Thursday, July 24, 2014

37 Birthday Wishes

One month from yesterday is my 37th birthday. Birthday's aren't a big deal to me, most of the time, but this morning I had an idea. Thanks to an email from Crowdrise, one of the best social media crowd-sourcing fundraising sites around, I was reminded about my upcoming birthday. The email suggested I do something different, something not for me, but for someone else. Raise funds for an organization that I'm passionate about or, in my case, people. Little people to be exact. Children. Children who are being raised in poverty all around the world. Children, who with just a little bit of financial help, can rise above the poverty they're being raised in and find hope. Hope through feeding programs. Education. Medical attention. Most importantly, hope in Jesus.

So for my 37th birthday, my wish is to see 37 children sponsored through Compassion International! Sponsoring a child through Compassion is simple and costs only $38 a month. That $38 helps feed and educate a child living in poverty. It helps bring medical services to them as well. Best of all, it brings the hope of Jesus to a child who otherwise might never hear the gospel.

A couple of years ago I began sponsoring a little girl from India named Mounika. She is super-sweet and smart. It's such a joy to write her letters each month and to receive letters back from her. Though we're thousands of miles a part, I know that she (along with her family) are being taken care of by the staff of Compassion. They're being prayed for, encouraged, and supported in their journey through life. 

You, too, can sponsor a child through Compassion. All you have to do is CLICK HERE to visit my Compassion website and click on the "sponsor me" button. Or, you can go to Compassion's website and view children that are waiting to be sponsored there.

Some of you may already sponsor a child through Compassion or another child-sponsor program. That's OK. If you want, maybe you can consider sponsoring another child. Or help spread the word about my 37 birthday wishes and invite your friends to sponsor a child!

Whatever you do, don't do nothing. Help make my wishes come true!!! Because, really, it's not about me... it's about 37 kids out there that need hope!!!

If you plan on helping make my wishes come true, leave a comment. Thanks!! :)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Penny Wise: A Book Review

About the book: Penny Wise introduces us to yet another family in "the neighborhood"---the Jaspers, busy with demanding jobs, busy with church, busy volunteering, parents of three active teenagers, juggling sometimes crazy schedules. All good things. Until all those "good things" feed into a series of crises that affects the whole family. Something's gotta change!

The third in the Windy City Neighbors series, Penny Wise is a contemporary peek at an urban family wrestling with the spiritual and practical challenges of real life. The series employs the innovating storytelling technique of "parallel novels," each with its own drama and story arc, but whose characters' lives become intertwined with their neighbors and affect one another. Welcome to Beecham Street---a typical, isolated American neighborhood that is beginning to come out of its shell . . . for better or worse.

Purchase a copy: 

About the authors: Dave and Neta Jackson are award-winning authors living in the Chicago area where their parallel novels from the Yada Yada House of Hope and Harry Bentley series are set. As a husband/wife writing team, Dave and Neta Jackson are enthusiastic about books, kids, walking with God, gospel music, and each other! Together they are the authors or coauthors of over 100 books.

Find Neta and Dave online: website

Blog Tour: Check out what other bloggers are saying about Penny Wise

My Review:

Penny Wise is like peeking into my own life at the moment! This summer I am super busy, going from here to there, with barely any time for myself in the meantime. They're all good things. Work, outreach stuff, church, small group. But sometimes I feel like I'm in over my head and barely have time for myself, not to mention, my husband.

If I'm being honest, even writing this review is being done in haste as I'm in the middle of making dinner. And, to top it off, I haven't even finished the book because of my jam-packed schedule!

Here's what I know of Penny Wise... it's well-written with an insightful look into the life of super-busy Michelle Jasper, her family, and the neighborhood of Beecham Street! It considers the demands of living, working, and loving Jesus in an urban world. Penny Wise goes beyond the surface and challenges the reader to recognize what's important in life and go deeper in their relationship with Jesus. 

**Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Penny Wise in exchange for my honest review.**

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Welcome to God's Living Room

Our #CrazyLoveChicago team met at my house early on a Wednesday morning. We piled our suitcases, blankets, and pillows into the back of Jeannie's SUV then buckled ourselves in and drove off towards Chicago. The six-hour drive was peppered with excited conversation, flowing from personal questions to anecdotal stories to wondering what the next few days would look like. Even I, the veteran missionary who lived and served with YWAM Chicago for 2 years, didn't quite know what our team was to expect during our short 4 day trip. But I answered the questions as best I could, telling stories of my own time there years ago.
Windmills in Layfatte, Indiana

As we drew closer to Chicago, I wondered for the thousandth time what God was going to do in and through our team. I knew our schedule was going to be jam-packed, filled with one ministry opportunity after the other. I had a sense of what we were going to experience, the people we were going to meet, the excitement of doing new things and stepping out of our comfort zones. But I didn't know exactly what was going to happen!

This is actually a view of the city as we're leaving

As we drove into the city, my heart was overwhelmed. The day had finally come. This day that I'd prayed for, longed for, and planned for 10 long years. 

When I left Chicago 10 years ago, I knew God wanted me to come home to Ohio. To work with the local church and get people excited about missions, both within the local community and overseas. Not to mention cities. (I believe God has an amazing plan for cities, but that's for another post!) I also knew that He wanted me to return to Chicago, bringing with me teams of people who had a heart for showing crazy love. 

It may seem silly, but for me, this #CrazyLoveChicago team was a dream come true. An answer to prayer.

The YWAM Chicago staff knows how to show hospitality!
We arrived at YWAM Chicago just in time for dinner followed by an orientation led by Jesse and some of the other staff. Jesse shared a powerful message on the parable of the sower that personally struck a chord and set the tone for the entire outreach. 

The next morning, our small team joined another team that was in the city and we all set out for our first ministry opportunity: prayer at Daly Plaza. Daly Plaza is home to a courthouse and numerous business offices. In the summer, the plaza hosts a farmers market along with daily entertainment during the lunch hour. We meandered around the farmers market for a bit, gazing at the Amish cheeses and the fresh produce. We talked about how we were going to approach people and how weird it was going to be. Armed with only a business card and what little bit of courage we could muster up, we split into teams and set out to pray for people.

Approaching anyone and asking them if they'd like prayer is intimidating in and of itself. Especially if you're an introvert and asking anyone for anything is out of your comfort zone. But try doing that in a bustling city plaza during lunch hour and it's so much worse. Yet this time, I felt no fear. I was out of my comfort zone, sure, but it was oddly easy for me. Maybe my past 2 years of experience was what made it easier. Or perhaps it was the realization that I would likely never see these people again. I don't know. What I do know is this: God had gone before us and prepared the hearts of those He wanted us to pray for that day.

Our first divine appointment!

Overall, our team ended up praying for over 100 people during the one-hour lunch break at Daly Plaza! Even though it was weird and awkward and we struggled to connect with people at times, God put people in our paths that day that needed prayer. Myself and Tabby prayed with several people from various walks of life. We prayed for a police officer, a street musician, a homeless man, a couple going through financial troubles, a grandmother, and a retired long-distance cyclist. Folks with real needs, physical and spiritual. 

Picture for a moment a king sitting on his throne, robed in fine linens and adorned in precious jewels. Those who seek to enter the throne room cannot do so without an invitation. Even then, they must bow low to the ground to show respect and honor, indicating that they are lower than the king. Now imagine being a child of the king. The child needs no invitation to see the king, his father. Instead of bowing low, he runs with wild abandon to the throne, jumping in his father's lap!

The Bible says that as children of God, we can boldly approach His throne. (Hebrews 4:16) Because of Jesus, we can come to Him with confidence. When we pray, we are simply talking to God, our Father. We are approaching Him with confidence and talking to Him about our day, thanking Him for the gifts He's given, asking Him to meet our needs and those of our family and friends. It's like we're sitting in His living room having a conversation. 

Here's the cool thing -- when we prayed with someone, it was like we welcomed them into God's living room!

