Thursday, September 29, 2016

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Most people lose weight leading up to their wedding day. I, unfortunately (in this instant), was not like most people. I was the heaviest weight of my entire life around my wedding and honeymoon. I had never really struggled with weight issues until college and the years following. I've covered more about that story in a blog already so I won't cover it here.

Since I lost my weight in 2009, I had done a pretty good job of keeping it off. I went to Costa Rica weighing about 175 lbs (about 10 more than my ideal weight). I don't know how much I weighed upon our return but that number ballooned even higher after reintroducing myself to some of my favorite foods (especially cheese) that I hadn't enjoyed very much during our time there. When I finally weighed myself back on Sept. 12 I was about 190 lbs...25 lbs more than my ideal weight. Oops. It was time for a change. So I decided on a reverse New Year's Resolution. To lose 25 lbs by the New Year. 111 days. 25 lbs. The challenge was on.

So, I have spent the past few weeks changing my eating habits and exercising again. And as of Monday (2 weeks after starting), I was down 6 lbs. More than that, I feel stronger, faster, healthier, and just all-around better. Oh, and my clothes fit better. I still have a long way to go, but it has been a good start.

I was thinking about how nice it is to celebrate these victories. Then I read Psalm 21 in my devotional time one day. I want to highlight a few verses that share one thing relevant to this that I took from this psalm:
1 O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
7 For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.13 Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.
You see, I think it's great to celebrate our little victories. But that's because I think it's a great opportunity to remind ourselves that our victories come not in our own strength but in the strength of the Lord. God is the one that gets the glory and the credit for our victories. They are reminders for us to thank God for His goodness and favor.

Since early on when I started running again years ago, I have run with a mantra: "In His Strength. For His glory." I run with God's strength and do it to glorify Him because He's so good! So I do celebrate a great start to accomplishing my goal. I celebrate to thank God for the strength to have a great start. Let's never lose focus or forget to thank God for His goodness to us and the strength that He gives us!

BONUS: Running Tips

Since I'm sure some of you reading this are in a similar place, trying to lose weight, I thought I'd share a few personal tips. Healthy eating habits are also critical and a different discussion altogether. These are strictly some tips regarding the exercise. I'm not a medical professional nor a running professional and these are just personal thoughts, not official scientific advice:

Change up your runs - Do not run the same distance or pace every day or even every week. You should vary course, distance and pace. Some examples of types of runs you can do are:

  • Distance runs - Run an easy pace where you can talk and aren't breathing heavy for your longer runs.
  • Mid-distance runs - Run a pace where you are breathing a little heavier, not really able to carry a conversation.
  • Hills - Find a hill at whatever grade and length you're okay with and do repeats by running up at a good pace and then jogging back down. Repeat at least 3-5 times.
  • Intervals - This is best done at a track or around a block. You run a lap fast, then jog a lap. Repeat at least 4 of each (8 total laps). If one lap around the track is too much to start, do half the lap.
  • Fartleks - During a normal jog you can randomly pick an object within view and sprint to that object before returning to your normal pace.
There are obviously many other types of runs, but this gives an idea. The point is that if you run the same distance and pace and route all the time, your muscles will start becoming adjusted to it and you'll eventually stop improving. By switching things up, you'll be better off in the long run (pun not initially intended).

Be creative with running routes - I recently did a running route that had me pass by all the houses in which I have lived in Malden as well as the hospital where I was born. This made for a far more interesting run because I had lots of little destinations and had lots of opportunities for reminiscing as I run.

Cross train - Even if you prefer running like I do, cross training is always advised. I haven't always stuck to this, but I am this go-round. You can swim, ride a bike, row, etc. The idea is to still do cardio activities but not running.

Create a plan - In order to make sure you are changing things up, you should create a plan. This also helps ensure that you are more likely to not take off days when you should be running. You are more likely to follow a schedule if you actually create one. I continue to tweak mine but it currently looks like this:
  • Monday - Speed drills (hills, intervals or fartleks)
  • Tuesday - Cross-training (biking)
  • Wednesday - 5k (mid-distance) running pace
  • Thursday - Off
  • Friday - Long distance jog (the goal is to still get faster as you continue training)
  • Saturday - Weight training or crossfit style workout (or active family activity)
  • Sunday - Off
I will still walk or do other activities during off days or other days beyond my workout at time, but your body needs rest from strenuous exercise at least once a week (in my opinion). The key is that you have constant goals.

