Saturday, January 21, 2017

Better Is One Day

For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Psalm 84:10

We sing this song all of the time, but until last Sunday I hadn’t really considered whether I believe it. Of course, when things are running amok, I can say with my whole heart that I believe it. You might even hear me ask the Lord to come on any day.

But, what about the good days. I mean the REALLY good days, the BEST days? Do I really believe that one day in the presence of God is better than 1,000 of those really good days?

I love how The Message puts it:

One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin.

Now, I have never been to a Greek island, but I have been to a Caribbean island called Nevis. It was beautiful. The temperature was perfect. No stress, except driving on the wrong side of the road. We were there for a week, and I would go back in a heartbeat. Have you ever been somewhere like that? Someplace so absolutely perfect with nearly perfect days?

The question must be asked: would I trade not that one week, but 1000 days on Nevis for 1 in God’s court? Let’s put it in perspective, that’s almost 143 weeks or 3 years. I would love to say with a resounding YES I would. But sadly, I find this concept very challenging. We love this earth and its beauty.

But here is what I know. God loves us so much, He would never ask us to give up something beautiful for something second rate. While we were on Nevis, there was a full moon. I remember thinking how amazing the moon looked that much closer to the equator. Shining onto the ocean, it was breathtaking and led me to worship Him. If something can be so beautiful down here, how much more breathtaking will heaven be? Can a beautiful moon on a beautiful night even come close what is in store for us? THAT is not how our GOD does business.

I want to be better at keeping this in perspective. This world has its good points, but the best is yet to come.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Let's Get Uncomfortable

This morning, Beth kicked off the new sermon series called “Better”. The idea that “normal” is what keeps us from being great really resonated with me. Beth made the point that normal is easy and takes no effort. We will even stay in painful situations because normal is comfortable.

This past week I did something I have never done before. I gave blood. Why have I never done this before? I am not sure. It is not like I don’t have a good example. My husband, Dave, has given regularly for years. And I understand the need. I have relatives who have needed blood due to accidents or cancer treatments. I would like to say I overcame my fear, but really, I am not afraid of needles. I’ve had multiple IVs and vials of blood taken.

I have given this a lot of thought this week and I am embarrassed to say I rationalized my decision to NOT give blood. I have low blood pressure, I’m borderline anemic, blah, blah, blah. The reasons all seem kind of silly after the fact. It was not painful. Uncomfortable, but not painful. I did not feel horrible. Maybe a little tired that evening, but not horrible. On the other hand, I felt like I had done something amazingly good and selfless when I walked out of the center. And just to keep it all in perspective (and keep me humble), I have a nephew who is donating his kidney to someone he doesn’t know.

The sermon this morning just confirmed what I had already concluded. Most of my life I have shied away from doing certain things, not because I was afraid, but just because they took me out of my comfort zone or were not “normal”.

Why do we do this? Why do we try to insulate ourselves from being in uncomfortable situations? What would life look like if we embraced that idea that somethings are just uncomfortable – yes, even painful. Because lets face it - to love is to open ourselves up to uncomfortable situations – even pain and loss.

Ask the new parent who is happy to get 3-4 hours of sleep at a time. Let’s not even talk about changing diapers. They love their child, but any parent will tell you that to be a parent is to be thrust into uncomfortable situations at the very least. And then there are those parents who have lost a child due to disease or an accident. I’ve never heard a parent say they wished they had never had the child they lost.

Here’s the thing. We should expect to be uncomfortable at times. We should not expect to live life without any pain. We should expect it because, well, not to sound trite, but this world is not our home! Especially as followers of Jesus, we should expect to be called beyond the normal or comfortable.

So, what if we really got this? What if we embraced being uncomfortable? And what if we also embraced the positives that could come out of our being uncomfortable?

  • What if, instead of being afraid of a needle or being uncomfortable, we embraced the idea of saving a life?
  • What if, instead of being afraid of rejection, we reached out to that lonely person?

  • What if, instead of worrying that we don’t know what to say, we just went and sat with someone who was grieving?

  • What if, instead of going on our yearly trip to the coast, we spent that money to go to Guatemala and love on some orphans?

  • What if we opened up our home and hosted a child from Belarus for six weeks?

  • What if we volunteered to make coffee at church one week a month?

  • What if we just quit thinking about ourselves so much and thought about the other person more?

