Sunday, June 3, 2012

Seasons Come and Seasons Go

All we go through, all of life's circumstances are worth it. The good, the bad, and even the ugly. It is what defines us and forms us into who we are, who we will become. The brutal heat that saturates our being will not burn us, but only grow us. The wind and rain through the stormy weather may beat us up one side and down the other, but it will only make us stronger if we but allow it. Though Winter may seem terribly cold and desolate, it is then we can cling ever so more to our Father...enjoying the warm embrace only He can provide.

Seasons come and seasons go. They are simply periods of time that give us the opportunity to learn, to change our way of thinking, and to be molded more into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Being exposed to difficult situations and enduring affliction refines us as silver in the fire (Zec. 13:9) and tests our hearts (Prov. 17:3). During the fruitful months, or "mountain top" experiences, our hearts are filled with abundant joy in the One who daily lavishes His love on us as He desires to bless His children.  

Life may have left you broken, damaged, worn, and scarred, but in His time He will make it beautiful (Ecc. 3:11). Sometimes it just takes a matter of perspective, seeing His beauty where you least expect it. For even the deepest of scars can tell stories of God's faithfulness and love.

With love,

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Team Sri Lanka (L to R - Janie, Myself, Pastor George, Madison, and Stephanie)

For weeks I have been staring at a blank page wondering how in the world I can compress two weeks of my life in just one blog post. Being the detail oriented gal that I am, it's been quite a struggle. Many times, upon returning home, I have been asked the infamous question about how the trip was and as much as I am excited to share, I feel as though my words won't do it any justice. The sights, the sounds, the beauty of experiencing Sri Lanka won't compare. But, this is my attempt to verbalize my trip in a nutshell and allow you to come on a journey with me as I share my heart and, hopefully, open your eyes to the work the Lord is doing around the world.

From the moment we left LAX I knew God was going to show me a lot on this trip, although what He showed me definitely wasn't what I had expected (go figure!). Our 16 hour flight to Dubai didn't go according to my plans by any means. Somewhere over the Atlantic I began to feel a bit claustrophobic and terribly anxious. I've been on long flights before and, although it was many years ago, I never had a serious problem with flying. I tried my hardest to distract my thoughts, but soon enough I was overcome with fear and stress. Quickly my observations of people went into over drive as I found myself being keenly aware of every move from the passengers. Finally, I found myself so deep in worry that I knew I had to do what needed to be done so that peace would set my heart and mind at ease. I reached out to one of my team mates and asked for prayer. Such a small task yet, sometimes, it can be so hard to do. Like many people, I can find myself too embarrassed to admit that I'm struggling and am in need of prayer. But we are called to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) and sometimes that may require humility on our part so that God can work in and through others to lift us up. How blessed I was to have had Janie to talk to (and not think I was crazy!) and pray with me several times on that flight, as well as having the seat right next to Stephanie who would explain all the funky plane noises and reasons for turbulence while thoroughly pointing out many scriptures underlined with "do not fear." God was already bonding us together as a team and growing me even more so with trusting Him in every aspect of my life. What comfort is found in knowing He is with me wherever I go (Joshua 1:9)!

Upon landing in hot and humid Sri Lanka I was excited to see what lay ahead. Not too far down the road the brake pads went out in our van and we found ourselves making an unplanned detour at a local mini mart of sorts. It was there that we discovered the beautiful fruit, in it's true form, that is called the banana (our lives would never be the same). After the van was fixed, we continued on our adventure where my memory becomes a little blurry due to my dramamine induced state. Although, I can recall our lunch stop that consisted of the spiciest food I've eaten in my life! With children chowing down at nearby tables I found myself feeling much like a wimp and worried that this was how all the meals in Sri Lanka would be. Needless to say our 8 hour drive to Arugam Bay was eventful to say the least.

Wearing traditional Sri Lankan salvarys

While in Arugam Bay we were met with the sweetest form of hospitality I've ever received. Anywhere we would go the people there would find chairs and bring them to us so that we would have a place to sit, even if you refused. Their hearts were willing to serve us in any aspect and they loved doing it. It was wonderful to get to know the women in the community and hear some of their stories, even as heart breaking as it could be. Most of them have lost loved ones (due to the '04 Tsunami) and yet they can sit there with the biggest smiles on their faces, grateful for the little they have and for God who has been there with them every step of the way.

