Life- On Whose Terms?

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16 years ago, I was asked (along with other Seniors in High School) where I saw myself in 25 years.  Here’s my reply, which made it into the yearbook, ensuring that I and all my classmates would be reminded about who we thought we were going to be:

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When a former classmate sent me this pic of our yearbook, I was amazed by two things.  (1) I looked REALLY young as a 17 (almost 18) year old and  (2) In some ways, my life has been very predictable, but in other ways, it looks nothing like I thought it would.  I’ve taught both Speech and Drama, along with many other Lit classes.  I have ONLY taught in South America, except for student teaching and subbing.  And I’ve loved it!  God has given me that desire of my heart and used it in ways that only He fully appreciates.  I am so thankful.

And I have a larger family than I’d ever imagined.  It looks very different from how I intended.  My plans were to get married in my early twenties, like almost everyone else I knew.  Instead, I have had many years to learn how Jesus’ love and guidance are more than enough to fill the longings He has given me.  When they aren’t enough, it’s because I don’t let them be.  I thought I’d have three kids of my own by now, but God has given me classrooms full of students who needed another adult who loved them, believed in them, and refused to let them quit.  Not only do I have my Adia, Ming Hong, and Elie, who make being their Auntie one of the best roles in the world, but I also have lots of missionary nieces and nephews who remind me that being their Aunt is pretty fabulous too.  I am loved, treasured, and needed by my biological family and my missionary family. It is a beautiful thing to Belong…

God knows I would still love a husband and children of my own to love and cherish, but He also knows I’ve given Him that desire for Him to use as He sees fit.  That is a step I hadn’t taken as a High School Senior, but as I look at my wording, I think God was already leading me toward it.  In the yearbook, I said, “I see myself as a Speech and Drama teacher.  Hopefully with a family. I also plan to be teaching in South America between now and then.”  The two certain statements were grounded in what God had already shown me.  My uncertain hope of a family (as I planned it) hadn’t been promised to me.  It still hasn’t been promised to me.  But, what has been promised to me has also been promised to every believer.

“. . . I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” – John 10:10

I have seen the Lord’s abundance.  Life isn’t easy, but that’s true with or without Jesus.  I’d rather have His promises, His plan, and His provision, even when it doesn’t look like what I intended.

So what about you?

  1. In what ways has Jesus shown you how His life for you is far better than anything you could give yourself?
  2. How has life gone as you intended? How has it gone differently?
  3. How can we encourage people this week to accept Jesus’ abundant life?

Living the College Life

So, this has been my life since Friday: 

  One of my supporters is a Junior in college and she graciously opened up her already tight sleeping space to me for the weekend.  The apartment is lovely really, it’s just the bedroom arrangement that’s snug. You see, one of her former roommates is getting married this weekend, so she’s been sleeping over for the first three weeks of school.  As much as we’ve been tiptoeing around each other, mostly late at night or in the morning, we’ve had a great time, and I’ve been reminded how much I love community.  I spent Saturday connecting with some Asbury and KMBC friends that I hadn’t seen since this summer.  I worshipped and had Sunday dinner with my Regional Directors who live about 30 minutes away, and then I got to spend tonight sharing my mission journey with 65 college students at WGM Global Cafe and encouraging them to see what God has already given them to use for partnering in missions.  I’m praying for them, that they will discover missions in a new way this year.  Tomorrow, I get to speak to Ed majors and I’m praying God will use me once again to show people the joy of serving Him.   
Living in community with all of these wonderful people has kept me laughing and rejoicing to see how God is moving all around us.  And that’s why we need each other.  So that we don’t get lost in the sea of humanity, so we don’t lose our humanity in the tyranny of our own pursuits, so that we can pick each other up, hold each other close, and direct our gazes always to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. May you find strength, joy, hope, and purpose in the Body this week.   May you walk in the strength of our 3-stranded cord.

  

Salt and Light- The Community of Partnership

Light of the world bulb sketch backgroundThese verses are familiar:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:13-16~

We’ve heard countless sermons on being salt and light, but in today’s individualistic society, I want to pause and reflect on the YOU of these verses.

We lose a little of the meaning behind the YOU when we read it in English, because, unless we are visiting loved ones from the south, the second-person plural just doesn’t get used.  That’s right- this you is a ya’ll- you ALL.  And it makes sense when we think about it.  Just how much seasoning and preserving can happen when just one salt grain gets placed on a pound of meat?  It’s the collective working of salt that makes it powerful.  In the same way, Jesus promises that the light spreads to “everyone in the house.”  So, it’s the Body of Christ working together to impact the whole world.  That’s a lot of fellowship in those verses that doesn’t always get discussed.

