Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Characterized by Hope

I Corinthians 13:13
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Over the years, I have experienced set backs in life. It doesn’t even matter what they are, considering everyone has set backs, falls, disasters, tidal waves…so you understand. I do not always handle set backs well. Over this past summer, God has been doing a work in my life, reopening doors that I tried to close years ago. Why? Well, I wanted to know too!

Three situations were resurrected from years ago. I did not like that! Of course, God brought these things into my life right as I was trying to plan for moving to Mexico, and I was trying to stay focused on my future direction, not past failures. The common tie to these three situations from my past was that I had shut down each of the situations because I had lost hope that they would ever improve. 

Why did God reopen these situations? In a very kind way, I feel like God has rebuked my lack of hope, warning me to not handle my current struggles and set backs the same way that I did in those circumstances. I have been meditating on what hope looks like and how important it is in a Christian’s life ever since, so as I’ve read the Bible, the message of hope has stood out to me like a St. Bernard hiding in a group of kittens. I can’t even give specific verses, because I have found it in everything I have read! The Bible’s theme of redemption is based on faith, hope, and love.

Hope is what makes me, as a believer in Christ, different from the world, and it is the key to my ministry and happy existence. Yet, why has the biggest contender to my hope and optimism been other Christians? In I Cor. 13:13, Paul groups hope as one of the 3 most important characteristics. We talk about faith and love a lot, but then at times I hear people talk about discouragement and depression as necessities of life. I would like to point out people like Moses, Joseph, Esther, Ruth, David, Gideon, Nehemiah, Joshua, Paul, and Jesus. All of the heroes of the Bible were people that worked to keep hope in God even in the face of some of the hardest trials imaginable.

A close friend and I just started a long distance book study together, which I’m thrilled about! We are just now beginning to read The Hope Quotient by Ray Johnston, and I definitely see the Lord’s hand in ending my summer with this book. I haven’t read much of it yet, but I already am enjoying his message! Feel free to begin reading the book and email me about what you think. I would love to spread hope and join together with others trying to learn more about what hope looks like!

God renewed my hope in two particular areas this week. One thing that can be discouraging for me is my teaching ability. I am a new teacher, and there are days that I feel like I got my Master’s degree in nagging…. I began to pray about some new fresh ideas on how to reach my students’ hearts after a day of feeling like my words were flying out the window. God answered my prayer! I have already instituted some new ideas that were direct answers to prayer, and they are working! Teaching requires a lot of hope. Hope that I can communicate what I need to. Hope that students can learn and grow. Hope that God can somehow use this time together to glorify Him.

Nothing reminds me of hope more than watching plants grow!
Here is a half rotten amaryllis bulb I found, completely solid
and growing with brand new roots popping out every day.
Starting over with a new hope
The other area that I found myself feeling discouraged in was my linguistic ability. I am not a linguistically gifted individual! I was a late bloomer in language (thankfully I had an older sister willing to talk for me and interpret my brain for others). All these memories were going through my mind when I moved here, and I had very little hope of learning Spanish quick enough to join in on ministry. As my friends and family asked how they could be praying for me, I started replying, “Pray for me to learn Spanish!” Saturday, I had a small glimpse of hope: a small, confusing but successful conversation with someone IN SPANISH. That was all I needed! Hopefully my conversations will get better from here on out! 

God is a God of hope. Being saved gives us a hope in an eternity in heaven, a hope that we can live completely different, successful, and happy lives here on earth. Does that mean we don’t experience waves of difficulty and ups and downs? No of course not. But it does mean that we should know where to go when we are discouraged and need some hope (the Bible). It means that we should not give up on relationships, jobs, abilities, places, or ministries that God calls us to be a part of. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Transfixed on Sixth

My classroom is great. I keep meaning to write an update, but then I keep putting it off one more day to better share about my first week. Next thing I know, it's Friday! 

First day of class is always a stressful day. From my perspective more stressful for the teacher than the students! I was feeling the weight of responsibility to make sure my kids felt comfortable, welcomed, challenged, happy, and so many other things, whereas for the students they just have to get the day over and survive it. 

Well, we all survived! I love my kids. I have eight 6th grade students, and we are growing at a fast rate through this week. One way is just growing closer as we figure out and set the class dynamic. We are a giggly and fun class for the most part. The other area we are growing in is responsibility. This is my class’s last year before middle school, where things will be getting a lot more difficult. So we are starting to do things the big kids do.

I might have mentioned Felix once or twice...so I was thrilled
when my first "teacher" art given to me was about
Felix as a baby. :) (He's the fat, black one.)

Before my students arrived, I made a little section
to welcome them in.
The first day of school, they all made their bees
prospectively, and I just LOVE how individualized
they all are!

Here are the four corners of my room. This was taken before students came, and it seems to have filled up a little since I took these pictures. 

Competitive Tic-Tac-Toe is a great way to practice algebra. 

Our first science experiment! I have an inquisitive
class that is going to keep me on my toes. :)

Here is a foldable we made to learn about how to make
complex sentences using subordinating conjunctions.
They almost have it! You can imagine
how hard this is for anyone, let alone when English
is your 2nd language. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Strength is from God

Psalm 65:1-8

1. Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, 
and to you shall vows be performed.
2. O you who hear prayer 
to you shall all flesh come.
3. When iniquities prevail against me, 
you atone for our transgressions.
4. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, 
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, 
the holiness of your temple!

5. By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
    O God of our salvation
the hope of all the ends of the earth 
and of the farthest seas;
6. the one who by his strength established the mountains
being girded with might;
7. who stills the roaring of the seas, 
the roaring of their waves, 
the tumult of the peoples,
8. so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

There is a certain strength that comes from one’s comfort zone. The type of strength that makes you feel like you are in control, belong, or can survive on your own. The type of strength that maybe, just might discourage you from looking to God for strength. If what brings you strength discourages you from looking to God and encourages you to hold on to to your own strength, then wouldn’t that be an idol?

