Friday, December 27, 2013

Only By the Grace of God: Our Story

When one looks at all the "coincidences" that brought Brian and I together, and as they continue to pile up the further back you look, it's obvious that there are simply too many for them to be coincidence. They must have been the work of God.

It was the summer of 2010. Brian was applying for a counseling position at Riverside Bible Camp, having grown up there as a kid. I was staring at a returning staff application for Hidden Acres Christian Camp, hesitating to return after the previous year which had been enlightening, but overall very disappointing. In fact, I was quite surprised Ryan had asked me back and had already been considering detasseling instead. But, just as Hidden Acres was receiving my application, filled out and signed with a prayer that somehow this summer would be better, Brian received the surprising news that Riverside hadn't accepted his application. To this day, neither of us can figure out why, but, looking back, we're sure glad they did. Brian voiced his frustration to his friend, Ben Brown, who suggested he apply at Hidden Acres. Brian had never been to the camp (he thought it was over by Nevada), and the camp was already overstaffed, but he applied anyway. Much to his surprise, after turning in his application and being interviewed, he was accepted as a first time Junior Counselor. By this time, the Staff Retreat to get all the staff together, new and old, was already over, so Brian and I were not to meet till Staff Training.

I remember seeing Brian for the first time when he walked into the Welcome Center that first day, only in that he bounced when he walked and he seemed to see right into your soul when he looked at you (which freaked the livin' daylights outta me). Our relationship probably wouldn't have mounted to much if it hadn't been for the fact we'd been placed in the same Quad (the groups that that summer camp is split into) along with the afore-mentioned Ben Brown and others. The first thing he remembers about me is how I shared during our testimony-sharing time that I was the oldest of then 13 kids, which he thought was pretty cool. I remember being, again, freaked out by this guy who had till recently attempted to follow Messianic Law all the way down to wearing tassels (though the thought of that made me giggle).

When we came to camp, neither of us were looking for love. So, though we shared a few short greetings over the next couple weeks, neither of us "noticed" the other or anything like that. After 2 weeks of camp, someone posted a sign-up sheet for anyone who hadn't received any mail from home so that some nice ladies at a church could write us. Not only fitting into this category, but not having received any notes in my box at all, I put my name down and then decided that maybe the reason I hadn't received any mail was because I hadn't given any. So, I started writing little notes to every person in my Quad, a postcard each with a noncommital greeting and a section of encouraging Scripture. I remember feeling like it was hopeless anyway and almost quitting when I got to those with the last names starting with "K". But, realizing that I wouldn't have a good explanation for writing some and not others, I pushed through.

When Brian got my note in his box, he was a little surprised to find a note from a girl. He scrutinized it for any sign of flirtatiousness or anything else intimidating like that. But, finding it clean, he decided to write back. I was shocked and ecstatic! I had a note! Just a little one, with my name spelled incorrectly at the top of the page, a Psalm, and an encouraging promise for prayer over the next week, but I was thrilled just the same. I wrote back immediately, and was even more shocked to see a response in my box a few days later. We wrote almost exclusively Scripture, with a little theology and nonchalant encouragement thrown in here and there. I was intrigued by the archaic nuance to this guy's correspondence, and coupled with seeing him toting around a Bible big enough to knock out a donkey and finding out he was a Lutheran (of all the weird things to be), he had captured my curious attention in a similar way that a shiny unidentified object attracts the attention of a child. His theology, boldly argued in Staff Meeting, was above and beyond anything I had ever heard before. He used words that I, a former Pastor's Kid, was unfamiliar with, and stood up for beliefs that I had never heard seriously considered in my life. Infant baptism? Arguing against dispensationalism? What? I had to know...was this guy for real?!

