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My Journey of Faith, part 8 – the end.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? Matthew 6:25-26

My Journey of Faith part 8 the end

In my last Journey of Faith post, I told you how I overcame discouragement and loneliness. And how we found out that my husband would lose his job in a few weeks…

It was early January, cold and snowy. We were living in an old, drafty farmhouse that was hard to heat. (we had moved from the trailer house into a farmhouse in the country, in October) We put a blanket over the staircase, moved the kids’ beds downstairs, and heated only the living room and kitchen. Propane was costing us 450.00 every 4-5 weeks to heat our house – it was eating up our small budget too fast. I remember at one point wondering how we were going to survive the winter without begging for money!

But I learned once again that God never fails His children! He is always faithful to supply our needs. We trusted Him, Cliff worked hard, I tried to be as thrifty as I could, and we always had food to eat. One time a man came to church – just a visitor – and after church he took Cliff out to his vehicle and gave us bags and boxes of food. Produce, mostly, and some dried beans. All from his garden! He said he had ‘way too much garden veggies, and wanted to bless someone with it! As far as I know, he never came back to church – I am certain he was an angel. :) We ate squash, potatoes, carrots, beans, and many other good vegetables for weeks. Sometimes there would be an envelope in our mailbox with a little cash in it. I wish I knew who felt prompted by God to give – we never asked for money or talked about our finances. I would like to thank those dear saints for being sensitive to the Holy Spirit in their lives!

Well, back to the lay-off… When we heard that we’d be out of a job in a couple weeks, we honestly were stumped. What does a person do who gets laid off in the middle of winter with literally no savings, no college degree, no nothing?!

We prayed.

God answered our prayers in a powerful, amazing way!

My sister and her husband used to work on a ranch near Cheyenne, WY, and we used to visit them there. Through them, we learned to know a young man who ran cattle on a couple ranches in WY. Well, when we were considering what to do for a job, Cliff remembered that young man, and decided to call him up.

When Cliff asked him if he had any job openings, the man answered: “Yes, I just leased a new ranch this month and need a another guy to help run it. You can start next week.”

We were blown away! God had lined up the perfect job for us at the exact time we needed it. I tell you, friends, God does things like this all the time. We aren’t special or anything. But I have trained myself to see God’s hand in everything. You can do that too. Write it down. Or tell someone. Don’t say: “Well that was pretty neat!” and forget about it. Notice when God works a miracle for you. Praise Him! Thank Him!

 “…for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Matt. 6:8S

So on Monday morning, Cliff packed a sleeping bag and a suitcase and drove up to Wyoming to start his new job. I stayed in CO and started packing. I packed up all our belongings as best I could between caring for three little ones. (the kids were 1, 3 and 5) On Saturday, Cliff came home and we loaded most of our belongings into our trusty pink horse-trailer and headed north.

On Monday, I took the kids and drove down with the truck and trailer for the final load. My sister came along to help, since she was visiting for awhile. She helped me clean the house and pack up the remaining things.

Ranch life was good. Cliff enjoyed the work, the salary was better than we had ever enjoyed before, (that’s not saying much, but while you won’t get rich on a ranch, at least you have a house!) and we all loved the wide open spaces of Wyoming!

Three short months after we moved to Wyoming, our faith was tested in a very different and difficult manner. Our youngest child, Andy, was playing near the irrigation canal and drowned. It was by far the most trying circumstance we had to face. But as always, God brought us through that, too. I am thankful for the grace of God that is give in every situation. I did struggle quite a bit with guilt over Andy’s death. Then I had to learn to graciously respond to people’s ignorant but well-meaning comments. Each part of the trial forced me to lean on God more, and dig deeper in His Word and His wisdom.

If you want to read the story of Andy, you can find it here. Andy

That was ten years ago. We have been living in Wyoming and working on ranches and we still like Wyoming! :) It is our favorite state, despite the brutal winters and mosquito-laden summers.  We  lived on that first ranch (the X-Bar) for 4.5 years, then moved to a ranch north of Cheyenne for 5 years, and currently we are on a ranch in the mountains west of Laramie.

Our children are blessed to grow up in this wonderful ranching community, learning to rope and ride and care for animals. Cliff still enjoys ranching, he also owns a small leather business on the side where he makes saddles, chaps, and other gear for working cowboys.

After our son died, I started reading about foster care, and slowly my heart was drawn to the amazing work of being a safe place for kids who are removed from their homes. After 5 years of my reading and dreaming, we were licensed as a foster home, and received our first placement in May, 2015. Foster care was never Cliff’s dream, but he supported my dream. After 7 kids coming through our home, I can say the honeymoon period is over, haha! but I still have an incredible burden for these kids and this work. Even when it is the hardest, I am reminded how precious each child is to our God, how much He cares about them.

Our life looks so much different than I ever thought it would, but God’s plans are always best. So many things He said “No” to, and that was best. Then He said “Yes” to many wonderful things that I could never have dreamed of! I am learning to take each experience from His hand of love, and be thankful.

If this series has blessed or encouraged you in any way, I would love if you leave a comment and tell me why! :) Thank you to all who have replied to my stories and encouraged me to write it.

If you missed a post, you can find them here:
My Journey of Faith part 1

My Journey of Faith part 2

My Journey of Faith part 3

My Journey of Faith part 4

My Journey of Faith part 5

My Journey of Faith part 6

My Journey of Faith part 7

Temptation & Escape.

 

calf in pen


Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. James 1:13

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 

When Satan holds out a tempting sin with which to trip us, God comes alongside and offers an alternative – a way of escape.

