Looking Forward

 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Philippians 1:6 NLT

A little over a year ago, I found my spot at camp.  I would sit on the bench, which was on the bridge overlooking the creek.  It was a protected sanctuary that had a roof of large trees and leaves.  They would protect me, drawing shade from the hot sun and a shelter in the midst of a rain storm.  I would sit there to get away from the unknowns, the struggles, and honestly, the realities of having no control of my family’s future.  I would praise God there. I would sob for forgiveness in my unbelief. I would beg for assurance and peace of what I could not see ahead of me.

But it was a place where I could escape and find a moment of tranquility in what seemed turbulent and unsettled.

Sitting there where all I could hear was the invisible wind, making its presence known, birds singing as if they had no cares in the world, water flowing with a confidence of where the path would lead…it was peace for my soul.  It was a moment to just be still, and to know that the God of creation and the nature that surrounded me cared more for me than the beauty those sounds and visuals could ever fully express.

And as has been my thought many times before when God slammed doors shut on our life journey, I would wonder what a year from now would look like.  Obviously God knows the plans he has for me, plans to give me a hope and future.  And a peace would come over me, knowing that I would look back a year from that time, and see a glimpse of his perfection and goodness in my life through the changes a year would bring.  He has a plan, He cares enough to have it all laid out.  He has the moments that will take my breath away, moments where I’ll fully see his hand, and the pieces will fit together.  Moments where he will take me to new places and answer the prayers that have been most pressed on my heart.

Here I am.  A year later…seeing the pieces fit together.  Completely? No!  I’m still in personal transition.  It takes me the longest to find my place!  But I have a home…what a miraculous experience it was to find the only home with the desires of heart and location.  Close to the schools that fit our girls so well.  Three minutes from the church we’d call home.  Across from a shopping center where our daily needs are met. A neighborhood with walking paths and a pond.  Did I already say it was the only house available?  It fit our family perfectly.  It is beautiful, spacious, with little maintenance, fenced-in backyard, and a refreshing place to rest, enjoy family time, eat, sleep and feel at home.  We longed and prayed for those things: good schools, a good church for our kids and for us, a place where we could be safe, feel cared for and to experience God’’s goodness…together.  He not only answered, but he blessed more that we could’ve planned or imagined on our own.

He provided a job for Roy.  I’ll let Roy tell his side of that journey…because like every other chapter, God showed his perfection in the job, ministry and passion to the things that built up to this moment.  But I will share that once a door first opened, it was less than 8 weeks before our house was packed and being moved across the country…again.  And so again, all of the details we had to figure out in that short amount of time…between holidays even…God had to take our hands and dictate many of those details for us.  It’s like a parent, he clearly said, “call this moving company, this is the home for you, fill out the paperwork in a parking lot, this is the church you will attend (not the one we had planned on!!), register your kids in these schools.  Here’s the dates.  Here’s the plan.  Just follow my lead.”  He had to dictate.  We could’ve never figured it out on our own.

Nebraska?  Really God? 

Where the heck is Nebraska anyway? 

I know it’s out there somewhere between NH and CO…but exactly where?  What?  No mountains?  I know there’s no big bodies of water…but corn and endless fields?  Ugh…but the people.  The beauty of people is so much more beautiful than even the greatest of mountains.  I’m still on the relationship building journey, but people out here are NICE!  I mean they just make you feel like family, like they’ve known you for years.  I’m still learning to raise my head and give eye contact as I pass people…because they really want to be cordial!  Though I’m still navigating relationships, I see my kids make friends and connect, at church and school.  And for me, that was the priority.  They are so happy and so very content.  They’ve adjusted quicker that I could have imagined.  And they each have found friends who are in the foster care system or have been adopted.  That just is a God wink for the call to which he had for us here.