I’m guilty of this idea that I can do it all on my own- or even the tempting idea that I should be able to do it all on my own.  Then, when I can’t, I get frustrated, anxious, upset.  No wonder!  I’m not meant to live that way!  I am so thankful for the partnerships that God has placed in my life:

Partnering with my family- That may seem like a strange way to say it, but we work together to make sure that we all are taken care of. This includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and siblings.  God’s given me a family where we look out for each other and care for each other.

Partnering with World Gospel Mission- I’m part of an organization that believes in meeting a variety of physical needs all over the world, but always with the purpose of revealing the hope we have for the deeper spiritual need within all of us.  Not only do we work together, we learn together, growing as close to Christ and as much like Him as we can. We encourage each other, challenge each other, and love each other.

Partnering with SCCLC– My school in Bolivia has its unique set of challenges, and sometimes those get overwhelming, but at the end of the day, I’m privileged to work with other men and women who value education and love people.  I have friends from a variety of countries and students from all over the world.  We get to invest in students who will go farther and do more than we can even imagine, because we believe that God has a special design for each of them.

Partnering with my Stateside churches and individuals– As you might know, a major motivation for writing every Sunday is to be intentional about staying connected with my ministry partners in the U.S.  This kind of partnership looks different with each one of my relationships.  It includes supporting financially, praying fervently, spreading the word about ministry needs, connecting other Jesus loves to our ministry, and so much more.  Being a missionary and working with Stateside supporters is one of the most challenging (for me) and beautiful aspects of my life.  Challenging because I feel like I never do a good enough job telling you how much God is doing through all of us.  Beautiful, because every time I am with you, I come away rejuvenated, excited to dig into ministry again, and blessed to be partnering with ya’ll.

Partnering with the Body of Christ- As we join in worship, praise, thanksgiving, and Bible study, people all over the world are doing the same.  It’s impossible for us to know how many Jesus lovers there are worldwide, but our lives are joined with theirs in a way that only God fully understands.  He designed us as a single community- The Body.

As much as I rejoice in these partnerships, I’m also challenged.  In what ways can I allow God to make these partnerships be even saltier, give off even more light?  Where is He showing me to let go of trying to do it on my own, so that I can work with others as He intended?  I’m still processing, so I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m willing to wrestle with it. Please pray with me about what He might show me.  And feel free to ask me about what I’m learning about it!  What about you?

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With whom do you partner to make this world a better place?

How many of your partnerships are focused on making sure that “better place” involves helping people belong to Christ?

How can we pray for God to help you better understand living, loving, and serving Christ within the community?

What’s the bigger miracle?

healing-bible-verseWhen I had my wisdom teeth removed in high school, the surgeon told mom, “It was an amazing surgery. I’ve hardly seen one like it.”  She calmly told him that a perfect surgery was what we had all prayed for.  I don’t know if that doctor ever accepted Christ, but I do know that experience changed how I pray for medical results and procedures.  On Tuesday, mom’s doctor repeatedly called her procedure “perfect,” and on Friday we learned that Kimberly’s tumor didn’t even show up on her ultrasound!  As a family, we are praising God for his healing touch and the physical miracles of this week.  But, it also made me wonder about the miracles we ask for…

When Jesus was visiting in Nazareth, his townspeople expected to see the same type of miracles and healing that they’d heard about.  The Gospel of Mark (chapter 6) tells us:

And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief.  And He was going around the villages teaching.

Jesus could have done so much more- He wanted to transform lives.  He could’ve opened their blind eyes and given them hearts of flesh to replace their hearts of stone.  But, they didn’t believe; and Jesus wondered.  I imagine he wonders much the same at our own unbelief.  How many times are we content with earthly moments of wonder, when what Christ really wants is to involve us in shaking up eternity?

I’m not done praying about mom’s procedure and Kimberly’s cancer journey.  I’m still asking Jesus to call their doctors to himself and bring them into a saving relationship with him.  I’m asking him to use us in the process.  And I’m asking that, somehow, we would be able to know their decisions and rejoice with them when they happen.  I’m praying for an eternal shift.

Have you ever asked God for something, only to receive an even bigger answer?

What are you praying for now?

If you want, respond in the comments, so that we can all lift each other’s requests up and rejoice in how Jesus answers our prayers.

Let the Children Come

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When we read the story in Mark 10 about the disciples trying to keep the children back from Jesus, His words, “Let the children come” remind us how much Christ values kiddos.  I love the story- it fills me with comfort and joy. . . and conviction.  Because, while I like to imagine these kids lovingly and QUIETLY cuddling up to Jesus and listening attentively to His words, the reality is that kids have ENERGY and ENTHUSIASM and have a hard time containing them.  They have short attention spans and need lessons to be interactive.  God, their Creator, knows and cherishes those very qualities.  And He teaches me because of them.