It’s a bit like branding. There are ropes swingin’ all over the place; the calves are getting caught and tripped up every couple minutes. Dozens of them are caught. There seems no way of escape. This one calf sees the roper comin’ his way, and he knows he’s next to get caught! But then he sees a hole in the fence, and out he squirts! He’s free! He found the way of escape. cowgirl roping

The analogy breaks apart after that – I mean, any cowboy worth his salt is gonna run that calf down. But you get the idea.  It doesn’t matter how impossible it seems, God always does provide a way of escape from temptation.

Sometimes it isn’t easy. What about the temptation to tell a ‘white lie’? That can be a pretty strong temptation! It isn’t going to hurt anybody, but it will save me disgrace or embarrassment. The way of escape may actually be choosing to tell the truth, and being humiliated! Sometimes we need those experiences to keep us humble. At any rate, we can choose if we will tell the lie or tell the truth, even in very small matters. We must be truthful, if we are to defend ourselves from Satan. Ephesians 6:14

Temptations come in all forms and sizes. Temptation to steal, cheat, to be unkind, to be hurtful, to overeat, to lust, to gossip. We are bombarded daily with temptations from Satan. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit within us, can we escape. God promises that we CAN escape! Do you truly believe God? Why can I not seem to escape the temptation?

Perhaps because the Holy Spirit is not welcome in my life. If I live a half-hearted Christian life, careless with words, not studying Scripture, and just living for myself – then God cannot help me. If I am humble and desperate for the power of God in my life, I will surely receive it!

Every time we are tempted, we have a choice. We can choose God’s way or our way. The window for choosing is tiny – split seconds, at times. But we all know the power of split seconds in roping or rodeo, right? A split second can win you millions or break your neck.

TA BrandingEspecially in the beginning, we react to events or feelings and barely recognize the moment as a temptation. But as we grow and become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice in our conscience, we will start ‘seeing’ that way of escape.

The key is to stay soft to the quiet whisper of God’s voice. Don’t harden your heart and go ahead with that sin – no matter how small it seems. In that split-second; choose the right way. Choose righteousness. Give no place to the devil. It is easy to brush off that quiet Voice in the moment of temptation. But, every time you resist temptation – your spiritual muscles grow stronger.

Ask God today to show you the way of escape from every temptation you face!

5 Reasons Ranch Folks Skip Church.

Country Church

“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24


When one lives in far-flung places, it is very easy to skip out on Sunday meetin’s. The reasons are valid, or at least understandable. There are pressures and responsibilities that people who work 9-5 just don’t understand. Agriculture has unique challenges that make getting away difficult.

First, it’s too far. Well yes, it is. You may need to spend  lots of time and money to drive to a church. You may not be able to sleep in Sunday morning; you may need to get up while all your city buddies are still snoozing. This can seem like too much to ask, but we all know how early we rise, and how far we drive to a branding or a great bull sale, am I right?!

Secondly, we always have something urgent to do. This one is my personal enemy. I have heard this excuse (not from my husband) and I dislike it. Yes, there will always be something to do. There always is, when you live on a ranch. There are 101 things that need our attention, preferably yesterday. But you gotta choose, okay? That ditch can be dug on Monday, that bunch can be moved later. (unless they’re in the neighbor’s pasture – then get it done now!) Trust me, most of the pressing stuff can wait. It’s a mindset.
Trigger warning: what I am gonna say next may make you upset!
We love our life and we’re happy to sacrifice everything for the ranch. But that’s not so healthy, really. We need to have friends and interests that include things off the ranch. This is one reason so many kids are running away from the ranch when they turn 18. They want nothing to do with our obsession. I can’t blame ’em. bull in a bale feeder

Third, we do try, but then get stuck. This one can be comical, like the time we were headed to church one Sunday morning and noticed one of our bulls standing inside a round-bale feeder! We tried to tip it up, but that bull wasn’t standing around to allow that! He hightailed it up the hill, feeder bouncing along!
I could tell more stories of how we’ve been held up last-minute from church or other plans. It seems the ranch knows when you want to leave. It finds all sorts of weird delays to throw at you. You have to be careful what you allow. It will suck you back into the craziness if you let it. :) Before you go saddle up or start the tractor – stop! Think; is it a matter of life or death for livestock? If not, it can probably wait a few hours.

Fourth, there’s mostly hypocrites in church anyway.  Sadly, there are many hypocrites in church. Churches also often have some gossips, cliques, power-grabbers, and lazy back-seat warmers, too. Which one are you? Are you on fire for God, willing to serve your brothers and sisters in the church? Or are you just wanting to get your blessing for the week and go home? The problem starts with us. How often am I a hypocrite? Have I ever said “I’m praying for you!” but forgotten to actually pray? Hypocrite.
Have I ever acted or talked like my marriage was great, but we actually argued on the way to church? Hypocrite.
Have I pretended to be a faithful reader of God’s Word, but actually only read the verse of the day? Hypocrite.
Sadly, the church does seem to bring that out in us, I don’t know why. But the fact is, there are hypocrites everywhere, so don’t blame your staying home on that. Yes, Christians should live higher lives than celebrities or actors or sports people. They should. But they often don’t. Because the church is US, folks. Just ordinary people like me and you.  And if I am a hypocrite – even once, then others can blame it on the church. If you are a ever, ever a hypocrite – even once – then someone may be using you as their excuse.Wildflowers in wyoming

