Tuesday, June 20, 2017

GGB: God Goes Before

Three weeks ago I sat in my "aunt Michelle's" house (she's been like an aunt ever since I can remember!) and she told my mom and I about a phrase that a wise woman had once told her. 

God Goes Before. 


Michelle has a tiny frame, which sits on her kitchen counter and displays those three precious words. The words don't stand out boldly, though one would expect they would, since Michelle herself is bold and vivacious, colorful and vibrant. Yet these words whisper in her home. They speak gently of truth, and bring the attention off of circumstances and onto our gracious Heavenly Father. 

When I was staying at Michelle's house in Oregon, I had one morning free amidst the many meetings and opportunities to share about God's work with JV Kids. I didn't have anything scheduled for a time when my mom and Michelle were gone doing a radio interview. Michelle is (among many other talents and skills) a painter, and when I asked if I could use the morning to paint, she graciously shared her painting supplies and canvases. I'm no expert at painting with acrylics, but my heart was so refreshed nonetheless.

Before a landscape came into shape on my second canvas, all of my thoughts, feelings and prayers needed to come out on the first. As I painted, one phrase stuck in my head.

GGB - God Goes Before.

So I painted the above canvas with that phrase in mind. And this theme has followed me ever since. Or, rather, I know God has been pursuing me and his people, going before us, since the beginning of time, but my ears and eyes are attune to seeing him in this way.

Today was one of many days of seeing him go before me in grace and provision in the littlest of ways.

I wasn't sure how everything would fit together today, because the timing was so tight. I prayed in the morning that God would stretch the time and provide even daily bread for today, since I didn't even know how I would fit lunch into this day. He went far beyond what I had asked!

Mom and I were free at the same time, and Mom had to take dad's pants to a tailor in Wheaton, so our paths got to cross this morning. It felt as if we do this all the time, as if we always live on the same side of the ocean. I'm thrilled that I will be living on the same side of the ocean and serving alongside my mom in Josiah Venture soon!

God not only answered that desperate plea in the morning, but he gave me an unexpected hour with my mom too!

Then I was able to make it just in time for my next appointment - babysitting for a church family. From there, I made it again just in time for a Skype meeting with a new friend and prayer partner who lives on the other side of the world (hi Janene!!). We finished earlier than I expected, and that gave me even enough in-between time to make a cup of coffee and sit down with no minutes to spare for a conference call for my food demonstration job.

I finished my call just in time to clean up the kitchen, put on the rice, and have dinner on the table for mom this evening. Being able to host her, even in a home that's not my own (I'm at this home for a week of dogsitting!), gives me such joy. That was a sweet gift from the Lord too.

God goes before us, in the smallest of ways. He turns our faces upon him, so we can bask in his glory when we so easily get discouraged and consumed with the cares of this world. The LORD has always been working in this way, going after his people, dwelling with them, caring for the needs of those who call upon him.

O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, 
before God, the One of Sinai, 
before God, the God of Israel. 
Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
you restored your inheritance as it languished; 
your flock found a dwelling in it; 
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. ... 

Blessed be the Lord,

who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation. 

(Psalm 68)

Monday, June 19, 2017

3 Lessons from My First VBS Ever

The tradition of Vacation Bible School in the summer fills the memories of countless kids and adults in the US. 

For many families, VBS is to summer as peanut butter is to jelly. Although our family imported peanut butter from the States during my childhood for those famous sandwiches, VBS could not be so easily replicated in the Czech Republic! I had never seen or taken part in one before!

This brings me to June of 2017, when I experienced my first VBS ever here at my church. 

Actually, did you know that VBS originates from right here in Illinois? Legend has it (a.k.a. Wikipedia says...) that a schoolteacher in Hopedale, IL began teaching Bible classes in the summer of 1894. Then again, another source says it all began in New York in the 1890's. Regardless, It's hard to believe that 100 years later I was born, and now, as an adult, I got to see the Lord work here in this little suburb of Chicago. 

