The 30 Day Hustle

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was a part of a group working toward achieving goals during the first 30 days of January. Well, we have reached the end of this period, and it is time to evaluate the effectiveness of my “hustle”.

My goals were to post to this site 10 times, and to lose at least one dress size. This is blog post #10 for the 30 days, and therefore I met that goal! Woohoo!

In retrospect, the second goal is a bit difficult to measure. The clothes I own were already beginning to feel too big, and so going down one size from there is cheating a bit. However, since I am the one evaluating, I have decided that this goal was also met. By choosing better food options (most of the time) and working out most days since my workout DVD arrived on the 7th, I now fit back into a dress I haven’t worn in nearly 4.5 years, AND it fits better now than it did when I wore it then!

The workout I started is called T-Tapp, and there are several options with it. The one I opted for during the last 3.5 weeks – is the basic workout. This one takes 23 minutes to do the instructional video, and then only 15 minutes once you move to just the workout. I decided that 15 minutes a day was doable, but I will admit that I was a bit skeptical about how much benefit I would get from that effort.

So, in the past 24 days, I’ve done the basic workout 20 times and tried to eat healthy foods, though I did cheat on my food choices several times. (I would blame that on the stress and busyness of moving, but in reality, I simply could no longer suppress my craving for Taco Bell, fries and a peanut butter milkshake.) 🙂

The woman who developed this program recommends taking 14 measurements (waist, hips, legs, arms, etc.) before beginning and then measuring again each week. So, as of this morning I have lost a total of 35.5 inches! That didn’t equal any weight loss, but I’m okay with that. As my body continues to build muscle and lose fat, the pounds will eventually come off too. For now, I’m going to enjoy gaining muscle tissue in place of the fat tissue I’ve allowed to remain for far too long! 🙂

So, to finish off a successful month of hustling, I think I’ll go sit down and figure out some goals for next month and the year to come. There are good things ahead!

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Following God and Finances

I’ve been talking a lot recently about trusting God in several different areas of my life. I’ve also been learning to trust Him in other areas that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. In fact, trust has been a theme in my journey with Him for the last several years, and that doesn’t appear to be changing in the foreseeable future.

Since I started thinking about the move across the pond, I’ve been trying to raise the money needed to live in Ireland. The acquaintance I have there has informed me that I should plan on having around $1500/month for living expenses and travel. My current income is approximately $800/month, so I’ve got quite a bit left to go to reach this goal. (I do have a bit in savings, but I’d rather not have to use it all. God can provide other ways.)

It’s daunting to look at that difference of $700/month and know there is no way I can raise that in the 45 days before I leave the United States. Thankfully, I don’t have to. That’s where the trust aspect comes in.

For the last 12+ years, I have worked at a paid job for only about 10 months, and yet, I am currently debt free. I have traveled to more than 20 countries, and God has provided every dime I’ve needed. Even the job I worked fell into my lap without me lifting a finger to find it.

Living this life and doing what I am privileged to do isn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything! The hardest part of my “job” is raising support, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Yes, times are getting more difficult for everyone with the economy, and some folks cannot give financially. Yes, there are those that count supporting missions among the luxuries like cable TV and eating out, (and some of those would choose to cut that support before the other luxuries). And there are some folks on support that give others of us a bad name and leave people skeptical of giving anything. However, I have found that there are many people who are willing to give sacrificially, far beyond what I would imagine, simply because they believe in what I’m doing and in the God I’m doing it for.

No, by far the most difficult thing about raising support is remembering that I am worth it, and so are those that I am talking to. I hate asking for money, not because I believe less in what I’m doing or the God that it’s all for, but because I forget that it’s not about me in the first place.

The folks who give financially into my little piece of seeing the Kingdom of God come to earth are no less a part of that process than I am. The fact that they may receive a steady paycheck from their job, doesn’t mean that they trust God any less with every part of their life – finances included – than I do. It just means that God has asked us to play different parts.

For now, my part includes a move to Ireland to study missions movements of the past, and train others to build on the foundations laid by Celtic Christians and others who have gone before us. Previously, it included living in Afghanistan to bring health education and literacy training to women there, taking others on trips to the Middle East to teach English, prayer-walking around the old city of Nürnberg, and spending 20 hours a week with a special little girl here in Colorado. These assignments are fun, but they are no more or less important than any other.