Lastly, I can worship God here on the ranch, surrounded by His nature. This one sounds so good. Anyone who has watched the sunrise over the hills, or walked though a fresh-cut hay field, or stopped to listen to the call of a bird on a warm summer evening knows the sense of awe that comes over you.
But friends, that isn’t church. Yes, Jesus preached on a hillside. When you have a crowd of 5,000 following you, feel free to have church on the hillside.
Church is about fellowship with other local believers. Encouraging one another in the faith. Speaking truth from different view points, so you stay balanced. Support in difficult times, and praise together in the good.
You just can’t get that alone. You can learn many things from God while you are alone on the ranch. Many lessons in nature, many neat truths from Scripture. But those cows aren’t gonna ask you how your week has been. The pony isn’t going to say: “Hey, let’s pray about that thing in your life.” The dog, much as he loves you, is never going to say “Come over and eat tacos with us tonight.”
There are so many blessings you can get from being a regular, committed part of a church. I know – many churches aren’t functioning correctly. In the effort to not step on toes, they have made everything bland and generic and unhelpful. But go anyways. Ask God to lead you to a place where you can go and find fellowship. Even if it is 1-2 other people in your home, who also  love the Lord and have a vision to grow His kingdom.
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matt. 18:20
We need other faithful Christian friends to keep us sharp.Denver skyline

Bonus: we have nothing in common with those city folk. Well, Jesus came from Heaven, and yet He found a way to fellowship with us earthlings! So… I guess we can manage to get outside our little world and find fellowship with people who live in the concrete jungle! :) Seriously though, it is great to be with other ranch folk. But don’t pick a church by the clothes the pastor wears. Find one that sticks close to truth. Cowboy church is great – IF it’s great. But slapping a hat on your head does not mean your theology is sound. Be wise.

You may feel like it isn’t worth the effort, but I can tell you  that if you find other like-minded Christians to fellowship with on a regular basis, you will grow. You will be encouraged. It will be worth every commitment and sacrifice. Give your best to God, and He will bless you spiritually.

What are some obstacles you face, that make it difficult to make to church?

My Journey of Faith, part 5.

my-journey-of-faith-5In the year 2001, I became a mother.

It was around 4 pm when our sweet daughter entered the world with that special newborn cry. I, who had never been too baby-crazy, looked down at her scrunched-up face and fell in love – as all mothers do! I was pretty sure I could feel my heart swelling with love, and the enormity of my emotion was overwhelming.

We took her back to my in-law’s house, and surrounded by family, we discovered the joys of night-wakings and first smiles. We were living in one bedroom, and my husband worked with his father during this time. My mother-in-law and the teen daughters operated a small bakery/sandwich shop, and I stayed home with my baby. fall centerpiece with candle

It was during this time that we started going to the same small church that my in-laws attended. It was a 2 hour drive one way to church. Not because there weren’t churches closer; this was the Bible Belt, after all. But this small country church had something the others didn’t: it had life. We drove to church every Sunday morning and home every Sunday afternoon. Thankfully, the folks at church were extremely hospitable, and we rarely left without a dinner (lunch) invitation. And usually a supper invite as well. Or more often, the dinner would stretch out to afternoon popcorn and games, then on into supper.

This church was pastored by a man whose teaching I hadn’t heard before. He preached often about the power of the Holy Spirit. Not about jumping and screaming and being slain in the spirit. But the power of the Holy Spirit… the power in a Christian’s life to overcome sin. I hung on every word. I hadn’t heard such life-changing stuff since Youth Bible school!

Some of the biggest lessons I learned there were:
Temptation is not the same as sin. Satan puts thoughts in your head, and that is not sin. But if you yield to those thoughts, that is sin. Wow! That was life-changing for me! It took away all guilt I had for not being able to stop thoughts from popping in my head.
To have power in your life, you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8  I prayed specifically to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day, and I learned to ask for His help in each moment of temptation. I fell a lot in the beginning. But over time, as I followed the Bible’s teaching and grew in understanding, my ‘new man’ grew stronger and the ‘old man’ became weaker. Romans 6:6Eph. 4:22-24
Two rules I learned that helped me overcome sin; 1. sincerely repenting each time, and 2. asking forgiveness each time the sin involved another person. My biggest problem is sinning with my tongue, so I had a lot of uncomfortable conversations with people! But when you go to the person and ask forgiveness, the very awkwardness of it will help you ‘think before you speak’ in the future.
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is simply the third Person of the Trinity: the Spirit of Christ. Romans 8:9

smell the flowersWe moved to the community where this church was located, several months after our daughter was born, and we lived there 4 years. During that time, the pastor became a true spiritual father to us. He taught us many truths from God’s Word. He shepherded us as a young married couple, being an example with his life. His wife is a godly woman who taught me many things about living in a Christlike manner. I watched her ways, her speech, and her example. To this day, I text or call her when I am feeling overwhelmed! What a need there is for godly women to teach and mentor the younger women!

There were several very Godly women in that church who took me under their wing, and taught me how to mother, how to be a wife, how to cook and clean and be a better sister in the church. Sometimes I look back on those years and wince, as I remember all the dumb things I did and said as a young wife and mom in her early 20’s. Oh, goodness. So much immaturity! But no one chided me; they simply loved me and cared for me and gently taught me. My mother-in-law was one of the most important. I am so blessed with the mother I found in her! She was there when my own mother was far away, and I learned so much from her.

sunsetThanks for sticking with me on this journey of faith. It has been good for me to go back and remember all the goodness of the Lord; all the mighty things He has done for me! There is nothing good in me – ONLY in Him!!

