Grace Upon Grace Upon Grace

Here is a Messianic worship song written and sung by Sheli Myers (Arie's daughter) Beresheet "In the Beginning".  Please go check it out and read the lyrics on the link!  It is truly beautiful, and inspired some of this post.

Thankful.  There is always so much to be thankful for, but today I am overwhelmed by the grace upon grace God has shed on my family.  I have always believed in miracles.  I have never doubted the miracles in the Bible.  I rarely doubted the reality and ability of God to perform miracles today, though He often does not work miracles in the same way He did when His Son came as my Savior, Jesus Christ.  No, His miracles usually come in different forms.. forms in which we as society does not typically consider true miracles.  Today, however, He did.

As I said, I have always believed in miracles.  And ever since I can remember, I have always asked God to show me a true miracle.  Not that my faith was dependent on my request, but I knew I believed He could and would if He pleased.  I honestly don't even know why I made such a request - I didn't have a certain plea in mind.  I guess I just thought it would be kinda cool to witness such a thing.

In the past few months, my faith has been tested with ending an engagement, an unsuccessful job-hunt, that post-graduation depression everyone typically struggles with because all your friends are scattered about, and having absolutely no direction on what city to live in or job to look for.  I thought it couldn't get much worse.  Well it did.  About a month ago, my mother was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of breast cancer.  That was it.  I was angry.  I was especially angry with the Lord.  I was becoming bitter and verging on the "I'm done, I just can't handle all this" phase.  Okay, maybe I was at that point.  Regardless, I seriously felt as if I had lost all hope in any good, any grace or blessing in His will for me.  I was stuck in my own selfishness, struggling on the see-saw of self-righteousness and self-pity, to the point where I was completely blinded to the hope of what the Lord could and would bring from all this suffering.

A couple of days after my mom's diagnosis, she and I found ourselves purchasing two tickets for a flight to Israel that would leave in four days.  We had a few random friends who had planned this trip and had previously turned down the offer to go.  Spontaneity at its finest, we took off on such a life-changing, awe-inspiring trip neither one of us could've expected.  The Lord used Arie (our teacher/guide) to open our eyes to so many hidden treasures from the Bible and the land of Israel, it was unreal!  We really had no idea what we had been expecting, but it wasn't nearly as good as what we experienced.  On our fourth day, we went to the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the crippled man [John 5:1-8].  While we were there, Arie and our close friend, Howard Porter, led our group of nine in prayer over me and my mom.  Each person prayed over us, for comfort in our sufferings, for healing both emotionally and physically, for our faith to be strengthened through our current trials, and finally, for a miracle over my mom's cancer.  In the background there was a church group singing "How Great Thou Art".  In the midst of the tourism and chaos around us, all I could hear were the tearful prayers with the echo of song and birds chirping in the background.  In the midst of the pain and chaos in my heart, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.  I literally felt God's hand on me.  The warmth of a physical embrace of God had never felt so real.  I don't even know how to put it in words to help you understand.  Really you can't unless you've experienced it.  But I knew God was up to something.  I knew then that through all this suffering His plan was still perfect, no matter what His will was.

When we got back to the States, Mom had her PET scan and a few other tests.  The results showed a clear PET scan.  I, fully expecting God to have performed another miracle of healing at the Pools of Bethesda, thought this to be of no coincidence.  The oncologist couldn't explain the results except that the radiologist probably just didn't mention the tumor in the breast because we already knew it was there, but just used the report to tell us that it had not spread throughout her body.  Mom had surgery that next week.  In surgery, the doctors reported that her sentinel lymph nodes were negative for cancer.  And more good news continued to follow.  Every step since our return from Israel seemed to bring the blessing of healing.  I kept calling each new bit of news a miracle.. it was good enough and big enough for me that the cancer hadn't spread.

In our first meeting with the oncologist (before Israel), he made it very clear mom would absolutely have to undergo an intense round of chemotherapy after surgery.  However, today when we met with him, he started going over her final pathology report from the surgery and gave us news that would shock anyone.  He sat us down and told us that my mom does not have to have intensive chemo!  The report showed that the aggressive, invasive form of cancer (the kind that spreads) previously reported was basically not even there.  It was much smaller than 1.95 millimeters!  Before, it was (or thought to have been) at the very smallest, 4 millimeters.  The doctor himself said that he had never seen anything like this before, that an angel was watching over her.  We know who that angel is.  The Angel of the LORD healed my mom, and chose to do so quickly and miraculously!