What did I learn from my first VBS ever? Lots! Here are three simple ways the Lord taught me this week:

1. VBS requires the church to be on mission together

One of my favorite aspects of the whole week was watching and partaking of this local body of believers serving on mission in such a tangible way. Almost a third of our church members joined the VBS team in some capacity - that's 94 volunteers!! I loved seeing the way God used all of the gifts of his people to accomplish his purposes. And I LOVED my small role of being a kindergarten counselor and van supervisor (for kids whose parents couldn't drive them to VBS). 

Truly, "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Romans 12:4-5). 

Every one of those 94 people were integral to this past week, and I am overjoyed to have served alongside them. 

2. Teaching kids through all learning styles is worth it!

God has created us each so uniquely, and even the way that we learn differs from one person to the next. What a creative God, who gives us the ability to learn and grow! He reveals himself to us, and continues to pursue us and communicate to us in ways we will understand. 

In the Old Testament alone, God revealed himself through a whisper in the wind, through a burning bush, through his covenant promises, through the majesty of Creation, through speaking to his chosen people, dreams, and visions, and in countless other ways. He does not give up on his people!  

God still reveals himself to us. He still pursues us. God speaks through his Word! And sometimes we understand that best through auditory learning, visually or kinesthetically. Whether that's through songs, hands-on activities, or a thoughtful lesson, God uses all of these to make himself and his truth known in ways that each one of us can uniquely hear and understand. 

I loved when a little 5 year old sang these words as we transitioned from one room to the next - the words had stuck in his head, and I pray the Lord uses them to speak to his heart!

3. Prayer changes everything

The Sunday before VBS, our team leader assigned each section of the pews in church to pray for a specific day of the VBS week. The Lord answered those prayers! He worked in the hearts of these kids, prompting some to ask for Bibles, to read his Word, and to put their faith in him. I was astonished at the questions the kids asked, the conversations that happened in the "in betweens", the hearts he turned to himself, and the way that God could use even one week to fill the rooms and auditoriums of our church with such joy and wonder. 

He impacted the lives of 140 kids by the proclamation of his Word this past week. Praising him for his heart for even the littlest ones!

What have you learned as a kid in VBS? What have you learned by serving in your church's VBS? I'd love to hear.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Local News

We have an incredible new addition to the family!! Asher was born to Tyler and Lara on June 12th, and I couldn't be more excited.

I love that little family!! And I am already so looking forward to meeting you, Asher! 

In Wheaton news, we have had some pretty incredible rainstorms. I had a meeting in the afternoon, so when it was time to go back out to my car, there was already a little pond forming in the parking lot! I had to wade through the water a bit, while also getting drenched, but I always find that kind of rain hilarious. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Before Support Raising Even Began

I will never forget the words the Lord whispered in my ear before I spoke at Moody's Founder's Week in February. Those words changed my entire experience and perspective for what has now been three and a half months of raising support.

It was the week before JV Orientation in Wheaton, and I had returned from Czech in time to be at Founder's Week down in the city.

I was sitting in the front row at Moody Church on the last day of Founder's Week, getting ready to speak in front of thousands of people for 6 minutes. I only had moments before I would be getting up to share my testimony of how Moody shaped me during my time there. I felt a knot twist in my stomach and a wave of nerves rush over me. I turned to the Lord in prayer. 

Moody Church - image courtesy of Caroline Nye Stevens

Before I could even utter any words in my heart to the Lord, he spoke gently to me:

"Claire, it's not about you." 

Reality. Relief. Release. 

This could have sounded harsh to some, but to me it was the kindest reminder he could have given me. My words - whether well delivered or not - were only to glorify him. That really took the pressure off! 

I felt the corners of my mouth turning up as I couldn't resist a smile.

I did not need to fear the crowd. Nope, this was for Him, for my Father. It was about him. And if his name was lifted up before these dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I would rejoice and be satisfied, no matter if I stumbled on any words in the process.

When I walked up the steps to the Moody church stage, I was excited. I was excited to show off the goodness and faithfulness of the God whom I trust. I smiled through most of my presentation because I couldn't help it.

It wasn't about me. 

It still isn't. 

