Friday, December 12, 2008

My Advent/Christmas Letter - With Pictures!

With Becky in Nashville
Thomas and Dad at their tournament on the Mississippi River

Playing in the sand at Lake Michigan

Bike trip to Buffalo Rock

Birthday canoe trip on the Kankakee River!

Dear Friend,

Greetings to you this Advent season! At this time of reflecting on the incarnation of Christ, and looking forward with hope to His return, I wanted to reconnect with you and share some of my own reflections and hopes! I hope this finds you well, and I would certainly enjoy hearing from your heart as well.

This year has been an interesting year. At the beginning, I knew my life was in transition, but had no idea where it would lead. Now, as the year is nearly over, it is amazing to see how far I've come, yet to know that my journey in many senses has just begun!

In the spring I had a plan (with the knowledge in my mind all along that, oftentimes, God changes our plans!) to move to South Carolina and work at a shelter for women & children. However, through my experiences substitute teaching, volunteering at the Center of Hope, and just generally living life in Kankakee, I felt a strange, new desire to stay right where I was at. In my decision-making process, one thing I prayed is that God would release me from this feeling if I was supposed to go to SC. I did not experience such a release. In fact, after deciding to stay in Kankakee, I felt great peace about it. I was, however, left with the very big question of: "Now what?"

As I said, I was substitute teaching (which I loved!), and volunteering at the Center of Hope (our local compassionate ministry, which is basically a food pantry). Since I would not be subbing in the summer, I needed a job. God provided, and the board of the Center approved for me to come on staff part-time as assistant to Renita, the director. I also got to spend some more time babysitting some of the special children in my life over the summer... but also had plenty of free time, including much time spent with my family. I began to ride my bike a lot (and was thrilled to discover this new form of transportation, with which I can be a better steward of the resources God has given me!), and even took a short overnight bike trip (approx. 100 miles total) with some of my friends. I also got to experience some nice mini-vacations not far from home - at the Indiana Dunes National Park, and the Mississippi Palisades State Park. I realized that even living in Illinois affords some great opportunities to visit places of natural beauty! Most of all, the summer was a time of true spiritual and emotional refreshing for me, which I very much needed.

Toward the end of summer, I went on a couple of more road trips. This time, they were farther, and somewhat bittersweet. I helped Jesse and Carra move to the Kansas City area, and the next week helped Thomas and Jeanne move to Milwaukee! I'm very happy for them as they have started out in their new homes (and have been fortunate enough to see them all through several visits here or there), but sure do miss having them around! (Especially, of course, my niece Adele, who turned 3 in October and is as bright and sweet as ever!) My dad also left at the end of summer, to spend time working and soaking up the sun in South Carolina. His girlfriend Lori also moved there, and they were married October 8th. Of course, he returned to Illinois for deer hunting season, so I got to see him around Thanksgiving, while Lori visited her sister & newborn niece in Pennsylvania.

In the fall, subbing started up again, work at the Center continued, and one of the families that I used to babysit for during college contacted me again; so my work schedule is a mixture of days and evenings, being on call and flexible, and spending lots of time with children and poor people - all of which I absolutely love! What can I say? I am blessed. With my flexible schedule, I have been able to take a couple of small trips (to Nashville to visit my college roommate Becky, and friends Eric and Joy; and to Kansas City to visit family and friends), and I am planning even more! One of the trips, however, will not be so small: I will be going to Palestine for two weeks in March. (More on that in a moment!)

For about the last three months I have been getting to know a wonderful young man, Jake Mau, and recently we decided that we are officially dating! He graduated from Moody Bible Institute, lives in Chicago, and works for World Relief (an agency that helps resettle refugees). If you're thinking his last name sounds familiar, it's because he is the younger brother of my sister-in-law Carra! We have lots in common, including a passion for serving the poor in Christ's name.

