Sunday, December 6, 2015

Anxious, Fearful and Overwhelmed

Awhile back someone said that our family is "the perfect family."  Although they said this flippantly, not in a condemning way or anything, it really, really bothered me.  We have beautiful children whom we love dearly, we love each other dearly, and we have a feeling of purpose and fulfillment because we are living out God's calling on our lives.  All that to say, it makes us content and happy, but it doesn't make us perfect.  We struggle with the same things every other family, who is not living on the mission field, struggles with.  Sometimes Mike and I yell at the kids.  Sometimes we say unkind things to each other.  Sometimes, well a lot of times, our kids are disobedient.  We've struggled with limiting screen time, the proper way to discipline, ways to make our marriage a priority and finances.  If you struggle with it, we struggle with it, too.

About seven years ago, I struggled deeply with depression and anxiety.  It got so bad that I, literally, had a panic attack whenever anyone from our family had to leave the house.  And considering Landon went to school everyday and Mike went to work everyday and Emi went to the babysitter's everyday - you get my drift.  I was absolutely certain that one of us was going to die.  I hardly left our house.  I could barely complete menial tasks.  I was afraid of everything.  And I hid it from everybody.  I still had a job I had to get done, kids to raise, a marriage to uphold - but inside, every day was a struggle to keep from lying in bed all day, drowning in fear.

Somehow, I had it in my mind for awhile that once you became a Christian, you had this "hedge of protection" around you.  A free "get out of pain" card, a guarantee everything would always be alright.

The Christmas before, I was at my sister's house and was looking at all of the pictures on her fridge.  A Christmas card caught my eye that literally became the first domino in a chain reaction that caused me to question everything I had ever thought about how protected I actually was.  This card was from a missionary family my sister's church supported that had two happy parents and two happy kids on it.  In a picture off to the side, resting on a cloud, was a picture of another happy child.  I thought to myself, "That's strange," and asked Amy why the other boy was on a cloud.  "He died on the mission field.  He contracted some bacterial infection and was gone in 24 hours."  I kid you not, the entire room got very small, I started to breathe very shallowly and I excused myself the bathroom.  My family was on the mission field.  I have children on the mission field.  Missionaries aren't covered under "the hedge of protection?" I thought.  Anxiety was born.

When I really got a hold of what was going on, I sought wise counsel.  I began seeing a mentor once a week for about eight months.  It helped me to gain perspective, walk through my anxiety and also learn about the real heart of God.  I was eventually able to leave my house, and let my loved ones leave the house, without thinking about the worst case scenario.  They would leave.  They would come back.  Bye, bye anxiety.

Or so I thought.

A week ago, Mike nonchalantly tells me that he and Landon were going to Santo Domingo with the soccer teams to play some games there.  They would be taking a bus and would be gone most of the day.  Suddenly, visions of all the movies I have ever seen where foreigners take a rickety bus, over a winding road that has ravines on either side of it, went all crazy in my head.  I had a panic attack on the spot and for the three days leading up to the trip.  To top it off, the night before the trip, Landon starts having a panic attack about leaving, as well.  He was begging with everything in him to stay home and not go.  I was sure this was a "sign from God" that something bad was going to happen.  When Landon went to his room, I begged Mike not to go.

The morning of the trip, I was a mess but was keeping strong so Landon didn't freak out.  Mike said he cried in the car the whole way to school.  I decided to get my devos out.  I knew I couldn't go back to sleep so I might as well try and keep my mind busy on something else.

I've gotten to the point in my spiritual walk to know when things like this come up - it is a spiritual attack.  A way for The Enemy to paralyze me, to steal away my joy.  A lot of people would like to believe that it's just part of being human, it's normal, it's expected.  If you are one of these people, let me just stop you right there:  There is a REAL Enemy.  He knows you.  He knows your weakness.  He knows everything about you.  And he uses this information for your destruction.  Panic attacks aren't normal.  It's not part of being human.  It's not expected.

So before I read anything in my Bible or devotional, I decided to just write in my journal about how I was feeling.  And what I wrote completely took me by surprise:
"Right now I'm thinking, 'Is this God trying to warn us?' or 'Is Satan trying to rob Landon of a great experience?'  I know the determining factor in all of this is fear.  I feel afraid, anxious, nervous, overwhelmed...but here's the thing: none of these emotions are things God "puts on" His beloved.  Those are weapons of The Enemy.  Satan is constantly trying to steal the joy from God's people.  Paralyzing people with fear is his most powerful weapon.  So today I will CHOOSE joy, not fear."
My struggle with anxiety has always been deciphering between if God was trying to speak to me or if Satan was trying to deceive me.  And for the first time I saw the Word of God come to life and comfort me in a real way.  We all know that the Bible tells us "Do Not Be Afraid" and "Don't be anxious." So if that's what God's Word says than that's how we know when HE is speaking rather than the Enemy deceiving.

It changed everything for me.

Whenever I had an anxious feeling that day, I would recite to myself as a reminder,
"So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -Isaiah 41:10
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." -Philippians 4:6
Almost everyone knows those verses.  Heck, I skip over them whenever people put them in their blogs because I know them by heart.  But this time was different -- I didn't just know them by heart, I knew them in my heart.  Those words helped me decipher that Satan was speaking to me, not God.  The loudest voice was fear-ridden, anxiety-stricken and overwhelming.  

It was the still, quiet voice echoed in Scripture that helped me focus on my God, not my perceived problem.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Baby Luis

I've avoided writing this post for a week and a half.  Partly because I was really hoping the circumstances would suddenly change.  And partly because I'm still just kind of in disbelief.

I showed up a week ago Sunday afternoon to the hospital to care for this sweet little bundle.  Life events with our family kept me from visiting him on Friday like I had planned, Saturday was Emi's birthday so the earliest I could go was that Sunday. 