*Forgive me as I step onto a soapbox here.* I dislike it when people in the church place full-time “workers”, whether local or abroad, on a pedestal. I know for a fact that I don’t deserve to be up there, and I am just clumsy enough to fall off and hurt myself or others badly. Not only is the work I do no more important, it is no more spiritual than that of a teacher, a banker, a mechanic, an administrative assistant, a waitress or anyone else who works for the glory of God. *Steps off soapbox.**

As I write this, I am reminding myself once again that I am following God, and the provision for this new adventure is ultimately His responsibility. I’m noting again that making my needs known is not a self-serving gesture, but instead an invitation to those whose part in this story may be as an answer to the prayer that my faith will become sight in this situation. And I’m remembering once again that I can never stop at being the recipient of blessings and prayers and financial support, but I must continue to sow into others as God leads me to. We all have a part to play in someone’s story.

I have seen God “show off” His love, power, and provision in so many ways, and in many of those displays it seemed He was responding to the faith and action of His children. I don’t believe He holds answers to prayer hostage until we behave the way He wants, but I do believe that He delights in meeting us more than half way when we take steps to honor Him with all that we have.

So, in closing, as one of my acts of faith, I’m just going to throw this out there… If you would like information on how to give toward this step I’m taking, please email me at steph.loves.travel12@gmail.com, and I will contact you with the necessary info.

Yikes!

How I'm feeling right now.

I’m sure there is probably a better title for this post, but at the moment that word sums up my thoughts.

You see, I have just realized that three weeks from today, I’ll be moving out of my house. Ten days after that I’ll be flying to visit friends and family in Florida, and another two weeks after that I’ll be leaving the country indefinitely!

I know that if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’re aware of the impending move. (I’m sorry if this is boring.) I have obviously been aware of this coming change for months, and yet as it draws closer – and things such as selling furniture and packing away memories happen – I’m reaching new levels of realization.

The realization that I am leaving behind everything and everyone I know for a time is a little frightening and sad. I am sad to leave my family, friends and roommates – yes, they get a category all their own. I am a bit sad that I will leave so soon after my youngest niece’s 1st birthday, and miss out on so much of the fun as she grows and begins talking. I missed a lot of that with her brother and sister too, and it’s no fun. 😦

There is also a likelihood that a good friend will get married during the time that I’m gone, and I’ll not be able to come back for her wedding. And with the knowledge that I’ll be gone at least a year, it’s possible that won’t be the only major life event I miss.

So, with all of the things I’ll miss, why am I leaving for a place I’ve never been?

Because God asked me to.

It’s as simple as that. I am doing my best to follow His lead, and this is where He’s leading. I don’t know what will happen when I arrive, where I will live, how I will raise the rest of the money I need for travel and monthly expenses, who I will meet, or anything else. The thing I do know, though, is that the One I’m following will take care of me.

I also know that He is worth anything I miss during this time away. It is scary to step out in faith into the unknown. Some people thrive on that, but I am not typically one of those people. Unfortunately, my tendency is often to fill the void of all that I don’t know with the worst case scenarios. Then, when I look back at what I’m leaving behind, those things seem so desirable compared to this picture I have created of the possible future I am moving into.

This time, however, I have chosen to fill the unknown space with exciting God moments, divine appointments, new friends, fun experiences, tasty food, and great music – it is Ireland after all. I am also choosing to let the space stay largely unimagined. As uncomfortable as the unknown makes me, I’m choosing to let it be just that. (Obviously, even when I paint what might be, it is still unknown, but it doesn’t look so daunting.)

I’ll discover what this year holds as it comes, and trust God with all of the unknowns. After all, He works all things for my “good”, right? (See previous post for more info on that.) 🙂

Have you had an experience where you were completely outside of everything you’d ever known? Do you enjoy the feeling of taking a leap of faith or try to eliminate unknowns before jumping? I’d love to hear your stories! Please tell them in the comments below.

Living A Blessed Life?

I have seen many things in the last month about 2014 being a year of blessing, and I’m all for that. It has, however, gotten me thinking about what it really means to be blessed.

I’ve heard quite a lot of people over the years that seem to have this idea that God will “bless” those who are following Him or have enough faith or…. fill in the blank. The blessings they speak of often have much to do with material possessions, happy relationships – the American dream and the perfect life it represents.

I realize that Jesus said if we have faith, we will receive what we pray for, but I’m not sure He meant that verse to be turned into a theology I have come to know as “blab it, grab it” or “name it, claim it”. (Along that line of thought, I have a friend, born with a disability, who is in a wheelchair because of it. She has been told by this camp that if she had enough faith, she wouldn’t be stuck in that chair. Not only is that an extremely judgmental statement, but it simply isn’t true.)