God gave me a miracle; the miracle of a quick healing over my mother.  He does not always choose to work in this way, nor does He have to.  He constantly gives grace upon grace upon grace in other ways.  To me, Creation itself is a miracle; moreover, the intrinsic details of our eyes to see that magnificent Creation is beyond a miracle.  But because I am more sinful than I dare imagine, and although my eyes are not yet fully opened to how holy my Father truly is, He continues to give me grace upon grace upon grace to show me a little bit more of His majesty and love each day.  And today, He chose to do so with a miracle.

"If you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea', and it will be done." Matthew 21:21
The Pools of Bethesda
Jerusalem, Israel 2013


Upside Down, Inside Out

So I haven't written in a long time.  I think I started my last post with that very same sentence...

There has been a lot of life lived since the last time I blogged.  A lot of joy and a lot of sadness.  There have been moments that I never want to forget, and some that I want to forever blot out of my memory. My life in the last year has been full of fickle emotions, many questions, and life-changing experiences.  My life this past year can be defined in one word... INCONSISTENT.

- displayed or marked by a lack of consistency
- not always acting or behaving in the same way
- not continuing to happen or develop in the same way
- having parts that disagree with each other
- not in agreement with something
- not satisfiable by the same set of values for the unknowns
Synonyms: clashing, conflicting, disagreeing, discordant, discrepant, incompatible, incongruous, inharmonious, repugnant, at variance
Antonyms: accordant, agreeing, compatible, concordant, confortable, congruent, consistent, consonant, harmonious, nonconflicting

Life is inconsistent. Life is ever-changing.  Sometimes those changes are fun.  And honestly, especially this past year, senior year of college, they have mostly been really scary.  I included the dictionary results above, not because you don't know the definition of the word inconsistent, but because that is an inevitable reality in life: inconsistency.  There is one true Antonym, however.  That Antonym is Christ.  In the past year, I have faced some of the most joyful, exciting, butterflies in my tummy, "God is so great", "my life is perfect" moments, but I have also faced some of the most heart wrenching pain, frustrations, shame and insecurities, and straight-up embarrassment, "Why God, how could you let this happen" trials I have ever had to face in my life.  My life has been turned upside down, inside out.

The truth is: being turned upside down, inside out, broken with no direction and literally, down on my knees in tears is the best thing that has ever happened to me.  I can sit here and say, even though I still have no idea what the next minute holds for me, I am becoming more holy, more loving, more selfless, more trusting and more Christ-centered.  I still fail.  I failed yesterday, today and I will fail again tomorrow.  I still have fears and lies I believe.  See, as a human being, I am inconsistent.  The difference is:  I realize more through these trials and heartbreak that I only have Him and I need only Him.  Christ is my constant.  He is my unchanging.  He will never leave me.  I have let the fading glories of this life become my idols: marriage, friends, a career, children, a home and simply just a plan for my life.  But that plan was stripped from my grasp.  My plan for a husband and family, a place to call home and career path was all taken.  My friends were all scattered in different cities after graduation.  (Regardless, they have been absolutely incredible through my circumstances and have been here for me no matter the distance!! Thank Y'all).  No, none of it was the worst thing that could happen, but it all hurt.  It all ripped apart my plan.  I will never trust perfectly until the Perfect comes again, but I am called to try, to waltz (in the words of Rev. Bobby Flayhart).  We are to trust, fight, and get back up, trust, fight, and get back up. The waltz should be our plan, and let God be in control of the pace.

This post is merely a glimpse of the tremendous work He is doing in my life right now.  I struggled with even the idea of sharing the experiences I have recently gone through and am still facing it.  However, with the encouragement of others and in faith that the Lord will use this part of my testimony for the growth of His kingdom, I am able to confidently share my heart. More to come!

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11


To Feel What I Felt

The other day I was reading through some old journal entries and found this excerpt.  I had always journaled off and on while growing up, but this was the beginning of my commitment to writing.  I haven't blogged in quite a while... so once I came upon this tid-bit, I was reminded of why I love to share my thoughts and experiences.