Turns out he was. We kept writing back and forth over the summer, discussing various aspects of Scripture. I went up to him and asked him questions sometimes, but was careful only to do so very infrequently because I wasn't sure what I thought of this guy with the floppy white hat and peculiar way about him and I didn't want anyone getting the wrong idea. This continued till the last week of camp, when I noticed him standing alone in the center of the soccer field staring at the sky. Still not quite sure what made this guy tick, I was also too curious to walk right past. I asked him what he was looking at, and then realized the sky was a funky orange color and lightening bolts were shooting sideways through it. We ended up watching that crazy lightening storm together with his cabin (his counselor being another friend of mine) on top of a dirt pile by the barn. We talked about various different things, me being careful to keep up a pleasant conversation while revealing absolutely nothing of substance. A few days later, camp was over. Everyone was saying their goodbyes and consequently walking right past me. I was ready to cry when absolutely no one said they would miss me or give me a hug or anything when that guy bounced up, goofy hat flying, to say goodbye and ask me a few things. We ended up talking for a half an hour till my mom showed up to pick me up. Neither of us realized what God had in store for us, even if my mother did after only a few seconds of seeing us together.

We continued writing back forth after camp got over. My dad was hesitant to let me write a guy he'd never met, but after carefully going over Brian's latest letters, decided they were perfectly harmless and gave the okay. Although Brian was always open and honest with me, as he is with everyone, I continued to hide behind theology. I was careful not to reveal anything about myself, as I was very much afraid of being hurt, until just before Thanksgiving of that year. I had had a very rough discussion with my mom and hated the person who I was. I, without thinking, sprawled out my frustrations on paper and sent the letter. Within 12 hours, I was realized I just been open with really open, and prepared myself for heartbreak and another friend lost as had happened so many times before.

A few days later, I received a letter from a guy bubbly with excitement from being able to encourage me in my distress. The letter opened my eyes to God's Truth in a way they never had been before, and after sobbing my eyes out with joy, I brought the letter up to my mom who proceeded to do the same. After that, I was willing to be more open and honest with Brian and that is when our friendship really began. A few weeks later, he came to visit for the first time. He was nervous beyond all get out, as was I. The moment he walked in, my little brothers and sisters swarmed all around him like bees to honey. I was embarassed and prepared for him to leave in shock when he looked at me and said, "Why doesn't everyone have a family like this?" I grinned to high heaven and suddenly realized that I liked this man. The idea unnerved me, but we went on to have such a fun evening that Brian wore holes in his socks playing "bumper office chairs" in the basement and my little sister declared him the best man in the whole world...other than Daddy, of course. Unbeknownst to me, Brian went back home to his family jabbering about how awesome his time was and having realized he liked me too.

Both of us were too shy to say anything, but he came back to visit many times after and we kept writing back and forth until the second year of camp came around. Honestly, we both had no idea how to handle our attraction to each other and spent way too much time together that summer. But, we still were able to minister to the people around us...and we moved on.

That spring, I had applied for the internship program at camp entitled, "Launch." I was thrilled about the idea of moving out to the camp and learning how to stand on my own feet in a safe enviroment close to home. Brian find out I applied and applied himself, both because it was a good fit for him and because he thought we would be able to start a relationship and spend a lot of time together. He was shocked to find out the first day that Launch relationships are not allowed, but we were both accepted into the program and individually decided to put that on hold. Yes, it was difficult to do so, and times we could have done better, but having that barrier there enabled he and I to become best friends. We talked to each other about everything, covered for each other in sickness, encouraged each other in the Lord, and both learned a lot from the other. Additionally, we saw each other in all different types of situations: hurt, sickness, anger, and loopy exhaustion. Our relationship was tried many times, but we were determined that our relationship as friends was worth the wait.

Then, God threw us a surprising twist in January in the form of another guy asking my father's permission to court me. I was a wreck the whole week because I didn't know for sure that Brian was really interested and I didn't know enough about this guy to say yes or no. Brian had no idea what was going on, just that I was going through something I wasn't going to tell him about. By the time my dad called Brian asking to speak to him, everyone on staff except him knew what was going on and expected Brian to explode...or something. But, upon Brian receiving the news, he accepted it with such a calm attitude we started to wonder if we'd pegged him wrong. Brian and my dad had a face-to-face talk later that week, and to my joy, my father called me and after discussing the situation with me, declared that though we weren't allowed to be "together" during Launch, Brian got "first dibs" as soon as the program was over.

