Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Had a Plan….

Rachael's Story


The Lord's timing is perfect. Five words that are so easy to repeat over and over and tell myself day after day. When the challenge of "Raising the Bar" was posed,
I was driving home that night thinking about this and the Lord hit me with a ton of bricks. "Rachael, you know this truth but do you really believe it? Do you really believe that no matter what happens in your life, God never changes and is still worthy of being worshipped and praised? Do you live your life as though Jesus could come back or call you home any second? Or do you waste time and bask in the pleasures of this world? Do you really believe my timing is perfect?" There are times in my life when I have felt so clearly convicted by the Lord there might as well be a billboard ad proclaiming it; this was one of those times. For me, Raising the Bar is believing and living my life as though God's provision is perfect; this is the story of why.


I had a plan. Up until my senior year, I loved my major; I wanted to be a Residential Architect. All I wanted to do all day, every day, was design homes. It's something I've been doing since I was a kid. Last summer, right before my senior year of college, the Lord put the idea of a year of ministry on my heart. To be honest, I never considered myself to be someone that would up and leave my family and friends and move far away. However, as the Lord grew and strengthened my heart for Him in this way, He specifically put the city of Miami, Florida on my heart. Over and over again, in sermons, with mentors, from speakers at conferences, and in my alone time with the Lord, Miami kept being placed on my heart. I made the decision in November 2009 that I was going to spend the 2010-11 school year serving in Miami with Campus Crusade for Christ. The plan was to leave August 10, 2010.


My full time job this past summer was to raise the support that I needed in order to live in Miami for the next year. It was challenging, stretching, hard, emotional, joyful, and encouraging all at the same time. On August 10th though, the very thing I had feared most in this process became my reality. My full financial support was not raised in time so I wasn't able to go. All of a sudden I went from having a plan for the next year of my life to having no idea what I would do or even where I would live. And at this point I understood: God had called me to Miami to go through the process but never actually go. A radical concept! When I realized this I thought, 'Lord you have so clearly called me to Miami, why wouldn't you want me to go? Why wouldn't you want another laborer in this dark city?'. When the Lord calls me to something, my natural inclination is to expect that the initial calling from the Lord is it; that I deserve and will receive the end product. I don't give the Lord any room to change my heart or lead me another way; I assume if he's called me in one direction that has to work out. What I have learned through this experience is that a calling from the Lord is a process. Just because the Lord called me to Miami didn't mean that I was going to go; but I saw that He had so much growth in store for me through that process.


Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.



The Lord did not just want to challenge me in the area of vocation, however. During this time of raising support, my boyfriend at the time - who I was completely falling for - broke up with me. I didn't understand. I couldn't make sense of it. But I knew that the only shoulder I wanted to turn to was the Lord's. Even though it was and is so challenging, I thank God everyday for this continued time of healing and brokenness as I deal with the emotions of this breakup. God is the ultimate Provider and Healer! This comfort and strength is far beyond anything on this earth. The Lord is using this time of healing as an incredible reminder in my life. I was falling for this guy but the Lord was leading him in a different direction. God's love rained down on me in a way I will never forget. As hurt, sad, and broken as I was to not be cared for in return by this guy, I found myself wondering, 'How often do I not love and adore my Savior who loves me unconditionally?'


Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 5:3-5


All of a sudden this plan that I had for my life was starting to change. Instead of doing ministry on a college campus, I am looking for work. Instead of living in Miami, I am trying to find housing in Minneapolis. Instead of being with this man, I am single. These are all things that our world would look at and say, "How could you have failed in all of these areas?"; "You can do it; you can change your life around!". Instead I choose to say, "Thank you Jesus for breaking me! Thank you for bringing me a time in my life of full surrender to God. Thank you walking through this with me. Thank you, because I know that your plan is far better than anything I can imagine for myself! Thank you for your unconditional love and guidance."


Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Proverbs 16:3


This verse has brought so much hope and wisdom to my life. No matter what, if I'm following where the Lord is leading me, even if he decides to change my path, my plans will succeed because God is there and he is working in that. God has a better plan for me here in Minneapolis and has blessed me in so many ways, that I am already beginning to see why He brought me down this road!


When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4


It's incredible that in times of many unknowns, it is so easy to look at all the negatives: 'Why is this happening; Why don't I have this yet; Lord, why aren't you there?' Instead, look at all of the blessings we've been given. As hard as it is to not have housing, I have been blessed with an incredible sister who lets me stay with her; thank you Jesus that I am not living on the streets. As hard as it is to not have a job; thank you Jesus that I have not been sold into human sex trafficking. I found myself saying to the Lord, "Thank you, I feel like Hope and the people there are becoming a blessing and a constant in my life." Even with that the Lord continues to challenge me…. "Rachael, are you okay if the only constant in your life is me?"

This is so convicting for me, and it reminds me to ask, 'Will I praise and worship the Lord no matter what happens, no matter what I've been given, no matter what's been taken away?'


Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

James 5:10-11


During this time of brokenness, the Lord has continued to bring me back to Job; an incredible story and so challenging for me. No matter what happens during my time on earth, good or bad, God is worthy of praise. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Raising the bar for me is not only increasing my understanding of God's faithfulness, but truly believing every day (not just telling myself) that God's timing is perfect. If we can't even fathom his greatness, why would I ever think I can dream up a better plan for myself? Part of believing God has a perfect plan for me is accepting that I don't know how long I will be on this earth. I could be gone tomorrow or here for another 80 years. No matter how long I am here, I want every second to honor the Lord. The pains and unknowns of this earth can't even compare to the joy that is coming! Raising the bar is doing things of kingdom worth with my time. Raising the bar is asking myself, 'Do I view not having a job right now as a blessing? Because I don't have a job and have more free time, what might the Lord want me to do with this time in my life to glorify Him?' Raising the bar is living for this day that God has blessed me with and not being concerned about the future; but seeking the Lord in everything.


Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

    Matthew 6:34



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Climbing Out of the Rubble … For the Third Time

Liz's Story

(To read Liz's update click here)

God doesn't always speak to me so obviously.  In fact, His voice is usually quite subtle and it is often difficult for me to decipher whether it is actually him, or just me vying for my selfish interests.  As I prayed excitedly over where God wanted to challenge me to "raise my bar", I worried that it would not be clearly revealed to me and I would be left to choose on my own (one of the many areas that needs improvement in my spiritual life) ... and inevitably fail. Then I remembered Romans 8:15: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'"  As I was driving on a long road trip last week I decided to pop in a couple of Sara Groves CD's - two of my very favorites that I have listened to many times.  And then it was as if with each lyric, God was tugging at me, saying this is it, this is the challenge.     

I will try my darndest to keep this succinct without diluting the powerful truths in the story.  

And so it goes...

To put it simply, God has challenged me to "raise my bar" by using my story, my past and my tragedies to reveal His loving character to people who desperately need it; and in doing so, to glorify God and add to the beauty of his kingdom. But in your hearts set Christ apart as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer for everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15) God revealed that He would have me do this through very intentional, prayed (and perhaps in ways preyed) upon relationships. I am now going to be proactive about seeking out people who are suffering from tragic losses so that I can form relationships with them and/or pray for them on a regular ongoing basis.  These people are usually at a place where they must come to terms with exactly where they stand on life's toughest questions, leaving an open door of opportunity to have an encouraging word of truth be heard.

