Let There Be Light!

Our family is involved in Community Bible Study (CBS), which the kids and I have been a part of for over a decade now. It’s an amazing chance to study God’s Word in-depth while surrounded by a caring community. This year we are studying Genesis. I have to admit, I wasn’t too thrilled when I heard last spring that Genesis was chosen as the book to study this fall. We had already studied it in depth several years ago with CBS, not to mention that through teaching Sunday school, homeschooling, and my own personal Bible reading plans, I have read and re-read and re-read Genesis many, many times.

However…….I made a choice and began to pray for fresh eyes. I wanted to see new things, for God to reveal new hidden truths to me that I had missed in the previous studies of this book. And I believed He could.

This past week, we began reading from the very beginning of the Bible. I re-read the Creation story in Genesis 1, believing that the Creator of the Universe could and would divulge a little bit more of Himself to me in what I studied. And He did.

For those of you who haven’t read Genesis in awhile, or maybe the first chapter of Genesis is something brand new to you, let me give you a synopsis.

Genesis 1:2 tells us that the earth was empty, formless, with darkness over the surface. But God was there. In fact, He was hovering over the waters.

Day 1, God creates light (1:3).

Day 2, God creates the separation between the sky and the waters (1:9-10).

Day 3, God creates land and plants (1:9-13).

Day 4, God creates the sun, moon and starts (1:14-19).

Day 5, God creates the fish and birds (1:20-23).

Day 6, God creates land animals (1:24-25) and then goes on to create mankind in His image (1:26-30).

Day 7, God was satisfied, rested and blessed (1:31).

Having been a science major in college, and then a science teacher to both my children and in homeschool co-ops, I have always read this part of the Bible with a ‘scientific perspective’, looking for the connections between what modern science tells us and what God tells us. BUT, as I was re-reading this with an expectant heart to see something new, God showed me something amazing. He took away my scientific perspective and handed me a photo album, in a sense. Photo album? Yes, a photo album. Let me explain.

Often times, I will pull out old photos to show my children their history. We will look at pictures of when I was pregnant with them and we will discuss all of the worries and hopes and dreams their daddy and I had for them at the time. We will talk about their labor and delivery. (And my poor Ben hears this a lot, for he was born in an ambulance after being in a car accident while in labor on the way to the hospital! It’s quite an interesting tale, so it is told often). We will also browse through photos of how they looked when they were babies, how they behaved while growing up and what they were like in each stage of development, up to their current age. We will laugh at some of their funny antics as toddlers, review lessons learned from ER visits, and point out features they have that are similar to mommy or daddy, etc.

When God handed me MY photo album, through Genesis 1, I re-read it not as a science teacher, but as a child of God looking back at my spiritual development. I read it as a beautiful allegory of MY creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone and the new is here.” God showed me that before I accepted Jesus as my Savior, my heart was empty, dark, formless, just like the earth in Genesis 1:2. But God was there, hovering, waiting to shed light into my darkness. My children’s photo albums do not begin with their day of birth, but with the anticipation of their arrival, the months of pregnancy leading up to their special day. God was there, hovering, waiting.

And then in an instant, God created. He said, “Let there be light.” And the Bible tells us that when we accept Jesus into our hearts, we are born again and become children of God. But God doesn’t stop there. Just like in creation, God does more. In my own heart, after His light was shed into my darkness, He began to separate things in my life. He then started planting seeds to grow for the future, to provide me comfort and sustenance. He then helped me to begin to reflect His light to others, the way the moon reflects the light of the sun. Similarly, when God created all of the animals on Days 5 and 6 of creation, God then started filling my world with life, with beautiful life. And if that wasn’t enough, He gave me part of Himself, the Holy Spirit, just like He created mankind in his likeness. And then God was satisfied with his creation, just like when He rested and blessed on Day 7.

There were some new things I learned about God through this beautiful allegory - only God can create. Nothing else in the universe is capable of shedding light into darkness, but God himself. God, just like an expectant parent, wants the best for his children. He creates opportunities and situations for the children to thrive in and He loves them unconditionally. There are times when the children will choose wisely and sadly, times when they don’t. But, He never stops loving. Lastly, I was reminded that every human heart is at a different day of creation, a stage of development. Some haven’t seen the light yet, while others are just starting to reflect the Light, and still others are full of abundant life and growth. In the same way, I don’t expect the same behavior from my 9 year old as my more mature teenager, we shouldn’t expect those around us to be fully developed spiritually if they are only on day 1 of their spiritual journey.

This beautiful story of the Creation of the earth and the beginning of life is not just a literal science lesson. It is also a deeper metaphor of what God wants to do in each and every one of our hearts. My question for you is “What are you allowing God to create in your life today?”

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

Don't Give Up on Them

Lately, God keeps telling me “Don’t Give Up on…..” It has been about different people, different circumstances, but the same message….“Don’t Give up on Them.” I won’t go into the personal details on the who’s and what’s of my personal stories because that is irrelevant. But, this message is something I feel compelled to share.

Humans are imperfect, and imperfections in those around us usually disappoints at one time or another. We look at someone we care about and we may be disappointed about some of their recent choices, about the lack of fruit their lives are producing, or that they seem hopeless or dying on the inside. And sometimes our own humanness wants to give up and move onto something that is more alive or life giving. Sometimes we may feel the relationship just isn’t worth the energy or time.

But is that what Jesus taught? No. Jesus taught to not give up on others. He rose the dead to life. He made the blind see. He created an opportunity for every repentant sinner to have forgiveness and freedom. He did not give up.

God gave me a beautiful illustration of this recently in a lemon tree. My tree is one of my favorite things in my garden. I asked for it as a Mother’s Day present a few years ago because it was a gift that could keep giving. Homegrown lemons are amazing! And this girl loves her lemon water! However, we unfortunately do not live in a climate where the lemon tree can be planted in the ground, making the lemon tree require a little extra work. Our winters get cold, too cold for the tree. So I have the tree planted in a very large pot and we roll it in and out of the garage every night in the winter when the temperatures go below freezing. This winter was particularly tough on my tree, though. It’s leaves started to turn brown and spotty and we feared the worst….my lemon tree was dying. No more beautiful blossoms, and no more homegrown lemons.