We finished the program and camp the next summer started. We had a better handle on how to behave around each other and the summer went well. Only a couple days after camp got over, I left for a short-term missions trip to Poland. Brian began seeking the counsel of his friends, family, and mentors as to whether or not pursuing a relationship with me was really what God had in mind. While I was off ministering to people on the other side of the world, his mom says I was the only thing he talked about for a month and a half. As soon as I got back home, I left with my family for vacation in Wisconsin at a friend's cabin. Brian got my suspicions up that week because suddenly the guy I had to convince to carry his phone on him during Launch  and had only recently gotten a Facebook account was texting me all throughout the day and private
messaging me at night. As soon as getting back from Wisconsin, I left for Des Moines for a weekend missions trip, but while I was gone, Brian met together with my Dad and asked his permission to court me, and immediately left for South Dakota. When he got back, my Dad called to say, "Yes!" and Brian came over to visit that afternoon. That night, we sang, "Be Thou My Vision" together as a family, but when stopped singing....he kept going! He had written an extra verse to the tune, asking my permission. I said, "Of course!" and for the next week and a half, we were as twitterpated as they come. Brian left for his first year of school 9 days after he asked. In October, he came to visit because I had had surgery...and as he rocked my baby brother to sleep, I realized I had fallen in love with him. I wrote him a letter for his birthday, telling him so and at Thanksgiving, he returned the sentiment.

Many different fun stories could be shared here, but this is already running long, so I will skip ahead to July of this year. Brian came with us to Wisconsin, and one night on the dock, asked my father for my hand in marriage and told him of his intention to ask me at Christmas. My father surprised him by saying, "Yes" with no hesitation. When he told his grandparents, they discussed it between themselves and then asked him if he would like to have his great-grandmother's engagement ring to give to me. I had my suspicions, but figured them foolish feminine fancy and put them aside.

Now, ever since that first song he sang me, Brian has written me songs for all the "special occasions": my birthday, Valentine's Day, etc. He wanted to do the same when asking me to marry him,  but also wanted it to be a surprise. So, he started writing me songs whenever he saw me so I would get used to it (of all the sneaky things to do). Then, he wrote me a series of 7 songs for Christmas, intending to ask me after the last one on Christmas Day. But, on account of his grandfather being in the hospital and us going to see him on Christmas Eve, he moved it up a day. I, again, had my suspicions, but expected him to ask on Christmas Day, so I was completely surprised when in the middle of his living room, in the middle of his song, he got down on one knee and pulled out (in my opinion) the most beautiful and positively perfect ring I have ever seen. I was so happy shocked, I forgot for a few seconds that I was supposed to say something. Thankfully, I remembered and said, "Yes!"

Such is "our story" up to date. Our plan is to get married sometime in June, and (after the honeymoon) move to where he's going to school (yet to be determined) so we have the summer to ease into married life and work before school starts. But, looking back at it all, God's hand is obvious in every step of the way: the rejection at Riverside, my not getting any notes, etc. It is clear to both of us that it is only by the grace of God that we have received not only the greatest gift of all: salvation through Christ, but also each other.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Teddy Roosevelt on Commitment

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doers or the deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt

Max Lucado

"Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And then, when the day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest."

