Thursday, December 4, 2014

29 is Pretty Fine...

...so far, at least. It has only been two days...

It would be an understatement to say that yesterday (my 29th birthday) was a day to remember.

I woke up to donuts from Ellie and beautiful Tiffany's earrings from Mom. #awesome

When I got to work, I was greeted by a mailbox full of cotton balls. #notatallawesome

At that moment, I thought that was the extent of Jon's "getting me back" for making him wear a UCLA shirt and tutu.... boy was I wrong.

When I opened the door to my classroom, about 2,000 cotton balls covered every possible surface I would need to touch to get through the day. #sonotatallawesome

I'd been played. Well.



In addition to the ridiculous onslaught of cotton balls, a few of my other coworkers had "broken in" to my classroom to decorate it NICELY with lights, banners, balloons, etc. I certainly felt loved by them! #completelyawesome


Throughout the day, some of my kiddos brought me posters, SBUX cards, and other fun little gifts. 


After work, when I went to home school, I was given an amazing lemon cake, card, and balloon. Seriously?! So sweet! #theawesomecontinues

I thought I was getting ridiculously spoiled...

I had no idea.


I knew my birthday dinner was planned for Tahoe Joe's with the Georges and Gruebers--it is tradition, of course. I had an inkling that Mama might have invited a few others to dinner, but again, I had no idea.

As we drove past the Marketplace, I knew something was up, but I had NO IDEA what was awaiting me as we sauntered into the Chef's Choice Noodle Bar downtown--a huge surprise! #ridiculouslyawesome

Not only were there TWO HUGE tables filled with amazing people whom I love, but my dear Auntie and Uncle were sitting there smiling back at me--all the way from Rancho. I was in SHOCK!


How awesome is that?!? I seriously felt (feel) so loved!

Since everyone teases me about my ridiculously awesome selfie-taking skills, I just HAD to go around the tables and take selfies with everyone. Check them out!

















To say I was overwhelmed would be another understatement. Never in my life have I had this many people in one place to celebrate me. I am so incredibly grateful to each and every person that came, and I am even more grateful to God for placing such amazing people in my life.

Thanks, Mama, for a birthday to remember. I loved every bit of it!




Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Do I Want to QUENCH THE FIRE?

Two years ago today I took my first "step" after not having walked at all for over six weeks. And, by "step," I mean I barely touched my foot to the ground while all of my weight was on my left foot and my hands, supported by a walker.

If you haven't followed my CRPS journey, you can read about my first "steps" by clicking here. If you'd like to check out my journey from the very beginning, start here and scroll through the posts from that point forward.

After my first step, my journey to walking on my own was a painful, trying, frustrating, and frightening one. But, I obviously did it, with the help of my physical therapist, my friends and family, and my amazing God.

My right foot about a little under two years ago.


The last two years have held many ups and downs, many good days as well as many bad ones. I've been to three different pain doctors and tried many different combinations of medication.

So, you ask, you're walking now. You seem alright. Why the big push for this Quench the Fire 5k? 

The key word? SEEM. 

Yes, I am walking. Yes, my CRPS was caught early and I was able to begin treatment and therapy right away. Yes, my feet no longer look like the above picture. Yes, overall my CRPS is much better than it was two years ago....

BUT, the disease doesn't go away. It is now in both feet and at times up to my knees. The pain is invisible. The pain is still real. #thestruggleisreal

I have more good days than bad days lately; but, in the last month, I had about two weeks where I could hardly keep even sandals on my feet (I can't even imagine putting on shoes yet). If I'm up too much or my feet are in direct sunlight or in too much humidity, they will literally feel like they are on fire (hence the name of the run--Quench the Fire). Occasionally my whole body will sweat, I'll feel nauseous, and get incredibly dizzy (it's just a nervous system thing).

And the scariest thing? My CRPS was caught and treated early! SO many people have it SO MUCH WORSE.