Despite those around me telling me it was dying, that it was beyond hope, I did not give up on it. I gave my lemon tree some extra loving care, fertilizer stakes, fresh soil, coffee grinds, lots of sunshine, extra water and some friendship with the pretty marigolds I planted with it. And I gave it time. I knew that healing and growth took time. (Instant gratification is something our society craves these days. It seems we simply are not willing to wait for anything anymore. But that is another sermon/blog for another day!)

A few weeks later, my lemon tree looks like a new tree. It has vibrant green leaves, beautiful white and pink blossoms, and the first fruits beginning to grow. The time and energy WERE worth it!

So, take a moment and think about those in your life. Is there someone, maybe a close friend or relative, or maybe just a neighbor or an acquaintance that has suffered through a hard season? Are they showing signs of distress? Have they stopped bearing fruit? Maybe, just maybe, God has placed you in their life for such a time as this. Maybe you are the one who needs to offer them a little extra love? Maybe offer them some Living Water and Light? And most importantly, maybe then you need to just give them time to heal? Just like the picture of my lemon tree, even though it is now healing and producing fruit, it still has some scars from its hard season. Expecting immediate healing would be unreasonable of me as a gardener to my tree, and to us as friends to the hurting. Giving grace during the healing process is what Jesus models for us and so we should extend to others.

Psalm 92:12-14 NIV says, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”

Psalm 31:24 MSG says, “Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.”

I pray you will flourish and continue to bear fruit in your old age. I pray people choose not to give up on you when you are hurting. And I pray that we will all have enough courage to not give up on those around us, but point them to God so they can begin to thrive again.

At one point, there were only a few leaves left on my tree, and they all looked like this.

At one point, there were only a few leaves left on my tree, and they all looked like this.

Healing led to growth and the bearing of fruit

Healing led to growth and the bearing of fruit

Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Fearless.

A friend of mine gave me a shirt that has the words, “Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Fearless. Joshua 1:9” on it. I love this message. It is all throughout the Bible. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. God is with you.

There have been so many times over the last school year when we have had to rely on this promise that God is with us and we shouldn’t be afraid. And God has shown up every single time. If you don’t want the recap, simply scroll down to the MAIN POINT paragraph below. But I think you would miss out on seeing God in our lives.

In September, Ellie severely sliced both of her feet and required more stitches than we could count. It was very painful for her to walk with the stitches going from the top of her feet all the way to the undersides. It happened only two days before her first scheduled public school volleyball game. Was it easy for a homeschooler to walk onto tryouts at a public school? No. Was it easy for this homeschool mama to drop her oldest off at the public school for the very first time? No. Was it easy for Ellie to train and recover and miss her first three games of the season? No. But….Was she brave? Yes! Was she bold? Absolutely! Was she fearless? Mostly. Was God with her every painful step of the way? Without a doubt! She recovered very quickly and was a starter for her team. And they even won the Conference Championship.

In October, the whole family was sick with strep and numerous other freak infections, and Ben even spent the night in the hospital for how severe his asthma had gotten This was all just 2-3 weeks before we left for the month mission trip to Guatemala. Was it easy for us to prepare for the trip while all so severely sick? No. Did we trust that God had a Master Plan for it all and was with us every step of the way? Yes!

November we spent loving up on some of the most amazing children in Guatemala. It took a LOT of faith and boldness to commit to such a trip, and our kids did amazing. Was it easy to be away from home that long? No. Did it take a ton of faith that no one would need medical care while we were there? Positively. Did God ever abandon us? Not once!

December found us back home in the States, but in the hospital again, as we have previously blogged about with Sammy’s parasitic ‘souvenir’ he brought home from Guatemala. He has since fully recovered with the only lasting complication being his lactose intolerance. Were we bold when we answered each medical professional about WHY we had spent a month in a third world country? Yes. Was Sammy brave when he got pricked and tested and prodded over and over again? Yes. Did God leave us fearful and alone in the hospital? Nope!

Thankfully, the New Year brought us a little respite from the craziness and a brief taste of normalcy again. This was a time of reflection and thanksgiving for us.

But by February, we were bravely back in Guatemala again, but only for a week this time and with our team from our church. Upon our return, we made the courageous step to start this website and blog, sharing our stories and hearts about mission work locally and abroad. Was it frightening to put our intimate thoughts out for anyone in the public to read? Yes. Did we feel called to do it anyway? Yes. Did God encourage us throughout it all? Totally!

March and April marked the start of spring sports season. All three of our children had to rely on their God-given boldness in one manner or another. Sammy wanted to play up an age range with his big brother and has had to toughen up being the youngest and one of the smallest players on the team. But does he let the size of the giants around him discourage him? Not usually. Does he add to his team’s dynamic? Without a doubt.

Ben bravely tackled the required running of soccer season while learning to manage his asthma and allergies. He practices outside of practice like a man on a mission. And in addition, he has fearlessly said “yes” to joining a swim team this summer. (This is an answered prayer for this mama who has seen an innate giftedness in him for years in this sport. He had to finally see it in himself before he could be brave, bold and fearless.) Is it easy for a preteen with multiple allergies and breathing difficulties to play two intense cardiovascular sports? Not at all. Do those around him see the challenges he has to overcome to do so? Not typically. Does this mama know how hard he works to achieve his goals? Yes and I am so proud of his dedication!

