The Sweetness of Little Gifts {Share}

I mentored the Bible study leaders in my dorm during my junior and senior years of college. In order to find ways to support one another better, we each took a test to discover our love language and then talked through each one together over the course of a few weeks. My love language is giving and receiving gifts. Through the years I have had the delight of seeing the ways that God gives sweet gifts. My heart has been filled to overflowing by even the simplest of gifts shared with an open heart. Here are a few stories- favorites from recent months and years, but I’m sure there are so many more examples.

  • My home assignment last year was extended an extra month because I needed it. I felt like God was saying to come back to Cambodia, but there were a lot of questions in my mind. Is this the right place for me? What will I focus on? Will the rest and encouragement from being at home last longer than the first few days? After a brief stop in the capital city, I was in a van with all three of my suitcases (much to the frustration of the driver although he did manage to find a place for all of them) on my way home to our town a 6-hour drive away. My teammate was staying in the city to welcome her family members for their visit, so I watched the city skyline fade on my own as I wondered if I would be able to settle back in to life overseas. We stopped at a rest area for lunch and I joined the other passengers for a quick meal of rice and green bean stir-fry. Once we were on the road again, the two women sharing my bench seat decided to stay awake for a bit and inquired as to my language ability and praised my local lunch selection. They pulled out apple slices and happily passed them my way, offering a bit of sweetness after our meal. It was more than that for me though. I felt cared for, seen and affirmed. They took a moment to share their snack, but also kindness.

 

  • My teammate and I often stop in Seattle on our way from Asia to our home in the middle of the US. We have friends and a supporting church there, and warm food and sweet connections make the transition to our home culture a little bit smoother. My favorite part, though, is when I get to the Seattle airport for that final flight home. The chairs clustered around the gate are like a little haven of Nebraska accents and Husker clothing and familiarity. A couple years ago, my heart was weary and burdened from enduring a hard season overseas. When I boarded that last flight I just wanted desperately to be home, to speed up the next 3 hours until I could see my family waiting for me at the Omaha airport. The woman next to me immediately smiled and started asking me where I was coming from, my home town in Nebraska and any mutual acquaintances we might have. If you don’t know the Midwest, we have a culture of never meeting a stranger and most likely there’s a mutual friend somewhere in there. The woman next to the window pulled chocolate out of her purse like she knew just what my soul needed, and she gave me space when the tears trickled out because of her kindness. Sometimes we don’t know the impact of sharing a bit of love along the way.

 

  • Sharing goes both ways. When I lived in Texas, I helped with the logistics for a training on multiplying disciples. I was living with a woman at the time from the church and she hosted two of the attendees of the training. We had a lovely time in the evenings, the four of us gathered around in the living room sharing what we had learned that day and so many other life lessons and experiences. Near the end of the week, I felt strongly God say that I was to give one woman a certain amount of money that came from a gift I had received from the church for my birthday. I wrestled with it for a bit as I thought about how special it had been to receive the gift, and the needs I had as I was preparing to start graduate school. But I knew I needed to obey God’s prompting. I tucked the money in her suitcase on her last day. Several days later I received an amazing note from her! Before coming to the training she had felt God asking her to give a gift of money to someone she knew who needed it. She obeyed but was also wondering how she was going to cover some bills that month because of the shortage. But, we serve an amazing God who weaves together our stories in such beautiful ways. The exact amount that I had given her was what she had given to her friend and what she needed for that month. The result of all of us sharing in obedience to God was getting to see Him provide for each of us and feeling the joy that comes from listening to Him.

Are there ways a little gift has had a big impact in your life?

*Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week!

Share

The Sanctification of Singleness

I grew up memorizing lots of fun Christian words in our church’s kids program on Wednesday nights. My favorites were grace and mercy, and explaining the difference between the two. Concepts like justification and propitiation were still far beyond my reach, but I could tell you the definition word for word. And maybe even spell it for you.

Sanctification is another of those big Christian words. It means the process of being made holy, to be set apart for the intended use of the Creator and Designer. It happens as we receive salvation in Jesus and are covered by His blood, but it is also a journey of God refining us as we grow and mature in our relationship with Him.