So, I'm not only doing this 5K for myself. I'm doing it for all of the invisible CRPS sufferers. We need to find better treatment for this debilitating disease. We need to FIND A CURE! 

If you have a few minutes, please check out this AWESOME informational video on CRPS:


I don't know what my future will look like. I don't know what my CRPS will do. It could go into "remission" and my symptoms will cease (at least for a time), or it could flare up in other parts of my body and become much worse.

That's why I want to Quench the Fire. That's why I'll continue to advocate for the USC Pain Center, research, and this 5K.

Will you join me?!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


To join our 5k team, go to http://www.quenchthefirerun.org and select CRPS Crushers as your team!

If you can't join us for the race, you can donate at http://www.imathlete.com/donate/AmyErickson. My goal is to raise $500 to support the USC Pain Center in their CRPS research. 

Thanks so much for joining me in fighting this invisible disease! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Grandparents' Day

Happy Grandparents' Day to the world's greatest grandparents (and adopted grandparents)--full of love, leadership, laughter, and sacrifice. I love you all so much! Thank you for all you've done for me these past 28 years! I wouldn't be the woman I am today without all of you.


My Grandparents "On the Hill"

G&G in Yosemite this summer.


Grandma and me at the ranch. 

Grandpa and me on the porch on the ranch.




My Grandparents "At the Beach"

Our Papa and Grandma at Scott and Polly's wedding. 



Grandma holding me during a family portrait when I was a baby. 

Papa filming my crazy antics as a child. 



My "Adopted" Grandparents--the Gruebers

Grandpa Grueber out at the train at CALM. 


Grammy Bev (with baby Mikey) and me at Olive Garden.




And, a special thanks goes out to my Grandma Doris Ann on this Grandparents' Day who went to be with the Lord this summer. Thank you for your amazing life and love. Thank you for always showing us Christ. I miss you more than I can say. I miss you every day. 

Grandma and me at Mike and Brit's wedding.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Goodbye (for now), Grandma

My dear Grandma passed away last week, and we spent yesterday celebrating her life. It was a day filled with family, friends, memories, laughter, lots of tears and tissue, and Jesus--mostly Jesus, as His name was truly lifted high because of her life.

My sweet Grandma with her youngest (me) and oldest (Christen) grandkids. 


With a shaky voice and tears fighting to pour out, this is what I shared at the service:

I lost the first of my four grandparents on July 17th of this year when my grandma “at the beach” went home to be with Jesus. In fact, the last words I spoke to her were, “I’ll see you when we’re both with Jesus.” Losing her rocked me, though I grieve with hope, knowing that I will get to see her again one day. In order to process her loss and figure out how to even grieve, I wrote this poem:

Grandma

It is with trembling we let you go
With our hearts shattered
And tear streaks scattered
For we know this was not your home

It is so plain to see
That although you loved deeply
And lived life completely 
Your heart was set toward eternity

With hope we grieve your loss
For we know we'll see you again
With Christ our Lord in Heaven 
Because of His work on the cross

It is only goodbye for now
Though the pain is so very raw
One day we'll again dance and sing along
Together at our Savior's feet we will bow 

Thank you for your love and life
For the legacy you’ve carried on
With a confident strength all along
Thank you for pointing us to Christ 

So, with trembling we let you go
With our hearts shattered
And tear streaks scattered
For we know you are now truly home 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reflections...

As I sit bouncing around on the LONG flight where the stewards usually speak to me in German, I can't help but reflect upon the last week. How was that only a week?

But, if I'm to reflect, I must go back farther than a week--all the way back to my first trip to Romania in 2002 at the age of 16. It was then that God began to grow in my heart a deep love for Romania and its people. It was that trip that stole a part of my heart and locked it up in Eastern Europe. I had to go back--there was no question.