One of the most memorable moments of this trip was having the opportunity to lead worship at their small church, alongside Tiffany (one of our church's missionaries) and Chris (from Surfing the Nations). Two things happened for me in that moment. First, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to use the gifts God has given me half way around the world. God continues to use moments like those to build up my confidence and grow me in the calling He has placed on my life that all I can do is stand back and praise Him for how far He has brought me. Secondly, seeing the people of Arugam Bay worship the same Lord that I worship here in America was a beautiful thing. I loved seeing them pour out their hearts and sing as loud and passionately as they could. No one was worrying about "being on key" or what others would think...they were merely singing for an audience of One.

Through all the food prep, cleaning, loving on kids, and relational building, God continued to show me just how vital and unique our different gifts are (1 Cr. 12:7-11). It was amazing to see how God used each and everyone of us individually. Whether it be through acts of service, teaching, or prayer, God was manifested in all of our lives to be used in the way He has ordained.

The last week of the trip was a bit challenging for me. I had been feeling spiritually and emotionally attacked, but was very grateful that the Lord had sustained me regarding all my health issues. Then, I was put in a position of really trusting Him more. One night I was feeling a little under the weather and the next thing I knew, I was in dire pain. Again, I was faced with the opportunity of learning (all be it in a painful way) to trust the Lord in every circumstance. Being sick and away from home is hard enough, but when you throw in miles of separation and pain you've experienced in the past that has sent you to the ER, you tend to be on the verge relentless worry. Once again, I found myself scared and stressed about a circumstance I couldn't fix, let alone see an end result to. In that moment, God revealed to me again the power of prayer and His Word. Though I was physically weak, my heart could be at rest with the comfort I found in Deuteronomy 31:6  which says, "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you."

Precious little ones

   I feel as though I can share story after story of what God did in and through me in Sri Lanka. Coming home has only brought forth more of what He did as I continue to settle back into life and comprehend everything that happened in those short two weeks. To say I was blessed to have had this opportunity to go to Sri Lanka is an understatement. I am terribly grateful to those of you who have not only financially supported me to make this trip possible, but those of you who have been faithfully keeping me in your prayers. I was stretched out of my comfort zone, thrown into circumstances that made me rely on God and God alone, and given more clarity on my life's calling. My heart is truly excited for what He has waiting on the horizon.  All of this...well, it's only just the beginning.

With love,

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sri Lanka Bound

I'm excited, yet nervous. Completely exhausted, but seeing how fast my mind is running presently I dare say I will enjoy much sleep tonight. Tomorrow is the big day! My fellow teammates and I will aboard our 16.5 hour plane ride in the early evening, enjoy a 7 hour lay-over in Dubai (which I will try and soak up every ounce that I can through the help of the airport windows), board another plane bound for Sri Lanka and 4 hours later we will eventually arrive in Colombo ready to endure an 8 hour tuk tuk drive across the island to Arugam Bay. It will definitely be challenging to say the least! I may be drawn to tears with sleep deprivation, but it will be worth every minute of it.

I want to enjoy every moment of this trip. From the relationships built to the inside jokes that spur from spending FAR too much time with people. I know this is where God wants me and I know that is good. I'm ready for Him to stir up things in my heart and move me in a way that only He can. Taking the step of faith to join this team was just the beginning, God's got far more planned for my life than I could every imagine and I'm anxious to see where He leads. My life is nothing without Him and the only thing that brings me true joy is following in His footsteps.

"But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

With love,

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Faith, Trust, and Joy in the Journey

My heart is overwhelmed with joy at the thought of God's goodness. I try to express with words how thankful I am for all He has done (and continues to do) for me, but I fail with tear filled eyes. Four days from now I will be boarding a plane bound for Sri Lanka, venturing into the realms of the unknown. I have been praying about this trip for some time now and it is exciting to finally see our date for departure getting closer and closer.

I've heard it said that it's not just about the destination, but it's also about the journey getting there. As believers in Christ, I think we can focus too much on what God has in store for the future, instead of relishing in what He is doing here and now. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely a dreamer and I can't wait to see what doors He opens on the horizon, but I also don't want to miss out on what He is doing and the growth that is taking place in my own life now. And this present "journey" has been FILLED to the brim with opportunities of growth.