I’ve heard a lot of things over the years in the church about sanctification, especially in relation to marriage. I’ve witnessed people say over and over how marriage is sanctifying, purifying. I don’t doubt that the sacrifices and joys of pursuing a God-honoring marriage do this. I’ve always wondered where this leaves me though, a single woman in my 30s with marriage nowhere on the horizon. Do I have any hope of holiness in this lifetime?

God works in each of us to refine and grow us into maturity. This happens in the heart of the believer who is obedient and open, no matter our relationship status. He DOES use the relationships we are in with family or spouse or friends, but ultimately this work is done through the Holy Spirit in us.

Just as marriage can sharpen and deepen our character, so can singleness in various ways. I have learned much and had to sacrifice and compromise in my relationships with my teammates on the field. Our opinions differ, out of which decisions still need to be made. We wrestle with personality differences, seeking understanding and celebrating the uniqueness of our gifts and weaknesses, how all of this can come together like puzzle pieces to create a beautiful picture of the church working as one. In any relationship, we have to learn to give and take, to sacrifice and receive help and love.

Even though I’m already in to my 30s, I still desire marriage and have conversations with God often about this. He has used this longing in my heart as a refining tool. Sometimes I desire marriage so much that it consumes every corner of my heart. It is my first thought in the morning and keeps me company throughout the day. Instead of happiness over a friend’s engagement announcement, all I can think is “This isn’t fair, Jesus! When will it be my turn?” By this point, marriage has become an obsession, a growing, stony idol in my heart that takes my worship away from Jesus. Then in His sweetness and love and discipline, God reveals this to me and asks me to once again surrender the longing and the dream of marriage to Him. He reminds me that the longing in my heart is not sinful, but should constantly be put at His feet in daily (or perhaps hourly sometimes) submission to Him. He should be my first love no matter what my human relationship status. He created us to be in connection and community with others and this longing should not be stuffed or guilt-tripped away. I need His correction and guidance to form this longing to be honoring to Christ.

Ultimately, I need to remember, and may I remind you gently as well, that God is the one who sanctifies us. We receive salvation in Him through the sacrifice of Jesus and not because of anything we have done to deserve this precious gift. He teaches us through His Word and the Holy Spirit, and He also uses the relationships we have with others to help spur us on to love well. Let’s remind each other, whether we are single or married, to look to our Heavenly Father who loves us and encourage each other on this journey of sanctification.

Romans 5:1-2 (NLT) Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. 

Sanctify

Savor, in Pictures

Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly lonely or defeated or ready to say, “Send me home, Jesus!”, I pull out photo albums. Before I left for Asia, my siblings put together a book of sweet notes and pictures of my Nebraska home, us kids through the years, the precious people in my life. I turn on a little music and lose myself in Facebook albums of college friends, visits to America, and Cambodian adventures.

These moments of feasting on pictures remind me of God’s sweet gifts. I start to think less of the problems or just how overwhelming life is at the moment and instead focus on His kindness, His grace and His provision. When I see the faces and places, when a photograph sparks a memory, it reminds me not only to savor God’s gifts from the past but the gifts in the here and now too. Yes, maybe things are hard right now. Maybe the ants seem to be on a rampage in our house lately, that conversation didn’t go quite like I wanted it too, and doors shut in my face when I was just starting to hope again. These hard things don’t have to cancel out the good. When I allow my heart to pause throughout the day, when I keep up a rhythm of thankfulness, I can savor the gifts and cling to Hope in the hard things.

So, I’m sharing a few of the reminders of God’s sweetness to me, through pictures.

Europe

Last fall, my sister Emily and I fulfilled a long-time dream with a trip to Europe! Our goal wasn’t to fit in as many tourist sites as we could. Instead, we wanted to go slow and be fully present in each and every day. I loved sipping coffee together and watching everyday life happen outside the window. I loved soaking up the beauty of history and architecture altogether different from what I normally see. I loved long sister conversations about our family lineage and sweet memories made.