Set attainable mini-goals - Set goals along the way aside from your ultimate goal. Make sure they're attainable. But little victories give us confidence towards bigger victories. And they remind us that God is with us, giving us strength!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Just Keep Peddling

This past Sunday, we didn't have a scheduled service, so we decided to attend my home church where I grew up which is not far from where we've been staying. Already ready to go by 9:00am for a 10:30am service and knowing the church was only 2-3 miles away, I decided to walk to church on a beautiful day. I asked Jonah if he wanted to go with me. Of course, he did.

Jonah has one of those tricycles that has an optional handle in the back to push. So whether he's peddling or not, we can push him on it. He can move the tricycle a little on his own, but he certainly couldn't have made it the 3 miles (as it turned out to be). So I walked, pushing Jonah along. Even still, he just kept peddling along the way.
At one point a thought occurred to me:
Jonah never questioned the route we took. He never questioned my decision to cross a street or when to do it. He never questioned my choice to be on one side of the road or the other. He just kept looking forward (occasionally turning to look at his surroundings) and just kept peddling.
Jonah was going for a ride on his tricycle with me, his daddy. He trusted me. And for good reason. I was born and raised in Malden. And I had been to that church hundreds (possibly thousands) of times during my life. I knew how we needed to go to get there. I knew where we were going. I knew how to get there. There were a number of ways we could have gone, but I opted for what I thought to be the best path for us. Not the shortest path. Not the path with the best views. The best path.

This isn't much different from our lives in a number of ways.

God, our heavenly Father (and no, I'm not trying to compare myself with God, just making an analogy using my role as a father), always knows where we need to go and how we need to get there. Our job is not to think we know better and question the path. Our job is to keep looking forward and just keep peddling. And similar to Jonah riding his tricycle, even though we're peddling, God's really the one enabling us to keep moving forward. It's really by His strength and not our own. But He does allow us to do our part and peddle.

We need to remember that God knows the best path for us. Not necessarily the shortest path. Not necessarily the path with the best views. But it's the best path for us!

Maybe you're going through a situation you don't understand right now. Maybe you don't understand the think you're ready to arrive at whatever is next. I want to encourage you today to trust in God. He's got this. Just keep plugging away and trusting Him. Just keep peddling.

"For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God?
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless."
Psalm 18:31, 32 (ESV)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Confusing the Why with the What

Many of my life lessons and analogies come from running. Today was no different.

I recently started re-emphasizing a healthy lifestyle. This includes running more regularly. Because I am the way that I am, this means logging my various workouts. I like to keep track of what I've done so that I can measure improvement.

At one point during my run today, I cut a corner shorter by about a couple of feet. In reality, I didn't really cut it all that short. But because I am the way that I am, I think of silly things like this. I was thinking about how I could even log that. Then I thought about the extra steps I had taken in a different area and how I didn't even consider over-running what I would log. If this sounds confusing, it's probably because my mind tends to be confusing. Regardless, the point is the same. I was focusing on how to log my run.

It almost immediately hit me. This is what we can do in other areas of life as well. We begin doing a certain activity, get into a routine, so that we can grow in a certain area. But at some point along the way, we begin to focus more on what we're doing and can actually lose focus on why we're doing it.

Let's look at one spiritual application.
Do you pray? Do you read the Bible? Why do you do those things? Hopefully you do those things because you want to grow spiritually, in your walk with the Lord. You want to grow in your faith. Have you ever tracked this? Have you ever allowed prayer and/or Bible reading to become a "check-list" item? You know, something you do to say you've done it. But you don't do those things to satisfy a to-do list, right? You do them to grow. But instead of focusing on seeing that growth, you begin to focus on the activity that is meant to help you achieve your goal.
Further into my run another thought hit me. This time it was as I was taking a selfie while running. Again, I was losing sight of what mattered most. I allowed this run to become an opportunity to show people that I was running. While there is a good level of accountability this can provide, the motive what probably more of me wanting people to see that I was running.

Let's go back to that spiritual application.
Do you sit down with a Bible and cup of coffee so that Instagram or Facebook knows that you're doing your devos (short for devotionals, which is a common word used to incapsulate the idea of praying and reading the Bible)? I'm not saying it's wrong to post photos in these moments. I'm just suggesting that we check our motives.
So I encourage myself and you today. Let's not get so caught on what we're doing but remain focused on why we're doing it. It's possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons. It's also possible to do the wrong things for the right reasons. I want to do the right things for the right reasons today.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thank You

This is probably our shortest blog posts, but it's also one of our most important ones.