The longer I live in my home community of Kankakee, and the longer I seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the more I am convinced of a great need to share the love and hope of Christ through not only words but actions. My heart is especially burdened for those who are poor and suffering. I believe God pays special notice to them, and wants them to know that He is with them through their suffering, that He hears their cries for help, and that He loves them enough to redeem every part of their lives.
While I have plenty of opportunities to do this right here in Kankakee, I also feel a certain Christian obligation to give my life in service to the poor of the whole world. So, my hope is that in some small way I may make a difference, and my life may speak truth to people and spread light in places that desperately need it, regardless of cultural or political boundaries. This is why I have chosen to take a trip to Palestine (and possibly spend more time there in the future) with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT is rooted in the peace tradition of the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers. The teams work in different parts of the world where there is lethal conflict (including Colombia, Iraq, and just recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo) and work with local groups doing nonviolent peacemaking. If you're interested in hearing more about my trip and CPT, or if you'd like to support me financially or through prayer, please let me know.

I would like to encourage you, wherever you are in life right now, to be open to the voice of the Lord... just as it came to Mary through the messenger Gabriel, who said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Like Mary, sometimes we are greatly troubled at hearing this, and wonder if God has really chosen us to do His work. His resounding response is "Do not be afraid!" And although we may not know "how will this be," if we respond humbly and obediently - "I am the Lord's servant; May it be to me as you have said" - then we will see His glory revealed and His promises fulfilled (see Luke 1:46-55)!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

O Holy Night

Reflecting on, and delighting in, the powerful truths told in this song...

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King!
Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Prayer time reflections

During my lunch break today I went through a small pile of paper scraps with prayer requests written on them, from the Center of Hope. Reading people's heart-cries to God, and interceding for them, is always a touching and humbling experience. Today especially I felt like God had lessons to teach me through these simple petitions:

Request (in childish handwriting): "I want to feel God - Katelynn"
My first thoughts were, I wonder if she meant to spell good, or God? But I guess it doesn't matter because the root of both desires - to feel good and to feel God - is the same. And my prayer can be for both... Lord, help this little one to know you and feel your presence, and let the knowing of You be the good in her life... and even when she doesn't feel good, and even when she doesn't feel You, help her to know You are there.

Request: "I am thankful for my many Blessings. Today I am going to buy a new medicine. Pray that it solves my problems that have existed since Nov. 2007."
I recognize the handwriting, and am familiar with some of the wording. Someone, I'm not sure who, often leaves requests in the box that start with thanksgiving for God's many blessings. What a good reminder that, no matter our need, we always have much to be thankful for. I believe God delights in grateful hearts, as well as hearts that come to him confidently to request help in time of need.

Request: "Jesus I'm asking for a money Blessing and some dedts to be cancel. Please concider my Family & I with a blessing you have for us. Amen"
I felt in my heart that this is a serious request, probably the case of many people who are in need of financial security and freedom. Debt can weigh so heavily. I also began to wonder, should we simply pray for God to relieve people's debts - even if they brought it upon themselves by unwise decisions? So my prayer began to form in this way... God, please help this person to be able to work and make payments toward this debt, to understand the consequences of their decisions, to make wise financial choices, and to be able to live free from the worries caused by money... still being responsible and paying what they owe, but also to learn to live life that is not bound by work or bills, to truly live the way You intended, which I believe is possible even in the midst of great financial strain... And more importantly, please help him or her to realize the depth of the debt that Christ is willing to pay, and to accept the cancellation of a far greater debt than money.

Request: "Pray for my Strength in The LORD! - (name)"
How exciting for someone to be seeking the strength of the Lord! Perhaps he needs strength to face temptation? Perhaps to keep going in a difficult time of life? Sometimes I feel like, although my intentions are good, I am too weak to walk in faith and obedience. I'm just tired... in need of strength that I don't have on my own. It is at this point of realizing my need that I am able to tap into the strength available in the Lord!