When I was growing up, we lived in a neighborhood with woods separating our block from all the others.  In one of my neighbor's backyards there was a huge gully that lined the woods.  I used to go there nearly every day.  Agates and wildflowers were plentiful and free for the taking – you were limited only by the size of your hands and pockets.  Near the center of the gully was a secluded embankment covered by blades of grass the length and texture of girls’ hair.  Willow trees surrounded it, and the sunlight coming through their leaves created a lacy pattern of shadow that I always wished I could pick up and lay over my head like a mantilla.  Day after day, I lay on that small hill and watched the shifting patterns of clouds and listened to the birds.  I could not identify the birds themselves, but I did recognize their calls.  Sometimes I made my own sounds to call back; whenever I did, there would follow a moment of abrupt silence during which I assumed the birds tried to identify me, then gave up and went back to business.  I found this satisfying; it made us even.

I could hear the earthbound animals rustling in the grass, sometimes far away, sometimes thrillingly nearby.  The air was warm against my skin, as comfortable as my many-times-washed flannel nightgown. There was the rich smell of black earth everywhere, and I pulled it far down into my lungs, wanting to keep it by making it part of me.

Whenever I was at that place, a sense of peace came into me like a religion.  I wanted to tell everyone what it felt like to be there; it seemed like information anyone would want.  This happened with many things I saw, or heard, or felt.  I wanted to share them.  The simplest things mattered so much to me: a school of tadpoles swimming darkly by in the creek I found in those woods, the thin wail of a baby; the smudged pastels of a sunset; the smell of pot roast cooking in the oven to be Sunday's lunch.  And the bigger things, too, of course: the mysteries and hurts, the fears and longings, the questions about why and when and how.  I had a deep need to give voice to all of these things.  Maybe because I wanted others to feel what I felt, to share in both the beauties and the devastations that life can bring.


I miss that place.  Mine and God's place.  It was the place I ran to when I couldn't bear the real world - and the place I went to bask in how magnificent my Creator is!


For the Love of Perfection

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." Philippians 3:12

This past semester, I have learned something about myself I never wanted to admit... I am a perfectionist.  I say that with laughter, because it took me so long to believe it.

Since before I can remember, every time I would write on a piece of paper, whether it be a journal, a sticky note to myself, study notes, or anything really, if there was ever a mistake, I would rip out that piece of paper, wad it up, toss it in the trash, and start all over.  Sometimes I had only written one line before either an ink smear, a misspelled word, or even just sloppy handwriting made that paper "not good enough".  And this process could go on and on until the whole trash can was filled with wads of paper.  It was ridiculous, really!

But the "messed up" paper is only a small portion to the extent of my perfectionist personality.  In fact, it takes effect in my school work, daily responsibilities, friends and family, and most significantly, my Christian walk.  I am always trying to be the perfect student, daughter, sister, friend, Christian, and etc.  But I am always finding the failures which discourage and disappoint.

When I do things, they have to be done perfectly.  If it is anything less than that then it is useless and unworthy - the whole effort therefore becomes a waste.  Sometimes I try again, but if the mess up seems unfixable or a relationship seems like there could be no restoration, I give up (with a few exceptions).  I find myself constantly trying to measure up to Christ.. constantly trying to be perfect and holy for my Father, but sometimes when I fall short, I get in this mind set that "I can't do it, so why try".  That is not at all what the Lord wants us to do.  He never said that once we accepted Christ as our Savior that we would attain His holy nature immediately, but we are to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" Phil. 3:14.

He wants us to not only make an effort in taking on our personal responsibilities of living as His children and obeying His good law, even though we fall short and can not do this perfectly.  But He also wants us to have faith and trust in His ability to rid us and others of sin, to give us strength to overcome the struggles we hate about ourselves.  First Corinthians 13:9-10 & 12 says, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the Perfect comes, the partial will pass away... For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Through recognizing the perfectionist part of myself, I have been able to positively accept my own inability and rely more fully on God's perfect ability.  Of course, this lesson in life is pretty well-known to most Christians, but due to our prideful nature and desire to achieve things on our own, I find myself having to constantly remember this and find contentment in the simple fact perfection is a natural limitation and that I am only meant to strive for holiness in light of eternal life with the Perfect.

17 "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." Romans 6:17-19


Finding Hope, Seeing Beauty.