For some of the people we prayed for, it was their first encounter with God. Maybe it was the second, third, fourth, or hundredth. Wherever they are on the God-spectrum, He knows. But on that day, as we prayed, He welcomed them into His living room. Whether they were far from Him or one of His close friends, in that moment, He was there.

Praying in a busy plaza may not be the everyday norm for most people. I know it's not for me. Yet I was reminded that God wants to meet with us. He welcomes all of us into His living room. To make ourselves comfortable. And to invite friends.

Maybe asking people if they need prayer isn't your thing. That's OK. But be open to it. Allow God to nudge you to pray for a co-worker or friend or stranger in the line at Walmart. You never know, they might just allow you to pray with them, thus ushering them into God's living room.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Break The Rocks

A few weeks ago I led an amazing team of women on a short-term mission trip to Chicago. We only spent four short days in the city, but they were powerful four days. God showed up and worked through our small team to meet both physical and spiritual needs of the people we met. Our goal was to show crazy love to everyone we met, and our team did just that, but we were also shown crazy love right back. God is good like that!

Even though the trip was a few weeks ago, I'm still trying to work my way through some of the things our team experienced. Like I said, it was a powerful four days. There are some things I'm still trying to wrap my mind around, things I feel like God showed me or spoke to me while there, and some of those things I'd like to share with you. But the processing of these things take time. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks I'll be able to process some things out loud and on the blog.

One of the things that really stood out to me was something that was actually shared during our orientation time by the base leader, Jesse, of YWAM Chicago (the organization we partnered with in the city). Jesse shared with us the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13. The farmers goes out to sow some seed and the seed falls on various types of soil: on the road, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. Depending on what type of soil the seed falls on, it's either eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, chocked by the weeds, or produces fruit. Since it's a parable, the physical part doesn't really matter; the spiritual does. Jesus tells those who are listening what happens when the seed (the gospel) falls on different types of soil (the condition of a person's heart). For some, the gospel doesn't make sense so it doesn't stick. But, depending on the condition of the heart, sometimes the gospel is received with joy and roots begin to grow! Unfortunately, sometimes the roots don't grow deep enough because there are rocks in the way that were never plowed up.

I'm not a farmer. I have a black thumb instead of a green one. Plants and I do not get along, just ask my boss and co-workers. I kill plants because I forget to water them. Or, I over water them because I'm trying to compensate for the lack of watering. Either way, plant stuff doesn't always make sense to me. Yet, for some reason, my ears perked up when Jesse was talking about the sower and the different kinds of soil and how it pertains to the whole idea of evangelism that I've been taught my whole life. If you've been a Christian a number of years, you know what I'm talking about: evangelism is all about planting, watering, and harvesting. Someone plants the seed of the gospel into the unbeliever, someone else comes along and waters that seed, until finally someone gets the joy of harvesting! (Anyone else thinks that's just a weird way of looking at people? Just me? OK.)

If you look back at the scripture, there's something that often times we miss. Maybe it's just me since I'm not a big plant person. But anyway, if you look at vs 21-22, it talks about the seed that falls on rocky soil. The person who hears the gospel with this kind of soil receives it with JOY! Their seed takes root and grows, but the root is shallow because there are rocks in the way, so that when trouble comes they quickly fall away. Now I don't know why the farmer planted his seed on so many different types of soil, but I'm guessing it's because Jesus made the story that way to make a point. And maybe this is His point about the rocky soil: the farmer missed a significant step in the whole farming process - plowing up the rocks.

What's the big deal about the rocks? If you look at the verses, it says that the rocks is what keeps the roots from going deep. The verse suggests that when trouble comes, the person falls quickly away from the gospel even though they first received it with joy and even started to grow. I'm no theologian, but my guess is that the rocks represent different things, such as being hurt by someone in the church or their misconceptions about God. Maybe they were judged instead of being shown mercy. Or perhaps they were told to leave the church instead of being given a second chance.