I walked into his room so ready to squeeze his little body and give him kisses - only to find his crib empty.  To say I was shocked is a vast understatement.  At first I looked at his little cabinet to see if his stuff was still there and maybe the nurses had taken him to run tests or to bathe him.  But everything was gone.  Some of the other moms saw my discombobulated demeanor and began to tell me the story.

Conani had found his birth mother after three weeks of searching for her.  The other mothers said she walked in the room, visibly pregnant with yet another baby, like a toddler throwing a fit because they had to do something they didn't want to do.  She started bagging up his belongings (which weren't even his, they were all donated items) and complaining that Conani "made" her come get him because she has a responsibility to uphold.  She slung him over her shoulder, grabbed the plastic bag and marched out of the room.  Not a word to anyone.  The moms said she didn't even say a single "thank you" to any of them who have helped care for him over the past month after she abandoned him there.

As you could imagine, I was angry.  I was sad.  I was disappointed.  I walked out to my van and cried.  That sweet baby boy, so many confusing things have happened to him in his 10 weeks of life.  And now, I couldn't even ensure his safety from here on out.  I yelled at God.  I mean, goodness, how could THIS be in your plans?

My anger has subsided but I think of him every morning.  There's an empty corner in our room where we prepared a place for his crib to go.  And it dawns on me heavily that this is the life we have committed to.  The beautiful stories of redemption that are yet to come -- but also the stories and heartaches that make absolutely no sense to my human heart.

Last night, I read in Jesus Calling:

"During times of severe testing, even the best theology can fail you if it isn't accompanied by experiential knowledge of Me (God)."

I am grateful that God has taken us on this journey that has often been lonely, trying, heart-breaking, and difficult.  It has solidified our beliefs in a just God but more than that He has allowed these tough situations to give us first-hand knowledge of his faithfulness.

Luis and Gilverson and Regina and Sara -- they may be our first encounters of an unjust world but they most certainly won't be the last.  We have seen the mighty works of our Father.  We know His heart for children.  Therefore we trust in His faithfulness even when we don't understand the outcome.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


My posts have been heavy lately.  I know.  Some riddled with politics.  Others with opinions.  Others with things God is teaching me.  Deep things.  Although it has not been hard for me to find the joy in life or be grateful, there have just been other pressing matters, things I have felt prompted to say, in the hope's of encouraging, edifying, sharpening, challenging or reminding whoever may read this blog or follow me on social media.

God is taking me to this new place.  I believe there is a reason for this season.  I believe he is preparing me for something.  I believe I am preparing for battle.  But today is Thanksgiving.  And even wars stop for a time when reflection and gratitude is needed.

Today, I am thankful for...

 photo Jesus_zpspiot6cfo.jpg
{My Jesus}
I know, cliché right?  Most of you don't know my story, my testimony.  And right now isn't really the place that I will share all of that.  But when the Bible says things like, "...rescued from the muck and mire," it was talking specifically about me.  He rescued me.  I don't really know how it happened.  Or why He pursued me like He did but my entire life changed because of Him.  I am who I am because of his radical love for me.  I do what I do because of His example written in the pages of the New Testament in The Bible.  I am compassionate toward this world because he was compassionate toward me.  He changed me.  He's still changing me.  And if you don't know Him, I would highly recommend you start your investigation.

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{My husband}
If there ever were an Earthly example of unconditional love it is wrapped up in the bodily form of Michael Anthony.  I believe with everything in me that God created Him specifically for me.  When he gave Mike the parents he did, He was thinking of me.  When he formed him in his mother's womb, he was thinking of me.    When He was preparing Him to be the man he would become, He was preparing him to be my partner in this life.  There is no one who puts up with my crazy like him.  There is no one who points me to Jesus like him.  There is no better father in this world than him.  He has loved me in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, in times of plenty and of want and I hope that our 12 years together is only the appetizer to another 70.  (Yes, I plan on us living to be over a hundred and Jesus will return before either of us die.)  I love you, Michael-y.

 photo Landon Joseph_zpszorkarbe.jpg
{My first-born}
Landon Joseph introduced me to the one thing in life I aspired to experience: motherhood.  When they handed him to me, it was as if I had never experienced deep love before that moment.  There is no way to describe the things that happen inside a mother when she lay her eyes on her child for the first time.  He has grown to be a sweet, compassionate, tender-hearted young man.  He is constantly concerned for other people's well-being.  He prays for the hurting, the sick, the lonely...all.  the.  time.  He prays for Hope House every night and thanks God he gets to help little kids have a home one day.  He calls them his "brothers and sisters."  God has given this boy a special purpose.  And I am blessed to take a front row seat to his extraordinary life.

 photo Nohemi Ruth_zpsgb7rdteh.jpg
{My middle}
Nohemi Ruth is our healing baby.  She came into this world at a time when our family was drowning in grief from losing Mike's father, Joe.  From her very first moment in this world she has had the ability to light up a room.  Her smile is infectious.  Her laugh is contagious.  She is a fighter, and stubborn and hard-headed which is difficult to parent at times, but I know without a doubt, that those same qualities God will use to change the world.  She doesn't give up.  She never settles.  She will argue the color of the sky just to see if she can change your mind.  And amidst all of that, which can be exhausting at times, she has this ability to curl up in your lap, nestle herself in and completely change whatever the mood you are currently feeling.  She has my heart and I can't wait to see the ways God will use that spunky little thing.