Polly and I visited a partnering church last night for a service. We were on the stage during the time of praise and worship. As I looked out at the crowd of people in this church which has supported us from early on, this thought came to me:

When some people think about missionaries they think about sacrifice. They think about the sacrifices that missionaries make in order to serve their respective fields. They think of how missionaries leave family and friends and livelihoods behind. They think of how missionaries give up the feeling of control and stability regarding their finances. And it's true...missionaries do make sacrifices.

But as I continued to look out at the people in that church, my thoughts turned to the sacrifices they made. Many people in that room give generously of their time to pray for missionaries and finances to help missionaries do what they do. Specifically, these people in this church helped us get to Costa Rica and will help us get to Bolivia. And they have sacrificed to do it.

I have no doubt many make other sacrifices as well, but it was these sacrifices that I was thinking about. The sacrifices that helped us. The truth is that we couldn't have made any of our sacrifices if they (and many others) hadn't made their sacrifices first.

After the service last night, we were approached by a family (Polly and I went to school with the dad, who wasn't there last night). They wanted to tell us that they pray for us regularly. Specifically the 5 year old son always wants to pray for us and wanted to meet us. It was such a sweet, humbling moment that I had to take a photo with them:

So with that truly humbling thought in mind, we want to say a big THANK YOU! to everyone who has made a sacrifice in any area of life on our behalf to make our missions work possible. So if you have given a single penny or a split second in prayer or a few moments to care about us in reading our blogs, newsletters, updates or in sending us a word of encouragement, thank you! We appreciate you!!! May the Lord bless you and increase to you many times over for all you have offered on our behalf!

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Couple of Trains and a Lesson on Trust

During my morning run, I stopped to take a few photos while on a bridge over the Mystic River. While taking a photo, I noticed an orange line train crossing another bridge over the Mystic. Then I saw another coming from the opposite direction. They were heading toward each other.

In this photo, if you look really closely, you can see the two trains heading toward each other just as they are about to...

Okay, let's be real. We all know that these trains were not going to crash. They were on different tracks. Although I knew they weren't going to crash, I couldn't help but think about how they looked like they could.

As I continued running, a couple thoughts came to mind which both ultimately teach a lesson about trust. I want to share those thoughts with you now.

1. Trust the Conductor

The trains looked like they could have crashed from where I was standing. But there were conductors on board each train who knew that they were on the right track, so they knew they wouldn't crash. And it's unlikely that anyone on the train even realized there was another train until it was passing. It's also unlikely that anyone worried that they were going to crash. Why? They trusted the conductors.

God always knows what is best for us. He is our great Conductor, guiding us along the right train tracks. And while trains really can crash and train conductors can make mistakes, God is perfect. We can always be confident and know that He will take good care of us.

But sometimes, we think we can figure things out better than God, our Creator, can. We think that our plans will be better than God's plans. We think the other set of train tracks look better. So we switch to the other tracks and...CRASH! We make choices every day. But we need to make sure that the choices we're making are according to God's will and plan for our lives. We need to trust Him!

Did you know there's potentially another problem with going against God's will? Think about it...if we're doing the wrong things, then perhaps whatever we're doing was meant for someone else. Our plans crash into each other. For example:
We want Job A. But God knows that Job 1 would be better for us. We still decide to go with Job A because we think it will be better. We trust ourselves over God. Now we're doing Job A (which won't be as good for us as Job 1) and the person who should be doing Job A is left to look elsewhere.
Maybe it's not that drastic...but maybe it is. Regardless, our decisions have consequences: some good, some bad. And sometimes those consequences impact other people.

So, we should always want what God wants for us. It has been my experience that when I have had a plan for something and God has led me a different way, I have always ended up looking on it (whether sooner or later) realizing that God's way was the better way.

We need to trust God as He leads us.

2. God's Perspective is Perfect

Another thought I had was about perspective. From my perspective, it looked like the trains could have crashed. The problem was that my perspective didn't have all the facts and information available to it. There were different sets of tracks on that bridge, but I couldn't see them.

That's a problem with perspective: we don't always have the best one. In fact, we really never have the perfect perspective. How often have we held an opinion about something or made a decision about something only to learn later that we were operating with the wrong perspective. But God does have a perfect perspective! Always!