Enough about that though, let’s get back to the idea of blessings. My question is: Who gets to decide what blessings look like? The same question applies to the “good” referred to in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose.”

My guess would be that since God is the one working through things and giving the blessings, it is His definition that counts. So, how does He define blessing? Let’s check out Matthew 5: 3-12:
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”

Looking at some of those “blessings”, I’m not sure I would use that word to describe them. In fact, as much as I desire to be the kind of person that would welcome each of those attributes in my life, I’m much more likely to avoid them.

The idea that living a life full of blessings means that trouble never visits is ludicrous in my mind. It also has the potential to be detrimental to the children of God and those desperately seeking the love He can give.

Imagine becoming a follower of Christ and believing that life will now be grand. When tragedy strikes, there are two options to explain it. The first is to believe that they were somehow not enough – didn’t have enough faith, didn’t do enough of _______, or were deficient in some other way. Basically, they failed to earn the answer to their cries,  and therefore they brought the pain or sorrow on themselves. The alternative is to doubt God’s character. After all, if they were living in faith and something bad still happened, then God didn’t keep His “promise” that He would bless their life in the way they were led to believe He would.

The fact is, we live in a fallen world, and bad things happen. Sometimes we bring them about, and sometimes we don’t. I’m fairly certain that God never causes them, but He does use them for our good – according to HIS definition, of course. In fact, some of the most difficult times in my life are the ones I now look back on in wonder at how much I grew and the things I learned.

So, as you face difficulties, take a moment to realize that God will use those circumstance to draw you to Him, to bring growth and good if you will let Him. It may even be a blessing in disguise, or a blessing according to His definition, not yours. Don’t beat yourself up that you “don’t have enough faith” to fix it. Pray, knock, ask, and let Him answer in the way He knows is best.

In the same way, as you walk alongside others in their journey of faith, encourage those who are facing their own struggles. Don’t bring judgment, as Job’s friends did, but build them up.

I do pray that 2014 is a year of blessing in my life and the lives of those I love, but I am aware of the fact that the blessing may not present itself in the way that I expect or hope. I still choose to trust and walk in faith whatever it brings.

Come Along…

At the beginning of each year, there are a couple of questions I ask God. One of those is which Bible verse or passage of scripture will be mine to focus on during that year. In recent years those passages have included Psalm 37:3-9 and Jeremiah 29:11-13, (both awesome scriptures that I highly recommend checking out).

This year the verses that He spoke were Song of Songs 2:10-11:

10 “My beloved responded and said to me,
‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along.
11 ‘For behold, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.”

These verses go along with the previous post. It seems that darkness and winter symbolize the same phases of life in many ways. Winter is often seen as the season associated with death, darkness, and difficulty. How wonderful that following each winter we have the season of renewal and growth. Those seeds that fell and were buried in winter spring forth in new displays of life, and the world is filled with vivid colors once again.

I am thankful that God’s word to me for this year speaks of the coming of spring. The winter is past and it is time to “come along”, though I don’t have any idea where I’m going. As I was chatting with a good friend last weekend, she compared my current adventure to that of Abram beginning in Genesis 12. I had never thought about that before, but as I reread the story over the weekend, I do feel a bit like I am living in the footsteps of this hero of the Faith.

From what we see in the Bible, it appears Abram was minding his own business when God showed up and started speaking what many would call “crazy” things to him.

12 “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives, And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”’

I can’t say that God has spoken those last 2 verses to me, but in the words “come along” from this year’s passage, I hear the words of Genesis 12:1. I am leaving my country and my family, and I have no idea what the destination is. For now, I know I have a ticket to Dublin and contacts in Sligo preparing to welcome me there. Beyond that, I don’t know where I will travel or how long I will be away from this place that has been home for a decade. I am traveling one step at a time, trusting that I am headed to a place that God will show me.

I pray that I will be a blessing to those I meet across whatever nations I am fortunate enough to visit or even call home for a time. Whatever doors God opens, wherever they lead, whoever I meet, I am excited for this year of moving forward with God, into a new season. I am thankful for the passing of winter, and I cannot wait to see what is in store as I respond to God’s invitation to “come along”.

Sunsets and Beauty

As I was writing and studying this past week, I started listening to the Hans Zimmer station on Pandora. There is nothing like epic soundtrack music to help one write a story about a crazy trip across a country or read through nursing CEUs. While listening though, I was introduced to the music of Phillip Wesley. (I now own 1.5 of Mr. Wesley’s albums, and I’m sure that number would be higher had the credit in my iTunes account been higher.)

