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!

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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.”

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A Granddaughter’s Reflection

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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.

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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.

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

Dear Single Sister

Dear Single Sister,

I have a confession. Or maybe three or four.

Sometimes I don’t like being single. I know I should be content, should count the gifts. And I do. But then I come home to an empty house, or wrestle my way through a tough financial issue or google how to fix a leaky sink. I kill a ginormous spider with an entire can of Raid and think how nice it would be having someone to walk with me through those things, to be strong when I’m not, to care for me, and to challenge and teach me.

Sometimes I wrestle with the collision of my relationship status and my calling. My heart bursts when I think about how much I desire for the people around me to love Jesus. I want so desperately to see the harvest the Lord has in store here, for His glory to burst forth like water overflowing. I want to be obedient, to keep tasting of cultures and languages and passport countries other than my own. Yet the desire to get married often equals needing to leave the field in my mind. What would I choose? Can I somehow have both dreams?

I have a wedding board on Pinterest. I love weddings, partly the thought of my own someday, and partly because I still hold on to the dream of being a wedding and event planner when the door opens for a career change. But sometimes I realize that the dream of getting married is more than just a dream. It becomes an idol in my heart, something I demand from God and hold against Him for not giving me. Marriage is an amazing gift from God but it will not ultimately satisfy my heart. Then I step back, delete that Pinterest board, or at least stop looking for the latest fashion trends and color schemes. I spend more time with my first Love, letting Him remind me of the depth of His love for me. Yet I still hope. I believe that God is the author of the love stories I see around me every day, and that it isn’t wrong to keep asking Him, to surrender the dream and desire and ask Him to fill me up with His desires.

Despite only receiving a card from a boy once in my life (and that not until college), I love Valentine’s day. Maybe that’s weird. Yeah, just a bit. I think it’s because I have a much bigger picture of love and think we should celebrate it. I’ve had amazing friends through the years. My parents and siblings are simply the best. I love getting a day to tell them in fun ways through cards and special meals and flowers or chocolate. (Plus it was my grandma’s birthday. So it always meant a party and cake!)

There are parts of this single life that are painful- things people have said to me, the lies I’ve believed about myself, being left behind. I grieve those parts, but they do not define me. My hope for you, single sister, is that you do the same. Be sad about the hard and messy parts, but find the joy too. Singleness itself, like marriage, can be a gift but there are gifts to be found in the midst everyday ordinary of our singleness too. God’s love for you, for me, is so completely beyond my comprehension. Can we just rest in that for awhile? His kindness in sending Jesus to purchase our freedom is a gift undeserved and yet made available to us. His power is at work within us to do far more than we ask or imagine. This life and our relationship status is temporary, yet His love is everlasting.

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Happy Anniversary, Texas! 

Eight years ago this week, I packed up my few precious earthly belongings and headed out for a grand adventure. I was driving down a road of unknowns, to live with someone I had never met in person, to become an admin for someone I had only talked to through email. I almost turned around when I got to the multi-layer overpasses that greet Dallas visitors, for this Nebraska farm girl was in new territory. But, a 9-month internship turned into some of the best 5 years of my life.

It wasn’t where I ever thought I would end up. My internship was supposed to be in Cambodia, it was supposed to get this overseas bug I had caught the summer after sophomore year out of my system. Instead, I learned some incredible lessons, built relationships with some amazing people, earned my Master’s degree, and finally figured out God just wanted my ‘yes’, no strings attached.

The woman I met for the first time as I carried my suitcases into her home became one of the strongest influences in my life as she opened up her heart to me and showed me the most amazing generosity. I sat at her table for 5 years of Saturday morning breakfasts as we debriefed the week over re-filled-often cups of coffee. We curled up under blankets to watch Hallmark movies, she welcomed me into her extended family, and she patiently listened to all of my dreams and goals, frustrations and sorrows. She daily lived out a faith that I can only hope to see in my own life.

The bosses that I hardly knew are now my role models and cheerleaders. I can’t even begin to count the lessons that I learned from them that are now a part of my life; beginning with the meaning of Unreached peoples, how to balance work and rest, how to pray, joy against all odds, how to do what it takes to get the task done. I was by no means a perfect admin, and there’s a lot I would change if I could go back and do it all over again. But I am so very grateful for the five years that I got to watch these heroes of mine up close.

I found a church family that welcomed me in with open arms. I probably have more grandparents who spoil me there, more friends who give me hugs when I come home, more people there who battle before the throne of the Heavenly Father on my behalf, than I ever could have imagined possible.

I got to fulfill one of my dreams to attend graduate school. Homework was hard, writing papers was hard, balancing school and work and trying to have a life was hard. But I met students from all over the world. I got to learn from professors who have been where I am now and I grew from their stories of triumphs and mistakes. And if it weren’t for a practicum that took me around the world, maybe I wouldn’t be in the place I now call home.

Texas, you have a big heart. Thank you for being my home for 5 years, for being a place I love to go back to. Thank you for the beautiful people who live within your borders. Happy Anniversary.