Life is an Adventure 

In the past few years, I’ve pushed myself to do stuff that really scares me. Stuff that makes my heart race and makes me wonder if I will survive.

In the summer of 2014, my family and I vacationed in Hocking Hills, Ohio. It’s a beautiful place with winding roads, rolling hills, and amazing rock formations and caves to explore. My husband Mark (aka family activity director) came up with this crazy idea that we should all go zip lining. And not just one zip line, but a zip line canopy tour. This adventure consisted of 10 zip lines where you “zip through treetops on a network of cables and skybridges suspended high above the forest, overlooking a cave, rock cliffs, and the Hocking River.”

SERIOUSLY?! My stomach churned with butterflies just thinking about. The ONLY thing that kept me from backing out of this scary adventure, was the fact that our 3 teenagers were super excited about zip lining and I knew I would never hear the end of it if I didn’t go along.

So the next thing I know, I’m strapped into a harness and cabled to the zip line, ready to risk life and limb along with the rest of my family. At first, it was scary and stressful, but as we zip lined from skybridge to skybridge, I began to relax and enjoy the beauty all around me. Reflecting back on this experience, I have to admit that it was better than I expected and I enjoyed myself enough that I would seriously consider doing it again in the future.

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This past summer, my family and I packed up our van and headed down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This time, my husband decided to raise the bar by suggesting that we go parasailing over the Atlantic Ocean. REALLY?! The fact that I’m not the best swimmer and the thought of being suspended 300 feet over shark-infested waters was not my idea of fun. But again, my teenage kids could hardly wait to embark on this adventure, so I chose not to ruin their opportunity to try something new and agreed to go along.

Sometimes when you are going to do something scary, it’s good that you don’t see the full picture of what’s going to happen before you do it. I found this to be true with our parasailing adventure.

The morning we got up and went down to the beach to go parasailing, the wind was wild and the waves were crashing the shoreline. The first step on our adventure was getting on an inflatable “banana” boat. We were asked to kneel and hold onto the strap provided. Next, a jet ski towed us through the wild surf out to the parasail boat.

Photo Credit: Ocean Watersports

Photo Credit: Ocean Watersports

I have to just pause right here and say that the banana boat ride was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life! This picture fails to adequately describe our experience that day. Because we were riding against the wind and waves, I was holding on for dear life to the strap and praying I would make it out to the boat without letting go. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we made it safely to the boat. I was so relieved to make it there alive that in comparison, parasailing didn’t seem all that scary anymore.

Mark and I decided to go first, so again I found myself getting strapped into yet another harness and lifted up into the air 300 feet above the Atlantic. And…it was AMAZING! There was a peace that washed over me while I was up there enjoying the beautiful view of the Grand Strand with my hubby. I felt so close to God as a gentle breeze caressed my face and I silently thanked Him for the opportunity to experience that moment.

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As we were gently brought back down to the boat, I could hardly wait to watch our 3 teens go up together and experience the feeling of flying high and free above the earth.

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Other than a couple mild cases of air sickness, parasailing was a great experience for all of us, one we will never forget. And thankfully, the banana boat ride back to shore was much easier with the wind and waves at our backs.

As I reflect back on these scary adventures, I’m reminded of other times in my life when God was inviting me to step out of my comfort zone and trust Him. Here are just a few examples:

  • Shooting my first wedding (photography)
  • Posting my first blog
  • Running my first 25K race
  • Sharing my testimony in front of my entire church family
  • Leading a Bible study at a women’s prison in Coldwater, Michigan
  • Trusting God for financial provision when my husband Mark quit his job
  • Releasing my kids into God’s care during this season of first time teenage drivers

Along the way, I have received encouragement from these promises in God’s Word:

I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3)

With God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26b)

Over the years, I have found that the more I step out of my comfort zone and ask God for help in the scary moments, the more brave, bold, and daring I become. Not only in the fun moments of life, but also in my work and ministry.

As I step out in faith on this adventure called life, Jesus has been and will continue to be my faithful companion every step of the way. I just need to keep hanging onto Him and boldly embrace every moment.

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A Second Chance

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Everyone deserves a second chance. When you give someone a second chance, I believe it can change the course of their entire life. Back in March, something bad happened to my son and we were given the opportunity to do this for someone.