Did you hear my repeated words throughout?  More than I could’ve ever imagined or planned in my own strength.  Every part of the journey has found its place in the greater story of our last this last year.  I won’t lie.  I questioned and grieved, worried and doubted a year ago.  But I also fought the lies that God couldn’t move us on to greater things.  I fought it by reminding myself that the questions of the present will have many answers a year later.  The faith isn’t a one-time belief in a God who protects and orchestrates.  Faith is the journey by which we live each day, depending on the One who already has it all figured out.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad He has it figured out. I’m completely exhausted when I take those measures into my own control. I’m reminded today, as I look back and remember,  I just need to follow His lead…and find peace, joy and purpose in the midst of the journey, which is the here and now.  And be expectant.  Because a year from now, I think I’ll be looking back at relationships, where my kids are at in their own journeys, and the  passions he’s placed on my heart…and I’ll see the pieces of the coming weeks and months play out perfectly and often miraculously.

All Things Come to an End

All things come to an end: life, seasons, a job/career, a calendar year, summer camp, a decade…and the list goes on. The end of a year can bring with it a chorus of different emotions and thoughts.

The end of every calendar year brings a time of reflection and evaluation for most people. I believe we naturally do this as humans because we are ultimately seeking answers to life’s 3 biggest questions:

“Who am I?”

“What is my purpose?”

“Where am I going?” 

Did you ever notice that people tend to ask us these questions indirectly? People are always wanting to know how we are doing, what we are doing and where we are going. Depending on where we are at in life, these questions can sting when we are in between careers and relationships, what we want to be when we grow up and why we are still single.

As I reflect on the past year, wrestle with what has transpired and grapple with what the future of Monadnock holds, I have found myself really wrestling with these bigger questions of “Who I am?” “What is my purpose? and “Where am I going?”  These questions are not just applicable to me as a ministry leader but more importantly as a husband and father. I feel the weight of not just answering these questions for myself but in leading many others.

The circumstances of life and the answer to these BIG questions can be extremely overwhelming and daunting. One of the biggest things that can exasperate this natural and spiritual process of reflection and evaluation is our busyness and hurriedness.

Why do I share these things with you? My fear for all of us is that if we don’t take the time, we will ultimately miss the blessing that God has in store for us and for those God has called us to love and serve.  It’s at the heart of what we find in Luke 9:62, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  You will see throughout the Old and New Testaments, and specifically Jesus’ teachings, that there is an emphasis on “looking forward.” The Lord guided, encouraged, inspired, pushed, pulled, challenged, humbled those he was calling to something greater than themselves, in order to fulfill his ultimate kingdom purposes.

Why do so many falter in taking possession of the things Christ has called them to?  The book of Hebrews reminds us that those who have gone before us, the heroes of our faith, (Hebrews 11) had a faith we need to emulate.  What kind of faith did they have? They had a faith described as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Would your faith be described as “the substance of things hoped for…”

To be very candid with you…I am tired of telling others or even myself, “This has been a challenging year and hoping this next year is better.” I keep thinking, “it cant get any worse” and then each year seems to get harder and more challenging.  

Ann Voskamp writes in her advent book, The Greatest Gift,  “You can stand around a Christmas tree with a family tree like Joseph’s, with cheaters and beaters and deceivers, with a family like Jacob’s, who ran away and ran around and ran folks down. But out of a family line that looks like a mess, God brings the Messiah. What was intended to harm, God intended all of it for good, and no matter what intends to harm you, God’s arms have you. You can never be undone. No matter what intends to harm you . . . God is never absent, never impotent, never distant. You can never be undone.”  If this is true, which I believe it is, means that regardless of our past or future, blessings or challenges, joy or grief, peace or anxiety; in Christ, we truly can do all things in Him. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1–4)

As we look forward to the coming year, The Greatest Opportunity for you and for me, is how do we make known to others the hope we have found in Jesus Christ. When we see those around us struggling with the 3 big questions of life, can we point them to the author and answerer of those 3 questions? How can we allow Christ to take all of the circumstances of our lives and use them not just to strengthen our faith, but for others to see faith played out and to experience the hope and joy of knowing Christ on a deeper level.”

How Great is our God

How Great is our God…
And All will see how Great,
How Great is our God

This song played on January 26th, 2007 at 5:29am, the moment my daughter , Emily, came into this world. I can guarantee I would have never known had the midwife not mentioned it’s perfect timing and started singing along. It had been a hard week for Roy and me as we found ourselves in the middle of huge changes; ones we weren’t ready for. It wasn’t Emily’s birth, but our whole life, our work, our home, and our family.

