Faith and Fear

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It was a dark and stormy night.

My nine-year-old self huddled in bed, trying not to hear the crashing thunder and hiding my eyes from noon-bright flashes of lightning. As the wind came whistling around our house, timbers creaked, and I felt a quick stab of dread race through me. In my mind’s eye, I could see black clouds mixing with the wind, twisting, spinning into terrible tendrils that soon touched earth and headed straight for our house. The tornadoes would destroy it and hurt us all.

I was petrified.

In reality, the storm was far from dangerous. But what could turn a summer thundershower into a life-threatening tornado that might sweep us away at any moment? What awful power could distort my mind and hold me captive, powerless?

Fear.

Mine was not a healthy fear – the sort that keeps you from jumping off buildings or putting your hand in the fire. The fear that squeezed my heart and petrified my bones was mostly irrational, and often debilitating.

It held me back from enjoying life and the adventures set before me. I was terrified of waterskiing and hesitant to embark on our family’s boat. I spent much of our family ski trips plagued by nightmares or frozen at the tops of steep slopes, afraid to move. I set the boundaries that defined my comfort zone (easy ski slopes, for example), and was afraid to cross them. Afraid to fall. Afraid to fail, or experience some mishap beyond my control.

And there’s the heart of the matter. I did not trust.

I knew that God and my family loved me. I knew of God’s providence. I didn’t want to be trapped by my own fear.

But I did not believe, truly, deep inside, that there was grace for all my failures – that when I fell, Love would catch me and set me right again.

My healing started with a verse.

My mom and I are cut from the same cloth, and she saw in me the same fear of failure that had once held her, too. So she taught me the verse she’d learned to yell while barreling down ski slopes:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

The truth and beauty of that verse seeped into my mind and heart each time we said it to one another. Relief washed over me. And slowly, my tears and frozen muscles were replaced with confidence, laughter, and adrenaline as we sped down the slopes together.

God has not given us a spirit of fear!

His Holy Spirit is with me. He has not made me to cower away from the adventures and challenges of life. He has given me the power to press on, to face my fears and overcome them. He gives me His everlasting love and renews my mind that I may know His will and trust His ways.

The Lord knows my weakness, and He supports me with His promises.

“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) 

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to the Lord. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I won’t say that I’m fearless, by any means. There are still moments when I pause at the top of a ski slope and wonder if I really can do it, when my heart quails at the thought of possible tragedies and trials, when I forget the height and width and depth of God’s love.

But fear does not hold me now. Nor can it keep me from enjoying the adventures, challenges, and experiences that God has set before me. For He did not leave me lamed, trapped, terrified. He helped me to grow, to begin living and internalizing the truths I already knew in my head, but that had not yet worked their way into my heart.

I can now enjoy life for the wild and wonderful journey it is. I love seeing God’s awesome display of power in thunderstorms. I eagerly look forward to our family ski trips, boating on the lake, and waterskiing. I’ve tried so many other things that I once feared (like rappelling!) and loved it!

Most of all, I hold on to the truth that I am a servant and soldier of the King, and fear has no claim on me when I am wrapped in the strength of His love.

“I called upon the Lord, and he answered me. He delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Our God is a God of deliverance.

Call out to Him. He did not leave me, and He will not leave you, trapped by your own sins and failings. His grace, compassion, and love are great enough to forgive you, change you, and make you whole.

………………………………………..

This has been a very personal post, but I felt the need to share one of the great things that God has done in my life. Until recently, I hadn’t realized how much of a problem fear used to be for me – and how much I have to thank God for. Internalizing the truths I knew was a lesson that I needed to learn then, and still do, in other areas of life. I look forward to continuing this journey with His help!

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Thoughts from Haiti

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I just returned from a short-term mission trip to Haiti. This was my second time going to Jacob’s Well Camp in Limbè, Northern Haiti, with a team of fellow staffers from Frontier Camp. Here are my thoughts from the trip…

So. I’m back.

It’s hard to know what to say, or even what I want to say about this trip. As I sit here trying to gather my thoughts, memories and emotions flood my mind and tears prick at the corners of my eyes. It was a trying and wonderful week, so different from what I expected.

The general framework of our trip consisted of two days of work projects (or in this case, preparation for and then hosting a wedding reception!) followed by three days of VBS-style camps for the local kids (one at the Jacob’s Well campus and one at Psalm 23 Church  nearby). We wrapped up with a final day of team bonding.