"War and Peace" on God

"I ought to tell you that I don't believe, don't believe in God," said Pierre, feeling it essential to speak the whole truth.
The freemason looked intently at Pierre and smiled as a rich man, holding millions in his hands, might smile at a poor wretch, who would say to him that he, the poor man, has not five roubles that would secure his happiness.
"Yes, you do not know Him, sir," said the freemason. "You cannot know Him. That is why you are unhappy."
"Yes, yes, I am unhappy." Pierre agreed. "But what am I to do?"
""You do not know Him, sir, and that's why you are very unhappy. You know not Him, but He is here. He is within me, He is in my words, He is in thee, and even in these scoffing words that you just uttered." said the mason, in a stern, vibrating voice.
He paused, evidently trying to be calm.
"If He were not," he said softly, "we should not be speaking of Him, sir. Of what, of whom were we speaking? What dost thou deny?" he said all at once, with authority in his voice. "Who invented Him, if He be not? How come there within thee the conception what there is such an incomprehensible Being, a Being all powerful, eternal, and infinite is all His qualities?"
He stopped. There was a long pause.
Pierre could not and would not break the silence.
"He exists, but to comprehend Him is hard,"  the mason began again, not looking into Pierre's face, but straight before him, while his old hands, which could not keep still for an inward emotion, turned the leaves of a book. " If it had been a man whose existence  thou hadst doubt, I could have brought thee to the man, taken him by the hand, and shown him thee. But how am I? an insignificant mortal, to show thee all the power, all the eternity, all the blessedness of Him to one who is blind, or to the one who shuts his eyes that he may not see, may not understand Him, and may not see, and not understand, all his own vileness and viciousness." He paused. "Who are thou? What art thou? Thou dreamest that thou art wise because thou couldst utter those scoffing words," he said, with a gloomy and scornful irony, "while thou art more foolish and artless than a little babe, who, playing with the parts of a cunningly fashioned watch, should rashly say that because he understands not the use of the watch, he does not believe the maker who fashioned it. To know Him is a hard matter. For ages, from our first father, Adam, to our day, have we been striving for this knowledge, and are infinitely far from the attainment of our aim; but in our lack of understanding we see only our own weakness and His greatness...."

My Drawings

            Lately, I've been doing a lot of drawing. Here's a few of my projects:

 Someone once told me that when trying a new art form, start with a self-portrait because it's the face you know best and... you won't offend anyone. So, here's my first attempt at manga. 

Yes, it's Excalibur from the stories of Camelot.

Ok, I like guns. They're fun and easy to draw. This is my rendition of a Beretta M-9.

I drew this one upon request from my cousin.

Who doesn't love E.T?

A paisley flower

For my mom

Isaiah 40:31

A sword with the verse about the sword of the Spirit engraved in ancient Norse runes.

Mexican Panfry

Mexican Panfry is nothing more than boiled and sliced potatoes fried in a skillet with eggs, onions, salt and pepper. Top with sour cream and salsa for flavor, or... if you like a little spice... sprinkle some cayenne on top. Very yummy!

Cooking Gluten/Sugar Free

My little sister is sensitive to gluten and sugar. Therefore, my family doesn't eat any in order to ensure she doesn't feel left out. Sometimes, as the primary person in charge of cooking meals for a family of 17, it can be difficult to come up with something delicious, cheap, and satisfying with these limitations.

Viola! Cucumber rounds! 5 thick slices of cucumber topped with cream cheese and ham. Yum!

Suitcase Ottoman

Yay! Finally, I've found the time somewhere between cooking and cleaning for 18 people, freelance photography, leading Junior High Youth Group, working as a barrista at a Christian coffee house, and learning how to bring beauty to the world  to post a photo of one of my many projects. Being the kind of person that is both crafty and paranoid about throwing anything away before it's been used to it's utter last, I do a lot of what is called "updos". Simply, that means that I take old things and create something new out of them.

In this case, I found this old suitcase at a moving sale next door for $1 and fell in love. But... it's simply unpractical to pack in this kind of suitcase anymore, especially considering this one's size. It's fits my color scheme of light blue, dark brown, and white perfectly... so I simply had to find a good use for it.

Then, I saw on pinterest a picture of new ottomans made from old suitcases. After looking at a lot of pictures, I figured out how to do it. I found an old broken chair in my basement and took a pruning saw to the legs. I was nervous I would ruin the entire chair, but instead was able to remove the legs and screw through the bottom of the suitcase into the tops. Then, I took the chair and made a swing for the children in the backyard.