To be continued…

If you missed earlier posts, you can find them here:
My Journey of Faith part 1

My Journey of Faith part 2

My Journey of Faith part 3

My Journey of Faith part 4

My Journey of Faith, part 4.

My Journey of Faith-8

At last I had begun to see what a real relationship with Jesus was like! It started simply; by talking to Him throughout the day, about everything. I was purposely, consciously, training my mind to constantly turn to God during the day. To ‘set my mind on things above, not on things of this earth’. Colossians 3:2  I was not finished struggling against sin, but I was starting to see growth in several areas. I finally had hope. I had the promise of help and victory.

Day after day, I pored over the Bible and prayed earnestly for God to help me gain victory over my anger, selfishness, and discouragement. Up until now, the Bible had been quite dry and boring. It seemed almost sinful to admit that – and I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone. But now! Now the Bible was like fresh, cool water on a parched desert. It came alive in my hands, and I feasted hungrily on the Bread of Life!

I don’t know if any of my family or friends could tell a difference. I’m sure Mom could – poor mom had to put up with me during my hard, temper-fraught years. As God changed my heart, I grew to respect and love my mom. I started trying to make life easier for her, instead of trying to get by with as little work as possible. I still flew off the handle at people, I still had a sharp tongue and a scornful attitude, often. But I saw these for the wicked sins they are, and began praying about them and fighting Self.

The next three years I attended the same Youth Conference. Each year I learned more about Jesus Christ, and more about how to walk by the Spirit, and not the flesh. Each year I came home determined to be a light and example to my friends, to help them see the wonderful new truths I was learning. But each year I came home and realized that we were not on the same wavelength, so to speak. The church I attended put a lot of focus on our Christian heritage, and a good moral life, but they didn’t have power! Or if they did, I never heard about it. Every Sunday it was the same testimony of struggling with the same old sins. They preached that Jesus would forgive your sins (and He will!) and that each day was a new beginning (and it is!) but I wanted more! I saw people who had real joy on their faces and testified of changed lives! That’s what I wanted.

So I kept on seeking, learning, reading. I also became disillusioned with the Mennonite culture in general. I loved my church – I really did! But they didn’t seem to be able to offer me much. And frankly all their rules and expectations were grating on me. Not that they were hard to keep; I had no problem keeping them. I never got into trouble with the leaders; I was a ‘good kid’. But the rules were not in Scripture, and the only thing they accomplished – as far as I could see – was burden people with unnecessary loads, and turn away those raised in a different culture. OR, they attracted people who saw it as some sort of ‘Laura Ingalls’ idyllic lifestyle. The reason given for the rules was to keep us from danger. To keep us from falling into sin. But there is a wonderful verse in Jude that says God can keep us from falling! How wonderful it is that anyone anywhere can be kept from falling by the power of the Holy Spirit within us! We don’t need to depend on man-made rules. (verse 24)

Of course, Mennonites are just like any other culture: There are wonderful people who love the Lord, and there are some who have wicked, unrepentant hearts. The problem I saw, was that if your heart was evil, you could still be a good Mennonite. You can hide heart stuff real easy when the church focuses on your appearance. Human beings are wonderful hypocrites. We are all pros at putting up a front! I include myself in this, by the way.

In 1998, my oldest brother died, about a week or two after Youth Conference. I was devastated. It was my first taste of death. But God ministered to my heart in such a special way, that it became a cornerstone for my Christian life. Ever since, I look back and remember how loved I felt at that dark time. You can read about that experience here: This Day in my History.

Well, when I was 18, my family took a 3 month visit to Belize, a small country in Central America. To give a bit of history, my mom is related to some Mennonite missionaries that run several missions in the southern part of the country. When my parents were younger, they went several times to the mission to help  while the missionaries were on furlough in the States. The last time they went, I was 4 years old. I had vague memories, and my sister – who was 6 that time – she also had a few memories. But we wanted to go again and see the mission as adults. My dream was to be a missionary like Amy Carmicheal, so I think my dad was trying to give us a mission experience without us leaving him to get it! 😀

A village school in Belize.

A village school in Belize.

Our family planned to road trip through Mexico to Belize, and there was this friend of the family who decided he wanted to go along. He’d spent almost a year at the same mission doing volunteer work, and had friends down there. So one cold January day, we headed to Belize.

What does this all have to do with my faith? Well, two things. 1. It opened my eyes to the problems that come when you try to impose Mennonite culture on 3rd world natives. (doesn’t work very well) and 2. That family friend who went along, asked me to marry him! 😀 Yes, it was Cliff, and it was in that hot, tropical country that we started dating. And we started dating because one day we had a long talk about Christianity, churches, and our longings for a church that taught more. We both had the same longings and desires, spiritually, and we were both kind of unsure where we wanted to be.

When we went home 3 months later, my church was going through a major church split. Caught up in my new romance, I never did get all the details, and I really didn’t care. I had been wanting to leave the Mennonite church, and here was the perfect opportunity. I gave a letter of withdrawing my membership, and, considering the confusion that church was in at the time, I guess it didn’t get much attention. I didn’t go to church the Sunday it was read publicly, so I don’t really know how that went down. But anyways. I want to say again how much I loved my church. It was real hard for me to leave it. I had close friends there who had poured time into my life. Friends who I am still indebted to, and whom I respect. But it just wasn’t meeting my deep heart cry for life and growth.

Our wedding day, year 2000. I was 19, and Cliff was 22.