At the time, I had NO IDEA of God's long term plan. But, do we ever? I only knew that I had fallen in love with Romania and I had to return--so I did on short term teams in 2003, 2004, and 2005. It was during my trip in the winter of 2005 that I decided to intern for CTL during the summer of 2006. That summer I lived in an apartment. In Piata Uniri with a few other girl interns for a couple of months and served alongside the Romanian staff. It was then that I was able to see some of the long term effects and benefits of this ministry.

Although I still held a deep love for Romania, I did not return for six years. That long time period seems crazy to me now, but God was still working. My summers were busy with classes and work. I wasn't totally keen on the idea of going back on a team after having lived there on my own for a few months, and I was not yet ready to take a team of my own, so I waited. And waited. And waited.

After moving home in 2009, I always had this desire, this itch, to get back to Romania, but I still wasn't quite sure where I fit or how God would want to use me. So, I waited. In 2012, as we were just a short time away from finishing up the school year, my mom and I (deciding we were thirsty after running some errands in the Marketplace) ran into DeAnn and Haley at Starbucks. They were talking about Haley's upcoming trip to Romania with Victor. As I leaned over and looked at the table, I noticed a CTL Romania flyer with my picture on it. It was at that moment that DeAnn exclaimed, "Amy! We're looking for another girl to go to Romania with Haley. Want to go?" My response: SURE!

I was ready. I went back that summer and the fire was rekindled within me. I still didn't know how God would use me within CTL or in Romania, but I was sure glad to be back.

The next fall, at the CTL banquet, as Victor shared his story, Colette and my mom both turned to me and said, "We're going!" Umm ok. I didn't have plans to go back yet, but God certainly did. I led a team of women back to Romania in the summer of 2013, and Colette and my mom (and I) have been quite involved with the ministry stateside ever since. I began to feel like I had some sort of purpose. I knew going to Romania made a difference, and I hoped God had used me in some way on each trip, but I now really felt like I'd found my niche.

Helping with child sponsorship and other things Romania stateside helped to keep my fire going. For years (even before I first went back in 2012) I'd been hoping and praying that my church, Living Grace, would somehow get involved in CTL Romania. Toward the end of last year, through different talks and meetings with our pastor, Brian, it became clear that our little church now had an interest in the ministry in Romania. Praise The Lord! Through a series of events, it was decided that my mom and I would travel again to Romania this summer with DeAnn and our pastor Brian. What a HUGE answer to prayer. If you've been following my posts at all, you know how our week has been. If not, look back!

So, why all the long history, you ask? Well, to share with you a tiny piece of God's sovereign plan. He sent me to Romania for the first time in 2002 to plant the seed and begin to grow my love for this place and these people. Now, it seems as if He may use our little church to help buy land to build a ministry center that will begin to break the vicious cycle of abuse, corruption, and trafficking in the lives of these precious children. I am humbled and in awe that God allowed me to be even a small part of His grand plan in Romania. And, I look with much hope to the future, knowing that through his strength and mercy, we will be able to save more children from the jungle and dungeons they are living in now.

This hope is renewed and multiplied every time I think about the sweet little girls from the Home of Hope. Hearing how far they've come in six short months is nothing short of a miracle. Just imagine what God will do in their lives in the next six or sixteen years!!

God is working. He has a plan. He is not finished with Romania, and I am so thankful that he's not yet finished with me. I don't know when I will return, but I am confident that I will. Romania and these little ones are forever burned in my heart--not because of anything I have done, but because of God's mercy and sovereignty. I pray that when He chooses to send me back, I will not be like Jonah and run the opposite direction. I pray that I will run toward God and His plan, trusting that in my weakness and humility He may continue to use me in this place.

Until then, I will pray and fight for the least of these. Will you join me?


Saturday, June 7, 2014

The End...For Now...

The last day... It never gets easier. I am always dreading saying goodbye and a bit anxious about the long flight. I love to fly, but only for short distances. And, I hate goodbyes. HATE them!