I LOVE my new ottoman. It's currently sitting at the foot of my bed, holding extra bedding. It's the perfect height for sitting upon, and quite sturdy.

A year-old testimony

"This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long!"-Fanny Crosby

Leeanna "Lillee" Zahn... that's me. Nothing special, nothing amazing. Without Christ, I would be nothing. Worse than nothing, actually. The portions of my life that I lived apart from Christ were miserable. He has done everything for me. Let me tell you how:

19 years ago: May 14th, 1993, I was born to teenage parents in St. Paul, Minnesota. They were both new Christians, determined to raise me in the Lord. And so they have done.  From day one, my Daddy has protected me and loved me. He has held my heart in his hands, and I have him wrapped around my pinkie. My mom has been there for me in everything, even when I was the worst daughter imaginable. I want to be just like her when I "grow up". I am the first of many children to come, 16 so far. Mom and Dad have raised us up to be "shining stars in the universe", a living testament to God and how He wants families to run. Sure, we've had our difficulties and things have gone awry from time to time, but everything has "worked together for good" thanks to Christ in our lives.

When I was 3, I "asked Christ into my heart". I'm not sure what I understood at that time, nor what I understand now. God spoke to my childish heart through my reading of the Scripture and singing of my favorite hymns in church every week. My dad became a pastor after graduating from college when I was 4.

This was my favorite time of my life. I was optimistic to the core. I loved my friends, my family, my town, my house, my church... I loved life. Sure, I went through some crap, but I always bounced back like an Indian rubber ball. I was living the life. Small town, small church, old ladies that begged my parents to let me sit with them and fed me tic-tacs during the service and taught me every hymn in the hymnal, lots of friends to roam the countryside with, Mrs J. on the organ every week... Life couldn't have been better in my little eyes.

But, when I was 8, we moved. If I were to ever go back and change something, it would have to be then, because that's when my life started to go downhill. I hated moving. I missed my friends, my church and my Grandma. Dad was at work all the time. It really was a great place for us, but I never saw it because when I started to grow resentful. My sister, who had always been my best friend, found a new friend who supplanted me in my opinion. My brother suddenly realized that boys don't have to listen to girls. I hated it. I wanted to go back "home". I wanted life to be the way it had always been. My attitude started to effect my relationships. I started to argue with my mom because I thought I could make life in Illinois the way it had been and she just wasn't trying hard enough. I was secretly mad at my daddy for making us move. My sister liked others more than me, I thought, and Christian was being a "brat". I started to question my parents.

Then, I learned we were to move back to Iowa. YAY! Life can return to the way it's always been, and everything would return to ok. Nope. Even if it had, I wouldn't have seen it as the seed of resentment had become rooted in my heart. I continued to grow more angry, more arrogant. Not only did I question my parents, but God too, for He was not giving me what I wanted. Yes... that's the way I thought.

By the time the tornado came and destroyed my house when I was 12, resentment had totally taken over my heart. I gave up on God, gave up on my family, gave up on my friends. I decided not to trust anyone... it hurt too much. I forgot how to love, how to focus on Christ, how to forgive.  I lived my life for me and made my family's lives miserable.

I lived like this, hiding it so no one would try to "fix" me, for 3 years. It was absolutely miserable. Life without Christ always is. Eventually, I started playing with the idea of suicide. Nothing I had tried seemed to work. What else was there?

I came to summer camp as a last resort. Through the friendships God brought to me there, and His continual quiet work on my heart, I realized that the only way to be free was to cling to Jesus. I wept for hours, pouring out my pain and resentment before Him, begging Him to save me. And He did! He made me a new person. The next year, I started working as Junior Counselor at the same camp and started showing my campers the grace that Christ had given me. Grace was the only thing I understood, and so it's what I taught.