And Ellie, our child who still gets foot and leg pain on a regular basis from her September injury and club volleyball winter season, did the unthinkable. Despite her distaste for running, she boldly tried out for another sport, track and field. I encouraged her to at least try out, and she made the team as a sprinter and the only girl high jumper. Did she battle pain the entire season? Yes! Was it easy to be yet again the outside homeschooler on a public school team, and this one coed even? Not at all. (As a side note, a public school bus filled with middle school athletes proved to be more of a culture shock to my daughter at times than a third world country. Think on that for a minute!) Did she dig deep into her faith to do her best? Yes. At one of her last track meets, she texted me after her high jumping was over and before her 200m race was to begin. She said her back was in a lot of pain, from missing the high jump and hitting the bar pretty hard. She was already covered in KT tape on her shins and an ankle brace as well. She texted me from the field and said she was considering dropping out of her 200m race. The mama and coaching instinct knew she was in mild pain, but also knew she was simply battling fear. It’s not easy to lose in a sport, especially after being one of the best in another. I texted back. “Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Fearless.” I sensed she could battle out another 200m and not have any lasting physical repercussions. But to NOT TRY was going to defeat her more than losing another sprint. Did she run? Yes! Did she win the foot race? No. Did she win a life race? Absolutely! And did I cheer for her the whole time? You bet I did!

THE MAIN POINT…….God is going to ask us to do things in life that will cause us pain, that won’t feel good at the time, that will look silly or stupid to those around us. People may mock. People may question. People may doubt our abilities. But……there is no better place to be in life except the very center of God’s will. For my family, it meant battling the enemy’s attacks and still proceeding with our mission work. For my children, it meant learning to claim their faith as their own and to fight through pain or discomfort. For me, it meant releasing my fears to a God who tells me not to fear. There is freedom in the release. Our success may not always look like worldly success. Sometimes we will win the game, sometimes we won’t. But through each battle that we bravely, boldly, fearlessly engage in, knowing that God is with you is a mighty thing. It’s priceless. And each little victory builds a little more confidence, not in ourselves, but in the God who created us and guides us, and who has a purpose for our lives.

Friends, what are you discouraged about today? What fear is holding you captive? Release those fears. Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Fearless. If God has asked you do something, don’t you think He will keep his promises and be with you while you obey? Absolutely! And also, look around. There are people in your circles who are battling fear and hopelessness. They need someone to encourage them to keep running. Perhaps, God has put you in their life circle for just that reason. Be bold in your encouragement. Don’t fill them up with empty promises of success, but do fill them up with the truth about the God who will never leave them despite their failure or success. If you need someone to encourage you along the way, we are here for you. Reach out and we will join you in praying for you to see the God who holds your hand.

Sorry this is a nasty picture to share. Both feet looked like this. But it drives the point home about her pain levels and God’s awesomeness in healing her.

Sorry this is a nasty picture to share. Both feet looked like this. But it drives the point home about her pain levels and God’s awesomeness in healing her.

Ben doing what he loves.

Ben doing what he loves.

Ellie running.

Ellie running.

Sammy playing soccer.

Sammy playing soccer.

You are more important than.....

My last blog post talked about how God showed me a few years back that our neighbors are one of our local mission fields. However, today God reminded me that our family is another mission field that we have right in front of us.

Ellie had a local three day regional volleyball tournament this weekend. The whole family went Friday, just Ellie and I went yesterday (Kevin took the boys to soccer), and the kids and I went today. This morning, all five of us went to the early service at church together, but then Kevin had to drive to the airport to catch a flight for work and I drove the kids uptown for the last day of volleyball.

The kids and I prayed that we could find free street parking today. We had spent $45 in parking the last two days and quite frankly, I really wanted to find a free spot today. We drove around and were able to park for free about half a mile away from the convention center where we were playing. We all got out of the van, and unfortunately someone must have hit the lock button on the door as we were getting out (I always lock the van with the fob on my key ring). I put my keys in my coach’s bag, and went to grab the bag, but at the last second, some random racquetball dropped out of my van and started rolling down the hill we were parked on. I went to grab the ball before it ended up in a sewer somewhere. But as I reached for the ball, the drivers side door closed, locking the van with keys and wallet inside.

Thank you, Jesus, my phone was in my coat pocket. I tried all of the doors and no luck. We were stuck. I immediately called Kevin and asked if he had time to come unlock the door for me before he flew out or if I should call a locksmith or perhaps do something else.

Kevin had already parked at the airport parking lot, ridden the shuttle to the terminal and was inside the airport when I called. (This was about 80 minutes before his flight was to take off). He said he would quickly grab an Uber to my location, unlock the van for me and head back to the airport, hopefully with enough time to catch his flight.

After I knew he was coming, I saw a large group of people from the volleyball tournament walking towards the convention center. I asked the mom if Ellie could walk over with them so I could wait at the van. (Note, I normally would NEVER let her go with strangers, but God was giving me such peace, I was ok with it.) Even if I was late to the game, she could make it in time. The mom of the group gave me her phone number and a hug - I will admit to getting a little frazzled at this point. A few minutes later she even sent me a picture of Ellie in front of the court where she needed to be while I waited for Kev. (God is always faithful to supply all of our needs!)

Kev texted me while he was driving over, telling me not to worry and that he was on his way. He also wrote the most beautiful words I needed to hear.

“You are more important than a flight.”

A few minutes later, Kev rolled up in his Uber, gave me his keys to unlock my door and he gave me a quick kiss. And just like that, he was heading back to the airport in his Uber and the boys and I were walking to the convention center.

My Prince Charming saved my day, but his words really struck me. “You are more important than….”

How often, do we give the opposite impression to our number one mission fields - our families? It could come in various forms. Perhaps there is someone who struggles with putting their phone down long enough to give their kids or spouse their undivided attention? Perhaps there is someone who spends more time keeping their house clean, than interacting with those that live in it? Or maybe there is someone who would rather go out with their friends, than a much needed date with their spouse? Or maybe there is someone who works more than they really need to, missing important dinners at home or kids’ sports games or recitals? Or maybe, just maybe, there is someone who might have said, “YOU are the one who locked the keys in the van. That’s YOUR fault and YOU need to find the solution. I can’t handle your problems today.”

