Happy Birthday, Kristin!

Today is my teammate Kristin’s birthday! I won’t tell you how old she is, but people are often surprised to learn she is older than me. 😉 Most of our birthdays the last five years have been spent trying to find air conditioning and a few treats to enjoy while far away from family in Cambodia. This year is different, but I thought I would post some favorite memories and blessings for this new year.

We’ve shared so many adventures over the last 5+ years! These have included exploring different countries:

Paris

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Every kind of creature you could imagine:

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And opportunities to fall in love with a new culture:

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We’ve squabbled and hurt each other’s feelings, worked through clunky conversations to fight for understanding, surprised each other with gifts, cried in sympathy and compassion, celebrated and cheered each other on. We’ve leaned hard on each other when there wasn’t any one else, praying like crazy and pushing back the darkness that pressed in heavy. There were probably days when we wanted to give up on life overseas and each other, but I’m grateful for the deep friendship forged and strengthened by the joys and sorrows and trials.

Happy birthday, Kristin! I’m grateful for you and the ways you challenge me, encourage me and help me learn more about who God created me to be while you dive into that discovery yourself. May you continue to know God’s tender care for you in the hidden places this year, as you are amazed at His sweet gifts and challenged by the leaps of faith He calls you to.

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The Gift of the Middle

The summer before my junior year of college (yikes, 12 years ago!), I traveled with a group to Ecuador for a summer study abroad experience. We were mostly based in Quito but spent almost every weekend visiting the coast, the jungle and exploring other parts of this beautiful country.

On one of our adventures, our group crowded into a little suspended cable car to take a ride over a valley. Halfway across as we enjoyed the gorgeous views, that little car stopped.

I am NOT a fan of heights and really have a very small heart pocket that thrives on adventure. Stepping into that cable car and leaving the safety of the canyon edge was pretty risky, and getting stuck part way across was not exactly my idea of fun.

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about transition lately. In many ways I have left the safe and predictable edge of life as I’ve known it the last few years. Most of my ministry commitments and relationships have paused or ended, leaving me with a blank slate and a lot of unknowns. But I haven’t gotten to the other side of the transition where I can put roots down again and establish routines, finding the stability that steadies my heart. I’m right there in the chaotic middle, and it can feel pretty scary.

I’m learning that this messy middle of transition can also be a gift. Even though I knew how to handle the stability I was leaving, it was also becoming unhealthy and I know that this change has been really good. I have no idea what is coming and yet I have been granted a season of rest. I don’t yet have new responsibilities and demands on my time. I can seek God’s heart for this season and the one to come, letting His peace reign right there in the middle. In His perfect timing, He will lead me to the other side and establish His purposes for me there. In this, I can rest content, safe, held.

That cable car in Ecuador eventually began moving again, but while we hung suspended over the valley, my fellow classmates and I were able to laugh about the situation and enjoy the view. While I’m here in the middle of the transition process, I can strive to do the same.

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Lesson from a Twisted Clump of Wires

I want the beautiful without the messy.

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Like this picture. Poofy, white clouds were building up over the palm trees and we were getting ready for a non-rainy season rain. Humidity was thick and the air desperate for just a little relief. I love this view, and I stood at our front door trying to imprint it all on to my memory.

I tried to capture this scene, but all I could see was the messy tangle of electrical wires and the sharp barbed wire and glass on top of our fence. They are reminders of some of the things that frustrate me the most and steal the beauty of the creation around me.

I’m getting ready to say goodbye for awhile to the place that has been my home for the last five years. Part of me wants to say, “So long and good riddance.” The last few months have been hard and it is easy to zoom in on the messy. Hot season has been in fully swing, dehydrating both my body and my soul. We’ve had some crazy electricity issues (remember all those clumps of wires?), and through different situations I have been reminded that human beings are far from perfect, myself unfortunately included.