Anyway, the alarm went off a bit earlier this morning to allow us to check in 24 hours before our flight. Fortunately, we were able to get aisle seats--thank you Jesus! After getting ready (for the last time this trip--wah!), we enjoyed our last worship time and morning devotion. Brian wrapped up Jonah by asking this question: Do you care more about things (the plant as Jonah did) or do you care more about people? I had never heard it taught that way--so insightful and an awesome reminder as we serve and go about our daily lives.

After packing up a bit, I headed back downstairs to the sound of laughing and squealing little girls--music to my ears!

The little girls from Home of Hope were at the office for the morning, but we also had the option of going to visit some of the families from the counseling program. At that point, I really wanted to do both, but I was fairly certain I was going to visit the families. However, as I walked into the living room, Ilincuta (Ee-lean-coot-sa) ran over to me and said (in Romanian), "Amy! I saw you at the apartment yesterday." She followed that up by saying (in English), "I love you!" One of the staff members asked her if she knew what "I love you" meant in Romanian and she replied, "Da! Te iubesc!" Are you kidding me? I knew right then that I would stay with the girls.

I'm certainly glad I did. Ilincuta (which just happens to be the little one my home group "adopted" to buy clothes for) hung on me all morning. Mom did a few assessments with the girls before we started the program (hopping, skipping, catching a ball, etc.) At one point I was standing by the gate filming and Florina told the girls to run to me. Well, they not only ran, but they literally ran into me and knocked me down. I loved it. We then listened to a story, sang, did a craft where we practiced gluing and counting and colors, and jumped on the trampoline (a lot!). It was a precious few hours with these little ones. I trust that God is going to do amazing things in and through them. Please keep praying with us for them.

After another delicious lunch, Bogdan and DeAnn went to the airport to pick up the BCHS team. We organized a bit more and took a little (long for Americans) walk to the store to get a few more Romanian treats. By the time we returned, the kids from the counseling families and the #7 social apartments were at the office. We played cards and hung out for a while before singing and going though a lesson on perspective (at least that's what I think it was about). :)

The BCHS team arrived safely just as the program was finishing, so they left their luggage by the door and jumped right in, playing basketball or cards or Dutch Blitz. As exhausted as I know they were, they didn't hesitate to dive in, and I was quite proud of them.

Before too long, the time came to a close, and the kids had to head home. Two of these girls have grown especially dear to my heart over the years--Gabi and Cristina--so I was not looking forward to saying goodbye to them. I left them with a note encouraging them and telling them I loved them. They kept hugging me and kissing me and telling me they loved me. I can't wait to see them again!

After the kids left, we sat down with the BCHS team and Bogdan and Nelu for an orientation. Nelu put together an incredible video depicting our week. I'd LOVE to show it to whoever is interested. While the men were briefing the team, I just couldn't believe I was getting ready to leave instead of preparing for a week or ten days of ministry. I would have stayed in a heartbeat if it wasn't for our NYC trip planned in a few short days.

After briefing the team and getting them settled in their rooms, we had them eat the dinner Nela had prepared and we (Nelu, Brian, DeAnn, Mom, and I) headed off to a "meeting." We got to meet Florina and Lili (who I wrote about yesterday) at the mall for dinner and Starbucks. It was such a special time to relax and reconnect with these dear people that I have known and loved for many many years. We shared our lives now, memories from the past, and countless laughs. I'm truly going to miss them!

Upon returning home (yes, it really does feel like my second home), the team was still awake and playing Mafia. We were pleasantly surprised. It's easy to tell that they're going to have a great week together.

Mom and I got ready for bed and settled downstairs (because the room was overtaken by BCHS girls). DeAnn came down to talk to us for a while and ended up bringing her sheet and pillow down as well. We turned off the light and chatted away like a bunch of high school girls. It really was a special way to wrap up our time in Romania. I'm certainly going to miss her (and everyone else!).

Tomorrow morning (well, in a couple of hours really), we leave for the airport and home.

Although our week has come to an end, this ministry certainly never comes to an end. Please keep praying for these children (especially the six precious girls in the Home of Hope), the staff who works harder than anyone I know, and the future of CTL in Romania.

