"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter..." Isaiah 64:8

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Summer Has to End...

It’s MUCH harder to keep up with blogging when school is in session, but I at least want to finish writing about my summer experiences.  This is the last post about my internship at the house of prayer, but stay tuned over the next couple months for posts about Wyldlife camp and my engagement!!

I love summer.  At least for right now where summer still means vacation from classes and opportunities to do something fun, adventurous, and life changing.  For me, summer flies by every single year, and the toughest part is always when it ends.  Because, more often than not, the end of summer means that it’s time to say goodbye.  To new friends and new places and new experiences that I may never get to repeat.

Leaving IHOP:EG in early August was really sad.  Chris and I had found a home there among a community that truly felt like brothers and sisters in Christ, but it was just for a short season.  Yet although it went quickly, it definitely left its mark on my life.  Suddenly, the Bible started making sense and actually capturing my attention.  And suddenly, I felt that desire and fire and zeal stirring up after many months of dormancy. 

During our last week, I was finally able to see the shift that had occurred in my heart.  I was no longer frustrated in my relationship with God but was instead thankful for His mercy.  And I was excited to pray.  I felt connected to the Holy Spirit once again and was able to see beyond my own plan for myself.  After ignoring the blind man in Puerto Rico (see previous post), I was determined to obey the Lord when led to pray for someone.  I felt this conviction particularly strongly as our time at EG was wrapping up. 

First, it was in one of the Friday night services.  I saw a fellow staff member who looked distressed and knew I should go ask to pray for her.  Embarrassed that I didn’t know what to pray about, I was less than eager to approach her.  But the tugging on my heart persisted, and I finally obeyed, all the while reminding myself that if I was too scared to pray for another Christian in a House of PRAYER, I was never going to be able to pray for (or witness to) a stranger or unbeliever.  So I submitted and prayed for the woman, who expressed great gratitude.  Awesome.  But that wasn’t the end of the matter. 

During another service a few days later, I spotted a little girl standing in the back by herself.  Again, I knew that I needed to go up to her and at least ask if she was okay.  Completely unsure of what to say, I left my seat, approached the girl, and asked her if she knew Jesus.  She responded that she didn’t but that she wanted to.  And as I started praying and sharing with her, the girl seemed to come alive.  Although she’d seemed shy at first, she began to dance and cry out, “I love you, Jesus!”  I’m not sure what chains were broken that day, but it was clear that something at least had changed in her heart. Praise the Lord!

So I felt inspired and praying for people was awesome, but our last set in the Prayer Room was less than ideal.  Chris did great at leading worship, but my microphone was giving me trouble, and I felt unable to connect to the Lord.  Expecting our last set to be really amazing, I got very frustrated and struggled to focus on God.  In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad...just another opportunity to practice responding rightly to unmet expectations.  And anyway, the reality is that our prayer/worship sets weren’t even really about us at all.  They were all for God, so even when we felt like we were doing a bad job, the time wasn’t wasted.  God was still praised and lifted up, and He didn’t stop listening on certain days just because I didn’t sound as good.  What a relief!

Later that week, Chris and I decided to play on a Night Watch set so we’d have at least one experience of praying in the middle of the night.  We joined the worship team for the 2am-4am set, and it was an awesome time of praise and intercession.  Everyone present seemed more awake than most people who come to the Prayer Room during the day! There is definitely something special about crying out to God when most people are fast asleep! 

That Wednesday, we had our last staff meeting of the summer.  We felt so loved by the community and it was a privilege to share with them how much the summer had impacted our lives.  It was also exciting to hear another man share who had been sent from the House of Prayer into the mission field and was back to visit.  The brotherly love exhibited through his sharing really felt like a visit from Paul to the early church.  I was reminded of how important it is for missionaries to be supported by a loving community of believers. 

...But besides all the events of our last week, there was one other important factor.  You can’t leave a house of prayer without having LOTS of people pray you off.  Each time we said goodbye to a friend on staff, they offered to pray for us.  I love that!  What better gift could they send us off with than a sincere prayer? I was so touched to receive the prayers of these faithful ones who spend so much time at the feet of Jesus.