Yet, just like our life, the messy and the beautiful come all together in one package. When I take a moment to look up, the tangled wires are still there, sure, but I don’t want to miss the brilliant colors of bright green against pure blue sky. I don’t want to miss the fact that even when we were trying to navigate how to fix our electricity at 7:00 pm, God sent a man we hadn’t met to be waiting outside our gate so he could make calls and explain complicated concepts outside our vocabulary bubble- and who knew those words in English too so he could help us feel more at ease. When my heart felt desperate and dejected this week, God breathed life again with a story of hope, a story of a part of our labor bearing fruit in souls transformed by our Father.

So I can’t separate these two, and together, they are a sweet gift, one that I will carry with me as I say goodbye, for now.

When You’re Ready to Call Off Valentine’s Day

Could we just cancel Valentine’s day this year? I’d like to propose a ban on heart-shaped candies, red roses and stuffed animals the size of a full-grown adult.

Okay, I admit that my heart is aching a bit this February as I think about the celebration of love. I try to ignore the longing in my heart when I see yet another friend with a sparkling engagement ring and remind myself that if God hasn’t answered my prayer for a husband yet, it probably isn’t going to happen (I mean, I live in the middle-of-no-where Asia). I head to the land of pessimistic reality where longing is a bad thing and dreaming is not for me.

There is kindness in the gaze of our heavenly Father for these moments when cynicism and bitterness fight to take over my single soul. There is tenderness in the way He opens my eyes to a love beyond anything I can comprehend, unlike any romance this world has to offer. He pulls me close in the hiddenness of intimacy with Him, speaking my name softly in the moments no one else sees.

I tend to think more like Martha, the older sister who was Jesus’ dear friend but knew how to organize a dinner and keep busy. I’m not like Mary, yet this is where He is drawing me. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. There was no rush in her encounters with Jesus, not like when I speed read through a passage and then ask for my marching orders for the day from my Heavenly Boss. I wonder what it was like to own something so precious as the oil that she poured out, to willingly lavish it as a symbol of her love. My love is not like Mary’s, but Jesus praised her.

So maybe when I’m done throwing a pity party, I can think past the love that is missing to the love I can give. Mary knew a love that spilled over just as Jesus’ love for her poured in to all the cracks and dry corners of her heart. He wants the very same for me, for us. The longing and dreams in my heart can be molded and shaped by Him and that precious gift can be my offering at His feet, my offering to the world.

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Top 5 Books of 2017

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I’ve had grand plans to write this post for about 3 weeks now, and I’m sure you are dying to know about my favorite books from 2017! I cannot disappoint you faithful blog readers, so even though we are already 21 days into the new year, here’s my top 5 list, in no particular order.

Beautiful Battle: A Woman’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare by Mary DeMuth

This is by far the best book on spiritual warfare I’ve read- and it’s not just for women. The author is balanced, hopeful and centers the whole discussion around Scripture. Instead of ending feeling intimidated or afraid, I was encouraged.

Favorite quote: “Spiritual warfare has more to do with the state of your heart before a holy God than a list of things to do or avoid. It involves interaction, sometimes confusion, falling down, getting back up. It involves your willingness to look foolish, to take crazy steps, to trust God’s voice. While there are principles to know and practice, it’s your ability to trust in God’s power and authority that will bring about the victorious life”.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

This book introduced me to the Enneagram, a diagram that helps understand our motivations, fears and how this impacts relationships- basically why we do what we do. It is one of my favorite tools for learning more about how God created me (and you), and this book was a great basic overview. I’m a type 6, in case you are curious.

Favorite quote: “May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening. May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees in you every moment.”

A Million Little Ways: Uncovering the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

I love the poetic way Emily Freeman tells her stories, the hope she inspires in me and her honest vulnerability. This book isn’t so much about art, but finding the ways God has gifted and filled us, and learning how to offer that to the world in a way that nourishes our souls and the souls of others.

Favorite quote: “Cashiers and cellists are capable of making art because they both have the power to influence, to be fully awake to their Maker, and fully aware of his making of them. I can’t imagine anything more dangerous to the enemy of our hearts than people who know who they are.”

Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of The Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder

It was fun reading about some of the first women’s basketball teams, the stereotypes they had to deal with the how this underdog team from Oklahoma Presbyterian College ended up winning the national championship at the height of the Great Depression.