Thank you for following us on this journey. If you feel any sort of inkling to get involved, please don't ignore it! Go to the website www.childrentolove.org and give to the van project or sponsor a child or staff member like the ones you've read about this week. Ask questions. Look at pictures. Think outside yourselves.

I'll leave you with one last thought (for now): Don't be like Jonah and keep running the other way. Do you care more about things (the plant) or do you care more about people? :)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thursday...Where Did You Come From?

The days here simultaneously seem to go on forever and end in an instant. When I stop to think about how to chronicle my day, I am sometimes at a loss; yet, the week has flown by quicker than I'd like. It always does...

This morning we had kids from the #6 Social Apartments come to the office. They come from rough backgrounds and their living conditions are far from ideal. I remembered many of them from last year, so it was great to reconnect with them. We played basketball when they got here--boys against girls. Brian nicknamed it Jungle Ball because it was truly every man for himself. I'm pretty sure I got fouled more times than are allowed in an entire season. But, nonetheless, it was great fun!

We followed that up by separating the older kids and the younger ones (ages 2-8). Anna told a great story to the little ones using a felt board, and she truly held their attention the entire time. Then we got to color a picture depicting the main event of the story. And, guess what? I colored too! I know....shocker! I pretty much loved every minute of it.

While I was coloring, I got a huge surprise--Lili (a former CTL staff member) came through the door (see the picture on my social media). I've known Lili for quite a long time,  and I love her dearly. It was such a blessed surprise to get to see her for a few minutes.

Then, as the groups gathered back together, we prepared to consume another fantastic meal by Nela. She truly is an unbelievable cook! The kids had to leave a bit early to go to school, so we ate and said our goodbyes.

We decided that we wanted to buy ice cream for the kids coming in the afternoon, so Nelu and Florina took us to the market to buy ice cream and a few other things--always an adventure in Romania!

Bogdan then took us (in the rain, I might add) to look at another piece of land he had found. It seemed pretty much awesome to me, but the Romanians know best. Please keep praying for God's will and favor with this land.

The kids were all there when we returned, anxiously awaiting their treat. It was such a joy to see their faces light up when I handed each of them a $0.30 ice cream bar. Incredible....

We got to spend a bit of time with them, but we also had to take care of some business, so we were in and out during their time. The rest of my team went with Bogdan to buy a couch for the Home of Hope, so I spent a little bit of time with the kids as they had a discussion about helping others. At one point, three little dears that I fell in love with two years ago, came up and gave me a card they had made me that said "I love you" all over it! Are you kidding me? Melt my heart!

Gianni then took me over to Home of Hope to stay with Georgi as she took her nap (Gianni had to pick up the other girls and Ionana had to run an errand--I'm not exactly sure of the details, but I was more than happy to go!). Peeking into Georgi's room and seeing her sleep so peacefully completely melted my heart and ripped it apart at the same time (this happens often here!).

The peacefulness didn't last too long, however. Unfortunately the little dear woke up while I was still there and began crying for Ioana (the Mama or Educator on duty). I sat down next to her and tried in my very limited Romanian to tell her that Ioana would be back soon, but she cried all the more. Talk about a broken heart... Although these little ones have amazing women (and men) caring for them, they don't have their mothers there when they wake up crying from a nap or in the middle of the night. I felt angry and sad and useless all at the same time. Yet, I also felt hopeful....for although this little girl didn't have her own mother to console her, she is being raised in an amazing apartment with loving people who truly love The Lord and are teaching her about His truth and love. Her situation is a million times better than it was in the orphanage or foster care, and I praise God for that. I can't wait to see what He will do with these little daughters of his in the next five or ten years!

After I got back from Home of Hope (btw, Georgi was fine as soon as Ioana came home), the team had a short meeting about the property with a few of the Romanian staff. Quite a bit of discussion ensued and some details still need to be figured out, so please continue to be in prayer over that.