This year, we faced a series of unexpected challenges to our plans.

We lost 1/3 of our team’s baggage (and didn’t get them back until the last day we were there…oh, and one bag is in Nicaragua for some reason?). We spent eight hours fixing a ruined wedding cake as the icing melted off of it in Haiti’s tropical heat. Four of us got sick (including me…more on that later). I missed our team’s group hike and excursion to the beach.

But through all these struggles, we saw God’s provision all the more abundantly. We made do with the supplies we had – and now the extra supplies (which we would have used if they weren’t lost for a week) are being used for more kids’ camps at Jacob’s Well! We actually really enjoyed fixing the wedding cake and learning the secrets of icing from the local kitchen staff. The cake was held together by the mercy of God throughout the wedding reception, and we were able to host a beautiful and memorable evening for our guests. And while I did not enjoy being sick, the Lord used those very hard days to teach me some much needed lessons.

Before I attempt to explain what I learned from this trip, however, I want to touch on a few more favorite moments from my time in Haiti.

Our first night in Haiti, we had a very long tap-tap ride to Jacob’s Well from Cap Haitien, where the airport is. The tap-tap is a flatbed truck with sides built onto it and a center bar to hang on to. It’s only about 17 miles from Cap Haitien to Jacob’s Well, but the drive took 3 hours due to high traffic, road work, and a police blockade. We were all in very high spirits, though, and I was so excited to be back. The sunset that night was captivating, and we ended up singing Christmas songs and other hymns for nearly the whole way, as we passed honking motorcycles, small concrete huts, and lush green fields dotted with cows and goats.

On Sunday, we attended the local church, Jacob’s Vision, and did our best to sing hymns in French and Creole alongside our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ. The beauty of their singing, complete with echoes and harmony, is almost unmatched, and it was a great privilege to worship with them.

For our first day of camp, I went with the mobile camp team to the VBS-style camp at Psalm 23 Church, about 2 miles away from Jacob’s Well. We waited for about two hours while each group of kids learned memory verses by chanting and clapping with their counselors. It is very encouraging to see their enthusiasm for God’s Word, and how the counselors (local Haitian believers) spend so much time making sure that they understand it. After memory verses, I helped run parachute games for rotating groups of kids. They loved counting “En, de, twa!” and using the parachute to launch a rubber pig high into the air (it actually went in a neighboring house a few times!). After activities were over, we watched the counselors act out the Bible Drama (from Moses’ story in Exodus) with great enthusiasm. After drama, a lot of the kids noticed our phones and cameras and clamored for a “foto!” Their sweet smiles and hilarious poses were very entertaining. It was so good to be back, working with them, conversing in broken Creole, and speaking the universal language of laughter.

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One other morning, most of the girls on our team went up to a hill overlooking Jacob’s Well to watch the sunrise, read Scripture, and sing a little. Haiti’s countryside is arrestingly beautiful, and it was such a sweet time of fellowship for us. It’s hard to explain, but there are few chapels more lovely than that spot on the hill, with a clear view of the sunrise, mist rising from the valley, and terraced hillsides in every direction. It’s a place that lends itself to reflection, sharing of hearts, and quietness of soul.

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That particular morning, I was actually right in the middle of my sickness, and it felt so heavenly to get up there into morning light and beauty after a long day of stomach pain and high fever in my cabin. It was hard to get up the hill in my weakened state, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

One last thing that I must mention – my team. At first, I was worried that eleven people wouldn’t be enough, after last year’s successful team of 25. But our smaller team allowed us to get to know each other better, and we had so much fun together – holding enormous toads, playing card games and Assassins, singing on the tap-tap, playing with the kids, telling jokes, and enjoying each others’ company. God helped us stay together in unity, which was something  that I had earnestly prayed for. I am so blessed to have been part of a team with them. Mr. Hans, Mrs. Autumn, Deborah, Ellie, Edie, John, Caleb, Emily, Cosette, and Kristen, thank you for being a terrific team. God blessed me through each one of you.

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And now for the hard part.

Basically, I got sick right after the first day of camp for the kids. I was in bed for most of the next two days with a fever and other issues. I haven’t felt that awful in quite some time – and it was so hard to lie in bed, hearing the kids playing and laughing outside my cabin, knowing that I wouldn’t be well enough to play with them. I felt useless – unable to do the very thing that I’d come to Haiti to do.