 photo Levi Frank_zpsmrf2atz8.jpg
{My baby}
Levi Frank may be little but he holds a very big role in this family.  He is absolutely hilarious and lives to make people laugh.  He is the definition of the word mischievous and in the middle of eating dog food, or coloring on the floor, or standing on our office desk, he will turn around, bat his eyelashes, smile and say "Te Amo" (I love you).  He reminds me how quickly this life flies by, how quickly they change, how quickly they grow up.  He has these enchanting blue eyes (that i prayed for for 9 months, by the way) that can say everything you need to hear with just a glance.  He adores his brother and sister and wants to be big just like them.  He loves big...will give you a huge hug and then slap you across the face just to make someone else laugh :)  Oh, his teenage years will be fun.

 photo Frank and Rita_zps0co0ybjb.jpg
{My parents}
You may think you have the best parents in the world but you would be wrong.  Frank and Rita are the best there ever was, ever is or ever will be.  They supported me, encouraged me, challenged me, prayed for me and loved me despite all the hell I put them through.  Even when things were difficult, between bills and kids and marriage and jobs, they never, ever stopped making us girls a priority.  And they never, ever stopped pointing us to Jesus.  Their marriage is an example of how, although not perfect, is a beautiful reflection of Christ and the Church.  There are no two people in this world I miss more on this day than them.  Sitting around their table, watching football, holding my Daddy's hand...if you get to be with your parents today, hug them.  There is nothing I would want to do more than hug Frank and Rita right this moment.

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{My sisters}
There is no one I took for granted in my life more than my sisters.  It is just one of my biggest regrets.  When I look back and think I could of had four best friends when I was growing up during all the tumultuous middle and high school years, it makes me so incredibly sad.  We were all SOOOO different.  And we lived in very tight quarters.  And we had hormones.  So we fought A LOT.  But I am so thankful that Jesus brings redemption and second chances because I love those four girls more than the air I breathe.  I am happiest when we are all together - our crazy kids running around us.  They are the most beautiful women I have ever known.  The strongest, kindest, most loving women and I am blessed to call them my own.

 photo My Family_zpsc89er8gr.jpg
{My Family}
There's a WHOLE LOT of people missing from this photo but we are all hardly ever together at the same time.  But let me just tell you, the Jensen/Goodwin clan are an incredible bunch.  We have endured some very difficult times over the years and a lot of really amazing ones but this group of people, this family, there is no way to say Thank You sufficiently for how you guys love me and one another.  We all have different careers, different beliefs, different genes - but when we are together - my heart is completely full.

 photo IMG_0775_zps3eg1rft1.jpg
{My friends} 
The only problem I have - that's not really a problem - is that I have too many friends to name in one post.  I.  Am.  Blessed.  From childhood to college to adulthood, God has brought the most amazing people into my life to pour into me during different seasons.  You know who you are.  You know how you have shaped me into the person I am today.  I can only hope I have blessed you the way you have blessed me.

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{My In-laws}
You all have made me feel like I grew up in the Basham/Braisted clan.  From the first visit to Grandma and Grandpa B's house, you accepted me as one of your own.  I know so many people can't even stand to be in a room with their spouse's family and I can't relate even one bit.  Debbie, you are like a second mom.  I can't even tell you how much I love you.  Josh and Tim, you are the brothers I have always longed for.  Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins - Man, you guys are seriously the awesomest!

{My/Our Supporters}
Mike and I have been missionaries for 9 1/2 years.  We are lucky if we get to see our supporters once a year.  And we even have supporters we have never met!  You guys have been the driving force behind this journey God has us on.  We LITERALLY could not being doing this without you.  Financially, spiritually, emotionally - we have survived and thrived because of your love and wise counsel.  The future is about to get completely awesome, buckle up, we are all in for a wild ride and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One Syrian Refugee's Hour of Need

Copyright - Magnus Wennman / Aftonbladet / REX Shutterstock

I was running this morning.  It's generally a brainless activity.  I think about the events of the day just starting.  I think through to make sure I sent the kids off to school with everything they needed.  I send up a few prayers.  But this morning was completely different.

Syria was on my mind.  And not just ON my mind, it took OVER my mind.  There is no question that this topic is a hot one.  It's a difficult one, a complicated one.  What's even harder is the difference of opinion between Christians.  We expect the "lines to be drawn" between Believers and Non-Believers but this is a whole new ballgame.  I don't take sides.  At least not public ones.  I NEVER say my way or the highway.  I am just not wired like that.  But God has been stirring me to have a voice.  Not to tell anyone that they are wrong and I am right, but to maybe help us seek out wisdom on how to respond.

Since the beginning of time The Enemy - not ISIS or Terrorists - The Enemy of God and mankind, has launched a campaign with a very large army to do one thing...kill, devour, destroy.  Do you want to know what his number one weapon is?  Fear.  There is no other weapon in his armory that has as much power.  There is no other tactic that is as effective.  Fear is a game-changer, whether you are a Believer or Not.  The only difference between a Believer and a Non-Believer who is fighting the war against fear is that we, The Church, are called repeatedly to NOT fear.  The Bible mentions the phrase "Fear Not" or "Do not be afraid" more than 300 times.  The only phrase that is used more than that, is "Love" which is used more than 2,000 times.

This road is narrow.  It's crooked, it's scary, it's unmarked.  Does it sound like another road we all know well?
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." -Matthew 7:13-14
Maybe you are hoping I will take a stance.  I will say they should come or they shouldn't.  Sorry to disappoint you.  Church, you may not know this but you are not really fighting over what is right or wrong.  The reason there is so much unrest is because none of us really know what the right answer is.  There is conflict in our hearts between protecting what we hold sacred and showing compassion toward hurting people.  So let me tell you the conclusion I have come to--

Stop debating and prepare to respond.

We can all think we have a say in this, but in reality we do not.  Ultimately, our government is going to do what they think is best.  And as we submit, yes submit, to their authority we need to prepare to respond the way Jesus would if he were confronted with this same issue.