Our wedding day, year 2000. I was 19, and Cliff was 22.

At our wedding reception.

At our wedding reception.

Cliff and I got married in November. (can you hear the happy church bells pealing? 😉 ) And we honored my mother by having a traditional Mennonite wedding. But when we got back from our Arizona honeymoon, we began attending a little non-denominational church. Most of the members were former Mennonites, so we felt comfortable, yet it had some life that we had been missing. We attended that small church for a few months, then  circumstances forced us to move in with my in-laws several hours away. We started attending their small church and eventually moved there.

Arizona honeymoon.

Arizona honeymoon.

Our first home.

Our first home.

I want to share another major, life-changing truth that I learned there; next time!

My Journey of Faith, part 3

 

My journey of faith

“This fog is terrible. Can’t see a thing,” my brother muttered as he peered into the gray darkness. The road was barely visible in the beam of his headlights, the winding mountain road seemed to go on forever through the dark trees and murky darkness. Occasionally, we would see the dim taillights of a vehicle ahead of us, which gave some depth perception to the haze that blanketed the road.

It was November, 1997, and I was riding in the backseat of my older brother’s Mazda pickup. My sister was along too, and we were headed to Pennsylvania to attend a youth conference. Actually, I wasn’t even riding on a ‘seat’, really. My brother loved his music, and he’d removed the backseat of his pickup in order to fit in a giant subwoofer box. 😀 There was a space beside the box for one person (me!) to squeeze in. My knees were in my face the whole trip, but other than that it was quite pleasant, really.

We drove for hours through the foggy night. Finally we drove out of it, and then made it to our host’s home. It was dark, the family was all in bed. We tiptoed up to our rooms and fell into bed.   In the morning we ate an early breakfast and headed to the church. The parking lot was filling up as we drove in, and I was nervous to meet all those strangers! My mom had taught me how to meet people though, and I’d had lots of practice from all the churches we’d been to. But I still didn’t enjoy it when I walked in and the foyer was a crush of strange youth. I managed to hang up my coat and squeeze through the crowd to to the sanctuary. My sister was 2 years older than me, and her personality was more outgoing and friendly. She led the way to an empty bench. Directly behind us sat two girls – clearly sisters – and we’d barely sat down when my sister promptly turned around and introduced herself to the older girl. I shyly introduced myself to the the pretty younger girl seated next to her; never realizing that we would end up lifelong friends! :) (we now attend the same church and she is still one of my best friends and one of the prettiest people I know!)

Anyways. Getting long-winded here…
So we spent a week at this conference, along with 400 other youth. We listened to two sermons every morning, had prayer groups in the afternoon, and choir, then another sermon. In the evening they opened it up for a family meeting where we again listened to a sermon.

I soaked it all in! I took copious notes, I shared my struggles with my prayer group, I re-committed my life to God. One speaker in particular really captured my attention. He was a tall, kind-eyed man from South Africa. He had a way of speaking – a way of using stories and illustrations – that I had never heard before! He spoke about being hid with Christ in God. About the Holy Spirit. About counting the cost of discipleship. He asked searching questions, and thundered warnings. He told funny stories and laughed with us. He also prayed. His prayers sounded like they were going somewhere. I hung onto every word.

Another speaker, white-haired and much less dramatic, spoke softly but gave me new ideas. He talked about victory over sin, living a life filled with the Holy Spirit, and practical christian living. He also gave me a gift that would unlock the biggest blessing in my life to date. He gave me this little book by A.W. Tozer. Now, Tozer is not light reading for a teen who never finished 8th grade! I had to read and re-read some of the paragraphs multiple times to understand what it meant. But that book was where I finally learned what it meant to have a real relationship with Jesus.

“Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous person, quietly and without strain.Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him after each brief excursion away from Him, the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window…
When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “Thou God seest me” (Genesis 16:13). When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes  of God looking in,heaven has begun right here on this earth.”  -The Pursuit of God

The pursuit of God -Tozer

After youth conference, I went home and read a little piece in that book every night, along with readings from the Scripture. I read the book several times. It was eye-opening. I decided that this was it. I was tired of my failing, floundering attempts to live right. To please God. This new life that Tozer talked about – this was amazing! I was in for the long haul. None of this half-hearted Christianity, no more laziness of heart; I was ALL IN!

The first test came quickly. I worked on my father’s sawmill, and I hated that job. It was boiling hot in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. I remember walking out to the sawmill one dreary wet day that winter. It was cold and damp and miserable. Normally I dreaded the job so badly that I would feel sick. But today, new-found faith firmly in hand, I was feeling almost cheery! I decided that if Tozer could fix his gaze on Christ, so could I! And so I began praying as I worked. I prayed silently – just ‘thinking’ prayers, but of course those kind are as good as any. :) I prayed for everyone I knew of who needed prayer. Then I prayed for myself, all my stryggles and questions and besetting sins. Then, as it was still early in the day, I started just talking to Jesus. I told Him how I felt about the weather, what my dreams were, how I wished I could serve on a mission… my mind wandered, (just like Tozer said!) but each time I would bring it back to talking with Jesus.

My dad's small portable sawmill where I spent many hours stacking lumber.

My dad’s small portable sawmill where I spent many hours stacking lumber.

Now, stacking lumber is a rather mindless task. Hard, yes, but repetitious and brain-numbingly boring. So I did a lot of daydreaming. And in the days that followed, I still daydreamed a lot. But each time my thoughts would wander to frustration or anger or discouragement, I would start telling Jesus all about it. At first it felt awkward and stiff. But after a few days it seemed natural to tell my new Friend all my deepest thoughts and fears.