Sometimes I was optimistic enough to concentrate on getting better and having a good attitude. But deep in the dark of night, as I stumbled back to my cabin, I asked God, “Why?” Why did He allow me to get sick – and stay sick longer than anyone else, right in the middle of camp?

I prayed. A lot. I asked God to help me recover, to keep me patient and faithful, to show me why I was there and what I needed to learn from this.

He answered.

During one of our final Bible studies as a team, Mr. Hans touched on a point I’d heard before – but this time it struck deep.

He told us that that in America, with plenty of infrastructure, technology, and other things that make our lives comfortable and predictable, it’s easy to feel like we have so much control over our lives. We confidently say that we’ll go there and do that, without so much as a “Lord willing.”

But in Haiti, it’s much clearer how little is really under our control. The tap-tap could break down, as it often does, and you wouldn’t get to your destination. Important baggage could be lost. Sickness could strike and lay you low in the middle of camp.

That’s when I realized how much I needed to learn that lesson anew.

I was willing to give God all the other aspects of our trip – our transportation, luggage, activities – everything but my health. I’d taken it for granted that I would be there doing all the things we’d come to Haiti to do.

And when that was taken from me, albeit temporarily (thank God!) I had to actually trust that God knew what He was doing. That He didn’t need me to be there for camp. That everything is in His hands.

Including my future. Including all the decisions ahead.

Yes, I needed that.

So, this year was a different trip. I did less. But I was loved and supported by my team, by the kitchen staff (who made any number of Haitian remedies for me!), by Pastor Valcin and his wife, Betty (who run Jacob’s Well), by the local Haitian counselors, and by my Lord. I learned a lot. I laughed a lot. It was a good trip.

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Haiti is full of contrasts – crowded streets full of trash and honking motorcycles, lush green fields and terraced slopes, dark voodoo temples and painted priestesses, vibrant local churches full of singing. There’s so much work left to do, but so much that God has already done.

Jacob’s Well Camp is a big part of God’s work of transformation in the Limbè area, and I am truly grateful to have been given the chance to, yet again, participate in its mission. I hope to return next year – to once again play games with the children, hug the kitchen staffers, improve my Creole, hang on for dear life to the tap-tap, fellowship with my team, and labor alongside fellow Christians from Haiti. That little island has a big part of my heart.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my experiences in Haiti. If you are one of those amazing people who prayed for or helped finance my trip, thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping make this possible! God blessed me immensely through this trip, and He daily uses the ministry of Jacob’s Well to spread the light of the gospel in Haiti. Glory to God!

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A final piece of news – Jacob’s Well may soon begin work on a satellite campus in Port Margot, Haiti, about 2 hours away from Jacob’s Well. Please be praying for God to guide Pastor Valcin and his wife through this possible expansion, and show them how our team can be of most help next year. This is a very exciting opportunity!

Cover Reveal – Song of Leira

My friend Gillian Bronte Adams writes Christian fantasy. She’s a great author, and I consider myself fortunate to know her personally. I’ve been reading her blog for years (and she’s actually one of the people who inspired me to start a blog of my own!). Today, I get to share the epic cover of her fourth book, Song of Leira!

Song of Leira is the third book in Gillian’s Songkeeper Chronicles series. I loved the first two books, Orphan’s Song and Songkeeper. They are set in a well-realized, interesting fantasy world that feels original (no overabundance of medieval castles and feudal systems), yet familiar. The series (so far) is action-packed, gripping, and well-written, with several different viewpoints and storylines that intersect and flow smoothly. The books have hints of Christian allegory throughout, in a way that makes them redemptive  and uplifting, not trite or predictable.

One of the many things I love about the series is its emphasis on music. Music is one of the things I love most, and I really enjoyed seeing it used as a form of magic, but also as the voice of the Lord (in this case, Emhran, the Master Singer) and an echo of His creative power.

Both of the first two books, especially Songkeeper, take the reader into some dark places alongside their heroine, Birdie. However, the series balances sorrow and suffering with hope and healing, as well as a strong undercurrent of biblical truth. I would highly recommend it to readers 13 and older.

Here are Gillian’s descriptions of the first two books:

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HER SOLO IS A DEATH SENTENCE.