You are more important than…… Aren’t those the exact words Jesus said in Matthew 6 (CEV) when he reminds us not to worry?

“Jesus said to his disciples: I tell you not to worry about your life! Don’t worry about having something to eat or wear. Life is more than food or clothing. Look at the crows! They don’t plant or harvest, and they don’t have storehouses or barns. But God takes care of them. You are much more important than any birds. Can worry make you live longer?”

You are more important than….Jesus also preaches in Mark 12 about the second greatest commandment (below loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, which is the most important commandment).

“‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.”

You are more important than…..The meaning behind those words is also the exact reason God sent Jesus to die for our sins. By Jesus’ example, we learn that we were more important to Jesus than his suffering.

So, who are you telling with your words and actions that they are more important than…..?? And perhaps, we all need to take a closer look at the mission field God has placed inside our very own homes and reevaluate the messages we are sending them.

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Who Is Your Mission Field?

Thoughts from Holly….

Who is our mission field? And how does a family get started being a “family on mission”? Well, here’s a portion of our story….

About 9 or so years ago on a cold December night, I finished reading the book “Kisses from Katie.” (If you haven’t read it, go grab a copy soon!) It is about a young lady who graduates high school and travels to Uganda to temporarily offer mission support. She ends up staying in Uganda and adopting, as a single lady, many, many Ugandan girls in need of a home. I think of her as the modern day Mother Teresa.

Anyway, I went to sleep that night praying that my husband, Kevin, would magically wake up and say “Let’s move to Uganda!!” You see, I wanted to serve radically, like Katie in Uganda was serving. I wasn’t sure what that looked like, but I knew I had a heart for mission work, a heart for the suffering, and a strong desire to share the love of Christ with others. My family wasn’t quite on board yet. I had three very small children and a husband who hadn’t quite developed his missionary heart just yet. But I prayed so fervently and I truly had faith that something was going to change soon.

God is amazing. When we often pray for others to change, He directs us to our own shortcomings. So instead of God changing Kevin’s heart, like I prayed, God woke me up in the middle of that night and radically changed mine.

It was around 3am. I woke up and felt the presence of the Lord so strongly. It wasn’t audible, but the voice of God spoke to my heart. He told me, “Get up and go for a run.” Like Sarah in the Old Testament, my initial reaction was to laugh and argue.

“Haha, Run? Did I hear you correctly, God? I am not a runner (I am now but wasn’t at the time). Plus, it’s the middle of the night. I can’t possibly be hearing you correctly!”

“Go for a run, Holly.”

“Um, God, but Kev might wake up and not know where I am and I am pretty sure he won’t like me running in the dark. Isn’t that unsafe??”

“Holly, go for a run.”

Reluctantly, I climbed out of bed (My first act of faith), called for our large black dog to get ready to run. I wasn’t about to go outside in the middle of the night all by myself. I am from East Baltimore, I know the kinds of things that can happen to ladies running outside by themselves in the dark. You see, I was full of fear at this point, but God stopped me in my tracks and spoke to my heart, “Holly, if the God of the Universe has invited you to go on a run with Him, don’t you also think that He is capable of protecting you against any real or imaginary enemies?”

Ok, I guess the dog stays home. (Second act of faith).

I grabbed some sneakers and headed to the end of my driveway to embark on this ludicrous journey God was sending me on. (I was a little wavering at this point in my faith).

I turned right from the end of my driveway and started jogging down our street. As soon as I made the third act of faith, and actually started to jog (and OBEY God’s command), God did something AMAZING!

It was as if I had previously been blind, but now I could see. God spoke to my heart as I jogged through our neighborhood. He would say things like…

“You know this house, that’s where the one widow lives. She is lonely. And look to your right, that couple who smiles at the mailbox is actually on the brink of divorce. They are hurting.”

As I jogged some of the streets, God pointed these sorts of comments out to me. “Look over there, remember you overheard other neighbor’s mention that the husband is dying of cancer. They are struggling with hopelessness.” And, “Remember those friends at that house, they are on the verge of foreclosure.”

Don’t worry, Neighbors, God didn’t reveal everyone’s deep dark secrets to me, but He did enlighten me about a few handful of people who were in desperate need of prayer.

And then, He spoke these words to me…… “Holly, look around. THIS. IS. YOUR. UGANDA! I have placed you and your family in this neighborhood at this particular time because This Is Your Mission Field!”

I started to jog home, fully enlightened with the thought that God was accurate. I didn’t need to go halfway around the world to radically love others. I had hurting, broken, hopeless, struggling, sad, lonely people all around me who also needed love, hope and encouragement.

God also told me how Kevin and I were to begin radically loving our neighbors. I will leave the details out for now because they don’t particularly matter and I would prefer they remain anonymous. I will simply call it our ‘neighborly mission’. I ran home.

Notice I am no longer jogging but running! I ran in the house, ran up the stairs and jumped on the bed. I woke Kevin up. (Thank you, Jesus, that I am married to THE MOST patient man alive.) I then recounted everything God had said to me, everything he showed me and what our next steps were to be in our “neighborly mission.” Kevin was 100% on board and we followed through with the details the very next day.

But that was just the start of putting our faith into action. This whole experience taught our family that our mission field is wherever God places us. Yes, a few years later, we were blessed to begin going to Guatemala on a regular basis and sharing the love of Jesus there. BUT, the mission field begins at home.

I would love to say that ‘everywhere’ we go, we view it through God’s eyes, but the reality is we don’t. We aren’t God, but humans. But those times when we earnestly pray to bless others, when we pray for God to put others into our paths who need a word of encouragement or an act of generosity, He is always faithful.

That cold December night sparked in me a love for my neighbors, a love for running, a love for mission mindedness and a love for stepping out in faith to share God’s love with those around me. It was also when we, as a family, realized who our mission field really is.

So, who has God placed in your path lately? And how can you show them the love of Jesus?