Dinner consisted of traditional Romanian sarmale (sp?). Although I'm not a huge fan of cabbage, these cabbage rolls were delicious!!! I've certainly been spoiled with amazing food here!

Since it was so nice outside, and we were so antsy to enjoy it, four of us decided to hop on the metro and head back to Old Town for dessert (Yes, Bogdan, since I know you're reading this, we made it there and back home safely and without any problems! You don't have to worry!). We enjoyed the sights through a bit of rain and ended up back at the same restaurant we went to last night. We shared a few desserts and enjoyed every bite. There's nothing quite like this place at night.  I can't wait to share some pictures from my real camera when I get back home!

Now we're back home and ready to hit the hay. Tomorrow is our last day and I can hardly believe it. I'm really looking forward to seeing the little girls again as well as DeAnn's team that is arriving in the afternoon, but I'm NOT looking forward to waking up super early Saturday morning, that crazy long flight, or the fact that I have to LEAVE! :(

Thanks again for all your prayers. It's not over yet, so please keep praying for the following:

* the VAN
* possible locations for a new ministry center
* the BCHS team as they're in the air now
* sleep, strength, health
* our saying goodbye and transitioning back home
* good seats on our flight back home
* that we would make the most of every MINUTE we have left

Thank you thank you thank you. Isus te iubeste (Jesus loves you) and Noapte Buna (goodnight).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wonderful Wacky Wednesday

This morning began with worship and more lessons on Jonah. We were reminded today that in God's mercy, His sovereign plan will go forth regardless of how we try to screw it up (see Jonah 1).

After our morning meeting, I went with Gianni to pick up the little girls from the Home of Hope. So special! They were beyond excited to come to the office.

Back at the office, Florina did an amazing job sharing the gospel through the colored books (that I've written about previously). The girls were eager to recite their colors in English. They knew them so well! We helped the girls cut out their own books and sang a few songs with them. While the girls went outside to play, we went upstairs to unpack the tubs and get some of the clothes ready for the girls.

We packed each duffle bag with shoes, belts, socks, undies, jeans, leggings, t-shirts, and the special scarves, hats, and ponchos that Jess made them. Even with all the bags packed, we couldn't even begin to make a dent in all we brought. God provided through all of you in more ways than we could ever imagine.

We took the bags downstairs and separated the girls onto the couches. They were overwhelmed and overjoyed as they began to open their duffle bags and pull out all of their new clothes. They couldn't WAIT to try on their new shoes! We were able to get some sweet pictures (I'd love to show them to you in person)!

We put each of the girls in a new outfit to take their picture outside. Although they were a bit overwhelmed and tired at this point, they cooperated well. We then decided to pile ALL of what we brought in the living room and pile the girls on top for another cute picture. One of the girls tried to rip open the package of Disney sheets. She was so excited!

Only one meltdown later, we sat down to eat lunch and play outside a bit. I got to go with Gianni to take the girls home when it was time for their nap. I'm pretty sure they slept well because even I was worn out!

After leaving the little ones, we journeyed over to the rehab center that I've spent quite a bit of time in. Note: Rehab just means a holding place for children with disabilities. As soon as we entered, a sweet little boy named Alex (who my good friend Neal fell in love with a couple of years ago) immediately came to my mind. In fact, I told Brian about him...and what do you know? The very next room I walked into held dear little Alex (who is not so little anymore). The sight simultaneously warmed my heart and ripped it to shreds. I sat on his bed, rubbing his back and praying for him as he rocked and bounced up and down, but I could do nothing else. How difficult it is to walk away knowing there's not much else that can be done.

After our short visit at Rehab, we traveled around the city looking at possible property locations for a new ministry center. Please be praying God's will over this as many difficult and important decisions will have to me made in the near future.

A bit of rest and some in depth discussions ensued later in the afternoon as waited to go to dinner. I was quite excited to head to Old Town, but I was exhausted!