Request: "Prayer for healing of cancer (name) Hear oh Lord"
This prayer brought echoes in my heart, For healing of cancer for Pat (one of our volunteers), for healing of Dixie after an emergency surgery (another volunteer), for healing of Dawn's infection (a client who needed help paying for her prescription antibiotic)... Hear oh Lord!

Request (another child's): "I want my dad's back to feel better. I want to prase God better. Jacob"
Oh, God, I want my mom's back to feel better, too! And I want to praise You better, too! Please help this boy's dad to feel better, and even when he's not feeling well, please give this boy peace that You are there for him even when a parent is in need and may not be fully there for him. And help him to live a life of praise that honors you... help me too, to take the time and give You praise, for You are very deserving of our praise.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Good Times in Kankakee

I've got pictures to prove it:

(Carra, this is mostly for you, since you're not a facebooker:)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hospital Visit, parts 2 and 3

Saturday I visited again with the same lady I saw last week. She didn't look so good at first, but after a while of talking I was reassured to hear that the antibiotics had been effective and her infection was cleared up. She did seem a little depressed, though. Mostly, I think, she was frustrated - after all the other problems, now she was unable to walk. The nurse, tech, housekeeping, etc, were all in and out, and it was kind of hectic. Since I was short on time, but still wanted to visit, I asked her permission to come back the next day.
Sunday afternoon when I showed up, she was in a wheelchair and just about to wheel herself around the hallways. So I went for a "stroll" with her... We sat in the solarium and looked out at the river and had some small talk, some silence. Her mood improved a little - she was probably just glad to have company - but overall, she still seemed pretty melancholy. Next we walked all the available hallways on the floor (which wasn't much). Finally, we settled back into her room. I figured we had a pretty open visitor-patient relationship thus far, so I again started asking her some simple but serious questions. Have you been praying a lot? "Every single moment." Do you feel like God hears your prayers? "Sometimes." My heart ached at her plea: "I want to be healed now! My family needs me." I continued to sit with her in silence.
Then, it all started to come out. She said in a very desperate voice, "I just don't know what I did!" When I asked for clarification, she said, "I don't know what I did to deserve this." So I asked her if she thought God was punishing her. "Yeah... maybe." Then I asked if she thought God would punish her for something without telling her what it was. She quietly admitted, "But he did." So then I talked with her a little bit about God and punishment... how the Bible says God does discipline us, but as a father lovingly disciplines his children. Then I asked her about whether she thought God had forgiven her for whatever she did. She didn't seem too sure. Had she ever asked Him for forgivness? She said no. Would she like to? Yes. Did she want God's forgivness in general, for a bunch of things, or was it one particular thing that she did? It was one thing. A long time ago? Yes.
I offered to pray with her. She said she wanted to try it on her own, first, and then "if that doesn't work, maybe you can pray with me." I asked if she wanted to do it right then, or wait until she was alone. She wanted to wait until she was alone. So I told her I'd check back with her in a few days.
Sunday night at a concert, I bought a CD for her that I thought might encourage her (and help occupy some of her time spent in the hospital bed). A couple of people knew about my conversation with her that day, and we were praying for her. This is where I would have ended part two, and part three would have been the results of my next visit with her. But...
Tuesday morning I found out that she had died. Sometime Sunday night (so, within a few hours after our visit), she was found dead in her bed at the hospital. She was 42 years old. She had an 11-year-old son.
I'm still processing... all of this. I don't know yet about the funeral or anything. Today has been a sad and thoughtful day for me. A little sad for me, and thoughtful because I am somewhat distanced from the situation... But crushing, when I think of this lady and her family. Her life. Her questions about God. Her death. About all of these things... and what it is like for her family, I have no idea.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hospital Visit