Soon after camp, it became obvious that I didn't understand something essential: love. I was still obsessed with myself, even after all Christ had done for me. I hurt my family so much that my father sent me away, telling me that I was destructive influence. Maybe he might someday let me back.

That was one of the most difficult times in my life. I no longer had my family, I had no friends I really trusted to turn to. All I had was Christ. And run to Him, I did. I spent months begging for forgiveness. I wept over my cold heart, how I had no emotions other than pride that were real. I couldn't love, not even close. Everything was about me. He changed me... oh, did He change me those days! He broke me over and over again... and soon, it started to hurt. I started to feel. Everything should be about Him, not me.

By the time summer camp came around again, I was changed. I didn't understand what had happened, but my heart overflowed with love for God and others. I wanted to show the entire world what Christ had done for me. By the time summer camp ended, my Dad told me I could come home.

I finished my senior year confused over the future... and came to camp again a completely insecure young lady. Thankfully, I had no campers that summer because that would have failed badly. God taught me reliance on Him and Him alone. I screwed up so badly over and over again, but He still loved me.

Then started my internship at the same camp. I came in hating myself. I knew God loved me, but I didn't try to understand. I thought I was worthless and unlovable, not worth the time. Through the unconditional friendship of the guys I was working with coupled with God continuing to break me over and over, He showed me that He has a purpose for me. He showed me that He made me for a reason, that I am not worthless. He showed me that I had things He had placed in me, that I am lovable. This realization totally changed me again. God keeps working.

I realize now more than ever how screwed up I am. All that is good in me is Christ. Christ found me, saved me, changed me, redeemed me, and made me the person I am. In me there is nothing good. It is all Christ. When I rely on my power, I'm unsubmissive to my father; disrespectful of my mother; hateful towards my family; and horrible to be around. I'm repulsive. God is the One who changes me.

Who is my neighbor?

May I tell you a story?... or rather, may I retell a story told by the greatest story-teller of all time? If the answer is no... than you can close this webpage and continue on with yor life elsewhere. If the answer is yes, than sit back and relax... for here I go.

"And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”-Luke 10:25-37 (NKJV)

A hundred years ago, the world was much bigger than it is now. Ok... not in a literal sense, but the world has grown closer together in the last century than it has ever been before. Just think about it... A person can pick up a phone and call a friend in Mexico, or click a button and send a message to a client in New Zealand. The toys we give our children are made in Taiwan or China, the vehicles we drive are composed of parts manufactured across the world, the gas we put into those vehicles is from the Middle East. Foreign tv-shows can be viewed any-time, any-where.

What does this have to do with my story, you ask. Well, I'll tell you. A hundred years ago the people you came into contact with mostly consisted of those within a 30-mile radius of where you lived. Those people were your neighbors. On the contrary, in this day and age, the people one comes in contact with is no longer restrained to people in your city... your county... your state... your country.... your continent... or even your planet (as we converse with those people who are exploring outer space). Everyone is your neighbor. Take that thought and apply it to the story.

The priest and the Levite could not touch the injured person lying in their path because the practices they imposed upon themselves in the name of religon did not allow them to do so. Whereas, the pagan... the one who did not follow religious practices was able to serve. Now! Before you start thinking this is a sermon against any and all religious practices, understand that is not my point. My point is this, the story becomes true in a modern day setting as well. Christians are so caught up in what they can't do, that they forget their mission as is stated in Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Instead, the pagans, the ones who claim no belief in the Father of Love, have become better at serving the world we live in than us. This, my friends, is outrageous! Did not Jesus Himself say, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."-Matthew 9:12-13

Our focus has been to much on the teaching of the already saved and pure, and not enough on the millions of people still on this earth doomed to burn in the fires of hell. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" states Romans 3:23, we are no better than the rest. We are all liars, theives, cheats, ones who commit adultery and murder in our hearts. The people of the world are not looking for a bunch of Christians perfect in their ways, but for others to walk alongside them and guide them to the only Truth. A people ready to get their hands dirty in the name of love, to be that shoulder to lean on when times are rough, to be humble when they fall. That is what the world is seeking for so desperately... and is not being able to find.

