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12.25.2014

Whisper

Have you ever felt God moving you in a direction you feel under qualified? 

Maybe even scared? 

A direction that seems impractical or a bit too audacious?

I sure do right now.  

For years, I have felt a little whisper in my heart to write.  To actually take my writing seriously.  Maybe even write a book.  In fact, this isn’t the first time I am writing about writing.  Maybe it’s writer’s block, or confidence block, or obedience block, but I never seem to go ALL IN. 

Maybe you can relate to my thought process. I get a “whisper.” Someone says, “I loved your blog,  I think you should write a book.”  Or, I get a personal message from a reader that said my words challenged they way they thought about life.  I go to a conference and they tell me that my story matters.  A New York Times bestselling author reads my stuff and tells me to keep writing.  I get a brochure in the mail that says, “She believed she could, so she did.”  

These “whispers” stir something deep inside of me, and I start believing that God wants to do something amazing through me

"Could God really use little, ‘ole me?"  

I start dreaming and maybe post a blog, or take a step in that direction.  But within days, I always seem to talk myself out of it.  “Why me?  I mean, who am I?  Everyone has a story. Can't I just be content and not make it about me?  Why would anyone care what I have to say? I'm not a writer.”  

What is your whisper? You know, that thing that God keeps laying on your heart but you seem to talk yourself out of every time? 

Maybe it is too risky. 
Maybe it means you can’t be comfortable anymore. 

I don’t know about you, but for me, the year’s continue to pass…but the whisper remains.

This Sunday at church I was reminded that God doesn’t choose me because of ME, He chooses me because of HIM.  He has a genealogy of broken, messy, and unqualified people telling His story.  I feel like God keeps whispering to me, “Stefanie, tell MY story. Tell people about the amazing things I am doing in and through you. Tell them about the secret blessings underneath pain.  Show them the joy I have put in your heart.  Build a platform so I can stand on it.  It’s not about you, it’s about ME.  I know it is risky to expose your soul to people.  You will be criticized.  Some people won’t understand.  But Stefanie, that doesn’t matter.  You have an audience of one.  All I am asking is that you are faithful and that you trust me. I will use what you give me.” 

That's the story what I want to be obedient to tell. And, it is in the midst of the busyness, in the midst of the storms, in the midst of the “now”, I feel God calling me to tell His story.

Officially in May, I am “graduating.”  My nine years in high school youth ministry will be done. God keeps whispering to me in this pending change. As I look towards my future, I am wondering….

What would it look like to be ALL IN? 
What would it look like to lean into the whispers?

How about you? What is the whisper that you will be leaning into in 2015? I would love to hear about it!


12.16.2014

A Second Chance: Uganda

I think I'm going to try it again. You know, by myself. Not as a leader, but as an observer. Almost like a clean slate. 

Uganda. 

A second chance at a mission trip with new eyes, a fresh perspective, and no expectations.

Let me catch everyone up to speed. Back in July, I took a group of high school students to Haiti. It was my first time in a developing country and I was excited. A lot of people that I know had gone and loved it. I love to travel and I love high schoolers, so I thought I would come back in love with Haiti, in love with missions, and fired up to go back.  That didn't quite happen for a number of reasons, you can read more here.  But in my heart I knew I would try again. I would go to another developing country at some point, just not for awhile.

Then, I met Bob.
If you don't know Bob Goff, you should.  He is a New York Times bestselling author and speaker that encourages people to live a lifestyle that fiercely seeks out ways of showing love.  In 2012, Bob wrote a book called Love Does and gave away 100% of the proceeds to build a school in Gulu, Uganda. Bob founded Restore International in 2002, an international NGO focused on trying to change a few lives for the better. Restore fights for freedom and human rights, works to improve educational opportunities, and aims to be helpful to those in need of a voice and a friend. Restore is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization, and works in Uganda, Iraq, Nepal, India and Somalia. And, because of Bob's Vision and the work of Restore International, he serves as Hon. Consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States.

This past October, he was our guest speaker at Immanuel Church where I had the opportunity to meet him.  We quickly became friends and stayed in touch the weeks following the event. On a whim, he invited me to tag along, with him and a few others, on a 6 day trip to Uganda. So naturally, I said no. Twice.  
Did I mention Bob is FIERCELY persistent?! 

So within a few short weeks I was on a plane by myself to Africa.  
I know....crazy. 
[Warning: after you meet him or read his book, you may be tempted to say YES to him, too!]  

Can I share some of my adventure with you?

Here is my journal entry from Day 1: Chicago to Amsterdam 

I plan. I organize. It's in my blood. Travel is an organizer's dream. So naturally, packing 6 days of travel into one carry on for Uganda was a welcomed challenge. I printed the packing list and got to work.

Two weeks early.

A small backpack for my camera is all I need under my seat, I think. Everything else will be right above my head. 

Kleenex? Check. 
Malaria meds? Check. 
Passport, beef jerky, and a football for good measure? Check. Check. Check. 

