Saturday, April 24, 2010

Furnace Faith

By now, I'm sure most of you have gathered that I love my Lord and Savior and passionately share what He has done and is doing in my own life. I understand that some of my readers and friends are not believers but my hope is that while you may not share my faith that you do, in fact, share the mutual respect I have for you. I don't expect everyone to see the world through my eyes and with my heart but I do hope that regardless of what you believe we can put all differences aside and still love and respect each other as individuals.

I say this because I have been struggling with the recent need to defend my faith to others. I am more than happy to share why I personally believe that there is a God based on my own personal experiences with Him but I'm finding that in some cases I am not sharing but more defending my faith with others. Which has been challenging because I ultimately don't feel a need to defend myself when it comes to God, afterall, He is my defender! But when I am being attacked by opposition, my human reaction is to defend. I've always had a bit of a "firey" side in me, (I am Latin afterall) and I am learning how to harness that passion for good and not to let my mouth get ahead of my heart. My heart speaks with love, my mouth sometimes just speaks. It's something I know I will continue to struggle with but I hope that in time I will get better at using my heart before using my mouth.

It has been difficult to see friends decide that because they disagree with what you believe they can no longer be friends with you. You feel abandoned, hated, and let down. And this is one of the many reasons why I have complete faith and trust in God....because since the moment I chose to follow Him and His teachings, He has not once let me down, He has continuously loved me even when I didn't love Him or myself. We cannot put our faith in man because we will be disappointed every time.

I don't think people realize this about me...but while I grew up in a religious home with God-serving and loving parents I wasn't always faithful and I didn't always follow God and His word. I went through a time in my life where I wrote off God and everything I had ever been told or known. I am not blindly following Him because that is what someone told me I should do or because of superstition or ignorance. I follow Him because when I was at my lowest point in life, He was there. I had no one else to turn to and no where else to go so I got down on my knees after years of denying Him and said "God, I haven't talked to you in YEARS, but I don't know what else to do and I need you now." And from that moment until the present I have SEEN God working in my life. From now until the day I die I never have to see His face to know I have seen God and that He is real. He's like the wind, I cannot see the wind, but I see what the wind does. Likewise, I have never seen God, but I can see Him working in my own life and in the lives of others.

But you know, it wasn't what anyone told me and it really wasn't what anyone did that brought me to an understanding of God and how I developed my relationship with Him, it was me reaching a place of complete  humbleness. It was realizing that I not only wanted but needed something bigger than myself and that my soul would not be satisfied, my life here on Earth would not be complete without Him. And that's a place that no one can bring you to, no one can force you into and no one can fully explain, you simply have to experience it for yourself. It's a personal redemption that comes only with a willing heart. I had an unwilling heart for many years and will be the first to admit that it was pride that kept me from true understanding of God's love and peace. I truly believed that I didn't need anyone and that I had the whole world figured out. Sounds arrogant right? I was very arrogant to believe that I could put the stars in the sky, that I could create breath and the concept of love. All these things have been created and to deny that God is the Creator of all these things is denying where I came from and who I am. And that right there, is why I am so passionate about God. It's not that I want desperately to be right, but it's that in denying God, I would be denying myself and I simply cannot do that.

Again, I realize that some of you reading this are like "Whatever!" and that is perfectly fine. I am just sharing with you my personal experience so that you have a better idea of who I really am, not just on the surface, but deep inside. I am not perfect, I will never be perfect. People often assume that because I serve a God that is perfect that I need to be perfect or worse that I THINK I am perfect. I am flawed just like the rest. But I have nothing to hide...I want you to see that I don't have it all together, that I don't have all the answers because reality is...I don't. I don't pretend to know it all, but I know enough to have convictions that cannot be compromised.

My devotional entry for today is entitled "Furnace Faith". It talks about the lesson of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three Hewbrew children who refused to compromise their beliefs and were facing being thrown into a fiery furnace by the king. And this is what they told the king "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand...but even if He does not...we will not serve your gods." With the words, "even if He does not", they took their faith to a higher level. They knew God could prevent it, but not that His plan called for it in this instance. But they would rather die than deny or disappoint Him. And this is what I took away from this lesson: God can take you out of your situation or bring you through it. When He leaves you in it longer than you'd like to stay, He's developing - "furnace faith". And you have to ask yourself, "Can I take the heat?"

Furnace faith is dead to doubt and blind to impossibility. It makes the circumstances bearable and the future hopeful. Furnace faith believes that even if you do have to go through the fire, God will go through it with you. Listen to the words of the king who watched it all happen: "He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like the son of God." (Daniel 3:25) Furnace faith makes you as free in the fire of affliction as you are out of it. Furthermore, when your friends see the Lord in there with you, it'll convince them like nothing else.

