was coming. Brea spoke up, “I loved this week at camp; at home we always fight with everyone, but this week we haven’t fought with anyone. This week has been the best week of my life and I’m coming back next year!” Then from out of the building came Gabby running, she gave me a big hug and just let everything out – sobs, words, and everything in between! She said “Jo, I don’t want to go home, home is so boring but here everyone loves me, everyone listens, and everyone has fun!” All 5 of us stood there hugging and crying when I realized I wasn’t sure where Chrissy was and want to say goodbye to her before she loaded up in the van.

I finally found her in the sea of campers and counselors saying their final sad goodbyes. My normally perfect, controlled, and composed  Chrissy, leaped into my arms and said, “Jo, I don’t want to go, I love everyone here so much!”  We gathered in a circle and I told them to never, ever forget Jesus because He, unlike me, would always be there for them and never have to leave! We all sobbed and I hugged them one more time. The last sight I saw of my dear Chrissy was her arms wrapped tight around another camper that she had become best friends with over the last 2 summers at camp.  She look up at me with the biggest brown eyes I’ve ever seen, “I’ll be back next year,” she whispered with a glimmer of hope in her eyes! She held her hand up to the window, and I pressed mine against it, with only the glass of the window separating us, her lip was still quivering and tear drops the size of marbles rolled down her beautiful dark complexion. That was my very last glimpse of her and it is concreted in my memory forever! Most of the campers come from such horrible situations, yet their one week at camp each summer gives them hope, hope that there are people that care about them deeply even when no one else does, hope that every summer they have a week when they can feel safe, have fun, and just be loved! “God, help them and be with them,” I begged, “comfort their bleeding and broken hearts as only you can, and remind them everyday of the people who love them and care so much about them from camp, and never ever let them forget there IS hope!”

Will you take a moment to notice the children around you, to notice their deep pain that is often masked by a smile? Each one of my campers have neighbors, fellow classmates, teachers, and many other people in their lives; they could have taken the time to be a mentor to them or to invest time into these girls lives, but almost all of them had different priorities. Maybe they were too busy… busy with work, busy with school, busy socializing, or maybe they weren’t busy, and just didn’t notice the lonely girl at the playground because they had their focus elsewhere.  We all have Katys, Gabbys, Aries, Breas and Chrissys that surround us. But do we choose to truly see them, do we choose to notice them, and do we choose to give them our time and pour out literal life and being into them? Jesus said “Let the little children come and forbid them not” What do we say?

*Names changed for privacy

I would greatly appreciate your prayers for my 5 dear girls, as I do my best to keep up relationships with them and stay involved in their lives!

Junior Girls Week – Camp David – Part 1

232323232fp83232>uqcshlukaxroqdfv95-8=ot>8938=;44=346=XROQDF>26736-3<35255ot1lsi-2 It was junior girls week and my co-counselor Sarah and I were in our cabin with our 4 campers getting our luggage settled in. Instead of having the typical 4 campers, this week  we had 5 on our list. It had been 2 hours though since all the rest of the campers had shown up and I was beginning to greatly question whether she’d even show up. Knowing many of our campers came from very dysfunctional homes I figured that something came up; maybe she wasn’t able to get a ride, maybe she didn’t have anyone that put her as a priority, maybe this had happened to her more times than she could count and it was just one of many dissapointments and empty hopes and promises!  As I continued thinking about the situation, I thew my oversized backpack under the bed that seemed like I always ended up needing something during the week that it didn’t contain no matter how much a packed each week… camp is unpredictable sometimes. Just then I heard a clear, small knock at the door, my co-counselor and I jumped up to open it and there standing in the doorway was our 5th little girl Katy. She was very petite and small with straight brown hair that framed her face, she was holding a very large black, tattered suitcase, big enough she could easily fit herself into it.  She looked at us slightly skeptical and we told her “welcome to the Crystals cabin, come on in.” She stepped in and the middle-aged lady behind her said “well there you are Katy, have a good time and we’ll see you in a week” and off she walked up the hill. We were in the middle of baggage check so I asked Katy if I could go through the list with her to make sure she had everything she needed. She smiled a little and said sure. Unzipping her large black suitcase, she lifted the lid and I saw a small pile of clothes sitting in the bottom of it. “Let’s go around and say a few things about ourselves so we can all get to know each other” I said. “How about your favorite color, your age, and your birthday.” Chrissy went first, stating her favorite colors, that she was 10 and her birthday was October 7th, then the next girl and the next. It was Katy’s turn and she simply stated, “I like purple and I’m 9”. “When is your birthday?” I asked, hoping she would feel valued and that facts like that were special about her. She looked back and me and smiled and said, “Well, I’m in foster care and things like that aren’t really important to people so I’ve forgot since no one ever brings it up.” I sat slightly taken back when she said it as such fact with no emotion. Ever since I was 5 I can remember looking forward to my birthday and wondering what surprises it would hold! Dear Chrissy, our only alumni camper, quickly piped up, “Well, I guess that means your birthday could be any day so we should just be extra nice to you every day encase it’s your birthday that day.” Katy flashed a big happy grin! “Wow,” I thought, “maybe these 10 year olds will be teaching me instead of me teaching them!”