In order for you to get a clearer picture of what this looks like, I will tell you a little bit of my story.  Please know that in no way do I share these things in order to gain your pity; only to help you see how God has revealed himself to me in the most broken and desperate times of my life.  In May of 2003, my mother died due to complications resulting from surgery.  This was a very sudden loss for me and my family.  The situation resulted in my father having to make the decision of whether or not to take away life support.  Luckily, my parents had just written their living wills, which made this incredibly difficult decision a little easier.  That summer my father and I bonded quite a bit; I was home from college for the summer and it was just us two in the house.  After I left for college again in the fall, things got a little more hectic for my dad.  My mom had always taken care of all of the finances, for our family and also for their business.  It became a constant struggle for him to keep up with it all. Before you knew it he was way over his head in debt and too prideful to admit it to anyone.  So he just kept spending.  After being hand-fed Satan's lies about money, love, and self-worth, my father found himself where he thought was his wits end.  In September of 2006, my father took his life.  He left my brother, sister and I, to first solve the mystery of his death, and then actually deal with the idea of a father choosing to leave this life rather than experience it with us.  This was a very difficult time for us as one could imagine.  I was in nursing school and it was a challenge for me to even get out of bed in the morning let alone go to school and learn about "end of life" or "suicidal patients" or whatever ironic topic we would be diving into head first.  I moved in with my sister and her family so that we could be close and grieve together.  My brother found it very difficult to deal with the deaths of both of our parents.  He was married and soon after became a father himself and found it easier to just not think about it.  He also did not have the support he should have had around him.  Soon his wife decided he was not the man she married and filed for divorce.  This was never the life he had in mind.  He went on to live quite recklessly for the better part of a year and then eventually decided to clean up his act.  But despite his attempt to choose to do the right things, he continued to listen to and believe Satan's lies.  In January of 2009, my brother took his life.  Once again my sister and I found ourselves amidst complete devastation.  How could this be?  One by one our family members were being plucked away from us.  And now it was just me and my sister left.  How could I live another day without fearing my sister would die?  Why would God allow this to happen to people who love him?  Were all of these deaths to teach me some great lesson?  

Throughout the past seven years God has taught me a lot about his character. These are the truths I hope to convey to the people I hope to meet when I "raise my bar".

1. God allows us to be in pain.  He allows us to go through horrible and tragic things and because we are in a fallen world, it hurts.  This is evident in the story of Job. And it wasn't because of his personal sin that Job went through all of his challenges. Satan wanted to hurt Job and God allowed him to do so.  (Job 1:11, 2:5)

2. I don't have the strength to go on... but I know someone who does!  I have never felt more broken and weak, than during those bleak moments after the deaths of my family members.  God used that time to heal me.  The Bible says: (After Paul pleads for God to take away his "thorn" or problem) But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9 

3. You can't base faith solely on emotion.  There have been several times when the Holy Spirit was moving so powerfully in my life that I would experience this divine peace so overwhelming I would actually be physically warmed, or I would be so on-fire for God that I was overcome with gut-wrenching excitement.  While I was in the middle of grieving all of these losses there were several times when I could not "feel" the presence of the Lord.  There I was, the loneliest I have ever felt, and my "faith" was not good enough to make me feel better.  Then I realized, the truth was there, regardless of how I felt.  And although I couldn't feel God physically, I was more comforted knowing that we have an unchanging God who is omnipresent during our rollercoasters of emotions.   "I the Lord do not change." (Malachi 3:6)

4. The fact that Satan was allowed to win those battles does not make God any less sovereign.  I do believe that my father and brother believed in Christ as their Lord and savior.  Though no one can know for sure, and the last choice that each of them made was not a good one, I believe they are in Heaven. Even if they are not, I have made the choice to believe in Christ as my savior and know where my salvation lies. Praise be to the Lord, to God our savior, who daily bears our burdens.  Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord came escape from death. (Psalm 68:19-20)

5. I don't have to live in fear.  Although I have been through a lot of sadness, it's been proven to me that just because I have lost someone close to me, doesn't mean it can't happen again.  This idea can easily lead me down a path of destructive thoughts and images that instill immensely numbing fear.  But I must stop myself immediately, and remind myself of the hope I have available through the Holy Spirit. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perserverence, perseverence character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:3-5)

I feel like I must share with you the lyrics to the specific song that God used because they are so moving:

I will leave with you some of those lyrics…..