Five months ago I was fearful of signing up for this trip. I knew there was no way I could personally come up with the funds and everything inside told me it was foolish to take that step of faith if I already knew the outcome (Apparently five months ago I was also foolish enough to think I knew the future!). During that time I had a conversation with a sweet friend of mine and I was encouraged to "step out" and not allow something like finances drive my decision making. If God wanted me there, He would provide. It was time to put my faith in motion.

Three months ago my faith "muscles" were stretched to their maximum capacity. I hadn't met any of the financial deadlines and I wasn't seeing any evidence of His provision. I stressed, worried, and questioned whether I had made the right choice by taking on this endeavor. But like Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Faith doesn't require sight. God hadn't provided me with any indication that this wasn't the right path and even though I couldn't figure out how it could possibly come together, I was learning how to trust the One who could.

Six weeks ago I thought I was getting the hang of things. My faith and trust in God was growing beautifully and I was on cloud nine. Any time I had doubt I felt as though He would reach down and touch my heart with peace, opening up my eyes to what He was doing all around me. Then all at once, through the means of my car accident, I was faced with the opportunity to gain a new perspective and really dive into trusting God on an entirely different level. First it was Spiritually, then it became physically.

Now, as I sit here and recap these past few weeks I've just endured, I am a mixed bag of emotion. I've seen God's faithfulness, love, and provision in countless ways. He has faithfully provided me with, not only the rest of the funds for my trip, but even the means of provision for the necessities I will need for the journey. His love has been poured out through the financial support of family, friends, and even strangers. Each one of them has filled my heart with joy and reminded me, through their actions, of how God provides for His children. But just as I have been in awe of Christ and all He has done, I am full aware of the enemy who isn't happy with any part of it. This week in particular has been a battle emotionally as Satan has been fighting hard to tear me down. Unfortunately, he knows just the right nerve to hit that makes me crumble to the floor, but I'm thankful for my God who is right there to pick me up again.

With everything the Lord has been doing in my life, in this short time period, I am excited to see what He does in these next few weeks as my team heads out to Sri Lanka this Thursday. I ask that you would please keep my team in prayer for the time spent away from our families as we grow together in the Lord, building community with one another. Also, that God would knit our hearts together as a team and that He would ultimately be glorified in everything we do.

With love,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

T-Minus 3 Weeks

Twenty-five days from now I, along with five other individuals, will be embarking on a trip of a lifetime. With the day quickly approaching, the reality of it is starting to set in. That in mind, I would like to share with you some of the goals for our trip to Sri Lanka, as well as ways you can be praying for me and my team.

Most of the duration of our trip will be spent in Arugam Bay (located in the box on the map above). The main focus for our trip will be to partner with the full time missionaries our church has sent out. While coming along side to encourage and support them, we will also be engaging in the outreaches they have set up in the community. One of which I am terribly excited about is their ladies' tea. I truly have a heart for women's ministry and I can't wait to encourage, love on, and share in times of fellowship with the women of Arugam Bay.

In December of 2004, a 9.0 earthquake erupted in the Indian ocean causing a Tsunami to hit Sri Lanka. It was the second hardest-hit country. Due to this harrowing event, many of the people living in Arugam Bay saw their family members swept away by the ocean's current; some even held their loved ones in their arms as they passed away. Because of this and the lack of ability to swim, many of the people are still terrified of the water. Therefore, another goal for our trip is to give swim lessons to those in need.

At the end of our trip, we will spend a few days in Colombo before heading home. At this location, we may visit an orphanage as well as partner with/serve at their pastors conference.

Prayer Requests:(For now...)

That God would continue to prepare our hearts and minds (as a team) to serve, love, and minister to the people of Sri Lanka.

Health and Safety of my team during the trip as well as the days leading up to it.

For continued healing from my wreck. I'm still battling quite a lot of pain and I hope that it won't hinder any service on this trip.

Financial provision. With a little over three weeks to go I still need to raise $1100 for the remaining funds.

With love,

(If you feel it in your heart to help support me financially,
you can do so by clicking the donate button on the right toolbar)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Count it all joy...

My morning started out like any other weekday. I was busy getting ready and trying to make sure I had everything squared away so that I could be on my way to work. Quickly I hopped in my car, ready to conquer the day, with my daily routine of the Christian radio station streaming through my stereo and having my morning chat with God. I'm not quite sure what we discussed that day.

Not too far from home, I came around a bend in the road. In a matter of seconds I realized a couple of things. The vehicle I was approaching had stopped (Were there break lights?) and I needed to do the! All at once, everything became a blur. I was dazed, confused, and perplexed at what had happened. What DID happen?! Was this real? Am I dreaming? What is going on?