The album Pandora introduced me to is called the Dark Night of the Soul, and I was captivated each time one of the songs would come on. The above song, “Race Against The Sunset”, was one that was played, and even without words it spoke to me. You see, sunsets speak to me, or rather God speaks to me through them.

I have always loved sunsets, and in that aspect of nature more than any other, I have heard God whisper of His love for me.

I am a morning person. Provided I get to bed early enough to get a decent amount of sleep, I love being up early, getting things done, enjoying the stillness of morning, and on occasion watching the sky light up with the colors of a new dawn. And yet, sunrise rarely speaks to me in the way that a sunset does.

After a particularly radiant display on my birthday a couple of years ago, I asked God why it is that the colors of the evening speak so much to my heart. The response was both encouraging and terrifying.

These are the words I wrote in my journal the following day. “I feel like You said that the sunset was ‘our thing’ because it is the whisper and promise of incredible beauty even in the coming of the dark night (of the soul?)… A little scary because it is as much a promise of darkness in the coming time as of the promise it is meant to confirm. But there will be beauty in the midst of it that can be breathtaking and make the light that much more glorious when it comes.”

The painted sky became my reminder from God that He is trustworthy and beauty was present no matter how much light or darkness surrounds me. And that reminder has been a lifeline in the last 2 1/2 years.

I hate to complain because compared with so many people, my life seems beyond easy, but my own journey, though devoid of outward problems, has been on some dark paths recently. I can’t point to one specific thing that made these years so difficult, but it has been a time of stretching, questioning, and a fair amount of inner turmoil.

As I have listened to this CD over the past week or so, I have gravitated to a song near the end of the album called “Into the Light”. I feel God whispering to my soul that the dark night is ending and I am moving at last into the light of a new dawn. As they always do, another night will come, and I will face the setting sun again in the future, but I still have my promise from God that those times will be filled with the Beauty that is Him.

In the mean time, I am going to appreciate and enjoy the coming dawn and the new day, the new chapter of my life that it will bring. I don’t have a clue what that day will bring, but I know that good things are coming. God is building a sense of anticipation and expectancy deep in me for what is to come, and I am excited to walk the journey by His side and see just what He does along the way.

For more info on Philip Wesley’s music, visit his website: http://philipwesley.com/

That One Time in Uzbekistan

On the road from Termez to Tashkent. (The way back was uneventful.)

Somewhere in Uzbekistan

Having been to nearly 30 countries in the last 20 years, I’ve got a fair number of fun stories I can tell. Who knows, maybe my next book will be a book of fun stories – assuming I write another one… When I think of crazy overseas stories, though, there is one that always comes to mind first: The trip from Tashkent to Termez, Uzbekistan during my first trip to Afghanistan.

It was just before Christmas in 2002, and I was part of a team of 7 heading into Northern Afghanistan to work with a development organization for 2 months. Since the town we would be going to was only 3-4 hours from the border of Uzbekistan, we flew into Tashkent, spent a couple of days there, traveled in taxis to Termez (the border town), spent the night, and crossed the border the next day before getting taxis to our temporary home… Sounds easy, right?

Depending on how much you’ve traveled in Central Asia – or anywhere in the third world – you may see several steps in that process that could go terribly wrong. Flights were delayed, we were stranded for a day in Seoul, S. Korea on the way to Tashkent, and extra fees were charged in airports because of the delays, but finally we arrived in Tashkent. I had been there for a couple of months earlier in the year, so we found our housing and met up with our hosts fairly easily. The time in Tashkent went well, and surely the worst was behind us.

WRONG!

Our Uzbek host in Tashkent arranged our transportation to Termez. He would meet us and the driver, send us on our way, and then we would meet up with someone else at the guesthouse. It seemed simple enough, but then again we were in the part of the world where things are rarely “simple”.

Though he was asked SEVERAL times, our host would not give us the address of our destination in Termez. Instead, he assured us repeatedly that our drivers knew where they were going. And yes, I said drivers… Instead of the van we had asked for, we would be traveling in 3 taxis. Don’t worry, though; the drivers know to stay to together. No problem.

So, off we went. Thankfully, we had 3 men on the team, and so each car had a man to accompany us ladies. Because there were only 2 of us in my car, the rest of the back seat was loaded with luggage. (Remember that bit of info for later in the story.) The ride was meant to be about 9 hours, plus time to stop for lunch along the way, so even with the fact that we left about an hour after our scheduled departure time, we were in decent shape.