Last night during my round of hospital visits for my church, I visited with a lady who has been hospitalized for 6 weeks with an infection in her heart (a pretty serious problem). She seemed weak and tired, and perhaps in pain. Mostly she seemed emotionally vulnerable. I guess I would be too, facing what she described in her own honest words: "If the antibiotics work, I'll be ok; if they don't work, I won't be ok."
Usually, at the beginning of a hospital visit - unless the patient or the family is very talkative or starts asking about me right away (which does happen, especially with elderly folks), I have to find some starting point for the conversation. (You can only say, 'Your church family is praying for you' so many times, and I probably already say it too much!) Sometimes this is an awkward moment. But then, it's the hospital, of course it's going to be awkward.
I thought I remembered visiting this lady once before, and that she had a young son. So I asked her about him again. Yes, she responded, she has an 11-year-old boy named Jacob. By the look on her face I knew I had hit a soft spot. I asked about how Jacob is doing (he's ok... football is keeping him busy right now). I sat down in the chair next to her bed, continuing with a little more small talk. Then a pause. Maybe because of the seriousness of the situation, or maybe because of the look in her eyes, I decided to go ahead and just be very open. I asked some questions that might be uncomfortable, but she didn't seem to mind answering.
I asked her what is the hardest part about being in the hospital (to leave her husband and son at home alone). I asked her if she felt like God was far away or close to her. After thinking a while, she said that it used to feel like he was far away, but now it felt like he was closer.
When I offered to read scripture, she was very eager for me to read. She had no request, and assured me to go ahead and read whatever I thought of because 'God speaks in that' (I think she meant God speaks through our own thoughts). Since I hadn't taken the time to pick out a scripture ahead of time, like I normally would, I had to pick something on the spot.
It ended up being John 1:1-18, and I do believe it was perfectly guided by God. After listening to me read about the Word becoming flesh, she said 'I have a question... In the Nazarene religion... is it that God and Jesus are different, or that they are one?' I reassured her that even though we refer to the Father and Son, we do believe that they are both God, and that they are one and the same. 'Hm,' she said, 'I've been alive for 42 years, and for 42 years I've thought they were different.'
We also talked a little bit about the concept of the Trinity, I read from Colossians 1 about Jesus being the image of the invisible God, and the conversation became a great opportunity for me to assure her of God's love for her, his awareness of her situation, his deep concern for her, and his willingness to come to earth as a man in order to be close to her. It felt like a practical application of those theology lessons about the transcendence and immanence of God.
When the visit was almost over, I prayed with her and asked God's blessing on her son and her husband, asked for his strength and comfort, for his presence and reassurance of his love, and for complete healing of her body. Sometimes I struggle with praying for healing, but this time I did not hesitate at all. I just laid it all out there for God, and pleaded with him. And when she asked me, 'If you can find time in your busy life, please pray for me' - how could I deny such a request?
This visit is an example of how hospital calls can be difficult and yet I love them so much. I do not know what this woman is going through (I can only imagine it is very hard), I do not know what the final outcome of her physical health will be, I do not know what words to say. But I'm filled with a deep desire that God would move in on her life, that she would sense his presence and know his love and goodness. Somehow I'm able to ask questions without fear, and pray confidently with her. Not confident because I know she will be healed. But confident that the God to whom we pray loves her and is with her no matter what. And when it comes down to it, why not ask him to heal her? There's no sense being cautious in our prayers. I don't believe God is cautious with his love.
For me, it is a privilege to enter into a hospital room, because I know that God is there.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


What do You think Jesus meant when he said, "The poor you will always have with you"? Please give me your thoughts... Thanks.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The current loves of my life

I am posting twice today because I have the time (no sub call today... and I don't babysit for another 2 hours) and who knows when I'll next get to it.