There are so many things I have felt prompted to do in life, but I have allowed myself to be shackled by comfort instead of walking freely in obedience. I know – that just doesn’t sound normal. We don’t think about obedience being a way to freedom. But that is what I have found.

During 2017, I want to be better at walking in obedience to the Holy Spirit instead of being shackled by my own comfort or what the world considers normal. Some of these things may be big, like hosting a child from Belarus. Others may be small, like giving blood.

What about you? Beth ended the sermon with two questions:

  • What is your normal?
  • What can you do today to start to change that?

I will add one more to the mix:

  • Are there things you don’t do, not because you are afraid, but because you just like to be comfortable?
As always, you can listen to the entire sermon here:  Listen On Line

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Broken & Beautiful

This is my last post on Mexico City, and I have saved what impacted me the most for last.  Maybe because it touched me to the very core.

We went to a place in Mexico City that I had not been to before this year. It is a Christian home for mentally and physically disabled women.

Some of the group had been before, but I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I have been in institutions like this in the US before – they are not always the most pleasant places to be. I was expecting that hospital / institutional smell. I was expecting controlled chaos. I was expecting residents that were not that well cared for.  I was expecting to be saddened.

That is NOT what I found.

This was the most peaceful, joyful place! The staff was happy, the residents were happy. It was amazing to see the residents helping in whatever way they could. But you see, these women are not just "residents". The woman who started this facility has personally ADOPTED each one of the women there - somewhere around 80 women. Her birth children help her to run this facility and another for men.  And we could have several other posts about the ongoing miracles at this place.  But I will stick, for not, to my story of the day...

I had been asked to share my testimony with these women. This in itself was an answer to a personal prayer. I shared Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them.

I wanted these women to know that even with their disabilities, they are God’s workmanship, created for good works!  And that word "workmanship" did not just mean something put together & functional.  It implies a piece of art, fine craftsmanship - even a poem.  I shared with them ways that I was broken and how God had spoken to me with this scripture. Funny thing, is when I was done, many of the women came forward and prayed for me!  I am still at a loss for ways to explain how that felt. 

As our time together broke up, we were instructed to go talk with some of the other ladies. I was amazed by God’s faithfulness. You see, my brother in law, Joe, was both physically & mentally disabled. When I joined my husband's family, I really had no experience with someone like Joe. It was hard to adjust to him and his sometimes funny, sometimes irritating ways. When he passed away, I knew he had taught me so much.  I knew that I was a better person because of him.

 As I wandered through the women,   looking them in the eye,      talking with them,
                hugging them,  shaking their hands,  my mind was on Joe.

  The ability to connect with these women demonstrated God’s faithfulness as He turned


brokenness into something beautiful

 – his workmanship.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thankfulness in Tepito

Every year we visit our friends Felipe & Sonya in Tepito. This year is the church’s 10 year anniversary. They have renamed the church “Solo por Gracias” which means For Grace Alone.

Tepito is very busy with open air markets. And there are homeless people all over the place – men sleeping on street corners, benches, where ever. And it is dirty. There is one corner that, honestly, has had a mountain of trash at it every time we go to Tepito.

Felipe & Sonya minister to the people of Tepito despite all of the odds. And our group has been helping them for a long time doing all sorts of things. One year, when Felipe was told they no longer had the building they were in, our group literally moved the rubble from an empty lot next door so that a new church could be built there. That is where their current building is. The first year I visited, there were walls in the new church and some lights. But the walls were just bare concrete block and the floor was bare concrete. Over the years, they continue to improve the building – but it is nothing like our building at Re3. They’ve painted the walls and put tile on the floor. But the ceiling is corrugated tin. Their bathrooms are literally stalls off the main room.

And their kitchen, that they run a soup kitchen out of, is about one quarter the size of the one at Re3. They have cabinets, but the upper cabinets were sitting on the counter top, so there was no work space. They had no running water. Their stove is run off of a propane tank – what we would call a really nice camp stove.

This year, part of our group put the cabinets on the wall and got the sink in working order. Believe me when I say it would never meet building code in Forsyth County. And I think it is safe to say that not one woman in Project:Re3 would give her kitchen up for the kitchen that Sonya uses – even with the improvements our folks made. But – if you could have seen the gratefulness in Sonya’s face. To have a sink in her kitchen that works – never mind it only has cold water. To have kitchen cabinets on the wall so that she could use the counter top. Her face just shone.