And so I began to grow in my relationship with Him. As I cried out to Jesus for deliverance from my sins, and found a safe refuge where I could pour out my heart – I started gaining victory over my besetting sins. I was no longer angry about everything; I could tell Jesus! I was no longer depressed; I could tell Jesus! I wasn’t ‘fixed’ overnight, of course. It was a gradual growth, just like a tiny seedling growing, stretching toward the light, drinking in water and nutrients. So I started to grow; little by little, so imperceptibly that even I didn’t realize it.

I continued reading my Bible, soaking it in large portions at a time. I devoured it!  I prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, I asked God for victory over sin, and, most importantly, I now believed He could give it to me! I also started feeling unsure about the church I was a member of. Why had I never heard these things before? Why did they focus on outward appearances, yet left the heart issues go untouched? Why were rules held above all? I was confused, and unsettled about it, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted everyone to know about this new life hidden with Christ in God. I did try to talk to my parents and friends about it, but some brushed it off as conference enthusiasm, and others didn’t understand what I was talking about at all!

Come back next week and see how I left the Mennonite religion.

If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here:

My Journey of Faith part 1

My Journey of Faith part 2

My Journey of Faith, part 2.

my-journey-of-faith-2

My family moved a lot. In the years when I was 11-14, we lived in 3 different states for seasonal work, and 3-4 additional states for various other church or work-related reasons. So we weren’t in a ‘settled’ church. Mom asked me if I understood baptism, and she gave me a couple verses to look up in my Bible. I did look them up, and got excited about it. But there was still that issue of a church…

In the Mennonite church that we were part of, a person who got saved was expected to go through 6 months of ‘instruction class’ (where you were taught all the Mennonite doctines and church rules), then be baptized, and be taken into the church as a member. This structure was quite rigid; you couldn’t just be baptized without the 6 months instruction, and yet as a Mennonite, you wouldn’t be welcome if you went to a different church to be baptized. So I waited.

When I was 14, we were attending a small church in Oklahoma. It was made up of several families who had broke away from the Mennonites, and a few other christian families needing fellowship. We attended that church for about 6 -8 months, I guess. The first few weeks we lived in our fifth-wheel camper while we fixed up a dilapidated old house.

Dad had stripped the carpet and couch out of the back of the camper, and put a small woodstove in the middle. The floor was unfinished wood, and the six of us sat scrunched around that stove during the cold winter weather, pulling our folding chairs as close as we could without burning our shoes. I don’t remember where the chimney went… I guess Dad must’ve cut a hole in the roof to stick it out.

Anyways.

I remember Dad trying his best to get us kids to join in on family worship. He would read a passage of Scripture, and expound on it awhile, then ask us our thoughts. There were four of us girls at home at this time. All four of our brothers were out and about on their own. And us girls were used to our brothers and Dad loudly discussing ideas and thoughts. We scarcely knew how  to discuss Scripture, and we weren’t interested in discussing it with Dad and Mom. We just wanted to get family worship over with! So Dad got discouraged and finally stopped trying. (Shame on us kids!)

But the thing about this church was; they all seemed excited about God. I could see why Dad was drawn to them. It was a very young church, maybe 1 year old? And everyone was on fire for God. They were trying out new ideas and sharing God’s love and God’s dealings in their lives. They genuinely loved the Lord! We were only there several weeks when two of the young men were baptized. I stood on the riverbank and sang joyously with this new group of believers, resolving to be the next one in the river.

I told my parents that I wished to be baptized. Dad was happy. Mom was hesitant, but she also agreed. We talked to the preacher. He asked me and my parents to come over one evening to discuss it. He read some verses, and asked me to read some verses. While reading my verse, I mispronounced the word: vehemently. He gently corrected me, but I was mortified! I have never appreciated ‘grammar nazi’s’ since. 😀 We discussed my salvation, and I was nervous because I didn’t have a ‘grand’ salvation story, nothing real dramatic, and I stammered around, unsure how to say what I meant. But he was kind, and didn’t mind that I was nervous to the point of being unable to speak.

The next Sunday after service, the whole church drove down to the river again. Dressed in white, but wearing my secondhand rose-colored coat, I walked out into that muddy Cimarron river. It was cold enough to take your breath away, but I didn’t care! My teeth chattered as I answered his questions, but  I couldn’t stop smiling! As I came out of the water, the church family standing on the river bank broke into song: “Oh happy day, that fixed my choice! On thee, my Saviour, and my God!”

Image courtesy of Britannica

Cimarron River, Image courtesy of Britannica

Being baptized was a special experience for me. It was a public way to show my sincere love and commitment to Jesus Christ. I was taking my stand with Him, and telling the whole world that I was a child of God.

“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4

But I still did not understand how to gain victory over sin. My life was beset with lying, despair, temper fits, and unkindness. I had a sharp tongue and was not slow to use it. I tried – oh I tried! I hated myself. I felt so guilty for being such a mean person. But I was powerless. I listened in church, and yet never heard the answer I needed.

We soon moved on from that church, back to a Mennonite church in Illinois.
See, when I was six years old, we moved to this small country church in Illinois. We had moved away and then back to it many times. We lived in 7  different houses in that community, and one of the houses we moved in and out of, several times! My dad saw inconsistencies in the Mennonite church, but Mom grew up Amish, so Mennonites – to her – seemed like a good place to be. The inconsistencies that Dad noticed, she was ok with, since to her – it was just a chosen lifestyle.