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That afternoon in free time Katy squealed, “lets got to the petting zoo.” Gabby said she want to go to but the other three girls wanted to go back to the cabin to get stuff. So Katy, Gabby, and I headed to the petting zoo. We stood there with sticks in our hands scratching the pig’s belly. The duck, who the girls had hope to pet, was running to the other end of the pen. “Why does the duck not trust us?” Katy asked. “Probably because too many kids have chased him and not been nice to him so he’s scared of us now.” I said. Gabby thought for a minute then said, “You know, I kinda feel like that duck does sometimes; it’s really hard for me to get to where I truly trust people!”  “Amen,” Katy said, “I’ve had too many people come and go. You have to prove to me that you care.” I knew both of them were from foster care and had a lot of things in common, including the same caseworkers. I hoped they’d realize it and find a connection in it. I asked them if they wanted to share a little bit of their story. Enthusiastic Katey jumped on the chance, “I live with Miss Mary and she’s okay; she takes care of us but I don’t get along very well with the other kids there. Before that though I was in a really bad foster home, but Macy, my caseworker, came one day and told me to get my stuff together because I was going to a new home.” “What Macy are you talking about?” Gabby asked. “My case worker Macy, she’s really awesome.” Katy said. Gabby paused and said, “Wow, that’s crazy, she’s my caseworker too and I love her. I remember the night I was put in foster care, it wasn’t that long ago. I woke up in the middle of the night to my mom trying to kill herself. Police and all sorts of people showed up, and I was taken away that night at 2am. It was a big mess and the wildest night of my life. They finally found me a home the next day and things settled down a bit.” Katy frowned slightly and said, “Sorry Gabby, it’s not fun being in foster care.” The bell rang and off we ran to Fort Turley for dinner. We finished up chapel and headed back to our cabins for small group discussion. It was share-the-gospel night. My dear three and I were inside the cabin and my co-counselor had the other two on the front porch. I only got a few minutes in when my girls started firing questions. “I’ve wondered for a while, why didn’t God die instead of Jesus? because that seems selfish to make his son die.” Arie said. Katy looked confused, “Okay, so can you explain exactly who Jesus is and why he had to die, because before this week I hadn’t really heard of him.” The questions continued to flow faster than I could answer. Arie and Gabby both had a relative in their life who would take them to church and VBS sometimes so they knew quite a bit of the basics of the gospel and had some deep questions about sin, suffering, God’s faithfulness, and sovereignty. Katy, on the other hand, believed there was a God, but shot out questions all through the week about the most basic things of the gospel and salvation. Katy was laying in one of the hammocks humming a tune when I walked over and asked if she wanted to be pushed. “Yup!” she said with the little Katy twinkle in her eyes. I started swinging her and she pulled her arms in tight by her side and squeezed her legs together. “I’m a worm in my cocoon right now, BUT!” She said bursting out, “I want to be a butterfly so bad!” She giggled and flipped her hair out of her face and spread her arms and legs out in the hammock trying to mimic a butterfly flying. I kept pushing and pulling methodically on the rope and talking and laughing at her knock knock jokes she started, but inside my mind was busier than a hive of bees on the last day of summer. “I wonder,” I thought “if Katy was just saying that as something random, or if it did really hold some depth behind it, and she was trying to communicated something to me. Maybe this analogy fit our 26 campers here this week quite well! Maybe all these girls feel like caterpillars sometimes that are a nuisance but under the right conditions they could bloom into a beautiful butterfly!” I thought for a moment, “I wish so bad that I could just keep my girls forever and pour my life into them, giving them every opportunity possible to be a beautiful carefree butterfly that knows they are loved by God and the people around them and they can feel safe to bloom!” 232323232fp83232>uqcshlukaxroqdfv8623=ot>8938=;44=346=XROQDF>26696-5498255ot1lsi The next evening as we were having small group and talking about different struggles, Arie piped up, “I like it here, everybody is nice to me. At school when I’m home most of the kids bully me and make fun of me because my dad is in prison, they say I’ll ever be worth anything because I’ll turn out just like him. I love him and I’m excited about him getting out. Do you think, Jo, that because I still love him I’ll grow up and go to prison too?” Her head lowered in shame as she finished her sentence. “No, Arei,” I said, “you can still love your dad and have a relationship with him but not be defined by his crimes! Don’t ever believe the lie that you have no choice but to live the kind of life your dad lived that sent him to prision. Each and every single one of us have our own set of choices we can make! Sometimes it’s much easier to just go with one but you always do have a choice, and never forget that Arie! There is always God to be there for us no matter what happens, and never let go of hope ever!”   Part 2 to follow shortly.  *Names changed for Privacy