Less like tearing more like building • Less like captive more like willing • Less like breakdown more like surrender • Less like haunting more like remember • And I feel you here • And you're picking up the pieces • Forever faithful • It seemed out of my hands a bad situation • But you are able • And in your hands the pain and hurt • look less like scars and more like character

Friday, September 17, 2010

Living in Grace

Laura's Story


After a lot of praying and not having a clue how to articulate what 'raising my bar' looks like, I've realized how simple God's response for me was: "Live in my grace". This is a fundamental idea; it's the basis of the gospel, but because it is so basic it is something I struggle with. I find myself setting my own standards for many areas of my life, rather than looking to what He expects from me, and ultimately I place my self-worth in falsehoods. I'm a natural self-improver so I challenge myself to "do better", but that only distracts me from the fullness of His grace and leaves me broken and trying to fulfill what only God can fill in my heart.


This became a bigger issue for me last May when God put on my heart the question of committing to LDI (Hope's Leadership Development Institute) Trek 2. My first responses were: "NO WAY, Trek 1 was enough!"; "A woman has never done this"; and "Why?" Also my heart immediately panicked at the thought because I knew the potential leader I could become and the deep pressure I would place on myself. During the time of making these decisions God brought me to a place of understanding that I could only do this with complete reliance upon him. He reminded me that only His grace would allow me to even attempt to become a leader within the church.


After my heart fully understood and believed I need to live by grace in these areas of my life, God began to give me freedom. Through His Word He began reminding me of truths I needed to internalize. The Bible tells us we have been justified by Christ's righteousness and not our own; therefore it is through Christ only that we are fully pleasing to God. God knew us before we were in our mother's womb and he has created us each in his likeness. I have always held a strong belief that in order to be someone worth following, I had to be "good enough" – by living up to my own standard of what a good leader is. To be honest, my standard isn't even possible to achieve because I'd never let myself say..."I've arrived". God's statements of truth about His grace have set me free from this lie in so many ways. The reality is that none of this is about me; it is all about Jesus.


Living in grace for me means never having to set a standard above what God would ever call me to. I am freed from performing for God but rather rest in the greatness of His gift of Jesus, EVERYDAY. It is to know I am made – even with all of what I think of as my imperfections - with intentions for God's pleasures and purposes. I am enough just the way I am. It's accepting I'm not going to live up to this false notion of perfect. It is believing and living in a way that reflects that only God has the power to change my heart. It is not having to prove to myself I don't have weaknesses, and it is sometimes accepting failure. It is chasing after more of God and doing Trek 2 because God has made me a leader and uses my passions. I don't have to set the standards for what that will look like later in life because God has a plan. It is having the freedom to be a messy person while leading, and saying I don't know all the answers, and directing people to Jesus, rather than relying on myself. Living in grace means making decisions that best enable me to live out the gospel and reflect Christ's love. It is living by the Spirit and not being conquered by fear and doubt. Living in Grace is standing firmly in Jesus and less in myself day by day.


The whole idea of living in grace is terrifying to me because it means relying on God beyond what I feel I am capable. This is how I know I'm flinging myself over the bar!


While doing Trek 2, 2 Timothy 1:7 has given me much strength to attempt this bar: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." This reminds me God has created me with a purposeful gifting, and I can only rightly use these gifts by relying on his grace. It also reminds me that the things I do are not because of my ability, but because of Christ working in me. I can pray for the Spirit to lead each day. It's having key people in my life who are holding me accountable to living in grace. It's reading my Bible and believing truth and allowing it to transform my heart.


This perspective has already begun to change the way I love God, myself and others. Pray that I would not believe in His grace from time to time, but daily. Pray for the Spirit to convict me to living in grace so that my life may reflect the saving grace through Jesus, our Savior. Lastly, pray that this post would minster and direct people to truth.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making God Bigger


How can I raise the bar in my life? When Naty posed this question many scenarios raced through my head: share the Gospel with more people, be a more thankful person, or what about live off of less money so I can free up finances to help someone else?