Deep within the world of Leira flows a melody that was sung at the beginning of time by Emhran, the Master Singer. Now it is broken, buried, forgotten. But in each generation, a Songkeeper arises to uphold the memory of the Song against those who want it silenced forever.

When Birdie first hears the Song coming from her own mouth, her world shatters. She is no longer simply an orphan but the last of a hunted people. Forced to flee for her life, she must decide whom to trust—a traveling peddler, a streetwise thief, or a mysterious creature who claims to know her past.

With enemies at her heels and war threatening to tear her homeland apart, Birdie soon discovers an overwhelming truth: the fate of Leira may hinge on one orphan’s Song.

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WAR RAVAGES LEIRA AND THE SONG HAS FALLEN SILENT.

Freed from the hold of a slave ship, Birdie, the young Songkeeper, and Ky, a street-wise thief, emerge to a world at war. Hordes of dark soldiers march across Leira, shadowed by whispers of plague and massacres, prompting Ky to return to his besieged home city in hopes of leading his fellow runners to safety.

Desperate to end the fighting, Birdie embarks on a dangerous mission into the heart of the Takhran’s fortress. Legend speaks of a mythical spring buried within and the Songkeeper who will one day unleash it to achieve victory. Everyone believes Birdie is the one, but the elusive nature of the Song and rumors of other gifted individuals lead her to doubt her role. Unleashing the spring could defeat the Takhran once and for all, but can she truly be the Songkeeper when the Song no longer answers her call?

And now, for an epic cover!

Behold:

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Wow. I’m so excited – clearly, this book has even more awesomeness in store!

Here’s what Gillian has to say about Song of Leira:

THE SONG BIDS HER RISE TO BATTLE.

Reeling from her disastrous foray into the Pit, Birdie, the young Songkeeper, retreats into the mountains. But in the war-torn north, kneeling on bloodstained battlefields to sing the souls of the dying to rest, her resolve to accept her calling is strengthened. Such evil cannot go unchallenged.

Torn between oaths to protect the Underground runners and to rescue his friend from the slave camps, Ky Huntyr enlists Birdie’s aid. Their mission to free the captives unravels the horrifying thread connecting the legendary spring, Artair’s sword, and the slave camps. But the Takhran’s schemes are already in motion. Powerful singers have arisen to lead his army—singers who can shake the earth and master the sea—and monsters rampage across the land.

As Leira falters on the verge of defeat, the Song bids her rise to battle, and the Songkeeper must answer. 

Song of Leira comes out on June 5, 2018, but is available for pre-order right now on Amazon. I’m eagerly awaiting the release (Songkeeper ends with a cliff-hanger, so beware! The wait will not be easy).

 

I hope you enjoyed learning about this amazing series (if you hadn’t already). Be on the lookout for more book reviews in the future!

Youth Group, Hope, & A Christmas Party

Tonight, I was truly, entirely, brimful of joy. I couldn’t stop smiling.

It was easy to be happy, of course – my youth group was having our Christmas party, our youth leader’s small house was full of people I love, and there was plenty of fun in store.

But I was struck, once again, by just how important times like these are.

Because it’s not always easy to be joyful. There are days when the tasks appointed for me seem too hard, the fight too long, the climb too steep. When I’m almost ready to believe that God has appointed me to a life of exhaustion and struggle.

Times like tonight, filled with easy fellowship and genuine laughter, undergirded with a strong love for Christ and each other, give me the hope I need to carry on. They tell me the truth – that I am loved, supported, and richly blessed.

Hope isn’t hard to find.

Sometimes it’s as simple as a living room crowded with teenagers, frisbees flying down the street, riotous ping-pong matches in the garage, and Christmas carols sung with the door wide open.

Hearts full of love and hands lifted in praise.

 

Tonight, tomorrow, and always in Christ, I am blessed.

Disturb Us, Lord

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“Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.”
(Attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577)

 

I’ve been thinking of this prayer a lot lately. As I prepare to leave for college next year, I have often caught myself thinking of the future with uneasiness and even dread. Yes, there’s excitement, too, but I’m finding it hard to make plans to leave when I love my life just the way it is. I love my church, friends, activities, and home, and I don’t want any of that to change.