On out last night, Chris and I decided to make dinner for the staff.  After being teased all summer for our healthy eating habits, we wanted to demonstrate that constant fast food does NOT have to be part of the “missionary lifestyle.”  And plus, we really wanted to serve all the people who had welcomed us into their community and taught us so much.  However...we had never taken on a cooking task nearly so ambitious.  Dinner for 20+ people is no minor task!  We took one of our favorite recipes, multiplied it by 4, and bought a whole cart full of ingredients for ground chicken chili, salad, homemade guacamole, and black bean brownies.  Although the cooking was certainly a lot of work, it really wasn’t too bad except for the very intense moment where we realized that the chili wasn’t all going to fit in one pot.  But noticing it early on, it wasn’t the end of the world, and we were able to split the chili between two pots before anything overflowed or spilled.  Phew!

By the end of the night, neither of my two fears had become reality.  The food didn’t taste disgusting, and we had enough for everyone who came.  In fact, because we’d used Chris’ typical meal size as a serving size, we had PLENTY of food left over (I now know that one serving for Chris is probably about 3 normal-sized servings!).  Or maybe God just multiplied the food.  Also a possibility…

After dinner was our last Encounter God Service.  The pastor called me and Chris up front and asked the congregation to pray for us, which was amazing.  Many came forward and laid hands on us, and it was so powerful to hear a chorus of voices all lifting up our lives in prayer.  I know that God was listening, and I’m excited to see the fruit of all those blessings.  I cried as we drove home and couldn't help but recognize how crazy it is that the places I hate at first always seem to be the places I’m most reluctant to leave.  But maybe that was part of God’s plan all along.

Last night with Hans, our intern director

Chris stole my apron!!
feeding the gang...at least those that came on time, haha!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Signs and Wonders

Signs and Wonders Camp.  It’s a bold name.  You can’t invite a hundred kids to a day camp called “Signs and Wonders” unless you really believe that God is going to move.  Because the kids will come with expectation. 

At first, I thought the name was too much.  Too charismatic or something.  But really, it makes sense.  Jesus said, “And these signs will follow those who believe:  In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover“ (Mark 16:17-18), so if we’re going to a camp to encounter Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised or even offended at such things as healing and miracles. 

So all summer long, I was excited about Signs and Wonders Camp.  It was my opportunity to help with children’s ministry at IHOP:EG, and I was eager to learn how to take kids past praying a prayer of salvation and memorizing John 3:16.  Those things are amazing, but I really believe that God can take kids so much deeper.  The volunteer training before camp got me even more excited.  The director shared about her vision for the week, and her energy and passion were contagious.

When the kids finally began to arrive that Wednesday evening, I began to think this would be like any other Vacation Bible School.  The children were just as young, just as cute, and just as goofy.  Many of them had very Biblical names (Elijah, Beulah, Joshua, etc.), but other than that, they seemed just like your typical 6-12 year old kids.  As my group of 9 and 10 year old girls filed in, we decorated our team shield, and they creatively named our team “God’s Girly Defenders,” covering it in glitter and stickers (again, just like any other group of little girls would do).

However, as we transitioned into worship, I started to see that these kids were not your average group of elementary school students.  Within minutes, hands were raised, eyes were closed, and kids were dancing before the Lord.  Not every single kid, of course.  But many.  And that in itself is amazing.  I have been to hundreds of worship services with adults who were much less engaged.  It’s easy to stand and sing the worlds while thinking about a million other things.  I know from experience.  But these children seemed to understand the value of truly worshipping their Creator with all their hearts, and I hope they never lose that.
Early into the service, the pastor asked the children to pray over the leaders.  I was so touched as children half my height surrounded me, praying aloud.  “God, I pray that she would make room in her heart for you,” prayed one little girl while another prayed over me in tongues, which I later learned was a gift she had received only minutes before.  It was beautiful.

After praying, the kids returned to worship and sang to Jesus for a long time, longer than many adults could handle.  The youngest children were tired and many sat down on the floor, but others stayed engaged, even long after my own feet were beginning to tire.  Following worship, the pastor gave a message about Daniel.  The children stayed impressively quiet and even took notes in their workbooks.  The youngest kids could barely write, but they carefully copied down the indicated scriptures and filled in the blanks.  One little girl later told me that these study sessions were her favorite part of camp (even better than a water slide, that’s crazy!).