Hold fast like an anchor in the storm
For your love, we will rise and overcome
Through the fire
Hold fast my people and sing
Through peace and through suffering
All for the joy that it brings, to be free
It’s gonna cost us everything
To follow one Lord and King
True love endure everything
To be free
Hold fast, like an anchor in the storm
We will not be moved

"Hold fast, like an anchor in the storm"... this is exactly what our team has been working at the past two weeks.  Our team is constantly learning to work together through our frustrations, differences and struggles and how to exactly "rise and overcome".  Each of us are being stretched this summer, and we knew facing pain was inevitable.  On top of everything that we are learning here, many of us are working through some personal issues and relationships that were left back home.  But God is faithfully opening my eyes through these struggles and showing me more about dependency on Christ, the grace I've received, accepting things that I cannot change, and remembering that God's will is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Lately, the Lord has really been teaching me more about hope and finding the beauty in God’s will.

Every day I walk the streets in Athens to find young gypsy children playing instruments (mostly the accordion) for money.  The looks on their faces are lonely and hopeless.  This "normality" in Europe has been especially heart-wrenching to me since the beginning of the trip.  I was told that there is not much anyone can do for the children, that most of them are being exploited and trying to help can often only hurt them worse.  One day a little girl came up to me, playing her accordion and asking for money.  Because I was told not to give, I didn’t, but she kept following, asking desperately.  It was then that I broke.  I was angry that I could not help her… I could not free her.  Any time I saw a gypsy child, a homeless person with no where to go, a drug addict lying on the street near death, a prostitute selling herself on a corner, a refugee who was looked down upon, the litter that pollutes the streets,  I felt the hopelessness of all these situations.  I want things to change and for all of these people to somehow be free from suffering, to somehow come to know Christ as their Savior... but at the time, it all seemed hopeless.  I could not find the beauty in God’s plan when I could only see the pain and suffering of these people and the lack of hope because no one reaches out to them.

But my eyes were opened to that beauty last week when we were given the opportunity to serve meals at a homeless shelter in Omonia.  There were nearly 200 people there, but only a handful of women.  As I searched for a woman to talk to, I finally noticed a lady in the back corner who was alone.  I asked if I could sit by her.  The most infectious smile crossed her face and she immediately began chattering away in Greek.  I started talking with her with the little Greek I had learned, and found out her name is Rosie, she is Bulgarian, she has lived in Greece for five years, and is a single mother of a 15 year-old son.  The rest of the conversation was like playing charades!  But I finally saw beauty in that homeless shelter.  The way Rosie warmly welcomed me to sit with her as if she had known me for years.  The way she smiled and laughed and hugged and kissed me...  I forgot she was homeless.  Rosie was ministering more to me than I was to her.  At some point, the realization came to me that people don’t touch the homeless.  They are ignored... not embraced.  She probably never gets loved on, when that’s really what she seemed to care most about.  I wasn’t going to let the smell turn me away.  I am called to love the poor, the homeless, and the needy.  I am called to wash their feet any way I can.

I kept seeing a beauty in that shelter that I sometimes never even see in church.  After we led worship and shared a few testimonies, there was a call to the altar.  In all honesty, I did not expect anyone to come up and even then doubted the sincerity of anyone’s plea for Christ.  I was that hopeless.  More than 15 people came up to profess Christ as their Savior.  And then I saw Rosie walk up beside me trembling, completely broken and desperate, crying out to God.  She knew she had no hope apart from God, and I remembered when that was me.  I knew her heart was sincere…that the Holy Spirit was making her new.  I saw the sweet love of Christ and an answer to prayer.  And holding her during that time was absolutely beautiful.  I no longer saw a homeless woman.  I didn't smell the stench of dirty clothes.  I didn't see someone who had nothing.  I saw a friend, a mother, a fellow heir to Christ.  I saw a beautiful Rosie.  Rosie had nothing, yet showed such joy regardless of her circumstances.