Close Only Counts in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

While teaching a certain child of mine (who I won’t name), I was reminded of a saying yesterday. “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” This said child doesn’t like math. They have it in their head that math problems are from the devil (and I am sure some of you may agree). But no matter how hard I try to teach these math concepts to this child, they just aren’t getting it. You see, they don’t WANT to get it. They have hardened their heart to the idea that it IS possible for them to understand and succeed in math. And on the problems they do understand, they are making minor errors, thoughtless errors that make the final answer wrong (like not reading the question about reducing a fraction, or the fact that they rewrote their answer incorrectly from their scrap piece of paper to the test paper.) The concept is understood, but they are not following through and being careful with their answers.

While doing some practice questions yesterday, this child kept making these silly mistakes. They were getting sooooooooo close to the answer. But at the end, they were writing down the wrong answer, or not carrying a 1 when they should have been, or forgetting what the question really asked. I told them, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It doesn’t count in math. If you write $6.93 as your answer, but it’s $6.94, I need to mark it wrong. You are close, but not close enough.”

Homeschooling, at least in my classroom, often involves teaching in tangents. Yesterday was no different. Once I first said the idiom about horseshoes and hand grenades, I then had to offer an explanation. My kids aren’t versed in the rules of horseshoes, so we had to compare it to corn-hole, the southern version of what they could understand. And with boys in my classroom, there may have been some loud reenacting about the effects of hand grenades. (Gotta keep learning fun, right?!?!)

After we had thoroughly understood the concept that ‘close wasn’t enough’, I had to rein my peeps in and get back to math practice problems. However, the said child from above, continued to keep making mistakes and I kept repeating the idiom. And, finally, the time had come and I had to administer a math test.

This morning, I sat down to grade this said child’s math test. It is better than they were doing a few days ago, but it’s still a C. And the Armstrong Academy has the rule that one must get 85% on a test in order to advance to the next chapter. Grades don’t necessarily motivate us around here, but full comprehension of concepts does (as well as an accurate follow through) . And quite frankly, 75% isn’t close enough. These same concepts will be built on in the next chapter; these same silly mistakes will follow this child around until they learn that close doesn’t count in math.

So…..are you yet wondering why I am venting about the “joys” of teaching math on our mission page? As I was grading this test this morning and feeling frustrated that we have yet another day of hand grenade infused math class, I was stopped in my tracks by the Holy Spirit. You see, I was close, but not close enough. And guess what? Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I was so focused on making sure my child could pass their math test, that I missed a moment for a spiritual lesson for everyone. (And by God’s grace and a few silly mistakes on a test by one child, we get another opportunity to discuss it today!)

The spiritual lesson that God showed me…..the one that I want to ensure my children know……the same one we live on mission to share with others……. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Close is not enough for God.

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” There is no other way to find eternal life, but through Jesus.

I love the Message translation of Matthew 7. Parts of it read……

“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life - to God! - is vigorous and requires total attention…….Knowing the correct password - saying ‘Master, Master’ for instance - isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience - doing what my Father wills. I can see it now - at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, “Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’”

Jesus is the ONLY answer. Believing in Him is the ONLY way to eternal life. And following Jesus is the ONLY way to live. No other close answer will be enough. You may think your answer, your way of living, is close enough, good enough, to get you into Heaven. But, unfortunately, unless your full faith is in Jesus, it isn’t.

It’s hard to take a test, think you are getting a 100% on it, only to have it returned to you with a bunch of red “X’s” all over it. You then have a choice. Be content in your ignorance or seek the Correct Answer and how to get the correct answer from a teacher.

We want everyone to be confident when their Final Exam rolls around.

As a home educator, I have to report to our state about what I teach my children. Each year, I need to submit what curriculum I am planning to use for all the major subjects for each child and their grade. The state cares that our education is on track. However, this concept of eternal life is more important than ANYTHING that I teach my children and report to the state. They need to understand that Close is NOT enough. And then they need to be able to know that Truth well enough that they are comfortable sharing it with and teaching it to others. My daily prayer is for my children, my local friends and loved ones, and all the people we encounter in Guatemala, to fully grasp that Jesus is the Only Way. He is the only correct answer. Close won’t be enough.

So, how are you doing on your test???

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Trust - by Ellie

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” Jeremiah 17:7

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” Psalm 13:5

 Recently, I’ve been learning to trust God. I’ve been struggling with the idea of releasing my writing to people, even to my family. I tend to internalize things, so the idea of my writing going public is scary. I worry that no one will like it, or worse, ridicule it. I am terrified at the idea. I feel like I can’t open up, or show my true colors to people in person, so, since writing is my release, where I just pour out my feelings, I struggle with sharing my work. I’ve been working on just trying to trust God, knowing even if I get criticism, or negative feedback, I poured myself out, into every word, just releasing my heart, baring my soul, and sharing my passion. Through this process of releasing my work, I’ve learned to trust God. He’s always there for me and will never let me fall too hard, or for too long. He will lift me up and carry me through. He won’t send me any trial I can’t overcome. He only has my best interest at heart. He wraps His arms around me, holding me up, even when the flood waters rise, and the storm rages. I know I can trust God because of His incredible, unfailing love. I can trust Him because I know His promises, and can hold them close, as an anchor in my storms. He promises to be with me wherever I go, and has a beautiful plan for my life. All of this is true for you as well. What will you do with it? Where will you go?


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Ben's Recap of His Mission Trip - In His Words

My family and I went back to Casa Bernabe in Guatemala. It was my fourth time. While we were there, we gave away food, shoes and cleats. We also had a little fun with our mission team.

Our team gave out new shoes to the kids at Casa Bernabe. We got them from our friends and people who wanted to donate. Our team took them to Casa Bernabe in a lot of suitcases. Ellie, Mommy, and Michelle sorted them in rows of tables, by girls and boys. They started from small sizes and went to bigger sizes. I helped list the people from the houses who took a pair of shoes and what size they were. I felt thrilled because they received new shoes because Casa Bernabe doesn't have they money for them to buy any. God told me to help the boys. I helped most of the boys find the right pair of shoes in the right size.