Caleb and Grace

My niece and nephew bring so much joy to my life! Sometimes playing trucks and reading books over and over again might feel tedious but I love savoring these moments when they are little.

Home

A home, in Nebraska and Texas and Cambodia. Places where I’m loved and cared for, where I am known and know others.

Hong Kong

Beautiful places I’ve had the privilege of visiting in so many parts of the world. Our Father is so creative and I’m grateful for opportunities to see the displays of His glory!

What helps you to savor God’s gifts to you?

Found in the Wilderness

Last night I had a moment.

I’m not sure what your “moments” look like, but mine normally go something like this: one negative thought leads to remembering every other time I have had said negative thought, then hopping on that thought train straight to despair and needing tissues because the world is ending and I’m the worst person ever. Only slightly dramatic.

One of the things I fear most is rejection. I’ve had lots of eye-opening conversations over the last year as to why that might be, the childhood experiences and perceptions of events that lead my heart back to that place of fear. Some I’ve worked through (with the help of a gifted counselor) and others still pop up and I ask the Father for help as I process.

In the darkest moments of this fear of rejection last night, I got a message from a friend with a question and an offer for prayer. She had no idea that I was wiping away tears and feeling isolated and unseen, but she offered encouragement and friendship and care.

I thought of Hagar, and her story found in Genesis. Hagar knew rejection. She obeyed her mistress Sarah to give Abraham a child, but then found herself sitting in the wilderness alone and forsaken by her master. It was there in the midst of the rejection that God found her. He provided for her, speaking lovingly to her through His angel and sparking hope in her heart again. This happened not once, but twice as she had to flee the wrath of Sarah after the birth of her son.

It was in the darkness of rejection that Hagar learned the heart of the God who Sees. She used another name for the Lord after that precious encounter: El-roi (The God who sees me).

El-roi sees us too, in our glorious and messy moments when it feels like the world is falling apart. He sees us in our fears and our joys, the hurts and frustrations and victories. He is not a God far away but One who draws close and in the very midst of that brokenness He offers His presence and comfort. Sometimes He sends a friend to message us exactly when we need it, or brings a verse or song to mind to minister to our hearts. Thankfully He doesn’t give up when I hop on the negative thought train once again. He pursues me with His undying love.

Genesis 16:13 Thereafter Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”

desert-82403_1920

Gateway of Hope

Hope (noun): confident trust with the expectation of fulfillment

I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out from under me, that thing I’ve been worrying about to happen or the very circumstance I dread coming true. I have a vivid imagination when it comes to worst case scenarios and the planner in me wants to prepare for every possible twist and turn. It’s hard to turn off the anxious thoughts, to trust someone else rather than striving for command of every situation myself.

I hold that tension in my body; the desperate clutching for a thread of control finds a home in my shoulders, my neck, my temples. My emotions spin in circles and the pressure in my soul builds and builds until I’m certain there will be an explosion and it will be messy.

Hope comes in to all of this craziness with a call to let go. It’s like stretching those aching muscles, releasing the tension with deep, calming breaths. Hope comes in with a reminder to look up rather than madly looking around for the next disaster that must be averted. It’s all about where I’m placing my trust, which points to the source of my confidence.

Hope says that when the bottom does drop out from under me, when the disaster happens (it might or it might not), the Father’s arms will be right there to catch me and pull me to safety. He won’t leave me stranded or abandon me like I fear others will. He doesn’t want me trying to act like the Lone Ranger, trusting only in my own abilities because letting others in is too scary. No, He longs for my heart open and free, allowing His peace to flow through the places full of fear and doubt. He puts people in my life on whom I can lean because we aren’t meant to go through this life alone.

Those broken places where the darkness seems to be winning can become the very places where Hope gets in. The valleys and struggles and heartbreaks can usher in a deeper understanding of our Savior, of the ways that He created us uniquely and the ways He wants us to share Hope with others. The valleys of trouble and trial don’t last forever, when our trust is firmly in the Author and Finisher of our Faith.