The next morning kicked off the first full day of camp.  It started with worship and a time of prayer for Israel.  I was stunned to see these tiny little kids up at the microphone praying for the lost in Israel to be saved.   At the time, I didn’t even know what to pray for Israel or why I should pray for a nation so far from my own.  But these kids got it.  They prayed powerful prayers.  One girl in my group even told me that she had a vision of pushing the Holy Spirit to Israel.  As she raised her hands and cried out to God, it was easy to forget that she was only nine years old.  That is, until she suddenly opened her eyes and asked me to take her to the restroom.  Yep, these were definitely children we were working with.

After the morning session, we got to spend more time with our groups for breakout sessions, recreation, arts and crafts, and mealtimes.  One of the highlights of my week was having the girls in our group share what they were learning and experiencing.  Many of them were having real encounters with God, hearing Him speak to them, and having visions of healing in their home or shaking the earth with their prayers.  And because they are not so jaded as us adults, they had no problem believing that these things were from God!

The last night of camp was definitely the highlight of the week.  The kids knew that sick people were coming to receive healing, and they were ready to see God move.  Worship was high-energy, and the kids danced their little hearts out next to leaders who were equally enthusiastic.  I was especially moved when I saw a whole family (mom, dad, and two kids) worshipping together.  I realized I’d never seen that before.  Typically, the mom is engaged and the dad just stands and mouths the words.  Or the dad is engaged but the kids are playing on the mom’s phone.  Or one parent isn’t even present.  But as that whole family worshipped together, I really saw God’s vision for family.  Loving and worshipping God in unity.  And when that happens, it’s really powerful.

As I worshipped with the children, I felt an unprecedented sense of freedom.  Worship is supposed to be free.  We shouldn’t have to worry about what people think about us, even though we often do.  We should be able to be undignified before the Lord.  I love to raise my hands and do sign language during worship, but among these children, I felt even more freedom than normal.  For some reason, it was much easier to connect to God.  I guess it's just because I love God and I love children.  I could feel God’s pleasure.

After worship, it got even better.  The pastor called everyone in the room that was suffering from some kind of physical sickness, injury, or disease to come forward.  Forty or fifty people formed a line, and then the children were released to pray for them.  They laid hands on people with back pain, foot injuries, broken arms, and diabetes.  And they prayed.  Hard.  I know plenty of adults who struggle to pray for 5 minutes (confession: I used to be one of them!), but these children prayed for at least 45 minutes, probably more.  Some children roamed around attempting to pray for every person in the room.  Others set their hearts on one individual and prayed with them the entire time.  At one point, I saw one little girl from my group sitting down.  I approached her and asked why she wasn’t praying, and she replied that she was tired.  I encouraged her to keep praying and was so touched when I saw her take her 6-year-old sister’s hand and lead her to a person waiting for prayer.  If only people my age could see the value of pressing in when we don’t feel like it!

About the time when I thought the kids had prayed enough, the pastor called everyone in the room to gather around one young woman who need prayer.  He explained that she had cancer.  She was a supermodel and not much older than I, and it was shocking to imagine that death could be so near to her.  It was incredible to watch the room circle around this woman, covering her in prayer.  My heart broke as I watched a man on crutches hobble over to join the group, forsaking his own desire to be healed in order to partner with God in saving this woman’s life.  The children cried out alongside their counselors, and the prayers went on for a long time.  I knew that it was powerful but couldn’t help the nagging doubts in the back of my mind.  What were the chances that God would actually heal this woman of cancer?  People pray for healing all the time…and people still die.

Finally, the time of prayer ended.  There was no climactic finish, no one jumping up and down and rejoicing over their healing.  Just a short message and a slightly chaotic dismissal.  I left and couldn’t help but wonder  if anyone had actually been healed.  Perhaps the kids would simply leave thinking that God had done something when nothing had really happened at all.  I was a bit disappointed to be honest.  Camp was great, but didn’t God have something more in mind for these children who were so hungrily seeking His face?

Apparently He did.  Because several days ago, I received an email about Signs and Wonders Camp.  We were told that the woman with cancer had gone to her doctors over the past several weeks and had been miraculously declared cancer free.  Wow.  What a powerful sign of the age to come, where all of our bodies will be healed, resurrected, and glorified.  And what powerful proof that God stills does signs.  He still does wonders.

Let’s remember that.  Let’s pray.  And let’s teach the children to pray alongside us.  