At a time that should have been full of joy, we found ourselves devastated in our circumstances and crippled by the uncertainty of our future. Yet the birth of our 3rd child, a moment frozen in time, brought great joy and peace. What a blessing she became that night, as she continues to be in our lives. 

How Great is our God

It’s funny how, in the fall of 2006, Roy had somehow programmed our phones to play this worship song whenever someone called. I was always conscious of it, as I knew we probably paid an extra charge every time it rang!!!


But over time it proved to be a way for God to speak directly to us, as though He was constantly reminding us that He was in control of our circumstances and that He truly was a Great God.

And All will see How Great is our God

As our life began to unfold and we began our journey, we quickly fell to our knees. Our prayer for years now has been that God would receive all the glory in every part of our lives. During those months we didn’t know where he wanted us to be, where we would call home, or even where Roy would find work. There were many days where we failed to see God’s plan in our lives, and there were days we felt a lack of hope. 

But God took care of us. 

When one of us was down, the other always seemed to have the stamina to pray and encourage. God sent so many people in our path who prayed with us, shared meals with us, cried with us, and just loved us. So many of our kids from our nine years at Milton Hershey School called, wrote, or visited, sometimes without even knowing our situation. Our family, of course, stood beside us through it all. Our church pastors and staff, and many friends from within our church became a family to us in a way we can’t even begin to share. Roy and I could only give God glory for using so many people to show us His love. 

This verse is a true reflection of what we’ve tried to live up to. When times of misfortune come our way, we will still give God praise. God used that time to refine us. 

Our full dependence on God was all we had. And once we completely surrendered ourselves to Him, He began to work in mighty ways. We knew He allowed us to be stripped of everything we found comfort in so that we could find comfort only in Him. 

It’s amazing to me how this song has become our life song. In some of our darkest moments our phone would ring, an offertory would be played, and my three year old daughter, as loud as possible, would sing:

HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD!

“Healing rain comes with fire, so let it fall and make us higher. 

Michael W. Smith

How Great is He?

On July 31st, 2007 (Exactly 6 months after our final day at Milton Hershey School), Roy had a job interview with Northwest Human Services. On August 1st, he spoke at a diversity conference at a local college (sharing his group dynamics and bullying training). On August 2nd he was offered a job as a supervisor of therapeutic foster care in Harrisburg, specifically in charge of recruiting, training, and retraining foster care parents and case workers. That same day he was asked to be a keynote speaker at a bullying conference in the area because of the response from his training the day before. On August 5th, we signed a contract to buy our first home. On August 6th, Roy began working. 

In 6 months time, God was often quiet when we pleaded for direction. At times we thought He was taking us to places as far away as Utah and Georgia (which he would someday do), but every “perfect” door was slammed shut, and we were left waiting. We knew it meant He had something better, and though at times we couldn’t imagine it, we knew we had to have faith in that. Within ONE WEEK, He gave us ‘the desires of our heart’ and allowed us to stay in what had become home for our family. This only tells bits and pieces of our journey, and there are so many other amazing ways He has proven Himself to us. His faithfulness in our lives is something beyond comprehension, and we often are in awe of what He has done and how our number one prayer was answered….

We can only give Him the Glory.

The Gifts of Failure

After 45 minutes of deliberating, the church leadership took the offer back off the table. The promising opportunity to work for the church was gone. The offer not only had employment implications for me and my family but the offer we put on a house. What was supposed to be icing on the cake became a moment of failure for me. I learned that day how powerful perceptions are, regardless of whether they are true or false.

We had so many questions, as Karen and I were left picking up the pieces and figuring out what was next. How could a God that is good and worthy of our praise lead us into a situation where everything seemed to be lining up and then at the finish line pull the rug from out under our feet?

Have you ever wondered where God was in your situation?

FAILURE

It’s a word we hate so much that we like to pair it with others words such as “but” or “however.” We don’t like the story of failure without a dose of good news with it. We like reading the feel-good stories of Walt Disney, Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, or Abraham Lincoln — all of whom experienced failures in their lives but somehow were able to overcome the odds. We like their stories because they give us hope.