Well, this church was one of the most caring churches that I have been to. They loved my dad and our whole family. And even though they would’ve loved for us to all be members and stay there, they didn’t pressure us, and always welcomed us back with open arms. Even after I was baptized in a non-Mennonite church, they welcomed me into the church later that year.

So when my friends were baptized and taken into the church, I sat beside them and was given the ‘right hand of the fellowship’ into the Mennonite church as a member. I thought that since I was baptized, and a church member, I would surely become more holy.

But it didn’t work that way. I still could not gain victory over my sins. I fell daily into anger, jealousy, unkindness, lying. I contemplated giving up. As our home and family situation deteriorated, I seriously considered running away. I thought about leaving the church behind and just living how I wanted! But two things held me back:

1 My mother had instilled a proper fear of God in me, from a child on her knee. I knew that I could run but I couldn’t hide from Almighty God.

2 My brothers loved me, and I couldn’t run away from home and ever be able to face them again. I just couldn’t. So I stayed home. I would rather be miserable than to disappoint them. They were my heroes.

So there I was. Stuck in the same frustrating circle of sins. I just wanted to know how to get out!

...Stay tuned for next week! Victory is coming! :)

Ohiopyle falls

O happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.

Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day;
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!

’Tis done—the great transaction’s done;
I am my Lord’s, and He is mine;
He drew me and I followed on,
Rejoiced to own the call divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart,
Fixed on this blissful center, rest;
Here have I found a nobler part,
Here heav’nly pleasures fill my breast.

High heav’n that hears the solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear!
Till in life’s latest hour I bow,
And bless, in death, a bond so dear.

Philip Doddridge, 1700’s

If you missed the first post, you can find it here:
My Journey of Faith part 1

One simple way to increase your faith.

For in it is revealed God’s righteousness from faith to faith. As it is written, “But the righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17

increase-faith

Do you ever struggle to increase in faith? Does it seem that you just can’t get your eyes off the issue at hand, and truly have faith in God? Faith that He loves you, faith that He plans for you in love, faith that he is who he says he is.

There is one simple way to increase your faith.
Reading God’s Word. So simple, right? Yet such a struggle for most of us. My husband recently said: “The fact that it’s such a struggle to take time to read the Bible, shows how important it must be.”
Yes! If it were not important, Satan woudn’t care if we read it all day long! But the fact is; it IS important, so Satan makes sure we are too busy, get sidetracked, or just plain forget. I know, because I have been there myself. But, don’t be discouraged – rather, make it your ambition to begin reading the Bible regularly.

So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17

Reading the Bible reminds me of God’s sovereignty. I see how God protected his children through thousands of years. I see his righteous judgement on evil, and his reward on the righteous.  I see the magnificent plan that began in Creation, and continues to this day. I see my place in the scheme of things, and how much God loves me, to send his Son to die for me. It reminds me of all the ways that God is perfectly loving and perfectly holy. That increases my faith in him!

One way to read more, is to have an easy place to look up verses when you are online. BibleVerses.com is a good resource. You can click on various topics, such as friendship, worry, hope, marriage, forgiveness. They also have short blog posts that are encouraging, if you just want a quick devotional.

Here are some more verses on faith: Faith

The Great Battle Against Self.

the great battle against self

Hey mom-friends, I have some real-talk today. I want to say it real slow, so you don’t miss any of it. Lean in and listen, ok? It’s important. It has to do with your perception of me. You might look at my online life and say ‘wow! she takes pictures, has a blog, cooks, home-schools, etc. She must be so talented!‘ I’ve heard that before. And it makes me smile because it’s nice to get compliments. I enjoy cooking, photography, homemaking stuff, and all that.  But inside I cringe. Because I am not perfect. I struggle daily with my old enemy: SELF.

I want to be kind; self wants to lash out.
I want to be hospitable; self wants to lock the door.
I want to be loving; self wants to ignore.
I want to be forgiving; self wants to relive the pain.
I want to be cheerful; self wants to be gloomy.
I want to be a prayer warrior; self wants to hit snooze.

The great battle of this Christian life is not physical, but spiritual. My spirit, warring with my Self. War is not fun. It is ugly and there are casualties. Often, I am left bleeding and wounded after a battle. I lay there minute, gasping for air, getting my breath back, so I can crawl to my feet again and face another round. It’s not easy, this fighting and struggling. It’s hard.

The one thing that makes it easier?
Don’t feed the enemy. Self gets weaker if you never feed her! Don’t allow self to feed on
vengeful thoughts,
gloomy thoughts,
resentful thoughts,
lazy thoughts.

You know that saying: “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair“?

It’s the same way with sinful or self-pleasing thoughts. They may pop into your head, but you – and you alone – can choose to kick them out. Yes, they will pop into your head multiple times per day. Maybe several times an hour. Maybe you have to literally get up and do something else to get your mind re-routed and stop the thoughts. But stop them! Don’t be distressed because you keep having sinful thoughts; be distressed because you keep allowing them to stay. As long as you are fighting, you are alive, spiritually.

Of course, the staying power in the Christian life is the Holy Spirit, living in us. By His power alone can we overcome sin. Ask Him to fill you. Ask Him to empower you. Don’t settle for a common life. Reach for the Overcoming Life where you live in victory over sin. Don’t think that it can’t be done — just because you haven’t done it, and you don’t know anyone who has.