My family also gave out cleats to the kids who were playing soccer. In Casa Bernabe, they call cleats, ‘tacos’. We had 90 pairs of new and used cleats. We collected them from our friends who wanted to help the kids who needed shoes. At the end of the younger kids practice, it was time for the older kids to find a pair of shoes. The last adult that was trying to find a pair, but he didn't have the right size; so, I gave him my pair and they were a perfect fit for him. I felt joyful that he got a pair that fit him. God helped all the kids find the best pair that fit them.

We were able to play soccer with the younger kids and the older kids. They love to play soccer, and so do I. They are trying to raise money so they can buy a Preschool for the younger kids, and a turf field with lights. I think God is going to help them raise enough money so they can buy it. I am going to enjoy playing on a turf field with the kids because the ground is all dirt and a little bit of grass.

On Thursday, our fifth day in Guatemala, we went to a town called Jocotillo. There, we planned to build a house, do a clinic, and give out food at 4:00pm. We started on building the house and it went up pretty easily. It only took us about three hours. And in the last two years were were in Jocotillo, it use to take about 5-6 hours to build a house. It is a tin house with a door and a window. I helped by grabbing the nails for the people hammering and I also hammered a little bit. I felt thrilled that they were able to have a house and a secure place to sleep every night.

I have asthma, so while in Jocotillo, I had to wear a mask because there was a lot of dust. Also, the people we were constructing the house for were cooking lunch to the right of the house. There was a lot of smoke. I felt hot in the mask, but I was relieved I had it so I could breathe easily.

While seven of us were building the house, Daddy included, the rest of the team were helping with a medical clinic and playing with the children.  At 4:00pm, the whole group started giving out bags of food to the people who were waiting in line. We had about 400 bags of food and every family got a bag, including the church and its members. I felt energetic that they received food because food is what they all need. I saw God in the feeding because every person received a bag of food.

On Friday, our last full day in Guatemala, we hiked Volcan de Pacaya. It took us two hours to get to the top of the volcano. In 2014, there was big eruption that caused a lot of smoke and ash to go into the nearby towns. On the way up, we got to see rocks falling from the top of the active volcano. They were still really hot. We got to see a Lava Store, which had dried magma and petrified shells that they put together into a bracelet or necklace. After the Lava Store, we went to a part of the volcano that had heat coming out of the ground. We put marshmallows on sticks and roasted them using the geothermal heat. After the marshmallows, we got to the top of the volcano. Then, we slid down the slope of the mountain. It was really dirty but awesome, I would like to do it again someday.  I saw God at the top of the mountain because I could see His creation, which was extraordinary. God helped our team to be safe on the volcano and on the way sliding down to the bottom of the slope.

Overall, I love being in Guatemala for the fourth time with my family and with the group from my church. I hope we go back for another month to Chimaltenango and Casa Bernabe.


Ben at the top of Volcan de Pacaya, mask and all

Ben at the top of Volcan de Pacaya, mask and all

Ben helping measure beans, as part of the food we prepared for distribution in Jocotillo

Ben helping measure beans, as part of the food we prepared for distribution in Jocotillo

Ben assisting in the cleat distribution - see Holly’s post “Mission Means Sacrifice” to read more about Ben giving away the cleats he is wearing in this picture

Ben assisting in the cleat distribution - see Holly’s post “Mission Means Sacrifice” to read more about Ben giving away the cleats he is wearing in this picture

Ben with a sweet girl from Casa Bernabe who follows him around and absolutely adores him

Ben with a sweet girl from Casa Bernabe who follows him around and absolutely adores him

Sammy's Recap of His Mission Trip - In His Words

On my fourth trip to Guatemala, this year we did a lot physical labor and some easier work as well. I loved this trip.

We gave out shoes to all of the kids in the orphanage. All of the kids cherished them because they use those shoes all year. Although it took a long time to collect all of those shoes, it doesn’t take a long to give them all out. It felt really marvelous to see all of the kids get their shoes because when I used my shoes there in November, they got worn out in one week. So, to see all of the kids only get new shoes once every year, it felt real great. God showed me that we come at the right time when the kids need shoes.

In addition, we collected soccer cleats for all of the kids that play soccer at Casa Bernabe. And every single person that played soccer was given cleats. It was awesome seeing all of the kids having their needs disappear. One kid had been playing with his new shoes and they had gotten muddy. So when he received his cleats, he was really excited. I saw God when one person didn’t have their size, so Ben gave him his cleats and they fit perfectly.

One other project that we worked on was organizing food and giving it out to the people in Jocotillo. On Wednesday we spent all day organizing food to hand out, such as beans, rice, corn, oil, salt, sugar, protein powder and coffee. Then, Thursday, we went to Jocotillo and handed out all of the food to the villagers. It felt terrific to see the people getting food because they were so needy. I saw God when they were just so happy to get the food and He was providing for their needs.

Friday, we woke up at 4:30am and ate breakfast and went to Pacaya. At Pacaya, we hiked for three and a half hours. It was very steep, cold and windy. Once we made it to the top, there was a Lava Store which sold bracelets, necklaces and all sorts of jewelry that were made out of dried magma. I bought a cross necklace made out of magma. At the very top, we were able to slide down a little bit of it on our feet. It felt exhilarating to be able to run down, but it also felt terrible when I face planted. I saw God when Marlon was willing to get up that early to drive us to Pacaya, when he could have slept in. It was very kind and loving of Marlon.

Our trip was good.

God is great.

And beans and eggs

were all I ate.