On the evening of March 13, my 16 year old son Justin went over to a friend’s house to hang out with a few of his friends. During that time, two of Justin’s friends got into an argument. Another boy in the neighborhood approached them and got involved in the argument so Justin asked the boy to stop. Long story short, the boy came after Justin and punched him hard in the jaw, knocking him to the ground. Justin blacked out for a few moments and was unclear about what happened after that, except that he knew he had been injured on both sides of his jaw. After coming to his senses, Justin called a close friend and asked him to come get him and bring him home.

When Justin got home, he was hesitant about telling us what happened because he knew we would be very upset. When he finally got the courage to tell us, my mom heart was shattered to pieces. My husband Mark’s initial reaction was to call the police, but Justin asked him not to involve the police because he didn’t want anymore trouble with this boy. In my heart, I felt that God was impressing upon us to honor Justin’s wishes. After talking it over, we all agreed that we should wait on pressing charges or taking legal action. Instead, we made the choice to forgive this boy for hurting Justin. At the time, we did not feel it was serious enough to make a trip to the emergency room that night, so we decided to wait until morning to get him checked out.

The next morning, I called my dear friend Pam (who is also our family physician) and told her what had happened. She recommended that we go to urgent care and get an X-ray of his jaw just to make sure nothing was broken. After 3 hours at urgent care, we were sent downtown to the children’s hospital for an x-ray. When the doctor on call came in to share the results of the x-ray with us, we were shocked when he told us Justin had dislocated his jaw and sustained hairline fractures on both sides of his jaw. The surgeon said it was important that Justin have surgery done immediately to put titanium plates in both sides of his jaw in order to protect it from further injury.

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So, on a Saturday evening at 11:00 pm, I found myself sitting alone in an empty waiting room waiting for Justin to get out of surgery. Because it was so late, Mark and I agreed that he would stay home with our son Josh and come to the hospital in the morning.

During that quiet time alone in the waiting room, I prayed that God would guide the surgeon’s hands during the surgery and that there would be no complications. I also prayed for peace to fill my heart and mind while I waited. Although I was the only person in the waiting room, I never felt alone. Instead, I felt God’s presence and peace the entire time. This verse was on my heart that night:  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7

When the surgery was done and I was able to visit Justin in recovery, my heart broke all over again when I saw him because he looked bad. His face was swollen and his lips were cracked and stretched from the surgery. I felt like crying because my precious son was hurt and my heart ached for him like never before.

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Justin was incoherent the entire night because of the anesthesia. At 3:00 am, I attempted to get some rest, but Justin’s breathing was shallow and the heart monitor alarm kept going off and waking me up. Each time the alarm went off, a nurse would come in and gently wake up Justin so his breathing would return to normal. After an hour of this, I prayed that God would calm my anxious heart and allow me to get a few hours of sleep. I knew the hospital would be releasing Justin in the morning and I would need strength to take care of him once we got home. Thankfully, I managed to get a few hours rest.

Later that morning, Justin was released from the hospital. I knew he was going to be okay when he asked me if we could go through the drive thru at McDonald’s on the way home and get him a shamrock shake!

The surgeon recommended that Justin stay home from school for one week, with no track or weight training for 6 weeks. He was on a liquid diet for the first week and a soft food diet for 5 weeks. Can you imagine what this meant to a growing, physically active 16 year old with a big appetite? Trust me when I say that I learned how to be creative in my meal planning during that 6 weeks. Thank God for Google!

One important thing I’ve learned in life and from this experience is that there’s always good that comes from a bad situation. Although I wish this had never happened to Justin, it helped us to bond in a way that I would have never thought possible, especially during the turbulent teen years. That week, we had some wonderful conversations sprinkled with laughter that I will cherish forever.

One thing I discovered about Justin is that he is a survivor. Not only does he have a high tolerance for pain but he also heals quickly. Another thing that surprised me was that Justin maintained a great attitude throughout the entire six week period. He never complained about not being able to participate in track or weight training, not even about his restricted diet.