My words and my actions are not governed by Obama.  Or by Ben Carson.  Or by the Constitution of the United States of America.  The only thing that governs my daily decisions BASED on sovereign wisdom is God's Word.  And do you want to know what The Bible says?  It says love God, love your neighbor, love your spouse, love your children, love the unlovable, love the homeless, love the orphan, love the widow, love the sick, love the naked, love the addicted, love the prisoner, love the hurting, love the refugee, LOVE OTHERS -- more than 2,000 times.

If it happens - if the government begins the process of shipping Syrian refugees to our borders, the debate stops.  We can stop ranting on social media.  We can stop unfriending those "liberal Christians."  We can stop filling up our Newsfeeds with articles trumping our co-workers beliefs.  The debate is over.  They are here.  What you do next is what matters.  How you respond is what the world is waiting to witness.

I'm not pretending that this is an easy response to a complicated situation.  But I know one thing that I keep coming back to when how I feel in the moment conflicts with what i know to be true - when I was in the pit, running from all the hurt, running from the war waging inside of me, Jesus loved me.  A radical love.  A life-altering love.  And I will NEVER, EVER withhold that same love He lavished on me, from another person.  Whether they arrived through the womb of a home-grown American or on a rubber boat.

I realize this is messy.  We want there to be a lot of grey area.  There's lots of questions about funding, and taxes and economical effect.  And there's a real, legitimate concern that some of the refugees are coming with plans to hurt our country.  But, honestly, I refuse to turn my cheek from the 99% of INNOCENT people OUT OF FEAR of the 1% of them that have plans that may or may not come to fruition.  And if this 1% really strikes fear in your heart, then you better not go to work tomorrow.   A disgruntled, AMERICAN, ex-employee might come to shoot up your workplace.  And you better not send your kids to school either because a mentally unstable student might come and massacre their classmates.  And actually, you should probably find a new home, too, because when you come down to get your morning cup of coffee an intruder might take you out without hesitation, over your TV and your iPhone.  Do you see what Fear does?  It gives POWER to The Enemy.  It strengthens his cause.  It robs us of life and our purpose during our short stay on Earth.  That is what ISIS wants.  That is what Satan wants.

I would suffice it to say, that across history, the people that go from a loving, nurturing, thriving human being to a destructive, hateful and vengeful one, have one difference between the rest of us -- ONE PERSON who was there for us during our desperate hour of need.  A grandma, a friend, a parent, a coach, a dance instructor, an army sergeant -- one person showed us love, attention and worth and it changed our whole world.

This is one Syrian refugees' hour of need.  The world is watching WHO you will represent and HOW you will respond.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Photo Credit: Hillsong Church Facebook Page
I sat, arms crossed, body language closed.  I wasn't waiting in expectation.  I wasn't tuned in.  I was going through the motions.  Outwardly, playing it cool - inwardly completely destroyed by weariness.

It's amazing how you can sit in a room, surrounded by 10,000 other people, and feel like you are the only one.  The only one that struggles.  The only one that questions.  The only one that doubts.  I am living a life that more than half this world would only dream of living - yet, I sit, wondering if God still sees me.

That morning, I went through the motions of worship, maybe one measly hand up, maybe my eyes closed once or twice - searching for connection.  Wondering if He would meet me in my brokenness.  When the last note played I knew I was the one standing between He and I, between the unified Spirit I was longing for.  He whispered, "Surrender," I screamed, "No."  "My child, my daughter - Surrender."  I, with my sarcastic tone and my defiant spirit unfurled, "I will surrender only if he, the speaker, Brian Houston, lays his hands on me and anoints me himself."  You see, it wasn't a challenge.  It wasn't even a test.  It was a statement made in complete and utter brokenness and unbelief.  I threw my words out with no anticipation that it may even happen.  Because, really, that would mean that God - the Creator of the Universe - actually heard me.  I was beyond believing that.

Within minutes, as he stood on stage and began to speak of God's goodness...he stopped.  His head bowed, his eyes closed, his voice spoke.  "Are there people here tonight, people in ministry, who are weary..."  My head dropped, my eyes closed, my tears fell.  "Are you tired, worn down, jaded..."  The flood gates opened.  My shoulders shook, my eyes formed rivers, my body felt weak.  "If you are weary, and worn down and jaded would you make your way up to the stage..."  I felt gentle hands from friends push me forward, no idea how I would even be able to take steps.

I stood in front of 10,000 people, with many other weary, worn out and jaded travelers beside me, completely broken.  The depths of my brokenness poured out in physical form.  I could hardly stand.  I certainly couldn't stop sobbing.  I fought hard to control it all, not really wanting anyone to see the real, broken me standing there.  But my spirit made way to surrender.  And in that moment, I felt the biggest, most gentle, loving hands placed on my head.  It startled me at first, wondering if it was God himself in human form touching me but instead, it was he.  Brian.  Brian Houston.  The one person I mocked God in delivering an anointing I was sure wouldn't come.  But God - the Creator of the Universe - even in all of my defiant rambling and unbelieving words - pierced the Heavenly atmosphere to lay hands on a broken girl needing to know that her Father sees her still.  That even in my weariness, my worn out-ness, my jadedness - He sees me still.  "You were not meant to carry this burden, is mine to bear." "But you called me to this place, how could you have picked me?  I am so, so broken."  "That is why I have called you, my daughter.  I work best through broken things."

In a world filled with billions of people, you can still feel alone.  Unseen.  That is the Enemy's plan, you see.  Isolate.  Separate.  Deceive.  Destroy.  How many of us walk this road anticipating trials but never anticipate loneliness or weariness?  We begin believing his lies, wondering if we are, in fact, walking this alone - forgetting the footsteps walking right beside us.