Sammy’s 4th trip to Guatemala

Sammy’s 4th trip to Guatemala

Sammy playing ball with the kids of Jocotillo

Sammy playing ball with the kids of Jocotillo

Sammy working hard to help build a trench with Kevin and Ben

Sammy working hard to help build a trench with Kevin and Ben

Sammy laying among the 10,000 pounds of food that we measured, bagged and eventually handed out to the people of Jocotillo

Sammy laying among the 10,000 pounds of food that we measured, bagged and eventually handed out to the people of Jocotillo

Ellie's Recap of Her Mission Trip - In Her Words

Last week, I went to Guatemala for the sixth time in three years. My family and I went to an orphanage called Casa Bernabe with a team from our church. We stayed for a week, doing various projects, like feedings, building houses, and digging trenches, and just playing with the kids.

For the first few days, I worked in Casa de los Angelitos, helping out with the babies. I would spend six hours there, from eight to one, helping feed the babies, change diapers and playing with them. There are nine kids under the age of 7, of which 2 have special needs. I really enjoyed being able to love on the kids and the people who give up their lives to be there for these kids, even if it meant changing a diaper or two. I’ve discovered that there’s a special place in my heart for these kids who have been beaten down by the world. No one deserves to feel that kind of pain, especially babies. You wouldn’t know it by looking at these babies though. The house parents are like their biological parents, and the kids love them like they are. They are surrounded by love and routine. It is incredible to watch and be a part of.

Every morning, at 6 am, we had devotions around the picnic table. We watched the sunrise and studied Colossians. I tried to make it the first few days, but failed because I didn’t get up in time. But the few days I did make, were powerful. The majority of the team, diving into the Word together, giving insights, voicing questions, and growing in unity. Hearing the different versions of the Bible, read together, giving different perspectives, is an extraordinary experience.

On Thursday, our team went to the village of Jocotillo, where we had a medical clinic, distributed food, and built a house. I helped out in the clinic, acting as a pharmacist, making Ziploc bags of acetaminophen, and writing out the dosage instructions, in Spanish, on the bags.

I did that for a while, then, since the kids were trying to get into the clinic, even though they didn’t need to see the doctor, I entertained the kids by teaching them English. I would say a word in Spanish, then repeat it in English and have the kids say it in English. I had a very large group, maybe 15-20 kids. Then we played duck, duck, goose in Spanish (pato, pato, ganso), and had a group of probably 30, maybe 35, kids. The kids loved it, and when, after probably 2 hours, I got up to go help with the feeding, several kids followed me and asked for me to keep playing. I told them I would come play later and went to help with the feeding. One little boy followed me, and I ended up giving him a piggyback ride for almost 2 hours. He was absolutely adorable!

When we first arrived in Guatemala, we went to Pollo Campero to eat lunch. We had a large group, 17 members, and filled up the lobby. I translated for the group, which was awesome! I actually understood the waitress and was able to communicate to her what we wanted. And during the trip, I could feel my Spanish growing. I could talk more Spanish, and understand more as well. And, once, at the Jocotillo clinic, I was able to translate a little for Melanie when Julia needed a break. Then, on the plane back, there was a family who didn’t speak any English, and it was their first time flying. I was able to help a little with getting them to their seats and settled in. I love being able to help people, to communicate to them in the language they understand best. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction, of fulfillment. I love understanding more and more, having more knowledge.

Going to Guatemala takes a lot out of you. Not only emotionally, your heart emptying of the world’s desires, and filling up with love, but also physically, with you waking up at 4 am every morning and going to bed at 11 after working all day. When our plane landed in Charlotte, it was midnight. We got home at 1 am and I didn’t go to sleep until 1:30 in the morning.  Then I had to wake up at 6:45 to go to a volleyball tournament and play from 8 to 3. Then I went to youth group until 9pm. Needless to say, I was EXHAUSTED. I feel into bed at 9 and didn’t wake up for 18 hours, sleeping until 3:30. One of my many blessings is being homeschooled and not needing to wake up for school. If I need rest, I can rest as long as I get all my work done.

I love Guatemala and the stirrings it creates in my heart. I could move there at some point in my life, but for now, I’m here. I’ve learned to bloom where I’m planted, and for now that’s here, in Lake Wylie. I look forward to seeing what God will do in me and how He will move in this coming year.


Ellie teaching the children in Jocotillo English

Ellie teaching the children in Jocotillo English

Ellie being warmly greeted by friends the first day back to Casa Bernabe. They were so happy to see her visit again.

Ellie being warmly greeted by friends the first day back to Casa Bernabe. They were so happy to see her visit again.

Playing duck duck goose

Playing duck duck goose

Two of the cuties from the Baby House where Ellie loves to serve.

Two of the cuties from the Baby House where Ellie loves to serve.

Not even 7 hours after landing at midnight from Guatemala, she was back to her other 'love’ - volleyball

Not even 7 hours after landing at midnight from Guatemala, she was back to her other 'love’ - volleyball

Map of Houses We Have Helped Build

Kevin processed all the aerial photos from his drone flight over Jocotillo, Guatemala. 152 individual photos collected in about 9 minutes. He marked all the locations where we have built houses over the last few years. He had to guess a bit on the 2017 locations. Click on the map symbols to see a photo from the ground. 

God's Beauty

Sometimes you need to stop and just admire God’s creation. Before 7am one morning on the way to our Bible Study, the kids and I pulled over and just enjoyed the beautiful sunrise God gave us over the lake. We considered it a heavenly Welcome Home gift after being in Guatemala for four weeks.

We noticed only one other car had stopped to snap a picture or just sit and enjoy it. I got to thinking about the thousands of cars who didn’t take the extra few minutes to enjoy it and how they were missing out.

Life can get very busy, but let’s try not to miss sight of the gifts God gives every day.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.” Psalm 39:6

“His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.” Habakkuk‬ ‭3:4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”
‭‭James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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A Rose is Still a Rose

Ellie brought this inside for me. My last rose of the season. Do you know what a rose is called when it’s cold, covered in ice and the weather is pounding down on it? A Rose.

