Monday, January 8, 2018

First JV Office Day

It was my first day in the JV offices today, and I couldn't believe when I sat down at the (well, I suppose I should say "my") desk how the Lord has led up until now. 

Who would have guessed that the same office building I used to visit in high-school when I needed to pick something up from my dad on my lunch break, would be the place that I would drive to work to on a dreary rainy Monday? 

Who would have guessed that years studying at Moody in downtown Chicago would lead right back to this town - the town with no traffic lights, with fog and smog and the prettiest valleys and mountains. Sometimes we don't see the sun for days. Sometimes I recognize a former elementary schoolmate in the grocery store. We both wonder if we should say hi. This is the town in the valley where the threads of my childhood criss-cross the side streets and rivers.  

Not only was it surreal to be at the offices today, but I got to think about the JV Kids all day today. Tomorrow I'll think about them too. And the next day. Serving those kids and their families, whom I love, is my job. Wow.  

I still wake up feeling small and insufficient for all that is ahead. As familiar as this place is to me, this role is new. Being a missionary is new.

Yet, as my alarm clock goes off each morning, and I recite sleepily (sometimes in thought, sometimes aloud): "I am not my own, but belong to God. I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me," I find myself still feeling small, yet comforted and renewed by the greatness of our God. This God chooses us. He calls us his own, and he calls us by name. We are his ambassadors. These homes we dwell in are like embassies for his Heavenly Kingdom. And Christ is King. 

Thus, here we all are. We are showing up. And we are eagerly and hopefully (and sometimes fearfully too, right?) awaiting God to show up. We wait for his voice. We wait for him to sift through the muddled thoughts in our heads. We wait for him to convict our hearts and show us truth. We wait for him to use us for his name's sake. 

You know what? He loves to show his glory. 

So we wait with confidence. Oh yeah. That's what faith is - assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). How I'm praying that God strengthens mine (goodness, I can't do that alone!), and yours on this very day. Though that may come through trial or silence or suffering or waiting, he will show his glory and he will draw us near in Christ. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Fireworks and Slips of Paper

The holiday season has officially "ended" here in the Czech Republic with the celebration of Three Kings Day yesterday. Everyone is stepping into the new year of 2018 "plným proudem," as we say in Czech (i.e. "in full stream")! 

We are precisely one week into this year, and I am still wide eyed at what this year will shape up to be.  It will be my first year living in Czech again, and my first year stepping into this role with the JV Kids. It's going to be a big year. 

Our church has somewhat of a tradition that every year you pick a verse "out of a hat" and ask the Lord how he'd like to teach you through that passage in the next year. Our pastor made it very clear that this was not something prophetic, and that the Lord may or may not choose to use this particular verse to speak into the coming year. Yet, our pastor also called us to pray and ask God to bring a verse to our attention, in order that our eyes may be fixed on Jesus. 

The basket went around and I sifted through the slips of paper and randomly chose one that had a verse from Colossians printed on it. It was strangely applicable to my heart. (I see you, Lord!)

In context, it reads:

"And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. ...

For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.  

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins." - Colossians 2:6-7, 12-13

(Those are the Ellenwoods and my parents - we've been celebrating New Years together for years now here in Czech!)

This whole concept of the "old" and "new" life has been on my mind often in these past months. I have talked about it with friends and church family. We have talked about what it means to claim our baptism, to repent and believe again, yet with the security that we have already died to sin and been made alive in Christ. We have already been saved when we repented and put our faith in Jesus, but now we learn to walk. To let our roots grow deep. 

And this is my prayer for this coming year then: that you and I would let our lives be built upon Christ, and that we would live every day in the reality that we have already been raised to new life by the power of our mighty God.  

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Czech New Beginnings

I have moved to the Czech Republic. Wow. Christmas has now even come and gone, and the new year is just about to roll around, with many new chapters about to begin. 

Here's to new beginnings, the constancy of the Lord, and the beauty of what he promises in His Word...