"In this world you will have trouble..." it says, "...but take heart."  TAKE HEART!  Keep going.  Don't look back.  Don't sit down.  Don't take a break.  TAKE HEART.  Rest in Me.  Wait on Me.  Find peace in Me.

Not my plan, Father, Yours.
Believe in the unbelievable.
See the invisable.
Walk the narrow.
Love the unloveable.

Surrender.  Something happened when I surrendered.  I danced.  My hands have never lifted higher.  My eyes have never cried harder.  My smile has never been bigger.  I wasn't going through the motions.  I saw my God.  He saw me.  I praised Him.  I thanked Him.  I worshipped Him.  I surrendered.
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor."   -Isaiah 61:1-3
In this world, surrender leads to bondage and imprisonment.
In His world, Surrender leads to freedom.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Are you really Pro-Life?

On Saturday, two young men - ages 18 and 19 - were executed in an area nearby.  Our community was a hive of activity following the shooting.  People came from all around to go look at the bodies.  Police vehicles came and went.  Mike was questioned a couple of times on his account. There weren't people screaming or crying.  Just two kids, laying in a field, being made into a mockery.

Later in the week we found an article in an online newspaper that stated people from the surrounding communities were celebrating the deaths of the boys.  These two "delinquents" were wanted in several murders that occurred during robberies to obtain weapons and motorcycles.  Many had been living in fear of these boys.  They seemingly had no conscience and only thought selfishly about themselves.

When the murders initially occurred, I had a seriously heavy heart for them.  We didn't know the background of the boys and I couldn't help but think of their mothers - what heartache.  When Mike was reading me the article I felt a sense of relief.  A relief that later struck me in a strange way.  Why was I feeling relief that two teenagers were executed?

I struggled for a time that day - not completely sure why I couldn't get them off of my mind.  I didn't feel fear or danger.  I didn't know them so I didn't feel a deep sense of loss.  Yet, I struggled.

It wasn't until this morning in my devotions that I felt God ask me a question and I knew it was pertaining to my struggle: "Are you really Pro-Life?" 

Let me start by saying, I am NOT going into politics here.  In fact, I do what I can to stay away from some really taboo subjects, but this question struck me so surprisingly that I knew God was really drawing my attention to it.

It is probably not a surprise to many people that I am Pro-Life.  I mean, I am dedicating the rest of my life to fighting for kids who are cast out, lost and abandoned.  I will be waiting expectantly to swoop in and care deeply for babies whose mother's have abandoned them.  In some respects, this work is a no-brainer for me.  I love children.  I think every child is a gift from God (despite the circumstances surrounding their conception or birth).  It doesn't take a lot of effort on my part to feel compassion for these children from the moment I meet them.

But what struck me this week, and about the question God proposed, was how I began to feel about the boys after I had learned of their delinquent activity.  I have felt a similar way when I heard of some child-molesting criminal being killed on death row.  I have caught myself saying in my head, "You got what you deserved."  And just now, reading that, it really, really disgusts me.

These two boys, although I will never condone their behavior, did not deserve death at the hands of someone playing High Judge.  Me saying that their life was only worth the horrible mess they got themselves into is a complete disgrace to the Living Gospel that I base my faith and life on.
"Then Jesus told them this parable: 'Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." -Luke 15:3-7 
We claim as Christians that Christ's love is for everyone but we rarely live that way.  Something happens to many of us once we begin our lives as a Christ follower; we forget the former road that led us to the Cross.  I was a sinner (and still am).  I was selfish and rebellious.  I was a very, very lost sheep.  But Christ found me.  He pursued me.  He won me over with His radical love for me.

This isn't a simple road.  We aren't going to wake up one morning and say, "I feel so much compassion for the man who killed my father."  We aren't going to be driving down the road and decide, "I've changed my mind.  I don't believe pedophiles deserve the death penalty."  Believe me, if there is any circumstance where I wrestle with God on who deserves death, it's with people that harm children.  We may have to plead with God to change our hearts to reflect His.  We will have to fight every fiber of our flesh because forgiveness and acceptance and unconditional love do not come easily to us.  But we have to understand that the Gospel is for all, not just those we think deserve it.  Because in reality, not a single one of us deserves the ransom Christ paid for us.

Jonathan Rafael Henríquez Bola and Junior de Jesús Rodríguez Pérez were lost sheep.  Our prisons are full of lost sheep.  Our workplaces are full of lost sheep.  Our families are full of lost sheep.  Sheep, that are of utmost importance to our Heavenly Father.  As Christ-followers, people are watching to see how we respond to all of these situations in our lives.  But you know what circumstances they are watching most?  The hard ones.  The struggles.  The difficult decisions.  The unpopular stances.  If we think Unbelievers are basing their opinion of Jesus on how we behave at birthday parties or at the gym or on work outings, we are sorely misguided.  They won't find Jesus while we are on our high-horses, or our condemning rants or our self-righteous proclamations.  They will find Him when we act like Him.  When we treat His precious children with compassion and love.

So I ask, "Are we really Pro-Life?"  Do we really believe every human life matters?  Because if we check our hearts and our hearts have conditions and rules about who deserves forgiveness and freedom - then we are showing this broken world a cheap version of the Gospel.

Not the Gospel that was paid for by our Savior's blood.