And of course, my O2cool fan. 
Best. Invention. Ever. 
Need-to-sleep, fan-addicted friends? Don't leave home without this battery operated, treasure.

I should have seen it coming.

It was beautiful, my bag, that is. Every square inch bursting with supplies. I made it to security, removed every item I packed and article of clothing I had on to get through. (Anyone else feel nervous they are carrying an explosive EVERY time you fly?) Anyway, low and behold, I was the lucky winner of "the search the bag" award! 

What did I win, you ask? One "quick" wipe down of my bag, and evil stares for holding up the line. 

Then it happened. He touched the fan.  The only thing I could do was pray, "Lord, please, not the fan!" The batteries set off the warning bells. Good thing God answers prayer. [wink!] The nice TSA  man let me through, fan and all. 

Everything was going well until I got to the boarding ramp to get on the plane. 
Shoot. 
I made eye contact with the flight attendant. 
"Ma'am, I'm going to need you to step aside and check your bag." 

"Um, no." I thought....and may have even said out loud.....

Not my "everything-I-need-including-my 3-1-1 toiletries, my-cute-African-appropriate-outfit-for-tomorrow, and, well, EVERYTHING-is-in-there....BAG?!"

I tried to charm her by removing some items in the front and even comparing my bag to others that were breezing by with much bigger bags than my strategically packed carry on. Clearly, she didn't recognize or appreciate my skills. Augh.

Nothing worked. "Can I get it back in Amsterdam?" I pleaded.  
She smiled, and said no. 

Ok. Now I'm pissed. 
Does she know I am not that flexible? I don't trust easily.
Especially airlines and checked bags TO AFRICA!!!?! 

I frantically grabbed my leggings and a tshirt. Probably the two dumbest things I could find as she pried the bag from my grip. 

Bagless and defeated, I found my seat. 26a.

I see a sweet, older lady sitting in 26b and think, at least the flight should be tolerable since I was upgraded to a window seat.  In fact, 26c was empty. I don't travel much, but I think plane etiquette is for her to move over to 26c and leave the middle seat, 26b, open. 

Guess she missed that part in the flight video.

Here is sit, typing this journal entry. 
Bagless and cozy.

I notice the flight tracker and put it on. Flight trackers are so organized. So detailed. And, it makes me think about how often I wish life was more like that flight tracker. All the twists and turns mapped out. By the minute updates. Predictable. Precise. Even tells you the weather conditions. 

But life isn't like that, is it? At least not from our vantage point. I think it's more like a surprise checked bag.  You plan as best as you can and then life pries your fingers off the handle. 

I really hope my bag gets there. But in the meantime, I am going to try to make the best of it. I'm gonna snuggle with my new friend from Chicago... who happens to be reading about love and God. I'm gonna eat my almonds and be grateful. I'm going to trust that God is more interested in my heart than my luggage. 

I think I'm gonna turn the flight tracker off too. Just gets me focused on the wrong things. 
Like the destination instead of the journey. 

12.12.2014

I deserve it

A lot of well meaning people have told us, we deserve it. We deserve a handicapped house. We deserve a vacation. We deserve a "normal" child..... 

We deserve medical aide, a hand out, a help up, or even a break. Or, we deserve that extra fill-in-the-blank, that pricey whatchamacallit, or that unpractical wish. 

Many more times than I’d like to admit, I tell myself I deserve stuff too.

Do you do that? 

Maybe you’ve had a busy season at work and think, “I deserve a vacation or raise.”
Maybe you’ve lost some weight and decide you deserve to go shopping.
Maybe you’ve been through a trauma, so you give yourself permission to check out of life.  I mean, you deserve it, right?

Maybe it’s just me.

But the truth is, I am starting to think I don't deserve anything good. And the fact my kids have a rare, terminal illness, or I have to endure a lot of suffering in the process, doesn't qualify me for a hand out.

You know what I really deserve? What maybe we deserve? 
Warning: you aren’t gonna like it and some of you may even disagree.

Punishment, suffering, and death. 
Yuck-o.

That feels way different than a trip to Hawaii.

Punishment, suffering, and death are the result of the fallen, broken world we live in. It's the result of rebellion. The result of our prideful, “I deserve it” attitude.   I am starting to believe there is really nothing good about this life, me, or the general human condition apart from what God is redeeming.  Someone once said, that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Maybe he was on to something.  

So, what if? 
What if we changed our perspective from “I deserve it” to “what an undeserved gift”?
What if bad things happen to good people cause they live here, amongst bad things?  
What if bad things were what we came to expect simply because we are breathing? 

Sometimes, we want to blame God for all the sadness and brokenness in the world.  I mean, if we believe He’s in charge and all….what the heck is he doing? Why sanfilippo? Why loneliness, why fill-in-the-blanks?  Right? I get that.

But what if? 

What if God is for you? What if God actually agrees with you? That babies shouldn't die, or rebellious people should be held accountable, or we should blame someone for our pain? What if God was actually on our side fixing what we continually break, instead of the enemy allowing stuff to stay broken? What if God was more like a carpenter and less like demolition man?