Favorite part: learning how the coach, Sam Babb, was able to provide scholarships for these girls to not only go to college when their families wouldn’t have been able to send them, but also continue their basketball careers.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’m slowly collecting the books in the Little House on the Prairie series and revisiting these favorites from my childhood. I read this one during the Cambodian cold snap right before Christmas and loved it (way more than I did as kid. This wasn’t my favorite back then).

Favorite part: the creative ways the people in De Smet, South Dakota stretched resources and helped each other out to survive the winter of constant blizzards.

A few more honorable mentions:

Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk by Michelle DeRusha

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments that Matter by Annie F. Downs

What was your favorite book in 2017?

The Story Isn’t Finished

I’m not sure I have the best track record when it comes to perseverance. Speaking of track, I could never run the whole mile at our homeschool track and field day. I studied violin in high school but never actually learned to read music and haven’t played much since my last lesson before heading off to college. I have attended graduate school but will probably never get my doctorate, I studied ballet for a whole 16 weeks, split between when I was 10 and my senior year of college.

My organization has audacious goals and big faith to see God work in the hard places around the world. I get to hear stories of those pushes of the Spirit to birth disciples and churches and movements. They give me goose bumps and fill up my hope tank. But I live in a difficult place. Nothing is happening yet. I feel like I try and fail, give up, beg God to send me home or give me an out so it doesn’t look to the whole world like I have been unsuccessful. Perseverance is hard.

One thing I realized recently though, is that all those amazing stories started somewhere in darkness. The beginning was messy and uncertain, and the middle was long. I get to hear the end, the summary, and I can marvel and praise my Heavenly Father. But the story was pushed forward with perseverance, with seasons of joy and hardship. In those moments before the breakthrough came, I’m sure there was hesitation and despair. Or boredom. Or disappointment.

On an ordinary night near Bethlehem, a bunch of shepherds were going about their business. I don’t know what they were waiting for, if they were happy in their work or longing for more, looking for a way out or a better life. Maybe they were sad or just tired.

But then God showed up. He came in bright lights and angels singing, His glory brought forth in the most amazing proclamation. And He came as a little baby in a manger, when no one on earth could have known all that was still to come. The wait for the Savior spanned centuries, and the story wasn’t even finished yet. Yet everything changed because God moved and He moved in to the space that felt heavy with a reminder to never give up. The story wasn’t just about those breakthrough moments. It was about the waiting, the preparation, the darkness before He came.

My story, the story of the place I live now, isn’t finished, praise Jesus. Someday, and oh I hope it is soon, the light will break through and the unfolding account of glory and transformation will be told. Do I have to wait to share until it’s all over? Can I reveal the story right where it is now, unfinished and broken and beautiful?

I hope we can do that, all of us together in the beginning and middle and end of the stories God is writing in our lives. I think it will help us to persevere as we hear the stories that are ongoing, the glimmers of hope that shine because God is faithful in the darkness too and we can trust that He will show up. The story isn’t finished yet.

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Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

Today my grandpa Hilkemann is turning 92 and I wish I could be there to celebrate this milestone, even though he probably wouldn’t want us to make a big deal about it. Since he doesn’t do technology, I’m going to gush on here.

My grandpa epitomizes for me everything that it means to be a Hilkemann, and I couldn’t be prouder to have that last name. To be a Hilkemann means to love the land, to work hard, to be generous but a good steward. It means honesty and integrity, fierce opinions and laughter and above everything, family.

These lessons have been passed down through the generations and modeled for me and others. My grandpa’s legacy is scattered throughout Pierce county and resides in the people who love him. I see it in my dad and my brothers, the ways they live and love and serve. I see it in my sisters and the decisions they make and the ways they care for others.

I don’t think I appreciated my grandpa as I should have until more recently. Moving away and then coming back has opened my eyes to how precious this legacy gift is to me. Each time that I get to go home and go over to visit my grandpa, when he offers that cup of coffee after a meal and we catch up on the farmer news and he tries to understand why I go so far away, I thank God that He gave me this family and for the leader that my grandpa is.

So happy birthday from this side of the world, Grandpa! Love, your granddaughter.