The Spiritual implications to this are huge! Life may beat down on us. We may feel like the elements are too much to handle. We may be the only one of our kind still left. But we are still beautifully created. And our identity does not depend on the circumstances in life. So shake your troubles off and shine your beauty!

“For everything God created is good.”
‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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A Parasite For His Glory

We had traveled to Guatemala for four weeks in November, returning early December. Within days, Sammy had some intense GI issues that lasted for days. He had the inability to stop vomiting and was becoming weaker by the moment, So, I took him to the pediatrician thinking I would be home in an hour. But God had other plans for us that day.

The pediatrician sent us to the ER for better testing and Sammy needed IV fluids. After a few hours of fluids and moments where we thought he was perking up, he was unable to eat/drink and needing more Zofran. That ‘won’ him an ambulance ride to the Children’s Hospital and a mandatory night’s stay for more IV fluids and observation.

That day that was supposed to be our first day back into our home school routine and Kev’s first day back in the office after his four weeks of leave. Kev only made it in a few hours before I texted him about the downhill spiral of Sammy’s condition and his ER admission. He ended up spending the night in the hospital and being diagnosed with Cryptosporidiosis. We aren’t exactly sure how he got it, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. God healed him and He most definitely had a purpose for him getting it.

So why do I share these pathetic looking pictures of my sweet youngest child? To give God glory, of course.

We are humbled by the grace God has given us. Our worse conditions have happened while we are within easy access to excellent medical care (Ben was hospitalized for his asthma just a week before we left for that four week trip). We had the sweetest folks care for us. God always provides!

We were able to share our mission work testimony and story with dozens of medical professionals. Dozens!! (Do you know how many times I had to tell people that yes, we have been out of the country and then to name all of the locations where we have been. Every.single.time....people wanted to know WHY we would take our family to Guatemala for a month??? And I got to point them to the amazing God that directs our paths. And many medical professionals have even asked us about the needs in Guatemala or their own interest in pursuing medical mission work. It’s amazing, awe inspiring, really.)

We are on mission still. Right here. Right now. Wherever God places us, He will be acknowledged and thanked for his mercies and gifts. We choose to be thankful and joyful, regardless of the circumstances.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.” Philippians 4:4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

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Count Your Blessings

We have an Armstrong Family Tradition of dumping out our Blessings Jar from the past year, reviewing them, laughing and sharing memories of the past year and putting them in our Blessings Binder. This is done every year on New Year’s Eve.

Before we start a New Year, we make an intentional effort to remember all that God has done for us this past year!

We just started this the beginning of 2017. (It is never too late to start a new tradition. And it’s never too late in the year to start counting your blessings!) We simply keep a vase of paper squares in a jar with a pen on our dining room table and a large vase that fills up over the year. And whenever one of us experiences a blessing, we write it down.

This isn’t only an cute idea we have, it is actually a Biblical command. This is just how our family chooses to remember what the Lord has done for us and to teach it to our children, and to create a legacy for generations later.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9

“Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts.” Psalm 77:11-12

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Pointing Others to the Truth Takes Courage

This boy. This quiet, shy boy. This boy of few words. This boy who only lets those closest to him really truly know him. This boy who would rather be a stagehand in life, not the star of the show. This eleven year old boy of mine.......

I was told by Ben’s Community Bible Study leader that he spoke up for The Truth of God’s Word in front of the whole class. Apparently there was a discussion about one of the questions and he spoke up, pointing everyone to the scripture verse that spoke the truth to the question. He wasn’t afraid to have all eyes on him, if it meant the truth prevailed and his friends weren’t misled. And instead of just stating his opinion, he did what we should all do, he pointed others to the Word.

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Reflections from a 13 year old

Upon returning from her sixth trip to Guatemala, Ellie wrote this….

Questions.

As I sit here and write, I try to reconcile my two worlds. One world where people dress to impress, are kept to a tight schedule, always in a rush, and ignore the people around them. The other where people don’t care what you wear, where time is fluid, and you never rush, always take your time, and always see the people around you who need help. It’s like fitting a square into a circle hole. It doesn’t fit. You have to be willing to give up one or the other. You can’t have both. You need to pick, or nothing will ever make sense. You can join the world and fit in, find the acceptance of others, but lose the love and peace, or you can go against the flow, against everything ingrained in you and lose the acceptance of others, be an outcast, but gain everything that’s actually worthwhile.

You have to decide how much you’re actually willing to give up to live out your calling. Are you willing to give up your calling and a life of vibrancy and fulfillment for a life of social acceptance that will fluctuate with the winds? Or do you stick with your calling and face the judgement of you peers, of the criticism of the world, the harsh words and angry stares? You have to decide who and what is worth more. Your peers and their acceptance, or Jesus and his eternal life and crown of glory? There are pros and cons to each, but it is a personal choice. Which will you choose?

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Mission Means Sacrifice

What are you willing to do to see others know Jesus? Living on mission always involves some degree of sacrifice.

Here is a picture of my 11 year old son, Ben, and a guy from Casa Bernabe. This gentleman was the last person to look for cleats when we were giving away the donated cleats we took to Guatemala. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any that fit him. However, I knew I had heard from God that each one person would get a pair. But where would the last pair come from?

I looked around and saw Ben wearing his cleats he had brought from home. I asked Ben if he would be willing to give them away. Ben immediately took them off and handed them over. They were a perfect fit! (Guatemalans have small feet and Armstrong’s tend to have large feet).

Ben was even about to go on the field and play himself - he had been looking forward to this moment since we left in December. But he didn’t think twice about giving away his very own pair. He knew that his gift of sacrifice would have more meaning than playing with cleats. (Whether he realizes it or not, he quickly weighed the cost and the benefits and knew that his gift would have eternal rewards.)

Ben then put on a two sizes too small extra pair to hop on the field, without a beat, without a complaint. Yes, I cried. I knew this would be a moment that we would remember forever as a family on mission. And I knew this would be a moment that could touch other people’s lives when they heard the story, not just the man receiving the cleats.

”And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

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