Whatever you've been taught, if you're a Jesus follower, you're a gospel farmer. (OK, that's just sounds weird!) Matthew 13 clearly tells us that we're to plant, water, and harvest. BUT we cannot forget that we're also supposed to plow the field aka BREAK THE ROCKS. There are lots of people in this world with hurts. People who have been judged, walked on, talked about, spit on, you name it. People who, instead of being shown out the door, need to be shown in. They need someone who is going to be there for them, showing love, grace, and mercy, just like Jesus did and still does. There are so many people who need to experience the crazy love of Jesus from you and me. When we do this, show this crazy love, it's then that the rocks in their lives will break allowing the root of the gospel to go deep. To penetrate heart, mind, and soul. To forever change them from the inside out. To receive the gospel with JOY and to maintain that joy even when the hard times come, because they know from experience the life-changing crazy love of Jesus.

I bet if you thought about it hard enough, you can probably think of a rock-breaker or two in your life. Those people who have shown you crazy love like Jesus. There are so many people in my life who've been rock-breakers for me. They've been there through the good times and the bad. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for those people who offered me grace and forgiveness in place of judgment. Second chances instead of being asked to leave. I also bet if you think about it hard enough, you probably know a few people in your life who need you to be their rock-breaker.

As you go about your day, remember that there are some people in our lives that need the rocks in their lives to be broken so that the gospel can take root deep in their hearts. Ask God to show you how to show them *crazy love* so that their rocks will be broken!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Crazy Love: Jewelry Give-Away Edition!

Photo by (c) denisedilley

If you've been paying any attention at all to my Facebook and Twitter feeds recently, you'll know that I'm leading two teams of amazing people from Centerpoint to Chicago and Mexico this summer! We'll be showing Crazy Love to anyone and everyone we meet. That might sound a little weird, but Crazy Love is doing the little things, like sharing a meal with someone or buying a cup of coffee for a stranger. It's about listening to the stories of others and sharing our own. It's about building and continuing relationships. At it's core, Crazy Love is about showing folks the same grace and mercy that Jesus has shown us.

Grace and mercy. My life is rich with stories of Jesus extending these wonderful gifts. Often times I forget these stories, or maybe I don't so much forget but hide from them. Because, let's be honest, who wants to admit our faults? Our shame? Our deepest darkest secrets? Yet Jesus has covered each misstep, every word spoken in anger, all the lies, and the crap I just want to keep tucked away in the back of the closet with His grace and mercy. This is Crazy Love, my friends.

Crazy Love is beautiful.

A few weeks ago I asked the talented Krysten Case of Fancy Freedom Designs if she would create a piece of jewelry with the words Crazy Love on it. I wanted something to remind me of the beautiful gifts Jesus generously extends every single day. I also wanted to share this gift with at least one of my friends who've been such a blessing to me by giving so generously towards my trips to Chicago and Mexico. But Krysten is so generous, she donated two additional pieces of jewelry to give away!

You guys, I can't tell you how excited I am to be able to give away these beautiful creations made by Krysten! Here's the deal: each person who donates to my online fundraiser through Crowdrise will be entered to win either a Crazy Love necklace or a Crazy Love bracelet! (If you've already donated, don't worry, you're still eligible to win! And THANK YOU for already giving!) Once I reach my goal of $1350, three winners will randomly be selected. The winners will have their choice of necklace or bracelet. (I have one necklace and two bracelets to give away, both pictured above. Aren't they amazing?!)

Not only should you donate to my Crazy Love trips, but you should totally go check out Krysten's Fancy Freedom Design store and buy something! Not only does she make beautiful jewelry, she donates a percentage of her proceeds towards an organization who combats human trafficking right here in Central Ohio. She gets this whole idea of Crazy Love, which is one of the things I really appreciate about her. 

If you can't give, that's OK. Will you pray? Pray not only for us, but those we will meet on the streets of Chicago and of Mexico. For those we'll meet on the plane or bus or El train. For those who are already faithfully showing Crazy Love each and every day in Chicago and Mexico.