Friday, October 9, 2015

{Foodie Friday} Perfect Seared Chicken Breast and Cauliflower Rice

After posting this photo on Instagram, I got several requests for the recipe.  So rather than send a bunch of emails and messages, I'm posting it here.  This recipe was taken directly from the Whole30 cookbook.  This is not my own recipe.  Just want to make that clear :)

Perfect Seared Chicken Breasts
Serves 2
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 13 to 19 minutes
Total Time: 16 to 22 minutes
2 portions skinless, boneless chicken breasts
(I doubled this so I had chicken for more meals that I only had to warm up)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons cooking fat (I used clarified butter in order to be Whole30 approved)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper
In a large, oven-safe skillet, melt the cooking fat over medium-high heat, making sure to coat the bottom of the pan.  When the fat is hot, place the chicken top (rounded) side down in the pan and sear for 3-4 minutes.  (Don't touch it during this time so it gets a good sear!)  Your chicken should pull off the pan easily once you have a proper sear.  Using tongs, turn the chicken over, then put the entire pan in the oven to finish cooking.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken, until the internal temperature reaches 160 Degrees (F).

Cauliflower Rice
Serves 2
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
3 TBSP ghee or clarified butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 TBSP minced cilantro
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
To "rice the cauliflower, place the florets in a food processor and pulse into a rice-like consistency.    In a large skillet, melt the ghee (or clarified butter) over medium heat and coat the bottom of the pan.  When the ghee is hot, add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 2-3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook until the garlic and cook until the garlic is aromatic, about 1 minute.

Add the riced cauliflower to the skillet and mix thoroughly with the rest of teh vegetables.  Add the chicken broth, cover the pan with a lid, and steam until you've arrive at a rice-like consistency, 10-12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the chopped cilantro.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

I also put tomato salsa on top for a little pop of color and added flavor.

Enjoy!  And happy cooking!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When The Rooster Crows

 photo 6C0E0602-CB89-4708-B09F-8816135C38DB_zpsdkwny8ss.jpg This past weekend, I went to a Women's Conference here in the Dominican.  The theme of the conference was "Corazones de Guerreras" or "Heart of a Warrior."  I mostly went because many friends were going that I have missed over the past year and because, honestly, I needed a break from my kids.  Yes, I love them.  Yes, they have been driving me crazy lately.  Refreshment was what I needed, Freedom was what I found.

My good friend, Vicki, spoke one morning.  She has been a dear friend of mine for nine years and has always been a constant source of encouragement.  Vicki was speaking about going to battle as a warrior woman for Christ.  She gave some very simple ways that we can put on our armor, fight for Him and defeat our enemy.  The thing that got me was when she asked the question, "Who is our enemy?"  Being in the church since I was little, of course I knew the answer was Satan.  But she proposed something that I wasn't prepared for.

My entire life, I have cared way too much about what others have thought about me.  I have always had a great desire to please everyone and disappoint no one.  This desire has been one of my main causes of stress, anxiety and poor-decision making in the past.  It is something that has held me in "chains" for a long time.

Several years ago, God began to do a good work in me and He really convicted me of how sinful I was in putting other people's desires before His.  Slowly but surely, others' opinions of me and the things I felt God was calling me to do, faded to the background and I started caring only about what my Creator thought.  It was very liberating.  And it was easier to obey and make the hard decisions God was asking me to make.

I thought all of that was behind me until we decided to start Hope House.  Then, there were a lot more people who disapproved of me and the decisions our family was making.  There were people who were kind and supportive to our faces and then spoke harsh words behind our back.  There were people who expressed their excitement for this next chapter and then gossiped about our inabilities to others.  ALL of my insecurities came rushing back.  Were we making the right decision?  Were we prepared to take this on?  Were we capable of doing this?  Has that ever happened to you?  Have you ever been knocked over and blind-sided by something that you thought was gone and healed?

As I sat there in Vicki's talk, I started to cry.  Not because I was doubting the road God called us on or our abilities to accomplish this task but because God revealed exactly what "chain" had been weighing me down.


God was faithful in healing my sinful desire of putting other people's opinion above His own but in the process I allowed myself to become bitter toward those people.  I hadn't forgiven them.  I hadn't loved them unconditionally.  I was essentially doing the same type of hurtful stuff by being kind to their faces and being bitter toward them when I was alone.

Vicki said something that changed everything.  When she asked the question, "Who is our enemy?"  The correct answer is Satan but she proposed that we, in reality, make each other our enemies.  And that is Satan's most powerful weapon for us (especially women) in this war...distract us from our real enemy by fighting with each other.

When I was mulling all of this over, Jesus brought a passage to my attention.
"Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.' And he broke down and wept." -Mark 14:72
Peter was one of Jesus' best friends.  Peter would have laid down his life for Jesus.  He loved Jesus with every fiber of his being.  So much so, that he left every thing and everyone he had ever known to follow Him.  But in Jesus' hour of need, Peter didn't stand by Him.  He didn't fight for Him.  He didn't even try and stop what was happening to Him.  He denied even knowing Him.  Not once, not twice, but three times.

But here is the real kicker: just because Peter denied Jesus and abandoned Him didn't mean he loved Jesus any less.  In a tough situation, Peter's flesh won.  He was in self-preservation mode.  He wasn't thinking about the end game or the real battle.  He made a selfish decision in the heat of the moment.  You bet, if he had it to do all over again he would have done it differently.

And what's really important is how Jesus responded.  Jesus didn't disown Peter.  He didn't give him the silent treatment.  He didn't bash Peter to the other disciples.  He simply loved him.  And kept on loving Him.  And it was because he loved Him that He hung on a cross.

I am certainly not Jesus.  But I do have friends, family and supporters that I love (and who love me), that have hurt me very deeply in the past.  And instead of following Jesus' example and recognizing that the Enemy often uses those closest to us to try and distract us from the real battle - I chose bitterness.

Friends, we are not each others' enemy.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." -Ephesians 6:12
If you have been hurt by someone you love, always remember that they are human and fighting their own battles of jealousy, envy, discouragement, grief and disappointment.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.  Listen closer to His voice than to the distracting ones around you.  So that when the rooster crows and your loved ones deny you and run - rather than strapping on armor to fight the battle with you - your focus can be on the real Enemy and the victory will be yours.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Does God Want Us To Be Lonely?