Gateway of Hope

Why Short-term Trips Work… And How to Make Them Better

It’s getting to be that time of year.

Airplane tickets are purchased, bags are getting packed and eager young people from youth groups or colleges are preparing for their summer missions trip.

There’s plenty of dialogue out there related to the effectiveness of these trips. Is it volunteer tourism? Do they hurt more than help? Is it just extra work for the long-term worker or does it serve the purpose of furthering God’s Kingdom?

Well, I’m sure the arguments both ways are as numerous as the locations around the world that will receive short-term workers this summer. I have studied the effects of short-term mission in Master’s level classes, received short-term teams as a long-term worker and read articles and books with dos and don’ts and points from both the yay and nay camps. But I have also been a part of several short-term trips that I think were beneficial so here are a few thoughts based on what I have learned along the way.

I’m a long-term worker because of a short-term experience.

I realize this is a selfish reason for short-term trips, but honestly I don’t think I would be an overseas worker going on four years in-country if it were not for the experiences I had in college to get my feet wet. Missionaries became real live people to me rather than just last century’s heroes from biographies. They were not perfect, they had conflict and tough situations and missed home. They modeled love for the people they were serving in a way that invited me to be part of the ongoing story being written there. Yes, I got to try interesting food, see beautiful places and take cool pictures, but those are not the things that stuck with me back on home soil. It was the sacrifice and love of the missionaries for a God deserving of worship among every people group. I don’t think we can discredit the life-changing impact these kinds of trips, when done well, can have on future long-term workers.

Preparation is super important.

Before I spent eight weeks working in Italy with a missionary family, I devoted almost two semesters to preparing to go. Along with about 25 other students, I read books about different kinds of cultures, heard stories from people who had been to these places before, worked through expectations and how to deal with when they are un-met, learned what in the world culture shock was and what to do when it happened, and had friends pick my food in the cafeteria for a week to practice flexibility and the Luke 10 principle of eating and drinking what was set before me. It is important to help those who are preparing for a short-term trip to know how to respectfully enter a new culture, whether that’s inner city Chicago or a village in India. We need to learn as much as we can from the long-term worker there before we make any plans or pack our bags. They are the experts. Which leads to the next important point…

Lean on the long-term worker.

We should find ways to partner with a long-term worker who can help us to understand the culture, what is appropriate, how to interact with the local people and what our role as the short-term worker should be. Before we decide what our schedule is going to look like, we should ask them what would be helpful. Is an English camp going to give the worker more contact with people they want to reach, or will it create so much extra work and follow-up afterward that they will feel overwhelmed? Are we asking to do something the local people should really handle? Are we teaching something or bringing in supplies that will create a dependency on outside help, or are we building a system that is sustainable for the future, whether more teams can come or not?

As a long-term worker now, I love the encouragement and fellowship that comes from time with short-term teams. They bring fresh eyes and fresh joy that can be such a boost to my weary spirit. When these teams leave room in their suitcase for items I can’t get here it ministers to my heart. So, how can short-term teams look for ways to serve and encourage the long-term worker? Let’s do this partnership well, for the sake of God’s glory.

For more on how to do short-term trips well, check out these articles. Remember, you don’t have to agree with everything I have said or what is discussed in the articles, but hopefully it gets you thinking!

What To Do About Short Term Missions

There’s Nothing Short About Short-Term Missions 

A Case for Short-Term Missions 

short-term missions 3

 

More Than a Game of Chess

The first chapter of the book of Esther irritates my former slightly feminist heart with frustration and defensiveness.

The leader of Persia, King Xerxes, throws an extravagant party for all his nobles and officials. The festivities lasted 180 days (that’s quite the party!), and finished off with a week-long banquet for all the people who were in the fortress of Susa where he ruled. He pulled out all the stops for this banquet, complete with gorgeous and opulent decorations, amazing food and a never-ending supply of wine for the people to enjoy.

The Bible tells us in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 1 that “on the 7th day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine, he told the eunuchs who attended him… to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her head. He wanted nobles and all the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman.”