I kept thinking about all the things that I could do better, but I didn't feel settled on any of them. After some thought and prayer here is where I landed: for me, raising the bar means having a much bigger view of God and what He is capable of. This might sound pretty fundamental, but I felt God calling me to go back to the basics.

When I started to think about raising the bar in my life, I thought about what I could do. But God brought me back to what He has already done. We have a God that held nothing back, not even His Son, and with Him we are promised so much – including freedom, redemption, restoration, and power over the enemy - but if an outsider looked at my life, I doubt he or she would think I served such a loving and powerful God.

Here is how it goes: life gets hard, I forget who my Father is, and resign myself to hopelessness and fear.  God tells me to take a flying leap over the bar, but I plop down on the bench instead. "Are you crazy God? You want me to do what? Throw my feet up over my head?! That isn't safe and if I'm flying through the air I can't control anything!" I don't want to jump, because I think I can't jump. I forget that our Father didn't ask me to wear my own armor in this battle - He gave me His armor and strength. When it comes down to it, I don't jump because I did enough push-ups and can do it on my own. I jump because He makes me able.

I was thinking about Jonathan as I pondered what God could be calling me to. In 1 Samuel 14 the Philistine army is coming up against Israel, but Israel was not ready. Instead of shrinking back in fear Jonathan (with his armor bearer) climbs up to see the Philistine army and here is what happens next: "Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, "Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few." (1 Sam. 14:6) I bet you can guess what happens next: the two men get their sign from God to go, they kill about 20 men, an earthquake hits and all the Philistines panic.

They didn't have some crazy plan on how to win the battle, they only knew who their God was - that He is a God who is able to save, even by two men!  That was enough for them and that certainly is enough for me.

So, I need a bigger view of God. I need to take Him at His word in scripture. If I start there, that bar is no longer a fearful thing because it isn't about me. And when I get scared about things like sharing the Gospel with my co-workers, I need only to look to Him and take Him at His Word: "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone..."  (Romans 1:16a) How can my fear win out when God says that?

At the end of the day, raising the bar means a lot of things for me, but really the bar in my life that needs to be raised the most is this: truly believing that God is who He says He is, and that He can do what He says He can do. 


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Blame It On the Hormones…

(Karin's Update to this post click here)
Middle school is an awkward and crucial time for everyone…. Girls are taller than boys and everyone is a bit snarky: that's right – blame it on the hormones. It's the time when the easiest way to not let people see who you really are is to focus your attention on someone else.

I know this post isn't supposed to be a life story or synopsis of my life – but it is the starting block of the next and oldest 'bar' in my life that needs to be raised….

In 7th and 8th grade I transferred to the public Montessori school in my hometown with my childhood best friend, Britt. We were connected at the hip. Class size: 8 – yup, 8. Then, after 7th grade – her family moved to Kansas – I returned back to that Montessori classroom without her. This should have gone just fine, until a boy in the class decided to make me be the center of attention in the most hurtful way…. "Did your mom ever tell you how ugly you are?" "If you ever die from your zits – I guess then I would come to your funeral – to laugh!" {cough cough} "ugly" Day in, day out until my tears became too apparent for my mom to resist inquiring. BIG mistake…. You know telling the teacher only makes things worse….

Jumping forward now a bit: August 25th, 2010 – the initial Women of Hope "raising the bar" night. I felt really honored to be there. When Naty challenged us to think about/pray about how we can 'raise the bar' next, I started a laundry list of items that I could and should work on. But none of them really resonated well for THE next one. So I continued to listen to her talk, I made my announcement about Panera bread, chatted with some amazing women and headed out to my car – knowing I have a lot to pray about for what should be next, thinking about each item on my list. Then, about 5 miles from home, I reached up to scratch the newest, reddest, bumpiest addition to my face. And it hit me….

Over the years I have tried everything: the strongest prescription medication from the dermatologist, topical, oral and medicinal creams, washes, 'acne fighting' systems, full-body detoxes, gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, and even egg free diets, to no avail.