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Surviving Christmas Overseas

I love Christmas music. I mean, who doesn’t, right? As I was assembling my playlist of favorites for this season, I just couldn’t include one particular song. When I hear the words “I’ll be home for Christmas… if only in my dreams”, I normally dissolve in a puddle of tears or start making a list of all the things I’m missing at home, turning my heart into one big discontented mess.

I’ve spent 4 of the last 5 Christmases thousands of miles from my loved ones and snow and favorite traditions. Honestly, those first couple of years were pretty miserable (due in part to bouts of food poisoning on Christmas Eve. Twice.) I’ve learned a few things, though, and want to share some ideas for not only how to survive when you’re on the other side of the world, but how to hold tight to joy and Jesus too.

DO decorate. It might take a lot of creativity, and keeping things simple but take the time to make your home festive for the holidays. My first year in Cambodia my teammate and I couldn’t afford a big tree (although there were actually some available!) and we lived in a tiny apartment. We settled for a little one-footer, and got busy with scissors removing the gaudy gold decorations that were glued to the branches. We visited a few local NGOs that had ornaments for sale, grabbed a red scarf from the market to use as a tree skirt, and made one corner of our living room as beautiful as we could.

Make new traditions. One of the hardest things for me has been how much I LOVE my family’s traditions and yet most of them are impossible to carry out overseas. So, my teammate and I have put our heads together and mixed elements from both our families’ traditions, then brain stormed ways we could actually make some things happen and become traditions from year to year. For several years we made a Christmas vacation trip to the coast and dipped our toes in the frigid water- definitely not something that happens in Nebraska in December!

Set aside extra money in your budget. It might be to get that nice tree, or to have a few special treats shipped over. Or if you’re in the tropics like me, it might be cranking up the AC so you can sip hot chocolate and put together a puzzle without dripping sweat all over. Intentionally plan ahead for ways to really make things special.

Don’t forget special scents. It’s amazing how many memories are triggered by specific smells, isn’t it? Stick a pine scented candle in your suitcase and pull it out when you decorate. Or, have a friend send you the Christmas Spirit essential oil from Young Living. Diffuse it, add a few drops to a cotton ball and tuck it on a shelf in the bathroom, or just inhale it straight out of the bottle (um, that would be me).

Don’t be afraid to invite friends over. I was usually afraid of letting my local friends know I wasn’t being totally immersed in the culture and bringing in traditions from home. But I’ve found my friends love learning new things! Use it as an opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas.

Share specific ideas with friends and family. It is hard for them to know what might be the most encouraging to you, so go ahead and be specific! Ask them to scan their Christmas card and email it to you if you’re afraid the snail mail version might get lost somewhere over the ocean. Amazon, iTunes, and other gift cards make wonderful gifts and are something easy and cost-effective for friends to send (and are a great gift for you to give as well). It’s okay to let people know!

Let Jesus be your comfort. Sometimes when we are lonely and longing for home, it can be a reminder of our true home and the reason we celebrate a baby born thousands of years ago. When my heart feels anything but peaceful when I’m overseas at Christmastime, I need to turn my focus to the Prince of Peace.

If you are living overseas, what are some ways you have found to truly seek out joy in the Christmas season? 

If you know and love someone serving overseas, do you have any fun ideas for how you encourage them? 

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Letting Go of the Spotlight

I found freedom in high school on the stage. The shy, introverted farm girl became Mary on the morning after the resurrection, a detective sorting through clues, and innocent Snow White. In the safety of the bright lights and makeup and scripted dialogue, I could say the things I would never express and live out stories that sparked delight in my heart.

In a play, there’s the hero- the actor or actress with all the lines and spot on center stage. There’s the sidekick, and the folks who have no lines but get to dress up and fill out the spaces of the story. Someone needs to build the set and design the costumes and tell everyone where to stand. You don’t see them, but someone needs to run the lights and move things around when the scene changes. Each person has a role, and although one person might get the longest applause at the end, the story would not be complete without each person.

Somehow, we’ve allowed the person in the spotlight of our lives today to be the only one that matters. Well, I’m not doing this certain kind of work like them, we whisper as the comparison scale tips heavily in the other direction.