For whatever reason, Queen Vashti refuses. Maybe she didn’t feel like being the subject of the hungry gazes of the nobles and other guests at the party. Maybe she was tired of doing whatever the king asked of her, whenever he wanted. She says no. And honestly, I don’t blame her.

But the king isn’t happy, not one bit. He gets his trusted advisors together and they realize that the queen could set a bad precedent for the respect of husbands everywhere, so she must go. And just like that, Vashti is no longer the queen.

As I was studying this chapter and trying not to curse authoritarian men everywhere, I realized some things about this passage. Even though God isn’t mentioned, we know He is at work in this story. And in case you don’t know the ending, God brings a lowly Jewish girl named Esther into the palace to be the next queen, putting her in a position to save her people from annihilation.

Sometimes, God has to get us out of the way. While I feel sorry for Queen Vashti, she wasn’t the one who could save the Jewish people. In His sovereignty, God took her out of the story and put Esther in.

I like to see myself more like Esther. I want to believe that God has put me in this place, in the position I have and the culture I am in for a purpose. Do I trust Him though when His purposes might include taking me out the story? Or when someone I care about or respect leaves in order to fulfill God’s plan? It is not something I like to think about, and yet God has a purpose. He desires for His glory to spread throughout the earth, for His name to be proclaimed and His message of hope and grace to be shared among all peoples. He doesn’t move us around like chess pieces in a cosmic game. He loves us, desires good things for us, but above all desires to fulfill His sovereign plan. This stretches my faith in Him, my trust in Him. Yet, it also increases my desire to be obedient, even if it means getting out of the way for whatever He might want to accomplish.

chess-1483735_1920

A Granddaughter’s Reflection

scan0001

I lost my grandma, Violet Hilkemann, 25 years ago today. At almost-6,  it was hard to understand death and funerals and cancer, to process loss and grief. My memories are few, but I know she was a neat lady. I know that I loved her, that I am living part of her legacy as her granddaughter.

My favorite memory is of a simple supper over macaroni and cheese. My grandparents lived just down the hill on the corner of our family farm. I have no clue how we got there or what we did the rest of the evening, but I can picture my grandparents’ old kitchen table, and heaping plates of mac and cheese in front of us. I naively took a big bite right out of the steaming middle of the plate, and suffered the consequences. “It’s too hot” I can hear myself complaining as the memory plays across the big screen of my brain. I’m sure I said it in a “this is the end of the world” sort of voice, resigned to leave the mac and cheese on the plate. But my patient grandma showed me a little trick, one I still think of even to this day. “Spread it out, Sarah, and let it cool just a bit,” she said. “Then start at the edges because they cool down the fastest and work your way in”. I would have just quit, given in to grumbling, but my grandma showed me that there are options. We can choose our attitude to tough situations and allow for creative solutions covered with joy.

My grandma loved to read Agatha Christie mysteries and sew her own stuffed animals. She loved to help people. I thought of her a lot last August, after surgery as I waited to find out if the tumors the doctor had removed were cancerous or not, the same kind of cancer that took my grandma away. If it was cancer, would I be able to fight with the same courage and strength she did? Would that be part of her legacy to me?

The tumors were not cancer. That wasn’t part of my story in this season anyway. But in some ways all those reflections brought me to a place of remembering, of allowing memories to float to the surface. I didn’t cry at my grandma’s funeral, I didn’t cry until last fall. There’s a fresh grief awakened in me, but now I can remember and ask questions and soak up stories. I can admit that I miss her, and celebrate this day, March 29th- her birthday and death-day.

scan0002

I Am From: A Poem

I am from fresh, frothy milk straight from the cow, my dad’s early mornings and late nights on the farm.

From Bob Jones curriculum and Trix cereal as a special treat at Christmas.

I am from rolling hills and sandy valleys, open spaces, fields for miles and the fresh scent of alfalfa in the summer time.

I am from ear corn, bright green turning to brown at harvest as the leaves explode in colors and the combine sits ready for just the right time.

I am from “soup for Christmas” and Hilkemann family stubbornness.