And maybe that is why I love going to Tepito. It is not Tepito itself, but this bright light that shines through Felipe & Sonya. The contrast between the dark and the light is so apparent at Tepito is makes me crave more. I want that for myself and those around me. I want to be thankful like they are thankful.

We complain if our cabinets are the wrong color. 

            Or we covet the kitchen with the granite countertops. 

                            We wonder how they did it in the old days with out a microwave.

 And yet this woman was thrilled with old used cabinets and countertop from the 60’s maybe?!

I want to be thankful.

                                              For running water.
 For the miracle of HOT running water.

 For a refrigerator.              For a stove and an oven.

                                                             For a church with clean white walls.

 And bathrooms.

And clean streets.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Common Ground

Every year, at least the women in the group go to the Merced to visit Bella Esperanza. Bella Esperanza is a hair salon that our very own Angie Fuentes started. It was & is her vision to reach out to the prostitutes in Christ’s love by building relationships with them. What better way than having a hair salon. Groups from North Carolina actually help build the salon by putting up walls, painting – even installing sinks! Since Angie is with us now, it is under the direction of her friend Betsy.

Amazing things have been happening recently, as first 8, and then another 7 women left the sex trade. The girls have been taught a new trade – making jewelry. Last year when we visited, the jewelry making business was housed in the back of the salon and we were able to meet with the first 8 women and hear some of their stories.

Briana, Paige, Kayla & Laura organizing
As more women joined the jewelry making business, it took over the entire salon. Hair cutting stations were taken apart and room was made for the ladies to make their jewelry. Because the staff was so busy with the jewelry business, the salon and meeting new girls was put to the side. Now, the jewelry making has moved to another location and the salon was empty. So we were given a task – put the salon back into order so that the work of building relationships with more girls could begin.

I have to say, I was so proud of our little group. With very little direction, we put the salon back into order – everyone doing their part. And then some of our group went out with Angie and Betsy to talk with the girls out on the street and invite them to lunch. We were not sure if they would come or not – but three of them did. These girls were hungry and had no money to buy lunch. In reality, they make very little money, and what they do make goes to their ‘boss’. Angie and Betsy spoke with them and told them how much God loved them. They were invited to come back to the safety of Bella Esperanza to rest and eat again.

The finished product
Can I say how out of my comfort zone to think about sitting at a table and eating lunch with prostitutes? And yet we did – and it is hard to describe how we could find common ground with these women. They were young – as one of the younger gals in our group remarked – her age. Young enough to be my daughters. Being with them made me realize that I make assumptions about why women are prostitutes and why they continue in that life style. I want to think that they are ‘bad’ , but really? What if I were in their shoes? Could I really say I would refuse to do what they have done? Especially before I knew Christ? In many cases, it is not a choice they made, but a lifestyle that was forced upon them. A lifestyle that they cannot leave for various reasons. Slavery. Not an easy thing to see. But really – they are just women – like me. Hurt. Rejected. Insecure. Just trying to make life work.

As I go about my life at home – I want to remember this. I want to remember that there are many forms of slavery. In the U.S., our slavery is usually hidden – or at least looks ‘better’. It may be financial, emotional or spiritual. It is slavery nonetheless. I make assumptions about why a person acts the way they do – and most of the time I am wrong. I would be much better off to assume we have common ground and to find it.

Oh – if you are interested in the lovely jewelry these ladies make, the organization is called Nunayu.
 You can find them on Facebook at

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Future Belongs To Me

Do you really think what you are doing matters? 

This is a well-meaning question that I often get from friends when I tell them that I am going on another short-term mission trip. 

I am not angry when I am asked this question because I get it.  When you look at Mexico City, Uganda, or El Salvador, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the need. For example, according to UNICEF, more than half of Uganda's children live in poverty.  This doesn't just mean that they live in a household with low income but it includes being deprived of basic necessities such as food, shelter, clean water and education. 

When I recently took a trip to Uganda with Fields of Dreams Uganda, I was overwhelmed by the need that I observed.  For every child that we assisted by paying school fees, many others still could not afford an education.  Even if we could help the children stay in school, many of the children are starving and go the entire day without food.  If the children are in school and have some food, they may be abused at home, or they may not even have a home and live at the school. 