In the past year I have struggled with this question: Does God want us to be lonely?  There have been times where life has felt like a series of things, and people, being taken away.  Not necessarily in an abrupt or difficult way, just little by little no longer being there.  Over the course of this year Mike and I did some kind of out-of-our-comfort-zone sort of things.  They were things that we felt were necessary and that we definitely felt God was asking us to do but inevitably the decisions we made left us feeling lonely at times.

For our first eight years on this island, we were surrounded by people that loved us, encouraged us, spurred us on and who fought the same fight we were fighting.  It was a comfort and a safe place considering the obvious difficult circumstances that sometimes surround you when you are a foreigner in a foreign land.

Leading up to making the decision to live outside your comfort zone is often unsettling and scary.  But once you make the decision to leave it, sometimes living outside of your comfort zone is kind of exciting.  Everything is new.  Everything is different.  There are new things to be learned and new options to be explored.  It's invigorating.  You feel the passion in your bones rising to the surface.  You are ready to conquer the world.  But just like the butterflies of a new love wear off, so does some of the initial invigorating feelings of stepping into this "unknown zone."  Soon the one thing you weren't expecting sinks in...loneliness.

You realize the crowd isn't going the same place you are.  You realize God is calling some of them out of a different comfort zone than yours.  You suddenly see that as you are walking down that road God is asking you to walk down, you are the only one around for miles.

Maybe you just down-sized your home and now you are in a neighborhood where you don't know anyone.  Maybe you just took a new job that serves others but the paycheck is significantly smaller.  Maybe you just started to homeschool your kids because you wanted to be able to have more of a daily influence on their lives but its a bigger sacrifice than you anticipated.

So what do you do when you look to your left and your right and there isn't anyone standing beside you?

It's these times where you have two choices: give in to your loneliness and decide you misinterpreted what God was asking you to do, or submit to God's plan and seek Him to fill your aching void.

Over the last year, I had plenty of times where I felt like we had made a mistake (just being honest here!).  Do you know when the only times were that I had those thoughts?  It was when I was feeling lonely.  Usually in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.  Almost always when my house was quiet and my thoughts were loud.  And nearly every time we were coming up on making another big decision toward stepping further out of our comfort zone.  The Enemy is sneaky.  And its no mistake that he is called the Prince of Darkness.  He is also called "the angel of the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:11)," "devourer (Mal. 3:11)," and the "father of lies (John 8:44)."  He knows one of the most effective ways to discourage a Believer who is taking risks for the Kingdom is to make them feel like they are doing it alone.

Thankfully, God has a plan for those who seek Him in their times of loneliness.  As I began to recognize my own feelings of loneliness the Holy Spirit began to show me that I really am never alone.  The lonelier I felt, the more I called upon The Lord.  The more I sought after Him, the smaller my empty void felt.
"Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones."-Isaiah 49:13
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." -Matthew 11:28 
 "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the Shadow of the Almighty." - Psalm 91:1 

"But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul." -Deuteronomy 4:29

I never realized how much more I had been depending on human relationships to comfort me than I had my Heavenly Father.  So often those relationships (friends, spouses, parents, siblings), although well-intentioned, can sometimes be a distraction from seeking Him first.  It is so much easier finding comfort in someone you can see and hug.  But God promises to make Himself known to you if you seek Him "with all your heart and with all your soul."

So does God want us to be lonely?  Never.  But sometimes loneliness is what it takes for us to hear His voice above all the others.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Weakness of Mine

A couple of months back a friend wrote me an email.  She is a good friend, an honest friend, and she constantly points me toward Jesus.  It was shortly after we lost Gilverson, an abandoned baby I had been caring for for three months.  Mike and I had finally decided that we would try and adopt him and when we went to talk with Children's Services about it, they informed us they had sent him to an orphanage in Santo Dominigo.  I was completely crushed.  I had been guarding my heart with him for the months I cared for him in the hospital, knowing full well he wasn't mine, but still wanting to love him the best I could.  I finally gave in to hope when Mike told me that he would be interested in adopting him if they would let us.  God had aligned all the signs.  Would we actually be bringing this baby I loved so much, home with us?

Some depression sank in and I felt a very deep sadness.  It actually kind of shocked me, the profound way I had grown to love a baby that didn't share a single gene of mine.  Either way, many people had been following the journey with me and I posted the sad news on Instagram.

It was shortly after that post that I received the email from my friend.  She had been approached by someone else who had seen my devastated post on Instagram, to which the person proceeded to ask, "If she was so devastated over this ONE baby that she had cared for, does she have what it takes to run an orphanage where there are hundreds more just like him?"

When I first read the words, I'll admit, I was mad.  Not at my friend who was just the messenger of the posed question, and not really even at the person who asked the question.  I was mad that I had let myself be so vulnerable to people "out there" following us on this journey.  Up until I met Gilverson, I was positive, encouraging and maybe even a little peppy on all of my posts.  I didn't want people to see the difficult parts of this road - Satan constantly tries to lead me to believe people don't support weak missionaries.  But that is who I am and have always been.  Maybe not weak in the way the dictionary describes it or the way bullies use it, but I am in fact, weak.

Since I was a small child absolutely everything bothered me.  I cried over everything from Disney movies to dead butterflies.  I could walk in on an emotional commercial and only see the very end of it and sob as if they were speaking of a dear loved one.  When friends hurt me in school, I could hardly pull myself together enough to go.  When boyfriends broke my heart, I was completely inconsolable.  It's just who I was, and am.  I always, always, always saw my tender heart as a curse.  I've had to work really hard to convince myself that being this way was the way God made me, and that my crying, weak, inconsolable soul had a purpose.