And I still get excited about sharing testimony of God's goodness in this support raising process! I get to tell stories of God's leading towards this position in JV, present about how he is revealing himself in Central and Eastern Europe, and tell of the Lord's heart for the next generation of JV Kids. He is already working, and it's amazing to share in that with others!

Is the Lord calling you to join his work among the JV Kids with me? Would you pray about joining my support team? I am currently at 57% of my monthly support needs, which is so exciting! I am praying the Lord provides the remaining amount by the end of this year, but I will be able to make the move over to Czech whenever I reach full support!

In the meantime, pray with me that his name is lifted up each time I share about the JV Kids, and pray that even in this process of raising support, others would be blessed by seeing the Lord's gracious and generous hand! I pray that YOU are blessed today too by knowing that God is truly near, and pursues us daily with his abundant love.

P.S. You'll find that Founder's Week session online here: https://www.moodyglobal.org/founders-week-live/.  My testimony is at about minute 38. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

First Church Tailgate

Yesterday I found myself googling a word, because I wasn't positive what precisely it meant. Yes, I still have moments when I laugh at myself and realize that I'm still learning, no matter what culture I'm in. In this case, I learned a new American tradition. 

I got to attend my very first tailgate yesterday! Grace Church of DuPage kicked off their summer tailgates last week when I was still gone, but I was so delighted to be back for this Sunday for some "home church family time". These evenings will continue throughout the rest of these warm months, and I think it's the best idea ever. 

So although I may not have been positive about the meaning of a tailgate before, I'm the biggest fan of them now. We heard updates on missions and ministries that Grace members are involved in, ate bratwurst and hamburgers, and sat on the grass until the sun set and the mosquitos came out. 

How would a tailgate look in Czech? It would be considered a "grill party", and we would also have sausages and probably some grilled veggies and chicken. Sometimes we also make scrambled eggs with lard in a big pot over a fire in Czech, and it's the best.

There are ways to build community, live as family in Christ, and eat and spend time together in all cultures. Sometimes we just use different words - like "tailgate". 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Oregon and Washington

These past two weeks have been full, rich and full of many moments that could only happen by the Lord's hand. I went on a support raising trip with my mom to Oregon and Washington, and I was surprised every single day by the way the Lord orchestrated timing of this trip. 

One day I hope I will get to share story after story of how God worked on this trip to Oregon and Washington, but let's do that over cups of coffee, ok? You can also check out my mom's blog - she captured these two weeks beautifully, even as they went by. 

There is no way to catch up on stories, but here is a little snapshot of what this trip meant. 

God goes before us. As I continue to process what these past two weeks meant, I hope to get to share a couple more snippets of God's work. Otherwise, I will continue to rejoice in the present, which now means the suburbs of Chicago!

Stay tuned for the everyday life posts coming soon!

Oh, also, a quick update on support raising - God has already graciously provided 42% of my monthly needs!

I can't wait to make the move over to Czech to begin my work with the JV Kids, and it thrills my heart to know that the departure date gets closer with every percentage of support that God brings. His timing is perfect, so I can trust that the remainder of my support will come when he knows best.

Want to read more about my work with JV Kids? Click HERE

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Faces of Graduation

Ah, how to even encapsulate graduation day? Although I received my diploma in December, I walked at the graduation ceremony today. I will say, there is power to the words spoken over you, to wearing the cap and gown, to going through the traditions, to celebrating and saying goodbyes. It all enacts a reality of change, or transition, of growing up. 

But all of this would have had no meaning without the people who stood with me. 

From my parents who flew all the way from Czech to be here... 

...to celebrating alongside former roommates who shaped my everyday life at Moody... 

... to marking yet another significant life event with the Fantastic 4. 

From friends who were there along the way during my time at Moody, who became lifelong friends, like Kelley (who graduated last year)... 

... to Hayley, dear dear Hayley, my buddy since we were little, who just so happened to finish out a year as a student herself at Moody. Since she had just finished finals week, she got to be at graduation too. Incredibly special to have walked part of the journey of high-school together, and even overlapped at Moody for a semester too.