Everyone is our neighbor. "Go and do likewise"

A past blog post re-visited

Today is the last day before Staff Training and then summer camp at Hidden Acres Christian Center where I will be working as a Junior Counselor until July 16th. Before I leave, I want to talk about something that has happened in the last two months.

At the Staff Retreat back in March, Earl Taylor gave us a challenge: a challenge to see the world through Jesus' eyes and not the world's. When we (the Staff) as a group prayed, I didn't really think I needed a lot of work done on my eyes. I am ashamed to admit that I was proud of the fact that I stand for what I believe, and many things in today's culture that are considered normal repulse me. Things like abortion, yes; but also the everyday things like flirtatiousness and a need for independance from families.

What I didn't realize was I may see the world through God's eyes (which I now highly doubt) but I didn't see myself. I was selfish, so self-centered I couldn't even join a conversation without talking about myself. I was dealing with so many internal dilemmas that I hid outside of my home, but took out on my family. They were hurting from being around me, and I never even saw it.

When God finally showed this to me, I at first blamed the conflict on other things. Satan has given me so many things to blame in my life. My life has not been easy on any accounts. I became a Christian at 3, yes.. but I struggled with demonic visitations when I was 4 and 5 and was continued to battle with them for years. I have 13 wonderful little brothers and sisters, yes... but there are 5 more in heaven I never had the chance to meet. I've lived in the same town for years and have grown close to friends nearby, closer than I had ever been with friends before, yes... but a tornado destroyed my home and my security 5 years ago. Yes, we stayed in Stratford throughout the tornado recovery, but in a tiny rental home while the insurance swindled us out of thousands of dollars and we were forced to build a home my mother hates.

My life has been rough, I had so many things to blame conflict and stress on, but the real reason rested almost entirely on my shoulders. I won't say that my parents and siblings never did anything wrong, because that would be a lie. But I let myself grow resentful, to hold everything I ever felt inside. When you stuff your feelings and don't let anyone else see them, you become so consumed with yourself the rest of the world is thrown out of focus.

So, I left my parents home because I was a destructive influence on my brothers and sisters. I went to live with my grandparents in Boone, and from time-to-time in Mitchellville with my aunt. Life has been really rough. Knowing how to sort through others' problems but not your own is so frustrating.

Through it all, God has shown Himself graceful and merciful beyond anything I could ever imagine. Why should a sinner like me focus on anything other than Him? There is nothing better than Him, not in this town, or this state, country, in the whole universe there is nothing better. Especially not myself. His love had covered all my sin, His grace has forgiven it, His mercy had given me much more than I deserve. Even through writing this, I am crying in amazement. Truly thinking about Him brings me to my knees in awe.

My grandparents have talked with me and tryed to work things out. They have been amazing! But the people who have had the biggest influence in bringing me back is a family here in Boone. When they saw I was hurting, they invited me into their home. They never asked any questions, they knew I would talk when I was ready. We played football and Rook, and just hung out. I've only seen them from time-to-time since that Sunday they invited me over, and you wouldn't think one day would make such a differance, but it has. I could never thank them enough for being there for me as they always have. Being around them makes me want to be a better person, inspires me to be all I can be. Even though they knew all that was going on, they still loved me unconditionally and accepted me as I was.

God has been so good to me throughout my life. I have an amazing family. I have outstanding friends. When I left Him for 3 years, He never left me. He never let go. Through all the hard times, He is the one I can count on to be there whenever I need someone to talk to. Why.. oh why.. would I focus on myself when God is so much better?

The Entertainers of Krakow

Father Daughter Love

Baby's First Pictures

Let me say, what a sweet-pie!

"Seeing Double"

This set of twins are some of my favorites to work with. I've been taking their pictures since they were babies. They just love the camera and to have fun.

"Beautiful Baby"