Then here I was, a grown woman, who had had her heart ripped out and somebody saw my weakness once again.  It wasn't even like they had to dig very deep to see it, either.  I put it out there, for literally the whole world to see.  What was I thinking...

A couple of mornings ago, I could feel my weakness taking hold of me again.  A plethora of circumstances over the past two weeks had finally taken a toll.  I was practically begging God to make me tougher.  To make my heart more durable.  To change it from flesh, back to stone.  And to no surprise at all, He answered me:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  -2 Corinthians 12:9-10
God's power is made perfect in my weakness.  My tender, constantly breaking heart is made perfect through God's power.  Ultimately, it doesn't change the fact that there are just some days -- some things I see, some cases I know of, some children who are suffering -- and my weak heart can't take it.  That as I sob holding a child who's mother chose to leave him in a hospital bed, God is working to transform my tears into love's redemptive power.

So if someone were to ask me, to my face, if I am "cut out" for this kind of work, my response would be simple:  No, I am not.  I am not ready to, every day, see children who have been abandoned by people they thought loved them.  I am not prepared to hold a baby who has never felt the loving arms of another human being before.  I can't fathom the hurt and pain and suffering that the kids who walk through our doors are going to know.  But that doesn't mean I don't kneel down in the trenches with them, hold them, cry with them and spend sleepless nights praying over them.  For where I am weak, He is strong.  And soon, many children will be depending on that very weakness of mine.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Share Hope for Mother's Day!

Hey Friends!

Mother's Day is less than a week away and we are giving you an awesome opportunity to give your favorite Moms the gift that keeps on giving.

From now through Sunday, May 10th, you can donate to Hope House in honor of an awesome Mom!

Here's all you need to do:

1.  Buy your Mom (or sister, aunt, grandma, favorite teacher, etc.) a Mother's Day card.
2.  Donate to Hope House via Paypal here and put a sweet little note about the Mom you are donating for in the 'Notes' section of the donate form. (with your permission we would LOVE to share your testimony on our Facebook page!)
3.  Go here and download this Hope House insert to let the Mom know about your gift to her.
4.  Print the insert, cut it to size and place the insert in the Mother's Day Card.  (will fit in a card 4x6 or larger)
4.  Give her the card!

Also - if you are interested, send us a photo of the Mom you are donating for and we are going to put up an 'honorary photo frame' in the orphanage of these special women in our lives.

Me and My beautiful Mama!!!

Monday, March 16, 2015

the least of these

I've been struggling...

It's become obvious to me that God is doing a work in me.  It is not always easy, and is often painful, but it always has a purpose.  Above all, I do believe that God is transforming my way of thinking.  He is asking me to step back from all I know and look at what He is showing me.  It's been a bit radical.  I've seen so many things with "faith eyes" that I never saw before.  And honestly it's been a bit alarming at how much I believed before that actually wasn't true.

For a little while now, I've been struggling with a phrase.  I, personally, have used it a hundred times before and I've heard it used by others a thousand times before that.  It's so common these days in Christian circles that people are using it as their organization's motto, plastering it on billboards and signs, using it on their webpages.  It was a perfectly usable phrase to me before but in recent years it bends me out of shape.

the least of these

I almost shutter.  Not because of how its formulated in a sentence or that I have heard it over and over in bible studies or sermons but because it means something so different to me now than it ever has before.

I'm sure you are wondering why I have such a problem with it or at least why I am taking the time to write this down.  And honestly, I fought God on it all morning.  I knew it would be controversial - and I am FAR for controversial.  I am not a theologian.  And for a long time I thought that meant I shouldn't have any opinion on spiritual things.  But like most things God is teaching me on this faith journey, its not about me - it's about Him.

A while back I heard some people say they were going on a mission trip to Africa to "serve the least of these."  As if "the least of these" were a tribe of people.  Actually, that is exactly what we have turned the phrase into.  A group of people, less fortunate than ourselves, who need us to bring them the hope of a Savior.

It is absolutely true that God wants us to go out into the world, preaching the good news and making disciples.  The Bible commands us to do it.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit..." -Matthew 28:19
There are people all over this world that still need Jesus.  Our work is not done here.  God invites us to be a part of His redemption story by us going and us bringing the good news.  But can we stop calling the ones we are going and bringing the news to, "the least of these?"

In Matthew 25, when Jesus called the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned "the least of these," He wasn't giving us permission to do so, too.  Jesus is the King!  He is pure, blameless, worthy, anointed, the Holy comparison to Him we are all "the least of these."

I think sometimes we forget after we have been a Believer for a long time how hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned we once were.  Although our intentions are good - we want to go and help - we somehow don't take the memories we have of our former life with us.  We leave it on our native soil, perhaps waiting for us when we get back but most of the time we leave it there for good.  We don't want a reminder of our former selves, as if we fear others knowing how dirty we really were.

But for a second, think about your former self...

Hungry.  Thirsty.  Naked.  Exposed.  Sick.  Abused.  Addicted.  Imprisoned.  Trapped.  Desperate.  You aren't even a fraction of what you once were.  You aren't even a better version of what you once were.  You are a new version of what you once were.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" -2 Corinthians 5:17
Jesus didn't call those brothers and sisters of His "the least of these" in a condescending way or a hurtful way or a judgmental way.  There is no one that sees us for who we really are, like Him.  And His words to us are always said through a filter of love.  As humans, we aren't capable of that.  We try and hope and want to but the reality is our sinful nature prevents us from it.  So when we call others "the least of these" it sounds condescending, hurtful and judgmental - even when we don't mean it to be.

So, please, can we take the phrase "the least of these" out of our vocabulary?  Instead, lets meet our brothers and sisters in their place of hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness and imprisonment.  Not as someone who can't relate but as someone who has already been there.