To see pictures from Signs and Wonders Camp, check out the Signs and Wonders Camp Slideshow!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hope That Does Not Disappoint

So one thing that I’ve learned about myself this year is that expectations greatly affect my emotions.  This manifests in several different ways.  First, if I have no expectations (or low ones), and something turns out to be really great, I get very excited.  However, if the opposite is true…if I have high expectations that are not met, I get very upset…I feel frustrated…I blame people….I cry…it’s bad.

This summer, God gave me lots of opportunities to practice responding in a godly fashion to unmet expectations.  The first time this happened was in New York City.  (Actually, it probably happened several times before that, but you can read about those stories in my previous blogs).  On one of our Thursdays off, Chris and I took the bus into the city in hopes of seeing a Broadway show.  Our plan was to purchase discounted student tickets for a performance that night by lining up right before the box office opened.  However, Les Miserables sold out of Rush tickets just before we got to the front of the line, and despite checking box offices for 5 or 6 different shows after that, we were unable to find tickets for a price that we were willing to pay.  Still hopeful, though, we spent the day at High Line Park and then returned to Broadway to sign up for ticket lotteries for Aladdin and Matilda.  Having been told that most participants  in the lottery the night before had won tickets, we thought our chances were pretty good.  But when about 60 other people joined the drawing for just 10 tickets, we realized that we might not be seeing a show after all.  And sure enough, about 12 hours after our first attempts at buying tickets, we resigned ourselves to a Broadway-free evening and took the bus back to New Jersey.  I tried so hard to be okay with it, to be thankful for the awesome time at the park and in the city and with Chris.  But I was so disappointed.  And even a little bit mad.  

Just a couple weeks later, I set my hopes equally high on something equally uncertain.  For some reason, I was completely convinced that if I went to the beach and brought my kite with me, I would have an amazing kite flying experience just like all my sweet childhood memories of flying kites with my dad on the beach.  However, there were multiple problems with this fantasy.  First, I didn’t really know how to fly the kite.  I’d gotten it for Christmas two years before but had never flown it.  Second, kite flying is very dependent on wind, which is not always present, even at the beach.  And third, kite strings are very easily tangled, especially when there is strong wind. 

All of these things I failed to consider when I imagined how awesome it would be to finally fly my brand new kite.  But the first time we tried to fly it, the wind was very strong, and I was so excited that I unwound the strings too fast and created a giant knot which Chris later had to spend hours untangling.  The second time, there was no wind, and even Chris' super fast backwards running couldn't keep the kite in the air for an expended period of time.  And the third time, we realized that we’d lost an important piece of the kite when disassembling it the previous time.  In a nutshell, we just couldn't get the kite in the air.

So of course, just like when our Broadway plans fell through, I got frustrated and upset and nearly missed out on enjoying the other amazing beach activities that we got to experience...like body boarding in icy water without freezing to death (thank you Jesus for wetsuits) and watching the sunrise from the lifeguard's chair.  

Thankfully, my time at IHOP:EG really changed my perspective and hopefully the way I'll react to scenarios like these in the future.  Because this is a spiritual matter as well.  Sometimes I have expectations for God.  And like anything else, these expectations are not always met.  For example, I used to think that, when I was faithful to pray and read my Bible, God was obligated to speak to me and make me feel close to Him.  However, this is really a false sense of entitlement.  Even if I lay down everything I have for Jesus, He owes me nothing.  What I actually deserve is death and separation from God, and anything beyond that is His mercy.  This summer, I began to see that, instead of accusing Jesus for being distant or ignoring my prayers, I should be grateful for His love and kindness.  And even if He never gives me anything in this earthly life, He is still God, and He is still good.  

Of course, I don't think this means that I should set my expectations super low and stop hoping for blessings.  I still want to experience fun things and feel close to God.  But every hope that I have has to be put into perspective.  Because my ultimate hope is not in this life, but in the age to come, and that hope will never disappoint (see Rom 5:5).  When I get to reign on a restored earth with Jesus FOREVER, I'm pretty sure I won't care that I missed out on a Broadway show or flying my kite.  So instead of putting my hope and expectations in this life, I'm learning to wait for Jesus.  He is our blessed hope ( Titus 2:13).     

High Line Park

Can you believe all this green in the middle of NYC?

Grand Central Station
Jamba Juice

Bradley Beach

sunset on our 17 month anniversary!

Trying to fly the kite: Take 16

body boarding in the freezingggg water

sunrise on the beach