I am having to remember that it is okay to admit to God that I am struggling, that sometimes it hurts and accepting His will is not always fun nor easy.  I have to ask for strength to endure.  I have to find joy in suffering in Gods will, with the knowledge of His promise that our suffering in this present world is worth it.  Our God is faithful and will not leave us in our sufferings.  He will bring us onto dry and solid ground.  True love endures everything, and the fight of endurance is truly beautiful.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18


Neos Kosmos Hooligans

By the blow of a whistle the Tournaments began.  Kentro 68 (the name of the Community Center) puts on a 2 week long "Futball" Tournament for the guys of the Neos Kosmos neighborhood.  There are younger and older boy’s brackets, so when the Tournaments come to an end, the winners will be awarded.  But they are all incredibly talented!  My favorite is watching the younger boys score a goal – they treat this Tournament like it’s the World Cup… their dads get all excited and yell from the bleachers, and even their friends run down to celebrate a goal! This has also been a fun time for the girls in this community.  Courtney (a worker at the Community Center) told us that for the past 3 years, they could never entertain the girls well during the tournaments, so we wanted to make it happen!  We brought materials for jewelry making, face painting, caricature drawings, and supplies for an art contest – the girls and small children absolutely loved it… even the parents and grandparents are excited to see us each afternoon!  (Thanks again to my supporters – these materials came from our team’s ministry funds and you helped put smiles on their faces!)  When the awards are given to the boys for Fut Ball, we will announce winners for the girls who entered the art contest.  Also, the teenage guys who were playing in the tournaments became interested in the jewelry making and asked for us to make them some “boy” bracelets.  God really opened doors for us in communication with the guys and allowed us to share a little about our ministry, the Camp Kalamos, and ourselves.  We are still in prayer that some of these kids will join us at camp.
I love seeing God at work – even through the act of breaking communication barriers.  Hardly anyone here speaks English, with some only knowing single words or simple phrases.  But all of these activities have given each child smiles and laughter.

As many of you know, there have been many strikes in the city of Athens due to the economic crisis Greece has been facing.  Most of the strikes have only had violence on the front line of the protest in front of Parliament.  However, the recent 48-hour strike (the largest protest since 1974) has resulted in several injuries, fires, and tear gas throughout the city.  This has prevented our team from putting on the Tournament the past couple of days.  Please pray for God’s work to continue for these kids and that the people of Greece will seek God through this trial, as it effects each family economically as well as emotionally.  Thankfully, this has been a good time for our team to rest and get to know each other better.  We have had this time for devotions, games, story-telling, and laundry.

"Love what is sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving in the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality...Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud..." Romans 12: 9-16


The Pursuit

On Monday, Dina took us to a different side of the Red Light District than where we’ve previously visited.  Most of the Madame’s on this street have never let Dina enter.  And as many times as Dina told herself that she was never going back there, she continues to find herself on that street in hopes that God will somehow open doors here.  We went with the hopes of softened hearts, for the Madame’s to not see us as a threat, but we saw Satan’s attempts to prevent the Gospel from being spread right before our eyes.

As soon as we entered the district, every single one of us felt the instant heaviness and presence of spiritual warfare.  We prayed as a group as we usually did before entering the brothels but during our prayer we all saw a few Madame's step out the door, throw salt on their steps and walk back inside.  Dina said that is a superstition in Greece to keep bad spirits away.  How ironic.  Then a man came up to us and told us that we needed to leave or else it would upset the women and their clients.  When we didn't leave he came back to tell us he would call the cops to arrest us for evangelizing.  We chose to stay.  Each brothel we tried to enter turned us down.  The last one we went to ended with the wife of the Pimp who runs that street screaming at Dina for us to leave.  The lady was harsh, but Dina remained calm and extremely composed with love and grace.  So we left.  We tried not to feel let down or upset about the lack of success (in our eyes), but discouragement was there, nonetheless.  And I can understand why Dina wouldn’t want to go back to that street after all that happened…but she finds herself going anyway.  This reminds me of how God continues to pursue us, even when we yell at Him to go away, when we are too stubborn to listen and obey Him, when we slap Him in the face with our sins, when we completely break His heart…He still returns to us with open arms, ready to bring us back to Him… back on the path towards Home.

God explains in His love letter to us why He keeps pursuing us.  In Hosea chapter 11, we are shown a beautiful glimpse of this love:
 “(2)The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols."
“(8) How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  (9) I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
He continues in Chapter 14:4…
“I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.”

It’s hard when I want to see fruits… to see people change… to see quick results in God’s work.  But though it’s not always the results I want, or my kind of success, God is succeeding and He is working in His good and perfect pace.  So we will praise Him under all circumstances and continue praying for softened and open hearts, that one day they would allow God in.