As you may imagine, our cars were separated before we even got out of the city. For the rest of the drive we kept our eyes peeled for cars that looked like those carrying our team mates. And we did see them once. It was at the top of the mountain pass we had to cross, and there were many cars there. Several were stuck, and several (including ours) had to be pushed to move over a particularly nasty patch of ice. I still look back at that and thank the Lord we didn’t slide off the mountain. 🙂 By the time we traversed that bit of craziness, the other cars were long gone, not to be seen again for far too many hours.

There were a couple of stops along the way. One, a brief stop in Samarkand so our driver could buy bread, (which he was kind enough to share bits of with us since we had no money to buy our own). Another was at a tea/coffee shop where our driver bought the 3 of us coffee. I choked down the bitter but sweet concoction very aware that I was the only female in the building that wasn’t serving the drinks. (Aside from the piece of bread and the cup of coffee, my friend and I shared a 1.5 litre bottle of water and a snickers bar during the trip.)

After approximately 12 hours in the car, thanks to the snowy mountain pass traffic jam and extremely dense fog for many miles, we finally arrive on the outskirts of Termez. Praise the Lord! Unfortunately, this is the moment where our situation goes from bad to worse. Our taxi driver, who speaks only Russian, looks at the guy on my team and asks “Where to?” (I recognized the question only because of my previous visit to Uzbekistan.)

We showed our driver the paper we had with the name of the organization we were to work with hoping that he would know where the guesthouse was they typically used. He was unfamiliar with the group, and so he took us to the Red Crescent Society – the equivalent of the Red Cross in that part of the world. By this time it was after 9pm, and they could not help us. We drove around the town for quite sometime, everyone in the car becoming more desperate as time wore on.

Finally, he drove us outside of town to the UN compound. At least there would be someone there who could speak English, and so a spark of hope was kindled. We were invited in, given tea, and a call was made to the police. All vehicles coming into town were stopped at checkpoints, and the idea was that perhaps we could track down the other cars through that avenue – especially if they had given an address.

The head of the UN offered us beds (for a price, of course), but I couldn’t leave the rest of the team with no word of our whereabouts – especially since the occupants of one of the other cars were my parents and I knew they were freaking out! 🙂 And so, off we went again, this time with a new passenger, a young Uzbek UN worker with a crush on me… Thankfully I didn’t find that out until later in our adventures. (This is where it becomes important to remember that 1/2 to 2/3 of the backseat was filled with stuff. The car was now quite crowded!)

We drove around town a while longer, stopping occasionally at various locations to check one thing or another. Honestly, I’m not really sure what happened during these stops because as a girl, I was told to stay in the car at all times. I do know that, at each place with a telephone, a call was made to the sister of our young UN friend, who spoke English. During these calls, the phone would be passed back and forth between my friend, the driver, and the young man so that the sister could translate conversations for them.

Finally, we ended up at the home of our young friend. We met his sister, and were given some small snacks and probably some more tea while he called back to the UN to see if there had been any new information discovered. Lo and behold, they had tracked down the other cars, and we had an address! As we began to make our way outside to pile into the car one last time, the young lady who had been so helpful began to ask if I was married or had a boyfriend because her brother… I made my apologies that I really needed to be on my way, and while I am very grateful for all of their help, I didn’t think it would work out. I must find and talk to my parents, after all!

At long last, we were reunited with the rest of the team at midnight! 15 hours, very little food or drink, a LOT of praying, and quite an adventure later, we were where we were supposed to be.

Come to find out, the other cars, though they had been separated most of the day, arrived in town at about the same time. They connected at the checkpoint and were able to figure out fairly quickly where to take their passengers – though they had not been given the address either. They arrive at the guesthouse not too long before we pulled into town and began the craziness. They stood outside for a while, hoping that we might happen by. (They assumed that since their drivers didn’t know where to go, that ours would not either.)

Unfortunately, they had moved inside to wait, worry, and pray mere minutes before we pulled up at the Red Crescent Society, ACROSS THE STREET from the guesthouse!

Though not the most fun I had ever had at the time, this will probably always be one of my favorite stories. God was good, and protected us, not to mention the lessons I learned in the process. Lessons such as, if possible, never get into a taxi without knowing the destination, always make sure you have at least a small amount of currency for wherever you are, always have the personal contact number of SOMEONE, and always find the fun in every situation, even the unscheduled adventures! 🙂