But what about the rest of us?

For every Steve Jobs, there are many of us who haven’t experienced success at all, but what feels like one failure after another. If we just look at our Facebook feeds, for every “feel good story” we see story after story of setbacks, loss, illness, job loss…you name it. We might not necessarily see those as failures but for those experiencing them, it sure does feel that way. Am I cursed? Did I do something wrong? What could I have done differently? All these questions go through our minds and at times can be quite paralyzing.

What do you do when your story hasn’t started upward yet?

The truth is many of us don’t like these stories until we know there is a good ending…maybe we need a new perspective.  How do we see failure as a gift?

THE GIFTS OF FAILURE

I learned some valuable lessons when the job offer was taken off the table both during that time and now years later I see them as gifts:

Gift One: God is worthy of my trust.

God is asking, “Do you trust me even when it doesn’t make sense? Will you obey my leadings in your life as you step into the unknown?”

F.B. Meyer wrote in Streams in the Desert: “The education of our faith is incomplete if we have yet to learn that God’s providence works through loss, that there is a ministry to us through failure and the fading of things, and that He gives the gift of emptiness. …One way or the other, we must learn the difference between trusting in the gift and trusting in the Giver.”

Gift Two: Obedience doesn’t always lead to blessing.

What is the point of obedience—my comfort or blessing? Obedience to God’s leading in our lives is for Him to determine what He does. I have to relinquish all control, all of my rights to myself. Yet, that is exactly what He demands.

Did you ever notice how parents demand obedience from their children? There is a BIG difference between the parent who says, “Because I say so” and the one who says, “Because I love you.” Ultimately we want our children to obey, even if it hurts or costs something at that moment because we have a better future in mind.

The job offer being taken off the table made absolutely no sense to me. We had friends especially in the church who were grieved just as much as we were. Some even expressed their hurt by saying, “how can you even stay here based on what they did?” Our simple response, “it’s our home! How can I call something home and only accept the good?”

Gift Three: Obedience can lead to a transformed view of self and who He is…if you allow it

So, you might be wondering why they took the job offer back. One of the concerns raised about my role of leadership in the church was the perception I was a troublemaker. I stirred up problems. If this was true and I was supposed to live a life “above reproach” then there was no way I could “hold office” in the church.

Now, I admit I am not a perfect person. I have definitely made my share of mistakes…but the notion I was a troublemaker was false.

After the offer was taken off the table, Karen and I stayed at the church and continued to serve. We did not speak falsely of anyone, although we expressed our pain over the decision. Over the course of the next few months God made it very clear He wanted me to walk a different path vocationally. Those months were very difficult ones for us. However, God gave me many opportunities as we served our Church (Sunday school teacher, nursery, etc.) to absolutely destroy the perception that I was a troublemaker, especially when the opportunity to create troubles were gift-wrapped for me.

Gift Four: Obedience serves His purposes not mine.

This was probably the biggest takeaway for me. 2 Chronicles 16:9 is one of my favorite verses…”The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…”

The goal of obedience is not for my personal comfort or blessing. Don’t get me wrong. I love the verses that say that God will never leave us or forsake us; that He has good things in store for those who are His; and that He will see me through to completion. I love those promises. But those promises are based on my willingness to live surrendered to His purpose, whether there is anything in it for me or not because it’s not about me. It’s about something bigger.

THE TAKEAWAY OF FAILURE

Failure is inevitable. In fact, God can use it powerfully in our lives. The reality for us is: Do we trust Him as we step forward in obedience?

As I look back on that time, God was preparing me to work in adoption and therapeutic foster care, which prepared me for my season at Focus on the Family, then as a Director of Monadnock Ministries, and now at Christian Heritage.  I find it fascinating that God guided my steps into foster care after the offer was taken off the table and here I am 13 years later leading a foster care agency. All of these experiences were leading to the next thing.

We need to bring a different perspective to the failures we experience in life because ultimately, as we walk the path in front of us out of obedience, we will experience failure and success. The true question is, “Will I trust whatever I experience as a gift from a loving and generous Giver?”