From July 5th-10th, I was at St. Andrews Anglican Church in Versailles, KY to help with a Creative Arts Camp for kids who had just finished Kindergarten-5th grade.  Now, please remember, my passions, strengths, and desires are very strongly rooted in helping teens discover fullness in Christ.  So, when all these precious kids came into the church on Monday morning, I was pretty overwhelmed.

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Each day, I brought theatre experiences and challenges to about twenty Kindergarten-1st grade students by themselves and then two much smaller groups of kids from 2nd grade – 5th grade.  After workshopping with these kids in the morning and early afternoon, I went back to my host family and dove into my M.Ed. homework each day.  I felt physically drained, but spiritually, even supernaturally, equipped to get everything done.  By Friday evening, we had prepared a 5 minute skit I wrote to show parents what we had learned about different Bible characters in our morning Bible time and how we had applied those truths to creating characters and acting in Theatre workshop.  Thankfully, God brought us through the whole week and brought SO MANY kids to either a saving relationship or a commitment to go deeper and give Him control of their lives.  What a joy to be a witness to His saving grace and wooing Spirit.  It makes all the tiredness, frustration, and (at times) troubled heart worth it!!

IMG_4818 Along with seeing God move in the kids’ hearts and lives, I am also convicted by how powerfully they believe God.  In one of our Bible times, we had to choose how we would respond in certain scenarios.  As a certain scenario developed, it became even more challenging to be obedient.  The leader prompted, “What if God told you to do something really hard and scary?  How would you feel?  Would you trust or be scared?”  A few kids came over to my “Scared” sign to choose that option.  Realistically, I belonged there, too, and not just because that was my assigned sign.  A 5th grade girl over in the “Trust” section called out to us, “Why would you be scared?!  God is with you!!”  To trust made perfect sense to her- Hearing her words, it made perfect sense to me, too.  OFTEN, I will examine all the components of a situation, but instead of better understanding it, those components become temptations for me to doubt God’s sovereignty, love, faithfulness, compassion, goodness, strength, and power.  I look at my doubts and wonder how God will work it out, rather than looking to God in eager anticipation.

As I come away from a weekend visiting my grandpa in the hospital, looking to an outpatient surgery and possibly long recovery for my mom, seeing Kimberly miss another chemo treatment because of her low hemoglobin, and on top of that, keeping up with my own studies and praying for SCCLC as teachers start their new school year in preparation and worship, I am tempted to fear, or at the very least, let my heart dwell on how hard it can all seem.  But I am reminded of Isaiah 41:13:

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How does God remind you not to fear?

How does God use children to teach your own soul about following Him?

How can I pray for you this week, especially in trusting the Lord?

How do you handle when God says, “Wait”?

  • I’m at peace with it; God knows what He’s doing.
  • I get frustrated and discontent.
  • I’m excited! Who knows what God is up to?!
  • I’m scared- who knows what God is up to!
  • Any or ALL of the above, depending on how much I want or think I need a more definite answer.

 

This entire Homeland Ministry Assignment has been a beautiful, sometimes frustrating, transforming season of God’s timing in my life.  14 months ago, I thought I knew how God would meet my needs and get me back to Bolivia.  A year ago, I thought I understood how He would do it (since He obviously hadn’t done what I previously thought). With interspersed surprises followed by long spells of nothing really changing, at 6 months ago, I started praying specifically that God would move, opening and closing opportunities so clearly that we’d see Him working, so that none of us would have any doubt in His timing for me to get back to Bolivia.

I knew God was keeping me in the U.S. to teach me more about becoming an administrator, to use me as His tool for others to know and love Him more, to connect with others who need to know how much God uses them in His ministry in Bolivia and in my life.

I never dreamed God was saying, “Wait” because of this: 

  

3 years ago, my sister was battling breast cancer.  At the end of June, she started the fight again.  It’s not metastasis of her previous cancer, and we are so thankful!  But, it’s aggressive and Triple Negative, and the struggle is real.

God knew the whole time I was restless and ready to get back to Bolivia, He knew the whole time that we, as a family, were soaking up every minute of being together, He knew every time I had no clue what He was doing, He knew I would need to be in the U.S. longer than any of us planned.

 So, even though, financially, I’m only about $100 in monthly pledges away from being able to return, and academically, I’ll finish my Master’s in Educational Leadership in the middle of October, I’m going to stay in the U.S. until after Christmas, looking to put my feet back on Bolivian soil around January 3-4, 2016.  