“Behold, I am making all things new.” - Revelation 21:5

Moving to Czech may be a "moving back", but the Lord has changed my heart since I last lived here. I'm grateful that he is unchanging, but that we change. I feel small and sinful next to him in his holiness, yet so safe and known by him as he receives and forgives constantly. And he is forming and shaping the church here, just as he was able to continue drawing us, his church, to himself all the way in Chicago. His hand is ever reaching out to us. 

He is Imanmuel, God with us, just as we sang in church this morning.

This song has been playing on repeat in my thoughts and heart these past couple of days. May we sing it ever more loudly in this next year! 

I lift my eyes up to the hills
This my morning song
Where my strength comes from

I lift my eyes up to the hills
This my evening song
Where my help comes from ...

This is the hope of every land
Just as the universe expands
Your love is reaching
You're holding everything

(Gravity of Love, The Brilliance)

Monday, December 4, 2017

With Two Weeks Left

November slipped rather quickly into our memories, fading into the stories of life and ushering in a new season marked by wreaths and boughs and red ribbons. The last leaves that bravely clung to the tree are also being blown away by the winds of change, echoing unknowingly the very thoughts swirling past my mind as well. 

Last week I said goodbye to the kids I have had the privilege of praying with every week for the past ten months at a church in Wheaton. We have gathered weekly for a time of play, worship and prayer and it has been a highlight of every week to see the Lord at work here. Proclaiming alongside these kids that, "We're like stars burning with love so bright, blazing with hope and life, bringing him glory, showing the world that we love Jesus," never gets old!

These kids and the children's ministry director at the church had a mini-commissioning (sending out to Czech) service for me on Wednesday, and my heart burst with gratitude to the Lord for these kids. He is working in their hearts in such a way that the presence of Christ in them blesses me so greatly too. I am humbled by their prayers and their faith. And I will miss these kids greatly.

A few other bittersweet goodbyes happened this past week too. These goodbyes bring great hope for the future, great rejoicing in what the Lord has already done, and great thankfulness for the blessing of relationships and the body of Christ. They also bring sadness. I lacked words this past week to express all of that paradox, yet moving forward always involves leaving something behind. And it's ok to grieve those losses.

The Lord is near. Great things are yet to come.

And for now, as autumn fades, so does my time here in the United States for the time being. Two more weeks. I look forward expectantly, look back gratefully, and look at the present with joy and sadness wrapped up together in one.

Monday, November 27, 2017

At the Door and Between Worlds

Three weeks from tomorrow, I will be moving to the Czech Republic. 

This picture sums up about how that feels. 

Anticipation. Change. And also loss. The future is unknown (I can't say I've ever lived in Czech as an adult, nor as a missionary!), yet familiar at the same time.

In some ways, my heart mirrors some of the stories of Narnia (this photo actually reminds me of the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis' books). It's as though I am stepping into another world, yet that involves leaving this one for a time. Just as when the Pevensie children left England to enter Narnia though, I am not truly "leaving" the U.S. The relationships and "home" that have been built here will continue, though I may not be physically present in them soon. Just like Narnia. And when I return to the U.S. to visit, it may feel as though so much time passed, and no time passed at all.

I am excited for all that the Lord has ahead, and also fully aware of the sadness and loss that comes along with moving too.

Three weeks does not feel like enough time to soak in the joys of fellowship with my church, friendships, the home that the Lord has built here, and to leave and say goodbyes well and care for those I love in the process. Yet, in his perfect timing, this is exactly when he has planned for me to go. Even in the tension, I rest in that, knowing that what awaits me on the other side of this move is still God's presence. More than that, there is a job and role ahead, and I can hardly believe I'll be with the JV Kids soon!

I met with my pastor and his wife back in August, right before I headed to JV Kids' Camp, to gain their wisdom on a few questions I had. I'll always remember a quote my pastor said along the way, as we talked about transition and change.

His words resonated deep within as he said, "It's always hard to leave a place where you have seen God work." 

Yes, the Lord has been faithful thus far. And he will be the same Lord both now and forevermore, both here in Warrenville and in Eastern Europe.

Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
(Great is Thy Faithfulness, 1925)