And that was only the beginning. There were so many amazing friends, coworkers, professors and classmates from yesterday - moments of recognizing the people I've grown to love in this crazy and wonderful city.

Thank you to everyone who has imaged Christ to me in the mundane parts of life, on the mountains, in the valleys, in the fields and in the bustling streets. You have been just as much, if not more, a part of my "education" as any class I took at Moody. I cherish you all!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Snippet of a Day

Hey friend, just popping in to share a happy picture with you from babysitting recently. 

Kids are the best.

In other news:
  • There's a new coffee shop in Wheaton (that's all I've got in the "local news" arena)
  • I had a job in the city yesterday at Wholefoods and it took an hour and 45 minutes to drive downtown in the morning because of traffic (without traffic it's about 45 minutes). Haha. 
  • I picked up my cap and gown from Moody yesterday. I graduated in December, but I get to walk at graduation this Saturday!! It definitely feels more official with the cap in the corner of my room, just waiting to be worn. 

There is much more going on too, but there's a little snippet of the littlest of things! 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lilacs are Memories

My sense of smell may not be at its best this week due to a pretty bad cold, but that didn't stop me from taking a little detour after work yesterday! 

I first noticed Lilacia Park from the train window on my way from Chicago to Wheaton. Since my ticket was limited to the direct route, I never could get off the train at Lombard and then get back on, so I merely stared at the park and hoped to visit one day. That was two years ago.  

Fast forward two years and I'm living only 20 minutes away from Lombard, and Lilacia Park is in full bloom this week. Despite the cold I caught, I wasn't going to miss my one chance to visit the park.

It didn't disappoint! I was a little sad not to have anyone to share the joy with, because I wanted to exclaim out loud at the loveliness! Photos will have to do this time. Maybe I'll have to take a friend here soon too!

When we lived in Havirov, before we moved to Frydlant, we used to have the most glorious lilac bushes in our yard. I used to go outside and stop to smell the lilacs at any chance I could get. They were enchanting to me. At 5 years old, I always wanted to pick them and bring them inside.

I had to take a couple of trips to the States around that same age because of some serious health problems. We stayed in the basement of a family friend's house. She had lilacs in her neighborhood. Thus, another scent memory was born.

My most recent lilac memory is associated with Caleb and Haley's wedding in Ft. Collins. A group of us girls stayed together with Haley and woke up bright and early for the big day. We were staying at some of Haley's friends' house, and someone had picked a bunch of fresh lilacs and put them in a vase in the kitchen. The scent permeated the air in the last moments before we headed to the church.

I strolled around the park, soaking in the beauty of the flowers, and trying to breathe in deeply to take in the scent of the lilacs.

Scent is memory.

I guess that means that Lilacia Park was memory lane.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

JV Spring Conference This Week

This photo from last year may be a bit drizzly-looking, but it still captures the faces of so many JV Kids that I love. They're all together again starting this very day, and I can only imagine their excitement! 

Although I can't be there yet, I am eager to hear stories of how God works this week! Would you pray  with me for these kids right now?

  • Pray that they would connect with one another quickly - this time always feels short for the kids, but it is very meaningful. Pray that their relationships are deepened through this conference. 
  • Pray that they would be encouraged by one another and by the greater JV family - pray that this would give them the energy to persevere through their last two months of school (they finish up at the end of June)
  • Pray for the teams who are there putting on the kids' program - the older kids will be learning a musical theatre production to put on at the end of conference for the adults. This is something they would never get to experience otherwise, so it's exciting, and a challenge too! Pray that the leaders would have creative flexibility and energy this week. And pray for the team that came to provide care for the younger kids too - that the littlest ones would adjust well, and that joy would be abundant this week. 
  • Pray that they would know their Shepherd, Jesus Christ, more deeply after this week (the theme of this conference is "Shepology", and the adults will hear teaching on Psalm 23!) 