And I’m so thankful God said, “Wait.”

  1. I’m thankful because God’s given me freedom to stay and take care of my family, and they can take care of me, in this hard time.
  2. I’m thankful because I get to see some of you in Kentucky at Asbury University on August 28-31, when I speak to students at Global Cafe on Sunday night and, hopefully, find a time to meet with education majors on Friday or Monday.
  3. I’m thankful because I will attend a biblical counseling conference in October, to become better equipped to offer counsel and hope to those who are struggling with issues like sexuality, gender, relationships, and other areas of pain and brokenness in our world.
  4. I’m thankful because I know God will use this time for His good purposes, and I can’t wait to see How he lets me be a part of it.

How do you respond when God says, “Wait”?

  

Behind the Scenes Print- Oct 2014 Edition

bts4Thanks for stopping by – take a moment to check out the LATEST edition of Behind the Scenes, by clicking on barlowOct14.  In it, you’ll find stories of God’s faithfulness and an opportunity for you to share how God’s been faithful to you!  I hope you take advantage of that opportunity and help encourage someone else in their faith.

Blessings,

Emily

Faithfulness

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If you are here because you followed the link in my latest “Behind the Scenes” – WELCOME!  And thanks for coming 🙂  I’d like to see this blog become more interactive. Let’s find ways for all of us to dialogue together.  Maybe you’ve been partnering with me since God called me to Bolivia, maybe we just met last month.  It shouldn’t matter how long you’ve been a part of what God is doing in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  What matters is that together we are changing the world, showing people how amazing Christ is, and how worthwhile it is for us to serve Him and belong to Him. How have you seen God’s faithfulness as you’ve lived for Him?

Here’s my praise and thanksgiving:

At the end of September, I was expected back at World Gospel Mission Headquarters (in Marion, IN) for meetings.  About 1/3 of these meetings were designed to help me review how my last 5 years in Bolivia went, what struggles I might have brought home with me, and what promises God has in store for this Homeland Ministry Assignment year in the U.S.  I was looking forward to this portion of the meetings.  It would mostly be a time to fellowship, reconnect with other missionaries, and have wise, loving people speak truth into my life. The other 2/3 of the meetings were about the purpose, expectations, and tools of Homeland Ministry Assignment (HMA).  I knew we’d be talking about supporters, prayer letters, blogs, ministry accounts, budget needs, and financing.  Honestly, before we got together in Sept, I was dreading that portion of our time together.  My fears of failure, my own temptation to perfectionism, and the frustration of having all that information given to me in such a short amount of time were drowning out God’s promises of peace and provision.  I was letting those promises get drowned out.

Thankfully, God is always bigger than my fears and my weaknesses.  I came away from those meetings with a joy and renewed vision for the purpose of HMA.  Yes, it’s hard work to make connections, to keep people informed about what God’s doing, to help each of them see that we are ALL a part of the Great Commission, and that God has good works He intends for us to fulfill.  But our God is a God of plenty!  That means He has plenty of finances to keep His Commission going, plenty of people to do the works He’s designed, and plenty of the power of the Holy Spirit to equip us.  God convicted me of my fears – how often I treat His provision as scarcity.  He reminded me of His power and His joy in faithfully completing the good work He has began in each of us.  I am so thankful for Him – He is all I need, and I will continue to praise Him however He chooses to meet my needs! Comment below and share God’s faithfulness with us!  Maybe someone needs to be encouraged today, and God plans to use your story to do it!

A Habit of Prayer

As hard as it is to be away from SCCLC and all those who are important to me, I’m using this time away to develop some habits that will greatly increase the effectiveness of my ministry next term. One of these habits is to pray weekly for every student from grades 7-12. Once I get back to Bolivia, I want to create a system that will enable others to come pray with me. In order for the system to work, the habit must be established 🙂

So, cue a week of dying Popsicle sticks, knitting a basket, and bringing out my last yearbook to get each stick labeled correctly. Today, I took the Senior sticks out of their jar, laid them out, and prayed over each of them before placing them back in their jar. It’s easier for me to pray for the Seniors because they were my Juniors last year. In a small way, I know them – their frustrations and desires, their hopes and fears. So, I lift them up because I love them and because I wish I could be with them.

Tomorrow, it’ll be the Junior’s turn…

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It’s a NEW Behind the Scenes!

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It’s that time of year 🙂  Click on the link barlowDEC13 to check out what’s been happening this first semester at SCCLC and in my own life.  I’m so thankful for all of you who take the time to read, pray, encourage, and support!  Thanks for being a blessing.

And don’t forget – I’m coming back for a year, starting in June 2014… Let’s get together!

Blessings,

Emily