My mind was fuzzy and went blank. Something smelt burnt and there was glass at my feet. When my brain finally put the puzzle pieces together, I realized I had been in a wreck. I managed to get out of the car and walk to the shoulder where I collapsed and began to fall apart. Adrenaline kicked in and I was in hysterics. Thankfully, a good Samaritan helped me to her truck, got me some water, and encouraged me that everything was going to be alright. As the cop, paramedics, and firemen began to do their job and assess the situation, as well as myself, my mind was racing a mile a minute and I couldn't pull myself together. Fear had overtaken me. I was terrified. I was worried. I was stressed. FINALLY, I had been getting the hang of trusting God over the financial provision for my mission’s trip and now this?! How can I afford THIS on top of everything else?! Why God??

In an instant, I was reminded of a passage of scripture my small group had discussed just the night before. At the time, I thought it was just a "rabbit trail" that went off topic, but it comforted me with peace. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." James 1:2-4

Counting it all "joy" is a strange response in dealing with our trials. The dictionary describes joy as "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation". How can a car accident possibly bring me joy?

I think most of us can say that we'd rather have everything in life go smooth, but life isn't that way. Life is full of disappointments. It tests our faith...not for God's benefit, but for ours. After all, He already knows our heart. He has known it the whole time. Sometimes we think we are further down the road than we actually are and we need these times of "testing" to build our patience and mature us so that we can respond more to life's disappointments in the spirit, rather than the flesh. In this world we are promised trials/tribulations (John:16:33), but as the end of that scripture states, be of good cheer for HE has overcome the world!

Yes, life is frustrating at times. I'll be the first to say that I struggle with trying to see the joy that can come out of this. I'm still working on trusting Him with this situation. I know He is more than capable, but I still have so many unanswered questions and stress that tends to rear its ugly head. I'm tired of the constant headaches/nausea from my whip lash, the pain that takes over my body when I sit up for an extended period of time (let alone stand), or running out of things to keep me occupied throughout the day from the confines of my couch/bed. It can be terribly frustrating. At moments, I can get so wrapped up in the circumstance that I lose focus on the One who is with me and wants to teach me something through this process. I don't want to be distracted with all the negativity that I miss out on what He is trying to say to me and the joy He brings.

And He DOES bring joy! It comes wrapped in varies packages. For me, one way it's been shown is through the love and support I have found in my family and friends. They have cooked me meals, brought me flowers and goodies, encouraged/prayed with me, and somehow managed to make me laugh when I was at my weakest. Their joy brought me joy. Another way has been through His creation. I was just marveling yesterday at how beautiful the weather was. I haven't been outside much (unless it's a trip to the chiropractor...) and as I went to let my dogs out, I had to step outside to take it all in. The sky was clear blue and my skin throughly enjoyed the warmth of the sun. For those few minutes I was terribly delighted, whispering a "Thank you" to the One who made it.

Look around you! It may not be in ways we expect but, He is speaking. There is joy to be found! Sometimes all that is required is that we take a step back and allow those blinders to fall from our eyes so that we can see the joy He brings.

With Love, Aj

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Lord Provides

For those of you that haven't already heard, I am terribly blessed and excited to inform you that my ticket for Sri Lanka has been purchased! My heart is at ease knowing that this goal has been reached and seeing just how faithful God has been to provide for me every step of the way. I am also grateful that the orginal goal of raising $3,500 for the total cost of the trip, has now been reduced to $3,000 (Isn't God good?!). I have been so blessed and awestuck at how God has provided through His people. So, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!!!! It's only through your obedience to Christ that this trip for me is going to be made possible. Thank you for listening to His voice and blessing me with an amazing opportunity to "go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15). I can't even begin to elaborate on how excited I am that this trip is becoming more of a reality day by day.

I ask that you keep me (as well as the rest of my team) in your prayers as God continues to prepare our hearts for the work He has for us in Sri Lanka. I will be updating my blog with more information on the team, ways you can pray more specifically, the goals for our trip, as well as any other little details the Lord lays on my heart.

As for now, please continue to pray for financial provision for the remaining money that I need to raise, as well as for my unrelenting trust in the Lord who provides.

With love,

(If you feel it in your heart to help support me financially,
you can do so by clicking the donate button on the right toolbar)