Thank you for standing with me and with the JVK and their families! 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Fresh(wo)man "Fan 4" Friends

"The Fantastic 4" is what we called ourselves after our first semester of our freshman year. It started as a joke, since we were the four fresh(wo)men who came in on our floor together back in 2013. We were all straight out of high-school, in the same stages of life, though from very different backgrounds.

Kaitlyn grew up in Illinois, but had recently moved to northern Wisconsin with her family. 

Michelle was from Maine.

Hannah grew up in a couple of different places as a missionary kid - including Malta and Tunisia, as well as in Indiana. 

And me, well, I was from Czech, as you probably know. 

Yet somehow, despite not having much in common, and coming from different places around the world, we became friends. I think it happened because of that desperate need for friendships in your freshman year, where you cling to the people who are in your everyday life for security. But I think it was more than that - the Lord knew we needed each other to grow. It was only Christ that really bonded us together, nothing else. 

We had our own different friend groups, but we ended up coming back together a couple of times a semester, which were always sweet times. 

We took this photo together in 2013, and reenacted it for sentimental value yesterday. I graduated in December, and the other three graduate in two weeks. Though we may see each other again all together, it will never be easy after this. A quick drive into the city made it possible this time for me to join, but soon we will be more dispersed.

Here is another slightly random before-and-after photo too. 2014 and 2017. I was grateful for these friends then, and I am grateful for them now. 

Truly though, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

Kaitlyn taught me to be bold and to pray for others right on the spot at any time.

Michelle taught me to be consistent and more loyal, and to give sacrificially of ourselves to others.

Hannah taught me to be present for people in the moment, and to not take myself too seriously, but be able to laugh along the ride.

They all taught me to work hard, and to love others because we are already so loved by our Heavenly Father. We may not have spent much time all together throughout the years, but we always knew we had each others' backs, and that meant more than anything during the turbulent and formative years of college.

Last night we went to a really wonderful Ramen restaurant in Wicker Park, got SOAKED in the rain on our way back to the car, stopped to get Frosty's (except for me, because of dairy!) after we were drenched, and prayed together in the car before heading our separate ways for the evening.

We will see each other again, for sure at graduation, and hopefully beyond, but this marks a turning point in our friendship. So we celebrate that, and grieve that at the same time.

May the Lord be with you all, Fantastic 4.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Conversations on Airplanes

What happens when the Lord prompts us to keep our eyes open for opportunities to see him? He answers those prayers in continually unexpected ways. 

On a recent trip to visit dear family friends, and to share about what God has prepared ahead in my ministry with JV, I made my way down the aisle of the airplane and took my spot in the middle seat.

I was never one to consider myself a "talk to the person next to me on a plane" person, but somehow it has ended up happening more often lately. Well, and when I spied this book being read by the woman next to me, how could I not start up a conversation?

The woman I spent the next hour and half talking with has lived in Chicago for a long time now, despite having family in Puerto Rico. Who would have guessed that we would ever have something in common, yet we both agreed that there is something about the global church and being the body of Christ that brings us together from any corner of the earth. It's quite incredible when you actually stop to think about it.

She actually asked me to take that photo so I could look up the book she was reading when I had wifi again! I got her address, and I'm sending her a copy of my mom's book, since I think she will just love it, since it tells the story of a "modern day" missionary, and all the twists and turns that were involved in the beginnings of JV too.

This isn't a post to say, "I had a conversation with someone on the plane. You should too." In fact, you should know that I often wonder how the Lord could possibly use me for his work, and why he has invited me into what he is doing in the first place! But when we make ourselves available, he does wonders with what we give him, and continues to surprise us again and again.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Sister In The Produce Aisle

I have often said that "God meets us where we're at." As I quoted once previously when reading a book about Old Testament theology, "God desires closeness. His goal is intimacy. It always has been."

Well guess what? 

God met me even in the produce aisle, in front of a display of tomatoes to be exact. 

I have been working for a company called Demolicious for about two and a half years now. It's a long story how I got connected to them, but let's just say, the Lord set it up! It was quite "random". Nevertheless, the job has looked different throughout these years.