Thank you, friends, for joining me on this beautiful journey!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How God Used An iPhone Screensaver to Speak to Me

Photo by #shereadstruth
Thanks to #SheReadsTruth I have this photo saved on my phone as my lock screen saver. It's a wonderful tool for ladies who want to memorize scripture. For me, since I'm always checking my phone for one reason or another, it's been a great help. Whenever I check my phone, I see the verse and repeat it a couple of times, trying to get it to sink in.

I've had this particular photo as my lock screen saver for a couple of days now. You'd think it would have sunk in by today, but it didn't. But I'm glad it finally did!

You see, about a month ago God asked me to take a big giant leap of faith and do something I wasn't even considering -- lead not one, but TWO outreach teams this summer! Really. You'd think I would've been excited (I am) but instead I started freaking out a little bit (a lot). In my mind I started thinking of all the reasons why I couldn't go...

  • I don't have enough paid vacation days
  • I don't have the money to go
  • I'm pretty sure my husband will freak out (and he has)
  • I know other people on the team that could lead better than me (and they would)
  • I don't have my passport
  • I have bladder issues
  • I have anxiety issues
The list could go on and on. 

But, you say, isn't this your calling in life? The very gift and passion that God put in you as a 13 year old girl? Didn't you spend the last 15 years of your life doing missions/outreach work?

Um, yeah.

Funny enough, the answer to all those questions is a resounding "YES!" From the time I was 13 years old I knew what I was called to do in life. Missions/outreach is and will always be my calling, my gifting, and my passion.

So what's the problem?

Trust. I have trust issues.

And what's that got to do with the photo that's your lock screen saver?

Back to that. So this morning as I was reading and repeating this scripture, it dawned on me... God is speaking those very words to me.


When God spoke to me a month ago to take this giant leap of faith to go to Chicago and Mexico, He knew I was going to freak out for all the reasons I listed above and more. Like the fact that this Sunday was the first financial deadline for both outreaches and I didn't even come close to reaching the goal. Or that my car is having major issues. Or that Sallie Mae keeps calling my phone but I just keep ignoring her.

God is going to give me peace in the midst of my doubt because He is the one who called me to go. He is sending me. HE IS SENDING ME. He has a plan and purpose for this summer, of that I have no doubt. And I'm excited to be a part of whatever He has planned!

(If you want to help God send me, CLICK HERE to donate!)

When was the last time you were anxious about something and heard God speak to you through His word?

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Do You Reflect?

Photo by alantakenghoe

Yesterday morning my church, Centerpoint, started a news series called "You Asked for It." A couple of weeks ago our social media team sent out a poll via Facebook, Twitter, and email asking people to vote on specific topics they'd like to hear the pastor address. The topics ranged from "is drinking alcohol a sin" to "did Jonah really get swallowed by a whale." The three topics with the most votes were chosen, and so yesterday morning Pastor Chris tackled a hot topic within the evangelical community: do all religions lead to God?

Without batting an eye, Pastor Chris answered the question head on -- Jesus is the only way. Jesus Himself told His disciples (and us) in John 14:6 that He is "the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me." While to some this may seem like an exclusive statement, the truth is that all have been extended an invitation to accept and embrace Jesus as the way. Jesus came for all, not just a few, but only a few choose to accept His invitation.

Even though the world see's Jesus' message as exclusive, it is inclusive. He has and continues to invite each of us to accept Him. To believe He is who He says He is. To embrace the Truth and to be set free! Not only does Jesus pursue the world, but He invites His followers to do the same: "You are the light of the world... let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

Our lives are a reflection of Jesus.

The words we speak and the actions we take, these things the people around us hear and see, are a reflection of what we believe about Jesus. If we believe Him to be the way, the truth, the life, then our lives will show it.

As I said in a post last week, the greatest commandments are to love God and to love people. When we love people, when we show them Crazy Love, we are extending an invitation to them. I don't know about you, but that's what I want to do with my life. I want to live in such a way that people see Jesus. But I don't want it to stop there. I want them to see Him in my life and also want to know Him.