A few weeks after the incident, I reached out to the boy’s mother and we had some good conversations over the phone. His mother told me he had been trying to come to terms with something very hurtful and life changing that happened to him last summer. He was struggling with disappointment, anger, and depression over this difficult event and had not really worked through it, leading up to the incident with Justin. His parents were shocked when they found out he had hurt Justin, because he had no prior history of physical assault. We are currently working towards meeting with the boy and his parents to discuss what happened and to finally get some closure from it.

It’s not easy to extend grace and choose the path of forgiveness. It’s much easier to feel justified and let the person get what they “deserve”. But the truth is, we all make mistakes at some point in our lives. Nobody is perfect. When we forgive someone, we are not letting them off the hook. It’s not saying that what the person did is okay. Instead, we are releasing them to God and letting the Lord deal with what the person has done. As a Christian, God wants me to extend the same forgiveness to others that he offers so freely to me.

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Not long after Justin was hurt, Tammy Trent, Christian recording artist, posted the following on Facebook:

“In this world we are so quick to hate and seek revenge, to render an eye for an eye, when God distinctly tells us that vengeance is His, He will repay…Trust me, I know it’s not easy, because it can cut like a knife, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, it rips your heart out, and tears you apart. But God tells us to LOVE, that it is possible and do-able; look what they did to Him before He went to the cross, on His way to the cross, and while He was on the cross, yet His only response was a prayer, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23:24) That’s love! May we all choose to walk better in love today towards those who have caused us intentional or unintentional hurt & pain. It brings healing and release and freedom!”

Yes! When we extend forgiveness to someone who has hurt us, we are giving them a second chance. A fresh start to make a better choice in the future. By giving this boy a second chance, only God knows the impact it will have on his life in the future. It could radically change his life for the better and draw him closer to God. Whatever the future brings, we have peace in our hearts for doing the right thing. For choosing the path of grace and forgiveness. Because everybody deserves a second chance.

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We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. ~ Romans 5:3-5

HOPE

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This is my favorite coffee mug. Whenever I drink from it, I think of my sister Patti and the beautiful relationship we had as sisters and friends. 

After Patti passed away in November 2011 and I was sorting through her things, her friend Angie asked me to look for Patti’s HOPE mug because she wanted me to have it. It meant so much to me that Angie wanted me to have Patti’s mug, because it is a symbol of their beautiful friendship. Angie’s daughter Abbie had given both Patti and Angie a HOPE mug so that they could share hope and a cup of tea in support of one another. When Patti was battling breast cancer and Angie (a cancer survivor) was struggling with health issues, they would talk on the phone and drink out of their mugs, offering encouragement to each other. Their conversations were filled with hope and God’s plans for their lives. 

Hope is a beautiful thing. No matter what happens in life, if you have hope you can endure anything. In the dictionary, hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust; a strong and confident expectation.”

In the Bible, Hebrews 6:18b-19a says, “They [God’s promises] give us strength to hold onto the hope we have been given. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and strong.” (NCV) 

In Romans the apostle Paul wrote, “The Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” (Romans 15:4b) 

And the prophet Jeremiah wrote, For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) 

There were times in my life when instead of putting my hope in God, I would put my hope in people, in my job, or in my possessions. What I learned quickly is that people (including myself) at some point will disappoint us because we are all imperfect. 

But when I put my hope in God, His hope is an anchor for my soul. I know that whatever storms come my way, I am secure in Him. The storm may be raging all around me, but because I’m anchored to Jesus, the reason for my hope, I can have peace knowing He is holding onto me. He promises me that He will walk with me and carry me through the storms of life. 

So each morning when I drink coffee from my HOPE mug, I think about Patti being in heaven, completely healed from cancer, dancing in the streets of heaven with Jesus. And when I think of her, I feel hope because I know that one day I will be reunited with her in heaven and we will be together forever. 

But until then, I choose to keep Holding On Praying Expectantly as I journey through life, knowing that God has great plans for me and has promised to give me a future and a hope.