But God is in control. Perhaps my dreams have been too small. Perhaps I have let myself cling so closely to the dear things of home that I am no longer seeking God’s best for me – trusting in them to make me feel loved and safe, when I should be finding myself in my Heavenly Father. Perhaps I am too comfortable in this world, for it is not my home.

A ship is safe in the harbor. But that’s not what ships are made for.

Perhaps I have not surrendered to God enough to trust His plans above mine.

I have been blessed with a loving family, close friends, great fellowship, and a strong church. But if I let those things take the place in my life that only God deserves, they have become idols. I must not hold on to the things I love more than I hold on to God and His plan for me.

So, I’ve been praying. Asking God to “push back the horizons of my hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

I’ve felt my excitement growing, just a little.

And though I’ve never been the kind of person that boldly leaps into the unknown or unfamiliar, I’m beginning to desire those wilder seas.

 

In what areas of your life do you need to trust God more? Do you have a story to share of a time when He called you to do something out of your comfort zone? How can I be praying for you? Let me know via the contact page or in the comments!

A Short Story

wrote this short story from a photo prompt in my AWANA handbook. It’s meant to be allegorical – hopefully you catch that.

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They called this freedom.

Varen stared at his reflection in the walls of the radiant, mirrored hallway. The hate he saw in his own eyes surprised him. So did the scars on his skin and the grime that covered his tattered clothes.

In the relative darkness of the Slums, where he lived, he’d never noticed. But here, it this bright, revealing hallway, all was laid bare and he could see clearly. He hated it.

This Varen was poor, dirty, and wrong. He needed the white, clean clothes spread out invitingly on his right. He needed the warmth and welcome that the Ambassadors had said he’d find in the City – beyond the simple white door at the hallway’s end.

Varen turned his gaze to the door and the strip of blinding white light that shone from beneath it. Beyond that door lay Truth and ultimate revealing. Then he’d be loved. If he went in there –

No.

He clenched his fists. It wasn’t worth the price. No, he would remain the Varen of the Slums, who conquered and tasted and was his own master. Better to choose his own destruction in slow pleasure and emptiness than submit to that piercing Love.

Varen walked slowly to the end of the hallway. Breathing hard, he ground one grimy boot into those fresh, clean clothes. Then he turned and strode swiftly to the other door, the one he’d come through when the Ambassadors had first pointed the way and made him all those kind, terrible promises.

He’d have none of it. He had to leave before that mercy caught him.

Gripping its handle firmly, he pulled the door open and walked back into the darkness, away from that radiant light. He heard the door close behind him with a soft thunkbut not once did he look back.

An Introduction

I wrote this post for my ‘about’ page, but I figured that it was fitting for an introductory post as well.

Hello! I’m Elizabeth.

I’m a homeschooled senior in high school, striving to follow Jesus with all my heart. I believe that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that in Him we find what is really good, true, and beautiful.

I love writing, photography, stars, dancing, piano, poetry, worship, hiking, sunsets, friendship, hard work, children, laughter, fellowship, playing Ultimate Frisbee & gaga ball, truth, nature, art, the lake, music, mountains, horses, traveling, languages, genuine smiles, hand lettering, deep conversations, singing, service, great books, Texas, staffing at Frontier Camp, my youth group, competitive public speaking (NCFCA), Awana, mission trips, and the sunrise.

I am fascinated with the written word and hope to be an author one day. I started this blog at the suggestion of a few dear friends to develop my writing skills, pour out my thoughts, and share what God is doing in my life.

Why “Made for Joy”?

It’s a phrase that I’ve been turning around in my mind for the past few months. I believe that God has made us in His image, to (as the Westminster Shorter Catechism so eloquently puts it) “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” God has not made us for happiness, nor does He promise earthly prosperity. His joy goes much deeper than that – it triumphs through trouble.

As Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Living in the joy that only God can give means that I can face life as a path of adventure, trusting to His righteousness, wisdom, and strength to cover my sin, foolishness, and weakness. It means delighting in all that is good, true, and beautiful, and seeking to cultivate them in myself. It means turning away from shiny, empty things that will never truly satisfy. It means staying in awe of Jesus Christ: His mercy, justice, and love.

“You make known to me the path of life;
  in your presence there is fullness of joy;
  at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

Thank you for reading, and welcome to my blog! I’m excited to begin sharing my thoughts. Do you have a blog I should read? Let me know in the comments!