So you see, faith is not simply for me, it is a tool to reach others. My job is not to convince you there is a God or to judge the choices you make, my role is to simply believe and obey. If you come to Christ as a result of my own faith then praise the Lord! But I am not capable of changing hearts and minds, I'm just capable of loving you to the Lord, whether you choose to believe is your own personal decision and regardless of what you decide, I will love you. I hope you all understand that.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fear, Trust and Peace

Earth Day has me thinking about the fact that very soon I will be living in a different part of the world very soon. It's also got me thinking about how crazy that is to say out loud!! For those who go waaaay back with me know that this is not the first time I have lived in a country outside of the United States. When I was 15, I lived in Brasil, South America with my family for about a year. Living in a third world country is an adventure to say the least. We not only dealt with the language barrier (Portuguese versus English) we faced cultural challenges as well. All in all it was an excellent experience and has played a large role in shaping me to be the person I am today, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't tough. I have infinite stories, some of which are comical and positive and some of which are heartbreaking but when it comes down to it, as hard and as challenging as it was, I would do it all over again because it taught me to have a true appreciation for America and for my life and all the luxuries in it.

Switzerland is obviously not a third world country and the experience will be much different than that of my Brazil experience no doubt for reasons beyond the difference in age I was then to now, economic status and just culturally as a whole. There will still be challenges and a language barrier just as there was living in Brazil but I'm approaching this as a great adventure for us not as a scary unknown journey. Our attitude when we approach change and new experiences makes a huge difference in what we will get out of that experience.

When I first was told about the possibility of moving to Switzerland, I will admit, I was scared to death. Sure, to you it may sound wonderful and exciting, but with my past experience of living overseas and knowing that this isn't simply an extended vacation, we are actually going to be LIVING there, my initial reaction was fear. And I really had to work it out. We had other opportunities to live right here in the United States for Jared's internship beautiful parts of the country too and it would have been much simpler and much less terrifying to give into my fears and go where I would be comfortable...which would have meant choosing to stay here in the United States where I knew I had the safety net of my family being close, no fear of communication barriers, etc. But as I thought and prayed about it, I felt like God was saying "It's ok to be afraid, but don't let your fear stop you from living out your purpose". It was as though God was saying "Don't you trust me to take care of you no matter where on Earth you are?" And that's when I realized that Switzerland was where God was calling us to go. Funny how the right thing to do can also be the scariest choice to make.

So when I told Jared I felt like God wanted use to go to Switzerland he said he felt the same but was glad to hear I came to that conclusion on my own because he didn't want to take me somewhere I didn't want to go and would be miserable. I love that about my husband, he leaves enough space to allow me to grow with God in my own life but yet is still right there to love and support me and grow together too.

We told both of our families our decision to move to Switzerland and were overwhelmed by their support! It was more confirmation that we needed in order to know we were making the right decision. Our family's support means the world to us, almost as much as God's support. So as the weeks go by, the more my fear subsides and the more I feel a peace about our future because I know that we're not alone, no matter where God takes us, He is there every step of the way. And for that, I am thankful.

I'm certain fear will find a way to creep back into my head perhaps more than once during the moments leading up to the move and even during our time there but my hope is that I can always bring my mind back to this: "If we can trust God with our eternity we can trust Him with our now".

Monday, April 19, 2010

Staying Connected

This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, love to complete your life." -Unkown

I discovered this quote today and it made me stop and think of all of the beautiful people in my life that I am blessed to call family and friends. Each individual has shaped who I am, and I love that I can take the best part of each of you and keep you in my heart forever no matter where in the world I am. And because I love you all so much I wish all of these things for you. And I also wish that all of you will keep in touch when we make the big move overseas to Switzerland. I'm pretty terrible about keeping in touch, it's something that I'm working on. It's not that I don't think of you or don't want to keep in touch...I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I've never been much of a fan of talking on the phone. And since most of the people I know and love live far away, that kind of puts extra distance between us.

I love to write though. I love email, snail mail, and other social networks like facebook, I'm just not a phone person. I don't even like to text really. That's not to say don't call me! I would LOVE to hear from you! But it certainly will be more costly once it is truly LOOONG distance. So if you want to be pen pals (which I already have a few takers and I'm excited about!!) then send me your address and once we get settled in to our new address I will write you! Email me and definitely check up on me through this blog or on my facebook. I so very much want to stay connected!

I sincerely love you all! Thank you for being awesome!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Present and Future

A couple days a week I visit with an elderly gentleman named Gordon and provide different therapy services for him to help improve his quality of life. Gordon was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease about 3 years ago and I have had the pleasure of knowing him for the last year and a half. He never remembers my name but he remembers my face and recognizes me as someone he knows but simply can't recall how he knows me or what my name is. He is the sweetest man and I really enjoy the time I get to spend with him.

Unfortunately, today he was having a bad day and it broke my heart to see him not his cheerful self. He lives in a special care unit one town over from where I live and when I walked in and greeted him he broke into tears and the first thing he said was "God sent you to me!" I asked him why he thought that and he replied "Because today felt like doomsday, I felt like I didn't care if I kicked the bucket and then you came!" I gave him the biggest hug and told him that I hated to hear that he was feeling so low today and was certainly thankful for him and loved him very much. His eyes lit up! I brought him a Wendy's frosty and I think that made the day infinitely better for him too! :)

I mention this for several being that I was extremely burdened for Gordon because of his hopeless statement but I was at the same time angered because that statement means that he is not getting the loving care he needs and deserves from the staff where he now lives. All it takes sometimes is just sitting down with someone and telling them you appreciate them, you love them and that you look forward to seeing them during the week. A simple hug or placing your hand on theirs is therapeutic in itself. He may not be fully aware of what is going on all the time, due to the disease, but he knows how he feels and he should never feel the way he did today.