From Paul and Violet, Donald and Lorraine, Mark and Chris; Hilkemanns, Andersons, Severas, Millers.

I’m from Thanksgiving rounds of Spoons and trivia, ice cream cakes for birthdays and summer sleepovers complete with orange sherbet.

I’m from Wednesday night AWANA, tucking verses away in my heart, from Sunday kid’s choir, BRICK class, youth group and praise choruses.

I’m from Nebraska, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden; kolache and potato pancakes, manicotti, and cran-apple juice.

From family vacations to western Nebraska, my mom as my teacher and my dad as the principal. From the land my great-grandpa purchased for all his sons within a few miles of the place I grew up, legacy left in Pierce county soil.

I am from the photo albums filling the buffet in the living room, old birthday cards and baby clothes tucked away in a tote upstairs, stories echoing through the generations.

corn-field-440338_1920

  • Learn more about how to create your own I Am From Poem by heading here. 

Hold My Hand

5 Ways to Walk Alongside a Friend Dealing with Depression

 

Life is hard. Can I get an ‘Amen’? We all deal with stress and the burdens of life. Our brains are amazingly complex and resilient, but sometimes, like other parts of our bodies, they break down and need help.

Depression has been part of my story. I remember in college having conversations about why we never see prayer requests in church bulletins for people who are struggling with depression, why we feel the need to hide it. It makes me sad that we can’t feel safe with our stories and struggles, including the way that our brains function, or don’t.

I can’t speak for everyone who has ever struggled with depression, but here are a few ideas for ways that you can love and support someone you know walking this journey right now.

1. Be honest

“I think you might be dealing with situational depression.” A friend just said it plainly, right in the midst of a Skype conversation as she listened discerningly as I shared. She said it with the utmost compassion but I needed that, I needed to hear her when I couldn’t see it myself. If we care about each other, and know the signs of depression, let’s be kind enough to gently ask questions and find out what is going on in the heart of our friend who is struggling.

2. Be present

We don’t always take the time to understand what is different. One of the best gifts that a mentor gave me while I was under the heavy blanket of depression was an invitation to help her understand. “What does it feel like?” We sat over coffee and I tried to put to words the daily experience of this journey and she listened with grace and a desire to hear my heart. Sometimes it just takes showing up, letting our friends know they are not a burden because they are struggling. We are all broken and we can give each other a gift by allowing that brokenness to be shared.

3. Take me out

I always made it out of bed but sometimes the biggest struggle was to get out of the house. Motivation can go right out the window in the middle of depression, and we can offer help for our friend by getting them out into the sunlight. Energy levels might not be at their highest, so plan a short coffee run or quiet stroll through a botanical garden. If they say no, offer to bring a chai latte by the house or to come help with laundry. Be persistent but gracious.

4. Speak truth

When I was struggling emotionally, it affected my spiritual health as well. Everything felt cloudy including how I saw my Father God. When friends would send emails with promises from Scripture, or stories of how God was teaching them or working in their lives or their favorite worship song, it reminded me that He was still good. Even if I couldn’t always feel it or didn’t have the motivation to spend long hours with the Lord, they spoke truth into my life and reminded me of who God was and who I was in Him.

5. Don’t give up- believe that healing is possible.

For some, depression is a significant chapter in their lives and for others it spans decades and is an ever present reality. It can be tough to stick with someone through the ups and downs, but please don’t give up on your friend who is struggling. Fight with them. Believe with them and for them that healing is possible. There are amazing medications available that can kickstart the chemicals that stopped working, there are essential oils and supplements and other natural ways to support our minds and bodies. There are counselors who can provide professional assistance to work through trauma or past issues that might be deep below the surface. Ultimately, we serve a God who holds the power of healing in His hands. He doesn’t always answer our prayers to take away the struggle, whether it is cancer or the flu or depression. But sometimes He does. Pray with your friend for God’s healing, and celebrate the ways He does work even if the depression doesn’t go away forever. Be with them on the good days and the hard days.

We need each other. No matter what we are going through, having good friends who invite us into their lives and to share our stories empowers us to keep going.

img_0269