I’m at a point in life where most people my age are looking for a place to fit in, a life that is comfortable. I don’t exclude myself from this crowd. In fact at times I feel like I am leading it. When life is difficult, I find I have certain things that I fall back on to regain control, strength, stability.

I've been thinking on this recently, as I look up to some of the prettiest mountains I have ever seen. Some people find a lot of strength in the mountains, which seems silly to me, considering my current skill set with the mountains would most likely kill me if we were left alone. How can a mountain protect you or save you? But then, how can anything we try to pull strength from save us? I started to replace the mountains with the things that I find strength in (fill in the blank). 

Leaving home and coming to Chihuahua is one of my "mountains", and at times it feels a lot like being naked, meaning I have nothing to hide behind. I have no standing here, no car, no reputation, no Spanish, no roots, no family, nothing to claim strength in. Except God’s calling in my life, which is why I think I am loving it here. 

Reading Psalm 65 today was so encouraging. My strength is completely found in the Lord. Verse 3 made an impression on me, as I realized all the idols I try to draw strength from reveal my heart’s sin, which God continuously forgives. 

So many friends of mine have commented that they are not sure if they are in God’s will, or they question God’s will as being too hard, but verse 4 says blessed is the person that God chooses to bring near to Him! Our strength has to be found in God, and He has a way of helping us realize that by taking away our so called "strengths" in order to draw us closer to Him: like the mountains, family, health, money, friends, cars, technology, love, relationships, or whatever it is that we try to replace God with. 

My fear now is how many people are fighting to hold on to these things instead of turning and finding strength in God. Finding strength, identity, and complete faith in the Lord is newer for me, though if you had asked me years ago who I was finding my strength in, I would have replied “God”, because I would have believed that. I think verse 8 should help us realize the truth of who we are trusting in. Those who put their trust in the Lord’s help should find themselves in awe of His signs (or proof of strength), and they should be characterized by joy (possibly even shouts of joy). That verse is my new excuse to my grandmother (hehe) of why I am always laughing so loudly! So if you think you are trusting in God, but feel miserable and lost, then start praying over Psalm 65, asking God to show you things that you may be relying on other than God. God did not mean for us to live lives of misery, but rather He is the great Healer who holds the answers for us that will bring comfort, strength, healing, help, and joy. The healing may not look exactly like what the world thinks it should be, but I guarantee that it holds more joy than the world's idea of healing (eternal versus temporal). 

My strength and salvation comes from God, who made the heaven and earth and controls everything in my life. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

From Maine to Mexico

The desert and mountains lasted for about 4 hours until we reached our destination.
This is my first post from Mexico, and I am glorifying God for making it here! Crossing the boarder went relatively easy. Once we crossed, we entered into a desert. Not the type of desert with beautiful sand dunes and constantly crusted over eyes from sand, but rather the type of desert with miles of flat land speckled with ugly brush that is usually brown, though almost could be considered green at the moment since it is rainy season. At the moment I have been re-reading the book The Secret Garden, and looking at the desert reminded me of the moor that Dickon loved so much and made come alive for everyone else who did not understand its beauty. Sadly, I did not see any Dickons out on this moor. Though I did see a lot of pecan orchards and farms, which I would love to learn more about!

Miles away at the end of the expanse were massive mountains that followed us throughout the country. I love watching them! I liken mountains to a campfire, because they draw everyone’s eyes. I end up staring at them for long amounts of time mesmerized. The other thing that I enjoyed watching was the dust devils or little dirt tornados. At any given moment looking out, I would count 3-7 of them at once just scattered over the expanse. That is something that we do not have in Maine. In fact, this is the polar opposite from Maine’s green forests and numerous lakes.

My apartment here is so lovely! So thankful!
Getting to my apartment was so exciting! It is in the parking lot of the school I will be teaching in. I have an amazing roommate, Connie, who is from Canada and shares a very similar culture to mine in Maine, so we have been enjoying getting to know each other. We have an excellent living space with a washer, dryer, well stalked kitchen, and our own bathrooms. We live maybe a 10 minute’s walk away from a grocery store. Grocery shopping anywhere, America as well as every country I’ve been to, has always been my personal demise and struggle. Thankfully Connie will teach me how it works here in Mexico.

Yesterday, we were able to go with our downstair neighbors to their church. I am in full mode to learn Spanish now, just so I can begin to get something out of church and meet more friends. Then, we were very exotic and ate lunch at…Denny’s. I was very amused by that, but it was excellent food and made me feel connected to my family. 

I was going to share my two prayer requests, but I was too slow, because God already answered one! When I got here, wifi was spotty, and I was struggling keeping in contact with my family. I prayed for a quick answer so I could connect with my family better, and by the end of yesterday we were given access to unlimited, high speed internet at an excellent cost! That is a huge praise, and I am so thankful for how fast and easy God provided that need.

My ongoing prayer request at this point is that God blesses my linguistic abilities. I will be working very hard to start learning Spanish, and thankfully I am finding it has a lot of similarities to other languages I have studied. I have never been very good at communicating in English, let alone a 2nd language. Please pray God opens my brain to language so I can further ministry here! Thankfully, Connie is also learning, and she is further along in the process than me and is a huge help. 

Again, I am just thankful to finally be here and to begin ministering! Thank you for prayers, emails, and encouragement to me over this past week. What could have been a very difficult week, has actually been an extremely fun and joyful time for me. THANKFUL for that!
Sunsets here are very different! Maine is the top picture if you couldn't figure that out. 

My travel friend crossing the boarder. :)