I’m just a stay-at-home mom.

I’m just the person at the cash register.

I’m just in the home office serving the people doing the hard work on the field.

I’m not really part of the production of proclaiming God’s glory to a hurting, hungry world because I’m only doing this, and not that.

But here’s the question bouncing around the edges of my heart: what if by playing my part with joy, using the gifts that God has given me, I see big things happen? Not that I alone accomplish big things. There will probably never be a biography written about my life, and people might not even read the stories I send home in newsletters. But what if my part backstage is just as important to the big picture of all that God wants to do in this world?

I remember the first time I had a line in our church’s Christmas kids’ cantata. I was so proud! I’m pretty sure I delivered that line with as much soul and character as I could muster. I gave it my all and didn’t worry that another kid got to do something funny or that this other girl had way more lines.

That’s what I want to do with the work that God has for me, the role He gives me in each season. I want to stop comparing my job to someone else’s, placing more importance on one or the other. I want to celebrate the ways that it all comes together to create art, to tell God’s story and show His beauty to a hurting and broken world. I long to find freedom in my own heart and in the world, in our homes and churches and friendships. I want to press in to being me, learning the quirky ways God chose to weave me together and the different ways He gifted others.

Doesn’t this bring our Father joy? When His kids find contentment and let go of comparison and judgment, it throws the curtain open wide for His hope to shine front and center and His glory to be the one thing that matters.

“I can’t imagine anything more dangerous to the enemy of our hearts than people who know who they are.” Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways

  • Side note- lest you are super impressed with my acting history, please know that my experience was limited to four (amazing!) years on my church’s drama team, and two semesters in college (and I didn’t actually ever make it on stage in college. I hung lights and sewed costumes). But I loved it!

 

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When Your Roots Get Pulled Up

My heart has always been rooted in rich Nebraska soil. As a kid, my imagination transported me around the world and back again, but my feet never wandered farther than the next state over. Rootedness was not just about place, but about being known. The very same people rocked me when I was a baby, and then endured my slightly-rebellious teenage years. I did life with the same friends for the most part, because people stayed put and put up with me and knew all the ins and outs of my complicated heart.

Rootlessness is one of my biggest sorrows of living this overseas life. In the last 4 ½ years I’ve lived in 4 different houses in different towns and some of them certainly have felt more like home than others- particularly the ones that had hot AND running water. Those four houses have also meant a lot of goodbyes. It’s the way of this life, I discover over and over again- coming and going. Hello and goodbye. Investing and letting go.

This is not in my nature. I slowly go deep, devote myself for the long haul and struggle to let go. But the goodbyes keep coming, in rapid succession it seems. I feel like a wanderer myself these days, because even though I’ve lived in one place for many months in a row, my heart feels homeless for the safety and comfort of being known.

I love that we have a God who carries our sorrows and burdens. There’s a whole book of the Bible focused on lament. And the author of these poems of mourning seems to understand the heavy days.

Lamentations 3:19-20 The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.

It’s a gift, isn’t it, when it’s like someone has read your mind and spoken out loud the words swirling in your soul. “Me too!” is one of my favorite phrases. That’s what I feel like my heart is saying as I read these verses. Homelessness, yes! Grief, yes! Loss, yes! We resonate with the heartache and the costs that come with the different seasons of our lives. Lately I’ve felt like staying there in the grief, just pulling the sheet back over my eyes and waiting for someone else to do the work, the hard work of investing in people and saying goodbye and hello again to someone new, knowing that they will leave too.

I’m grateful the author of Lamentations didn’t stay there, even if perhaps he would have liked to. Still, his courage to go on can be my courage too.

Lamentations 3:21-22 Yet, I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies begin afresh each morning.

Such good news for our weary souls, friends. There is a time for grief, for sitting with our losses and not just brushing them aside. There is a time for hope, a daring and deliberate remembering of the faithfulness of the Father every day. Even when it feels like the goodbyes are unending, He promises to never abandon us. There’s no end to His pursuit of us, His mercy that washes over all our imperfections and immaturity. In the days of mourning or joy, He is our constant companion.

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