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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Always a Bridesmaid

There’s an old saying (well, quoted in Anne of Green Gables anyway) that asserts, “Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride”. I have been a maid of honor twice and a bridesmaid once, so does that count? I’m not sure.

Being in the bridal party is my favorite spot for a wedding. You have the perfect view of those first moments as the bride rounds the corner on her dad’s arm, glowing with love and expectancy. The groom grins big and tears pool in his eyes as he watches his beloved make her way down the aisle to him. Guests smile at the beauty and sacredness of the moment, and the wedding party sees it all.

I love that John the Baptist described his position like that of a best man. John’s purpose was to point people to Jesus, even when this meant some of his followers and disciples left him. I don’t think he would have wanted it any other way. When one of his friends came to him with the report that people were going to Jesus to be baptized instead of John, this was his response.

John 3:27-30 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater and I must become less and less.

What a powerful reminder of our role and Jesus’ role. Maybe this is just me, or the line of work I’m in, but often I want to be recognized for the impact that I am having. I write newsletters to tell of what God is doing, but I secretly hope that someone will also respond with a word of affirmation for my part in it all. I want credit for my work, to be known and valued and respected. Perhaps many of us long for these things, and yet, we are simply in the wedding party at the moment. Yes, we are part of the Bride of Christ, His absolute beloved sons and daughters who will spend eternity with Him. But when it comes to the ways He is wooing the hearts of those who do not yet follow Him, do I step up to claim recognition or point back to the Bridegroom?

We have the absolute joy of witnessing what God is doing in the world. We get to see the faces of those who are transformed and the new life and light in them. Are these the kinds of stories that I tell? Do I share in such a way that I can say like John, “He must become greater and greater and I must become less and less?” I pray that God humbles me and continues to teach me so that I can.

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Sisters European Adventure

One year ago, I managed to find my sister Emily in the chaos that is the Frankfurt, Germany airport. We’d been planning and dreaming about tracing our family roots to a little town in north-central Germany, and the gorgeous city of Prague, Czech Republic. After a conversation led to declaring, “This MUST happen!”, we were finally on our way. In honor of the one-year mark since this wonderful adventure, here are my top 10 absolute favorite things.

  1. Chocolate croissants. Need I say more?
  2. Train rides. In America I travel by car more than anything, occasionally adding in the Dallas Area Rapid Transit when trying to avoid traffic heading downtown. In Cambodia, it is mostly pedaling my bicycle, hitching a ride on a motorcycle taxi, or piling with friends into a tuk-tuk. So riding on a train was a fun new adventure! We traveled from Frankfurt to Detmold with rolling hills and farmland passing by, and then from Detmold to Prague as the fields gave way to mountains and forests and the big city landscape.
  3. Family history. Emily and I spent one morning pouring through online records of births and deaths from the area of Germany we were visiting at the church records hall. It was like finding lost treasure when we spotted our last name among the records!
  4. When getting lost leads to an adventure. For the most part we navigated the cobblestone streets of little Detmold and the tram system of Prague with no problem (thanks in large part to Google maps and local SIMs with amazing data). One day Emily and I wanted to find the church where our ancestors were married and their children christened. It required a bus ride, and Emily’s limited German. We managed to get close but got dropped off in what felt like the middle of nowhere. After a quick consultation on my phone we realized it was just over a kilometer walk to the town we were hoping to see. As Emily and I walked on the edge of the little highway, we looked at each other and exclaimed, “This is Germany! We’re walking in the middle of nowhere in Germany!” It was a fun addition to our excursion.
  5. Concert at a castle. On a whim I decided to check and see if there were any concerts taking place in Prague while we were going to be there. A small group from London was going to be finishing out a round of concerts at St. Vitus Cathedral on the grounds of the Prague Castle. We couldn’t pass that up! What a regal setting and fun opportunity to take in beautiful music.
  6. Grand old churches. I just couldn’t get enough of them.
  7. Local fare. To save money we didn’t eat out all of the time, but made sure to sample some of the local food- kolache in Prague, schnitzel in Detmold.
  8. Familiar treats. A few times we just needed something comforting and familiar. Hello, Starbucks. Thank you for taking over the world.
  9. Chilly weather. When we arrived in Prague the temperatures had dipped down into the 50s F. Okay, this probably isn’t bad for most of you, but for this girl who lives in the tropics, I was freezing! But that is a rare treat and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  10. This girl. I loved getting to see Europe through my sister’s perspective. We could be totally honest about what we really wanted to see, when we needed a break, and we could bravely try things together we wouldn’t have on our own. It was just delightful to explore and experience and appreciate the beauty and culture and people alongside this lovely sister of mine.

The Curious Case of Anna

I don’t know if I’ll ever have a daughter. A husband is needed for such things, and unless God plops an eligible 30-something bachelor (taller than 5’9″ please) in the middle of Battambang province, I’m not sure that dream will ever become a reality. If I ever did have a daughter, I already have a name picked out (sorry Future Husband). I would want to name her Annika, which means “sweet-faced, beautiful, God has favored me”, and I think that is just the loveliest. The name also comes from Anna, a woman in the Bible that piques my curiosity and challenges my faith.

We only get a paragraph of her life, just 3 verses that barely scratch the surface of all she must have seen and experienced. Check out her story in Luke 2:36-38.

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph , and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. 

Anna loved God with all her heart, devoting her life to seeking His glory and presence. She could have been bitter over the tragedies in her life and the dreams that didn’t come true. She could have given up on the God that took an awfully long time to answer her prayer. But she didn’t. She was waiting with great expectation and when she finally saw that Jesus was the answer to that promise, she didn’t keep the message to herself. Oh, that my little faith would be like that as I wait for the answers that have not yet come in my own life.

Another thing I love about this woman is that she didn’t let her situation or station define her. She had a lot of things going against her in a culture that had no value for her gender, marital status and lack of children. I am quick to let shame dictate the response to my station as an “older” single who doesn’t really fit the expectation box of people anywhere. What, you’re already 31 and not married yet? No kids? What are you waiting for? But you want to work with pastors and leaders? You’re too young for that. Yeah, no box for all of that. Yet, despite Anna’s challenging status and the Bible even calling her “very old”, God chose her to bear witness to the infant Jesus as the Messiah. I have no idea if she lived long enough to see the fulfillment of the story, but I have no doubt that her faith that had been shaped and refined by the trials in her life didn’t waver. Nope, not a bit.

Anna, girl, you are my hero. Maybe someday I’ll get to name my daughter after you. Maybe not. But I hope that I can praise my Savior every day like you did, through the trials and the hard days and the good days, with the same kind of devotion that you displayed.

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