At times, when I only saw what was right in front of me, I felt overwhelmed and wanted to give up.  However, serving on short term mission trips and serving on the Board of Directors of Fields of Dreams Uganda have taught me that progress is  slow and takes time and dedication, but much progress is being made. 

If we go into an environment and try to "fix" every issue, we will quickly burn out and lose hope, but if we focus on the individuals that are impacted by our work, that is where true progress is observed.

When I was in Gulu, Uganda, I briefly met a young man and we connected.  We chatted for a few minutes, and I gave him a picture of my family that had my contact information on the back.  This was in late February.

Just this week, I received a message from this young man through Facebook.  Somehow, despite having no electricity or running water, he was able to gain internet access.  He had kept the picture that I gave him, and he messaged me. He told me he is studying hard to reach his dreams.  Then he asked how his brothers and sister in the USA are doing.  He specifically mentioned each of my children by name.

In that moment, I knew the answer to the question, "Do you really think what you are doing matters?"  My trip to Uganda may not matter to the country of Uganda, or even the town of Gulu.  But when I just showed up at one school and met one boy, I mattered so much to him that he cherished a picture of my family for months.  He held onto my contact information until he could find a way to contact me.  

If my trip meant nothing to anyone else, it mattered to this boy.  This boy who has dreams and hope.  I matter to him. 

Isn't that all that really matters?  When you read about Jesus and his ministry, most of Jesus' miracles focused on the individual.  Sure, he preached to the masses, but when he healed, he healed the individual.  He didn't ride into town and end hunger.  He didn't eradicate leprosy and disease.  Jesus met the need of the individual that he was with at that moment.  If someone needed food, he fed the individual.  If someone needed healing, he healed the individual. 

We are not called to save the world or solve the world's problems.  We are called to just show up. And when we just show up, our job is to be present in the moment and love the people that stand before us. 

Skeptics may say that we have done nothing that matters, but if you talk to the boy in Gulu that I am messaging daily, I think he would say otherwise.  I think he would tell you that just by showing up, he knows that someone cares. Someone loves him.  It gives him hope.

For more reflections by Beth Gianopulos, check out

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Heart Check at the Children's Home

This year was my 3rd trip to Mexico.  Each year we help at the Salvation Orphanage Home.

The first year I visited, our arrival was greeted as if we were Santa Claus. ALL of the kids were in the lobby to see us, climbing on guys, hugging us. They were starved for affection. Any time we had free time and were sitting in the lobby, you could bet that we each had 2 or 3 kids on our laps or sitting around us. There were no people other than the staff at the home except for our group. Other people who had been on the trip before told me it was like this every year.

That same year, the home was put under the direction of Captain Luis. Captain Luis is a man of vision. People from our group who had been to the home in previous years said there was a difference in the atmosphere of the home that year.

The second year I went, the kids were plenty excited to see us – but not quite as much as the year before. One day a lady from a local church was there tutoring some kids. And a taekwon-do instructor came a couple of times a week to give classes to ALL of the kids. There were musical instruments and band practice. The kids called the Captain “Cappy” and you could tell they truly liked him.

This year, we arrived while the kids were on summer vacation, so the home was not as full as usual. (Some of the children still have family and are able to go home on weekends and vacations.) But the kids there - well, they were happy to see us. But they were not starving for affection and attention. They had something planned almost every day we were there – field trips, service trips, etc. While we were there another large group came and entertained the kids. Many of them were dressed as clowns and did funny routines.

I know that the kids still need us, but not like before. We no longer are the highlight of their year. This is awesome, right? These kids are being fed emotionally, physically and spiritually – all year long.

But can I be brutally honest? It was kind of disappointing. It feels good to be the highlight of someone’s year, never mind an entire orphanage. And so, while the realization was that these kids don’t need us like they did is a wonderful thing, but kind of its kind of bittersweet. It made me look at why I go on these trips. Is it really to help others – or is it to make myself feel good – about myself?? Truthfully, I’m not sure I have the complete answer. But maybe this is the advantage of going to the same place multiple times. We get to see things change and grow, knowing we helped along the way. And maybe, just maybe God uses this to remind us that He works through others to rebuild, restore & renovate.

Later I will share more lessons from my trip to Mexico City.