All of this was supposed to cure my acne-prone skin: but really I did this to 'cure' my self esteem. I lost most of the self esteem I did have when I was in 8th grade, gaining a few minuscule pieces back, up until I met my husband. He was only the 2nd person I ever told about what happened in 8th grade – giving him part of the burden that neither of us realized was so big.

After realizing what I should do next to 'raise the bar' of course some "excuses" came to mind….. "Well – even if I REALLY give this one over to God this time, it doesn't mean He will fix it – because it might really be a wheat/gluten allergy and I just need to be much more strict on my diet". Instantly I KNEW this was an attack on my thoughts to make me under estimate God's awesome power.

Please know – I do trust that God CAN heal, He CAN cure – not just skin, but what lies deep within. He's done this in me before, and He WILL do it again. Because He is THAT good.

BUT – that doesn't mean I don't doubt – so that is prayer request numero uno. Fully, truly and whole-heartedly believe.
But what really do I need? It isn't going to change me to have beautifully clear skin. It is the internal self confidence make-over that I need. I need to believe that I am worth talking to and worthy of being called a friend by others – that people don't just pity me.

The evening at Hope and my experiences that followed raised questions for me, and I am attempting to sort through them. For example – I struggle with the issue of whether or not to wear makeup. I have been told by leaders, friends and family alike that we {women} "shouldn't need to ever wear make-up". You see, Dan {my husband} and I are wedding photographers. Since we work from home, I hardly ever wear makeup unless we go to a client meeting, photo-shoot or wedding day event. Is that wrong? I guess I feel as though NOT wearing makeup can look rather unprofessional – so maybe makeup should just be for meetings, weddings and special events? If so – is that wrong? Is it really that bad that wearing makeup makes me feel 'prettier' and more professional around clients? I guess any answers, thoughts, prayers would be REALLY welcome. {Especially verses that others have found helpful in this/or any similar situation}

So what's my plan then? What is my next step in raising this deep-seated, hurtful part of my past to a new level?

Step one: Prayer. I guess initially I wasn't quite sure the 'steps' I should take to work on this – so prayer is usually a pretty good first step : ) There was one that I was really thankful to see God answering right away. I wrote this entire blog post the same night of our women's meeting – up until 'Step one'. Since then I have just tried to do my best to consciously pray about the thoughts that I have of myself going into social settings: primarily client meetings. Right now we are in the middle of booking season for 2011 – so we have at least 2 potential client meetings a week. This past week it has been great to see God answer prayer in reassuring me that who I am is who He made me to be – and that has given me SO much more confidence going into meetings and being at weddings.

Step two: Makeup? Yes – this one really got to me. Last week after the meeting as I was crying over writing this post I was really struggling with the notion: "to wear, or not to wear – that is the question!" Then, the next day I met with the always lovely Kelsey A and I was able to share all this with her. Being as amazing as she is, she made the wonderful point of: are you wearing the make up – or is it wearing you? Meaning, is it all about the make up? Or is it a tool that I use to help present myself in a way that is professional – as she stated, like wearing nice{r} clothes. I certainly wouldn't wear sweatpants to a client meeting! Oh Kelsey – I am so thankful God brought us together!

Step three: The women's blog. So – how does this fit into my plan of raising the bar? I have just begun to tackle the new use of prayer in this area and I have come to a place of having a healthy relationship with makeup; but believe me – I am certainly still a work in progress with step one! What do I 'need' out of the blog? I would love any feedback from anyone who has walked through the process of dealing with 'perpetually' bad skin and/or self-confidence. One way that I would love to see this blog utilized is not only a place to pray for each other – but a place where we can connect with women who have walked similar paths. I want to talk to YOU {common} – you know who you are ; ) . Maybe you are in the same place I am now – or maybe you were there ten years ago! I just really love connecting with women and I think that this would be a great opportunity to find new ways to grow.

Thank you for your prayers and for reading this insanely long post…. If we ever meet – you'll realize that can translate into talking for me too : ) But that's a story for another day! ; )