You know....it didn't start like this in the garden, all this brokenness, sorrow, pain and death.  And it won't be like this in heaven.

I want to start seeing everything good, or perfect, or beautiful is an undeserved gift.  Maybe then I will stop feeling as entitled to good things and start being more grateful. 

Could you imagine what would change in the world if we walked around grateful instead of entitled? 

There would be no more people running red lights. 
No more turf wars or bullying. 
No more school shootings or lawsuits. 

Less pride.
Less selfishness.
Less deserving it.

Gratitude begets generosity. When you receive an undeserved gift it humbles you. 

A free house humbles you.
Extra hands humble you.
Friendship humbles you.
Anonymous checks humble you.
The breath of a dying child humbles you.

The beauty of keeping a posture of humility, or an "attitude of gratitude" as someone creatively put it, allows us to understand grace with a fresh perspective.  It has the power to change the way we see Jesus, and what he did for us on the cross. It also opens us up to extend grace to other people. We stop measuring their worthiness. And there's freedom when we stop measuring ours.


So I am learning I don't deserve it, but I'm grateful.

12.09.2014

Tension

I wonder how long it has been since I stopped. 
Stopped long enough to really spend time with a children’s book.
Stopped to play with play doh.
Stopped to really look at my child.
Until Monday morning.

Mondays have turned into my favorite day. The best start to my week is slow.  I get to sit in my pj’s and cuddle with Ellie.  Most of the time it is for a few minutes during Fresh Beat Band. Then I get up and start. Manage the calendar. Start the Laundry. Grocery shop. On a good day, I run.


But today was different. I stayed longer on the couch and turned off the TV. We grabbed a few Christmas books and read. We chatted about what she saw in the pictures and talked about baby Jesus. Did you know, according to Ellie, that Jesus had a pacifier in the manger? Fascinating. 

Then, we played with play-doh. She destroyed, while I created. We made a house, a fish, a christmas tree,  and a miniature Ellie. All in yellow, of course.

And you know what? I had fun.  I actually liked it. And, it unlocked something in me I buried long ago.

Childhood.

I think I had trained myself to stop dreaming of days like these, for myself and my children.

When we had Jayden, I used to dream about doing typical things like reading and play-doh with my children. And slowly, those dreams died with their abilities. So, we learned quickly to create new dreams for our children that were less about their ability and more about our character. 

We still read to Jayden and Brooklyn every night because that is what you do with kids at bedtime. Jayden can still kinda turn pages of board books. Brooklyn can still remember the last word of some of the Lighting McQueen book.  But, we try to ignore that they are slowly losing interest. They eat books. They rip pages.  But, we keep reading. We keep reading because we want to communicate that their abilities don’t matter, they do. We are thankful they are here teaching us and it is an honor to read to them. But, at the same time in our hearts, we silently grieve.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Ellie. Raising her has opened up new experiences and new wounds. She remembers, she imagines, she interacts. I try not to let myself get too excited about the future with her. It is so fun to watch a child learn. It is neat to have conversations with my child. It is crazy we can talk about yesterday, or even tomorrow.  She runs around with no clothes, full abandon, singing, dancing, and playing the drums. In our secret times, I whisper, "I love you" and she says it back.  I say next, "I am so proud of you" and she whispers it back.  I know Jayden loves me, but I have never heard him say it. Ever.  

Many times, it is the presence of ability that reminds me of the presence of disability.  They co-exist in our home.  

Do you ever feel tension between two truths?

I remember the moment I told Justin that Ellie didn’t have Sanfilippo. We both felt it. In concert, we celebrated life and grieved death. We felt excitement and joy for Ellie, and a fresh wave of sadness for Jayden and Brooklyn.  

It’s so challenging to have one foot in special needs and one in typical. One foot in death and one foot in life. One foot excited for the future, one foot in the terrified in what tomorrow may bring. One foot in progression, one foot in regression.  

It is beautiful tension.

So, today has taught me a few things.

Number 1. Occasionally reprogram my default setting.  Being me is good, and houses need managers.  But, play is good too.  Not just because we are told by great moms to whom it comes naturally, but because it is good for my soul. It is fun to play, imagine, teach, and create. I need it and Ellie does too.  

Number 2: It is in the tension we find peace. God is in the tension. In fact, I think that is the hardest thing to trust. We are uncomfortable with tension and want God to be an either/or when in fact, he is a both/and a lot of times. It’s like a rubber band stretched between two points. And without the tension, we can get too focused on the points instead of the tension.


For example, it isn’t good to just look at death. I know a lot of people that do. They are frantic for a cure, they are counting down the days and forgetting to live life. But I also know people that think they are invincible. That live like they, or their children, are guaranteed tomorrow. Neither fixed point is good. It is in the truth of both points God stretches across.  It is the very truth that we are going to die that makes us want to live. 

So somehow, it is the very tension in which I must rest.