Remembering Leaves

I’ve been in a strange place in my life since moving to Nebraska…for years I’ve longed for such ‘time’ in my life. It’s one of rest. I’ve had moments available to me in the past. Every time we’ve moved, I’ve found myself with a lot of time on my hands and often without a specific purpose… at least as the world sees… and often, as I believed myself. Busyness has always kept me from feeling useless or like I’m wasting my life. Honestly, I feared being alone and bored…and I would carry guilt, which would spiral into depression because of ‘not doing important things’. I’d feel guilty that being a wife and mom wasn’t fulfilling enough. 

But these days I find myself spending much of my day seeking God in His Word. In the world’s eyes, I’m sure this is time wasted. But I’m finding myself in awe of the depth of who He is in the midst of stories and passages that have been ‘familiar’ to me much of my life.

The Bible has become ‘alive and active’… And I’m learning that it’s not about checking off the to-do list that religion has so often taught me about getting to the destination,  but enjoying the journey and process that will get me there.

In the back of my journal are these Monadnock leaves…I have had them in this empty journal since October of 2014, when I first visited MBC. I took them home for my kids, as a symbol of God’s faithfulness in the unknown journey ahead of us. Today, over 6 years later, they are here as a reminder of that journey God led us on. In the midst of it, I chose the busyness of ministry over the journey itself. There were glimpses and moments that stretched my faith and grew me in the most profound ways. It was time…not wasted, but preparing me for this time of rest and reflection. I’m so thankful for seasons…literally and spiritually…these leaves remind me of the beauty of New England falls, of our camp journey and the thousands I got to journey with…of the ‘death’ that must come for Life to be renewed and to flourish…of God’s promises to us and the walk he so graciously waits for us to join Him on.

I’m so very thankful for the reminders today of His love, faithfulness, goodness and companionship He provides every single day. I’m beyond thankful for those that he brought along the path, that I could love and journey with through the good and the tough. And above all, I’m thankful today for this season of rest, reflection and intimacy with the Lord of my Life.❤️ This may be my finest season yet! But I know it is preparing me for what’s next. And I can’t wait to see what that might be!❤️🙏🏼❤️

Forgetting the “What Ifs”

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity,

but of power, love, and self-discipline.

1 Timothy 1:7 NLT

My high school piano teacher gave me her own bracelet to wear every time I had to perform in a recital. This verse was inscribed inside…it often helped in the moment, though honestly, my fear of playing in front of people to this day inhibits me from using the gift I once spent hours to perfect. The problem was I really wasn’t good enough, like all others seemed to be, to put myself in the category of a college music major…say less one with a degree in it! I’ve had many ‘what if’ moments in the past 31 years…what if I had not feared so much…I could’ve been a music teacher…I could’ve taught private lessons and lived by my own schedule…I could’ve easily found work wherever we moved…my kids might have not feared so much.…

Today I choose to let go of the ‘what if’s’ and the questions that, quite honestly, leave the fear right there in my mind and keep me from pursuing what is right in front of me.

‘Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself’ Matthew 6:24

The older I get, the more I realize that God has given me many incredible experiences in my life that would’ve never happened had I been a music teacher.  Those experiences were not because I thought I could, but because HE KNEW I could…None of it is a mistake in my mind, but His path took me on a really windy, rugged, narrow…and often uphill road.  But as I get higher and higher, closer to the top of my mountain, I can now look back and see the beauty in the fields I have walked…and of all the things I see, it’s the beauty in the wildflowers that I’ve encountered along the way…it seems like an unending field of diversity and beauty…and the vibrancy and colors have not faded, but instead have only grown brighter and more beautiful with time. My regrets all of a sudden become small, and the fears are released. And I just thank God for giving me the fields and valleys of beauty in my life. And the music is there! It so vividly adds to the artwork I see. Today I will just bask in the music and sing right along. It’s an everyday experience for me, and it brings a certain comfort, peace and joy.

As for today, I think I’ll just thank God for the gift…the true love for music, how he has used it in my life, and those I’ve had the pleasure to share it with all these years…including my neighbors, who I’m sure have heard it…

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