I also mention this because I am going to miss him so much when we move to Switzerland! He has become like my surrogate grandpa I have grown to love him like he was family. Perhaps that is why I got so upset after learning about his depressive mood. When you love someone you want the best for them and you want to see them happy...not sad!

I am also a Recreation Therapist for an elderly support group that meets every week. It is made up of about 30 elderly adults with varying ranges of dementia...most of which are very high functioning. I have grown to love each of them as well and will miss them terribly too when we move! There is something wonderful about that generation of people that I love and admire. They have lived through so much and have so much wisdom and morals. I prefer being around elderly people than I do my own generation most days! You can learn so much from them!

I have a passion for people in general. I love the elderly, I love kids and I've recently discovered that I love teens too! Thinking ahead I know that I want to be involved with all of these age levels. I plan to continue my volunteering in older adult community settings, and also continue to do various youth outreach opportunities and be involved with kids somehow too. Once we return to the United States, Jared is very supportive of my dream to open my own studio and pursue my career in portrait photography. Then I will be able to do all of the things I love, volunteer with all age groups, photograph children and families and one day raise a family of our own with the flexibility my other dreams will provide! Thinking about the wonderful possibilities that are in the future are enough to make my head float off my shoulder! :) Our time in Switzerland is going to be an awesome experience that I have no doubt will shape my future dreams! Thankful for the journey so far and the awesome adventures ahead! God is so good!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Fuzzy Easter Greeting!

While for me, Easter is about more than just bunnies, eggs and chocolate I can still enjoy some of the more commercial sides of Easter too. Like this silly kitty video for example! Who doesn't love a flat-faced cat in bunny ears with an unimpressed expression on his face? :)


Happy Easter Everyone!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday and most may know about this monumental day but for those who may not, it is the day that Christ died for the sins of the world so that we might have eternal life. Now, I realize that not everyone reading this shares my faith and I am not one to push my beliefs on people. People think that by openly speaking about my faith that I am forcing my beliefs on others, that simply isn't true. Just as you may be passionate about a sports, or music or your spouse, I am passionate about my God. When you love something or you've discovered something wonderful, you naturally want to share it with the world! That's all I am doing. I am not saying this is what you have to believe, I am just saying this is what I myself believe.

I have had my share of judgment passed on me simply because of my faith. Those who claim to be "tolerant" prove to only be tolerant of every other belief or idea except Christianity which I find hard to understand. They will defend other religions and lifestyles but then literally HATE me for no other reason other than because of my decision to trust in God. They are also quick to assume that because I am a Christian that I am also a many number of other things including narrow-minded, judgmental, and ignorant. I have friends and loved ones of every race, sexual orientation and religious background and their personal choices and beliefs do not define our friendship. Friendship is based on love and respect, not religion. If anything, my faith has taught me to be more loving and less judgmental. I don't see myself as any greater of a person than the next. I simply want to love all people and show them the love that God first showed me.

Having said that, I believe that on this day, God sacrificed so much for all of mankind. He gave his only son to die for us. Now THAT IS LOVE! He alone literally saved us from a life of Hell. Without this sacrifice we would be doomed to a life of eternal despair, but He made it possible for us to escape our fate. God doesn't send anyone to Hell...He created a bridge to Heaven, but He also gave us a choice of whether or not we want to choose to follow Him. He does not force His love on us, we have to seek Him out and choose whether or not to love and obey Him. Just like Christ, I cannot force people to love me, I can only offer love to everyone and then people can choose whether or not to reject me. But also, like Christ, I will love you no matter what. Not because I have to, but because I want to...because I want to be more like Christ. I'm still learning how to love and live more like Him. And if you're waiting for me to fail, I'm sure you won't have to wait long. Just because I serve a God who is perfect does not mean that I will ever be perfect. So you cannot expect me to always have it all together, perfection is not human nature, and I am human after all.

I hope this clarifies my position. My faith doesn't call me to judge anyone, but it calls me to love everyone. You don't have to agree with me when it comes to my beliefs but I ask that you show me the same love and respect I strive to show you.

I am not perfect and I don't expect others to be perfect either. All I can do, all any of us can do, is learn how to love one another. I simply choose God as my model for love. I have nothing to gain if you choose to follow Christ except the joy of sharing Heaven with you for eternity. That is my motivation for sharing God's love with people....I genuinely want to see you on the other side of Heaven's Gate and thinking of the alternative makes my heart hurt. I hope and pray that I will see all of you on the other side!

In remembrance of Christ's love and sacrifice on Good Friday...

By His wounds we are healed.