 

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There’s Beauty In Every Season

I love nature. As a Michigan native and photographer, I take great delight in photographing the changing seasons. I love the warmth of the summer, the long carefree days of endless blue skies, sand, and water…

But as much as I love summer, my favorite season is fall. Every year when the trees transform into their magnificent autumn splendor, I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.
Then there is a time of transition between fall and winter, when everything looks brown and dreary, lacking color, the extreme opposite of autumn. I can’t help but feel a little sad that the fall colors have faded away. But after a month or so, we get our first snowfall and the beauty of fresh fallen snow on a sunny day fills my heart with joy.
The snow is pretty to look at for awhile, but winter sets in and wants to hang around way too long and it starts to test my patience. Then I find myself longing for spring, but I know it won’t be here for awhile. So I’m forced to wait a couple of months.
Again, there is a time of transition between winter and spring. Everything looks blah for awhile. It takes time for the grass to turn green, for the flowers to bloom.
My neighbor has this beautiful tree which is one of the first to blossom in our neighborhood and when it does, I know that spring has finally arrived. Here’s a photo I took a few years ago standing under her tree pointing my camera skyward:
I got to thinking about the seasons of nature and how I sometimes want to hang onto them longer than I should, and other times I can’t wait for them to be over.
 I’m the same way with the seasons of my life. The fun seasons, like when I got married, when I gave birth to my boys, and when I started my photography business are seasons I want to hold onto forever.
 I have also experienced seasons of depression, doubt, and death. One of the hardest seasons of my life was when my sister Patti died from breast cancer. I couldn’t wait for that season to be over. In fact, I didn’t want that season in my life at all.
 As I’m writing this, I wonder if I have been missing the beauty of the season right in front of me because I’m either hanging onto the last season or trying to fast forward to the next.
 In Ecclesiastes 3:1, King Solomon wrote, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”
 Through the changing seasons of life, I’m learning that there is a purpose for everything that happens in my life, even if I don’t always understand why.
I have found beauty even in the darkest seasons of my life, when I was clinging for dear life to God. The dark seasons have made me a stronger person and have brought me closer to God in a way I had never thought possible. When Patti died, her 15 year old daughter Kelli came to live with us.
Looking back now, I can clearly see the beauty in that season of grief. God had blessed me with the daughter I had always dreamed about my whole life.
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A beautiful thing that comes from the difficult seasons in life, is the ability to comfort others who are going through a similar season. When we comfort others, we begin to see a purpose for our pain and it brings healing to our lives.
If you are going through a difficult season right now, my heart aches for you. I just want to encourage you to hang on to Jesus for dear life and ask him to carry you through it. I recommend getting a copy of Sarah Young’s devotional book, Jesus Calling. It has been a comfort to me over the years, especially during the difficult seasons of my life.
Today, I choose to stop clinging to the past or longing for tomorrow, and instead I choose to embrace each day, trusting that God will walk with me through every season. And as I walk this journey of faith, I’m learning that beauty can be found in every season.
“God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

There Is Only One You

As I sit here in my living room writing, I’m looking out my front window and snowflakes are falling. As I watch them swirl around, a thought comes to my mind. Snowflakes are unique. There are no two alike. When you think about it, isn’t that amazing? I live in Michigan and we have had record amounts of snowfall this year. Just thinking about the billions of snowflakes that have fallen and the fact that each one is unique just blows my mind!

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Guess what? Snowflakes aren’t the only thing God made unique. There is only one you. No one has your unique physical shape or features, personality, skills, or strengths. No one has the same experiences you have had or has traveled the same road in life. You are one of a kind. Isn’t that awesome?

In Psalm 139:14-16 it says, “I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have done is wonderful. I know this very well. You saw my bones being formed as I took shape in my mother’s body. When I was put together there, you saw my body as it was formed. All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old.”

God made you the way you are for a specific purpose. He has a plan for you. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

So next time you see snow falling, remember that you are of great worth to God. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are made in his image and you matter to him. So don’t be afraid to be yourself. Dare to be the unique person God has made you to be. After all, there is only one you.

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Mission of Love

I’m on a mission of love. I want to love people the way God loves me. I want to be so full of God’s love that it overflows from my heart onto others. This morning while I was reading 1 Corinthians chapter 13 in my Bible, there was one verse in particular that made an impression upon my heart:

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures every circumstance.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT)

As I meditated on this verse, here are a few thoughts that came to my mind:

God is love. (1 John 4:8b)

God never gives up on me.

God never loses faith in me.

God is the reason for my hope.

God endures through every circumstance in my life.