God has all the information, all the details. He sees and knows everything. I don't. So His perspective of any situation is the perfect one. I would rather trust His perfect perspective over my imperfect one. He sees the big picture. He knows what we need and when.

Trust God

We can't steer our own train. We don't have a perfect perspective. The solution to each fact is the same: we need to trust God!

We are so grateful to those who have taken time to pray for us as we have been walking through this transition. Thank you so much if you have prayed for us. We spent the last 3 days of focused prayer asking God to answer some specific prayers. Last night as I was praying for the final time during the 3 days of focused prayer, I felt like the Lord put something on my heart: that we need to just trust Him because He knows what we need and when. He will take care of us. He has the answers. I felt such a peace.

As I was running today, before I even came upon the trains, I kept singing a line from a song (not even a Christian one) over and over again: "When one door closes, I pray one more opens." I was thinking about how we need to accept God's answer, even when it's a "No" and He closes a door. Because I know that He will open a different door will will prove to be better in the end.

So we don't have all the answers to our requests from the past 3 days. But we know that when God gives us the answers, they will be the right ones. We will trust Him!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

3 Focused Days of Prayer

We ask for prayer from time to time and have mentioned a few specific needs recently. We are still awaiting answers to some needs and have just started a very important itineration season, so have decided take 3 days of focused prayer (which I felt in my heart this morning, Sept 6). We are asking for any who would be willing to join us in prayer to take some time over the next 3 days (September 6-8, 2016) to pray for the following needs:

Living Arrangements
  • We are still awaiting the go to move into the house we'll be renting through December before we move into a church's missionary apartment. Please pray that the inspection and everything else would go smoothly.
  • We will be needing a few furniture items for these 4 months. Thankfully, God has already answered our need for a fridge and some living room furniture, but there are some other needs. The biggest of these needs is a twin bed for Genevieve [Update: Someone contacted us yesterday with a twin bed for Genevieve].
  • We will also be needing a few small appliances like a microwave and toaster [Update: It sounds like we have a microwave now too].
  • We are still waiting for the vehicle we will be using to be fixed. The part should have been shipped and it should be done soon but let's pray for that as we need this vehicle.
  • We need this vehicle to last this itineration cycle. Please pray for God's favor over the car, that it will not have issues moving forward.
  • We need safety as we travel. Itineration involves a lot of travel. We ask the Lord's hand of protection as we travel.
  • We need to raise our monthly and cash budgets prior to departure for Bolivia. We are hoping this will take about a year. This will take God's help as we cannot do this on our own.
  • For our schedule to remain full during this itineration season. We hope to have opportunities to visit churches each Sunday. And, of course, we are hoping for many of those that we visit which don't already partner with us to become monthly partners. We are also hoping for current partnering churches to continuing partnership with us.
  • For the right opportunities to connect with individuals. We don't only seek church partnership but also partnership with individuals. We are hoping for family, friends and strangers to commit to monthly support or one-time donations. We are also hoping for current partnering individuals to continuing partnership with us.
  • For other fundraising opportunities.
  • For the right words to speak whether we're sharing a window or sermon at churches, sharing with pastors, boards or missions committees or sharing with individuals.
  • We (mostly Polly) will begin homeschooling Genevieve this week. She will be starting the 1st grade. We need the wisdom, guidance and patience to not only do it, but do it well.
  • For Genevieve to thrive in her schooling.
  • For Jonah to do well as he learns and grows and for Polly to balance taking care of him with teaching Genevieve.
Personal Finances
  • Beyond raising our budget, we also would like prayer for our personal finances. We still have some school debt and have a small amount of other debt which we would like to eliminate as quickly as possible.
  • That we could settle in to start working on setting our personal spending budget for while we're here in the States. Our current situation isn't the norm so we haven't really been able to figure this out yet.
  • Since we haven't settled into a normal routine and schedule, we still feel like we're in transition. We would love to settle in. Beyond that, we ask for prayer concerning the following areas:
    • Spiritual - Our schedules are crazy but we consider time of prayer and devotion (Bible reading) to be very important to our personal lives and in preparation for itineration and ultimately our ministry in Bolivia.
    • Physical - We ask for health and safety as we go through this itineration (and always). I also need to find a routine so I can become physically active in exercise more regularly.
    • Emotional - Emotions can fly at times when people feel that there is no firm footing beneath them in a transition. We know that God is our firm footing which has helped, but we can still use emotional strength. [Update: Genevieve had a really difficult day emotionally on Sept. 6. But through that, she also opened up about some of the things she misses and why she wants to go back. This was good for her to verbalize, I think. Please pray especially for her during this transition.]
    • Relational - We want to have great interpersonal relationships within our family and also be great family and friends to those around us. We also want to continue to make and develop new relationships with others. Also pray as the kids continue to develop their social skills.
    • Mental - We need to continue growing and learning mentally. We need to keep up our Spanish so we don't make it more difficult on ourselves when we move to Bolivia. We also need to have times to rest and relaxation to remain mentally strong.
I'm sure there are other areas where we can use prayer. If while you're praying you feel the Lord puts something in your heart regarding us, would you please message or email us to share it with us. We appreciate you taking your time to pray for/with us. Would you also pray blessing over my (Mike's) parents as they have given so much of their time, home and vehicle to help us through this transition. May God bless you as well!