I am anxious for subbing to start. I've already started babysitting. I took a job, a little reluctantly (I had hoped to finally give up babysitting); but after my first night last night I'm glad I took it. The children are Olivia (10), Owen (6) and Avery (4), and I used to watch them a lot when I was a sophomore and junior at Olivet. They're bigger now, obviously, and they've changed... in some ways as I expected, but also in some surprising ways. I think they're all a little bit attention-hungry (their family has gone through some rough times since I last worked for them), and I already have plans to set some kind of structure and teach them some things (no tv, no back-talking, no hitting (why do I have to teach them this?), and there is more to life than wanting to a be a "rock star or a model" - that came from the four year old, by the way, not the ten year old).
It's been a long time since I gave up trying to not have a favorite when I babysit (I have one in every family, just ask and I will instinctively tell you!), and Owen has once again become my favorite out of this family. (Don't get me wrong, I love them each dearly.) Last night it was so fun to help him with his homework - reading and writing - and to know that I'm helping in one of the most formational parts of his education. I tried to be super encouraging whenever he read a new or difficult word, or even when he persisted to struggle through a hard paragraph. I also showered him with smiles and admiring words when he was showing off his bike riding skills! Hm, maybe I'm the attention-seeking one, and I just love to see a little boy beaming at my praises!

My other job, for which I have a different but equal passion, is working at the Center of Hope food pantry. It's pretty basic: we give out food, and I get to deal with the everyday hassles of paperwork, building maintenance and volunteer scheduling. But I like to believe that it's so much more. Monday morning my heart thrilled when "Frank" (our infamous homeless-man-who-forgets-his-meds) actually responded to my greeting with a smile and a friendly "how are you?" - is it possible that weeks and weeks of welcoming him with the love of Christ is beginning to soften his exterior and reach to his heart?
I'm getting to know a young homeless mother, and trying to encourage her in the process of job-hunting and applying for transitional housing. (Ah - a lesson for me here... I don't have all the answers, and sometimes all I can offer is a shoulder to cry on and a prayer.) She said she wants to start bringing her kids to church, so that opened up an opportunity for me to invite her to my home church and offer to meet her at the service. (Note: I wouldn't invite just anyone to my church - that's another whole struggle for me! - but I think she would do ok there.)

OK, sometime in the last few months I made an exciting connection - When I was observing an adult black male (side note: I'm learning lots about black culture... although probably only scratching the surface) at the Center (and, I admit, perhaps beginning to think judgmental thoughts toward him - his humor was a little distasteful, in my opinion), I was touched in my spirit by the sudden realization that this man was once a child - much like the many schoolchildren that I have fallen in love with when I sub. Thinking of what he might have been like as a little black boy (probably ornery, but really precious!) totally changed my perspective and my attitude toward him, and now I carry this new way of seeing people with me when I'm at the Center or other places where I interact with people in poverty.
I love children, and one of the most fascinating things to me is that we all start out as children. So my aim is to honor the unique characteristics that children have to offer us, while loving each person as someone who has grown out of his or own childhood (whatever it may have been like), and is still loved by God as His precious child.

Why grace is my theme

I tell you, coming up with a name for a blog is not easy. I sat on the living room floor for like half an hour yesterday trying to come up with a catchy phrase that accurately describes my identity or purpose or something. I looked at what resources I had nearby (too lazy to go very far), and tried gaining inspiration from a Bible verse on a post-it in my calendar ("But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18.) I like it... especially the part about grace (knowledge is useless without it!)... and eventually I came back to a phrase that has run through my mind a LOT in the last, oh, 16 months or so. Through the most transitional (and sometimes scary) part of my life thus far, I kept thinking my life is like a "free fall into grace." Because I've often had a feeling of a long, unrestrained, indefinite fall into I-don't-know-what-or-where... along with a sometimes peace and reassurance, and sometimes just faint hope, that God's grace extends as far as I fall.
I don't know if I'm done falling yet (or if I ever will be). But I am eagerly looking around me for signs of God's grace and what He can teach me through it all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm here!

I've joined blog-world... mostly so that I can comment on my friends' & family members' blogs. But maybe I'll actually get inspired and do some writing... we'll see. :)