I have never climbed Mt. Everest and I can say with some assurance that I never will. 😉 I don’t even personally know anyone who has climbed it! But I believe it can be done. I believe even I could,  if I had a desire to, and trained myself. It would be foolishness to say that it can’t be done, just because neither I nor my friends have accomplished it.The Great Battle against self, and scaling mountains

The same goes for overcoming sin. Not all at once, not all in one day. But one stronghold after another – just like the Israelites laid waste to the giants and strongholds in the  Promised Land. The power comes from the Holy Spirit. The weapon is the Sword of the Spirit. (The Bible, God’s Word) Your protection is the armor of God: “having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:14-17

We are weak because we indulge our flesh — we give in to our earthly desires and passions. We need to get serious about overcoming sin, about dying to self – then we will grow. God wants us to grow and overcome, much more than we ourselves want it! Have faith. Believe that He is ready to help, willing to help, and eager to empower us!

Church Camp and Being Real about Guilt.

rocky mountainsLast weekend our church retreated to the Rocky Mountains for its annual camping getaway. What started as a small idea and small group back in 2007, has become a much-anticipated event that includes our growing church group, and has moved from the dusty primitive campsite to a large church camp complete with cabins, showers, and (gasp!) a lodge! 😉 But I insist on cooking my meal over an open fire, because to me – the heart of camping is the meals; smoke burning eyes as we fry sausage and toast marshmallows over moody flames.

bacon frying

We always have good intentions about getting to camp early, because we hate setting up our tent in the dark. But more times than not, we have setbacks and come motoring in after the sun has set and the stars are glimmering through the tall pines. Flashlights to the rescue! We set up camp and the older kids ran over to the group fire to meet their friends. I stayed at the tent because my littlest was sleeping. I sat on a nearby picnic table and did some star-gazing. You have never seen the stars until you’ve seen them away from the light-pollution of civilization. We have some pretty amazing skies here at the ranch, but I too often don’t take time to stand outside at night and just look at them. I get a better sense of my smallness when I look upon the greatness that lies above me.

stars

Days at camp are full of games, hikes, and great food! Several of us enjoy camp cooking, so we get some delicious, smoky food, which always seems to taste better in the fresh air! Laughter and friends, cool breezes – scented with pine musk, wildflowers of every hue, calls of birds, and rushing mountain streams… So many beautiful reasons to spend a bit of time in the outdoors!child with flowers

harebells

church friends

forest teepee

Being real: Hey girls, let me tell you something. I do not always like camping. It is not always magical. There have been several years we went with family or church at a cool time of the year, (30 degrees at night) and I did not enjoy it, and did not act Christlike. I allowed my flesh to dictate my actions, which resulted in my attitude being unbearable and my witness ruined. I have a genetic thyroid condition that causes me to be very sensitive to cold. Cold is not just ‘cold’ to me – it is actually painful. I would rather endure a burn or a cut or a broken bone than to be cold. I know – because I have had many injuries but nothing has been as bad as being cold. (childbirth is in a class all of its own) Anyways. So you could say I have an excuse for being grumpy when I get cold.

But do I?

No.

NO! Jesus died on the Cross to free me from sin. Allowing my carnal flesh and feelings to dictate my attitude and responses is nothing short of sin. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us. Romans 8:37
We have the victory in Christ! We have power of the Holy Spirit! There is no excuse for descending back into living by my feelings.

forest floraBut I sinned. I grumped and complained and whined about everything in general and the cold in particular. I’m guessing my friends would have been glad for me to just be gone – back to my warm house and away from their tired ears. But of course they didn’t say that.

I went home and soon fell under conviction about the whole thing. I cannot tell you the shame and guilt I struggled with for so long. Weeks. Months!
You see, Satan will distract you from the goodness of Jesus any way He can – whether through sin or guilt. If he can’t get you to sin, He will remind you daily of your sin and how badly you fell, and how much everyone must despise you, and how you will never grow… oh, he goes on and on. I tell you – go to your Father! Repent of your sin, ask His forgiveness, and get up. Get up, dear sister! You have hope in Jesus for the future. You can believe that God wants you to win over your sin more than you do. ( don’t you want your children to succeed even more than they do?!)ferns

If you fall into sin, don’t wallow like I did. The Bible tells us that a righteous man falls seven times and gets back up each time.  Proverbs 24:16 Satan would love to see you defeated and miserable. Jesus wants to see you victorious over sin and guilt. He is praying for you! How can you fail with Jesus praying for you?! 

And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:27

You must be seeking to be a disciple of Jesus, though. God knows the thoughts and intents of your heart, and He knows if you truly desire fellowship with him, or just rescue from Hell. It is common and easy to want rescue from Hell, and still be totally fine with your carnal, self-seeking ways. You will not get victory over your sin if this is your mindset.mountain stream

I want to have fellowship with my Father – I want victory over every sin in my life, because sin separates man from God. I want to know I am approved by God in my daily life. Like the disciples who followed Jesus everywhere, I want to walk with Jesus, sit with Him, talk with Him, understand what He means, follow Him everywhere! Jesus is the Bread of Life. I need to eat that Bread so my spirit can live!

I did accept the forgiveness Jesus offers, I laid down the guilt as well as the sin, and this year was so much more enjoyable at camp! It was warmer, so that made it much easier, but I would hope that I have grown over the past several years and would fall on the power of the Holy Spirit to carry me through even a cold camp graciously. It wasn’t perfect this year, is it ever? There were problems. But there were good times too – great conversations and bonding with my sisters from church. Praise God!toes in water