Friday, September 2, 2016

He Chooses to Use Us!

Yesterday I shared about how God thinks about and takes care of us. I based it out of Psalm 8, which I had read the night before for my devotions. Well, last night I read Psalm 9 for my devotions and a verse in that chapter brought to mind a thought that pairs with yesterday's.
"For the needy shall not always be forgotten,and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever." (Psalm 9:18 ESV)
Yesterday I was looking at God's care for us from my perspective as a person with a need. As I read this verse, I couldn't help but think about the fact that we will be working with poor and needy people in Bolivia, especially through the ministry of Latin America ChildCare. While we don't deserve it (similar to how we don't deserve God's care for us), God has chosen to use us as a part of the solution for the poor and needy there. His sending us is proof that "the needy shall not always be forgotten" and that "the hope of the poor shall not perish forever." He's sending us because He hasn't forgotten those we'll be working with, just as He hadn't forgotten us Wednesday.

God used the people in the story I shared yesterday to bless us. I don't know why God chooses to use people. It's a great mystery. But I do know that He does choose to use us.

So I want to encourage you today that you might be a part of God's solution to somebody's need. You never know whom you might encounter, but you can be willing to be used and be ready to be a blessing, whatever that may entail in a given situation.

God doesn't need us. In fact, I believe He can work in spite of us. But I would rather that He could work through me. I want to be obedient and participate. Let's be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and be a blessing to other's today. What might seem so simple to us could be a huge answer to prayer for someone else.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

He Is Mindful of Us!

I'm not one of "those people" who LOVE trips to Walmart. In fact, it was after over 3 weeks being back in the States before we finally made a trip to Wally World yesterday. And it was really only because my mother needed us to pick up some things for her. We had just finished our laundry and had about an hour before lunch, so we decided to head that way.

Yesterday morning in the car there were issues we discussed: 1. That we needed solution regarding laundry (we were under the impression that we wouldn't have a hook-up in the house we'll be living for 4 months even though we have a washer and dryer) and 2. That we needed to get Genevieve set with her homeschooling. I reminded Polly that we needed to call a friend who has been homeschooling her kids in Malden for years to help with that, which we had meant to do the day before. I know for sure we prayed about the first. I can't recall but we may have also prayed about the second. We have learned many times in our lives that we need God to meet these needs, because we cannot without him.

Anyway, fast forward to Walmart. As we were getting some produce we saw a familiar face. It was the owner of the house we'll be renting for the next 4 months. We asked her about the washer and dryer hook-up and she told us that we can been misinformed. There is a washer and dryer hook-up. I wish you could have seen the joy in Polly's face. With all the rest of our hectic lives, that's one less hectic aspect to it.

We continued shopping and I went into an aisle to pick up some pencils for Genevieve. I heard, "Michael?" I look over and who is it? Our friend (my former youth pastor) who we were needing to call about homeschooling. I hadn't seen her in years. We weren't originally planning to go to Walmart. She said she almost never goes during the day. And yet there we both were the day that we were talking about needing to talk to her.

Coincidences? I think not. I believe that God was reminding us, once again, that He has everything under control and is taking care of us. The psalm I read in my devotions last night says, "Who is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:4 ESV) Really we don't deserve to have God think of us and take care of us. But as David continues to point out in this psalm, he does think of and care for us. What's was David's response to that reality? The same that ours should be:

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1a and 8:9)

Thank you God for reminding us again that you think of and care for us!!!