And that is why I’m on a mission of love.

Because God was on a mission of love when he sacrificed his own son for me.

Jesus loves me so much that he willingly died for me so that I can live life to the fullest, by loving others and embracing every moment while I’m here on earth, looking forward to the day when I will be with him for all eternity.

God loves you. He will never give up on you. He believes in you. Let him be the reason for your hope. God will give you the strength to endure every circumstance. Invite him into your heart and into your life.

“These things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)

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Letting Go

Last week, I was reading my favorite author’s blog called “What’s Your Focus Word for 2015?”. In her blog, she wrote that every year she chooses one word to be her focus word for the year and this year she chose Faithfulness. I thought, what a great idea! So, I started thinking about what my focus word would be for 2015, and guess what the first word was that popped into my mind? Surrender. Ugh….not exactly what I was hoping for! But after thinking it over, it made perfect sense because in my last blog I had mentioned that I’ve been really struggling with wanting to control the people and circumstances in my life.

So, if surrender is my focus word, then what does it really mean to surrender? First, I looked up the word in a dictionary. According to Dictionary.com, surrender means “to relinquish possession or control over” or “to give up control of something to someone else”.

Next, I opened my Bible to see what I could find in Scripture. Here are a few verses that stood out to me:

“Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” ~ Psalm 37:7 (GWT)

“Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer.” ~ Job 11:13 (CEV)

After researching what it means to surrender, I discovered that instead of relying on God to work things out, I’ve been trying to manipulate others, force my agenda, and control every situation. For the past few years, I have really struggled with wanting to control my kids. It was easier to do that when they were little, but now that they are teenagers, it’s all out war!

The truth is, my desire to control everything stems from fear; from wanting to protect my kids from failure and from the hurts of life. But I’m learning that I can’t control everything, no matter how hard I try. What I need to do is let go of my kids and let God work. I need to step out of God’s way, because he may be using a problem or circumstance either to fulfill his purpose in my life or in my child’s life.

For me, surrendering means I must be willing to follow God even if I don’t know where he is taking me. It also means I need to trust God’s purpose for my life (and my kids’ lives) even if I don’t understand the circumstances. But the bottom line is this: Surrender isn’t about giving up; it’s about letting go.

Living in the Moment 

As I look back over the past year, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all God has blessed me with; an amazing family, great friends, good health, financial provision, etc. I feel that this year, especially in the past few months, there has been a major turning point in my life. 

Back in October, my friend and I decided to start a book club and to meet weekly to discuss the chapter we had read for that week. The book we chose is called, “You’re Already Amazing”, by Holley Gerth. What I discovered while reading this book is that I have not been living my life the way God intended me to live it. I’ve wasted too much energy trying to be perfect, trying to please others, and trying to control the circumstances and people in my life. As a result, I was feeling stressed out and no longer felt peace or joy in my life. So I made a commitment to myself and to God that I would no longer live this way, but instead choose to live fully in the moment, embracing life, loving others, and making a difference in this world. Recently, I read a devotional by Boyd Bailey called “Live in the Moment”. Here is an excerpt from that devotional:

Living in the moment is what the Lord longs for you to do. It’s where He does His best work. He knows that living in the moment engages you with His will, as it is lived out in the present. So if you are with your children, be with them. Laugh with them, cry with them, listen to them, play with them, and pray for them. Lock eyes with your little ones and be with them. Turn off your mind and heart and keep them from running ahead to other issues, problems, and people. These distractions will still be standing in line for your attention when you get back to work. Value living in the moment, and you will live in the moment; for you do what you think is important.

Technology was made for man, not man for technology. So turn off your phone, shut down the computer, and most important, discipline your mind to be present. Bend your mind to listen well and honor others with your purposeful presence. Your undivided attention in the moment says you love and care. Trust God with all the impossible outcomes that await you. You have this one moment and then it is gone forever. So be engaged today and be with the ones you love. Live in the moment, and other things will take care of themselves. Do this one thing, and you will live the life God intended for you. Master living in the moment with the discipline and love of your Master. Seize the moment for your Savior, for other people, and for yourself.

It is my prayer that in 2015, you will choose to live in the moment, fully embracing life and experiencing the peace and joy that can only be found in our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Prince of Peace.