Sometimes I do food demonstrations on the weekends, and sometimes I'm in Wholefoods or other specialty grocery stores. I have represented lots of different brands and food products, and have learned a lot in the process! It sounds fancy, but essentially I'm the person who gives samples and tells you how great a product is. It's a fairly ordinary in-between job, but it has been helpful these years too.

Yesterday I was demoing local tomatoes, and a kind older woman came up to my table to say hello and try a sample. She asked me if I had tried the Sauerkraut around the corner in the store, to which I replied:

"Ooh, I haven't yet! But I love Sauerkraut! I grew up eating it all the time."

"Do you like the Wisconsin kind, or the German kind?" she asked.

"Well, actually, I guess I could say I'm used to Czech sauerkraut. I grew up in Czech, so that was a normal part of life."

Her face lit up.

"I'm from Germany!" she replied. "Were your parents missionaries?"

I was quite surprised at this point that without any hesitation, she had already guessed my background. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I didn't have an accent speaking English, or that the Spirit was just prompting her to say that, but that began the sweetest conversation.

We talked about where she was from (Stuttgart), where I was born (outside of Heidelberg, Germany!), and my future steps in returning to serve the Lord in the Czech Republic. She even spoke to me in German briefly, and I understood most of what she said (which is a huge surprise since I haven't taken German since 9th grade).

She began tearing up, and asked if she could give me a hug. Then she leaned in and began praying over me, starting with, "Oh, gracious Papa, thank you for this dear sister in Christ, thank you for placing a hedge of protection over her all these years..."

And then soon she had gone, encouraging me more than she'll ever know.

How is it possible that in the produce aisle in Wholefoods, the Lord would reach down to show his presence right there through this German sister in Christ? He knew that on that day I had needed his presence dearly. How good a Father we have, making himself known through his people!

Monday, April 17, 2017

All My Belongings in a Pile

Today was Move-Out/Move-In Day #1. 

Families from my church are generously hosting me in their homes during these next months as I raise support to head back to Czech to join God in his work among the JV Kids. As I have said before, this is a unique time of life. A friend of mine likes to call it the "nomadic life". I'm not sure what to call it, except frequent transition.

It's quite the odd feeling when you realize that all your belongings (at least, all of the ones in the US) can be packed up all at once. It's a bit thrilling too. I fit almost every bin and suitcase, box and pillow, lamp and shoe, into my little Saab (nicknamed "Sylviaaa" - yes, with the drawn out ending, just for the added flair). 

I think if my dad had packed the car, he could have found a spot for that last lonely tub that I couldn't fit in with everything else.  That tub got a special trip in a much more roomy spot on round #2 of moving belongings from one house to another. Lucky storage bin. 

But I was also really grateful that I was able to pack everything up and make a fairly smooth transition to my new "home". Multiple trips back and forth from the car with big and small items really didn't seem too bad on this lovely April day. 

The Lord has given me the ability for mobility in this season, and though that can feel rootless at times, it can also be fun too. 

This is a constant reminder of what it feels like for the JV Kids I'll be serving, who also understand this kind of constant change and a disconnect between "homes" when growing up on mission with their families. This can be both lonely/hard/frustrating and thrilling/new/exciting at the same time. I get that. These are the kids that I will get to do life with once I'm over in Eastern Europe, and I can't wait. 

And God takes the broken pieces of our lives, the messy ones - the ones with suitcases and full cars, and goodbyes and loss and the sense of constant change and not being able to hold onto any thing or place... and makes them something beautiful. He makes them into relationships with my church family, and a precious opportunity to see his name proclaimed among and through the JVK. 

I'll be here at my pastor's family's house until mid-June, tucked into their sweet guest room that has a pretty nifty Murphy Bed (the kind that folds down! Yeah!!). "Thank you for hosting me!!"

Move #1 on my journey here in the western suburbs: check! 

Or should I say..."Czech"?! I mean, I can't resist the opportunity for a Czech pun. ☑️ 

Pssst...I'll be sending out my first e-mail newsletter very soon! Don't forget to sign up, so you can get the first one! You'll find the sign-up box to your right, under the heading "You can receive my monthly JV newsletter!"