Fortunately my second wind hit as we headed out to the metro (public transportation is quite the experience, and I love it!). We wandered through Old Town and enjoyed the sights (amazing!) on our way to the City Grill. Guess what I ate? Mici, of course, my favorite. And for dessert? Only the best--Papanas! Yuuum (see the pictures on my social media!). We really enjoyed hanging out together with some of the staff and Delia (Bogdan's wife). After dinner, we wandered around through town a bit before heading home.

It was quite the day. I enjoyed all of it so much. I can't believe it'll be over so soon.

Thanks for praying! God is definitely working!!

Keep praying for the following:

* the VAN
* possible ministry locations
* sleep, strength, and health
* unity
* discernment and obedience

Multumim pentru toate! (Thanks for everything--although I probably didn't spell that correctly!).


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Taco (I mean Mici) Tuesday

How is it already Tuesday? Pe bune? For real?

This morning we learned a bit more about Jonah and spent some time in worship and prayer. After that we took the long trek to Tei Day Center--one of my favorite places. The kids that come to Tei are from extremely poor families and are taken care of during the day time hours. They are bathed, clothed, and fed three meals. Although it's amazing that they are still with their families, their living conditions are often indescribable. Tei provides these children with a safe places to grow, and the CTL staff helps them learn about the love of Jesus. How else will we break this vicious cycle?

We rode the metro and the tram and our legs to Tei. Upon arrival, we met with the director and chatted a bit. Every time I go she gives me a huge hug and tells me that she remembers me. So sweet!  When we were finally able to go outside to see the kids, I was beyond excited. I remember many of them by name, and it completely warms my heart to see how they've grown over the last couple of years. When we sat down for songs and story time, I literally had three little ones on my lap. That certainly does a body good. We played, laughed, spun around, took pictures (which I'd love to show you in person), and loved on each other. You know, we go into these places to show these children the love of God, but I must say, I always come out of Tei feeling so incredibly loved and blessed. These children have nothing, but the joy on their faces simply radiates. I know God is doing a mighty work through CTL in this place.

After a long journey back and a delicious lunch, some children from the counseling center came to spend time at the office (CTL provides counseling and assistance to poor families at risk of giving their children up into the orphanage system). Again, I knew most of these children from last year, so it was a complete joy to see them again. We played Dutch Blitz and some team building games. We sang and did the same gospel activity that I wrote about from yesterday. We had so much fun!

The little ones from the counseling center went home after our activities, but the older ones stayed for worship night--one of my favorite things in the history of ever! Eliza (a former staff member and current good friend) came to join us for dinner and worship night. My heart was so delighted to see her and sit down and spend some good quality time with her. Gianni BBQed for dinner, and I got to eat my favorite Romanian food--Mici!!! Today sure does have lots of favorites, huh? Well, it's not over yet! During dinner, someone came up behind me and covered my eyes with her hands. It was Denisa, another former staff member and current good friend. What a special treat. We were able to eat together and FaceTime Bailey to chat for a few minutes.

After dinner we all gathered inside for a time of worship in English and Romanian (check out he video I posted if you'd like to hear a few seconds of what it sounded like). Each of us Americans shared a bit, and the theme of the evening seemed to be about choices. All of life is a choice, will you make good choices or bad choices? Like I often talk about with my students, you have to decide who you are and what you stand for or you'll fall for everything. If you haven't decided yet what you don't want to do, it'll be much more difficult to say no when the time comes. These kids are a such a crossroads and their lives could easily swing in either direction. It is our prayer that they will continue coming to CTL, continue learning about God and the Word, and truly make their faith their own. Without that, what do they have in this life? Without that, what do ANY of us have in this life?

It was no easy to say goodbye at the end of worship night--it never is, but it was especially difficult knowing that my time here is so short and that two of my precious friends are no longer on staff (so I won't see them everyday this week).

But, what better way to cheer up than with ice cream, right? Of course!  So, a few of us took a little long walk to the market to pick up a few things and some ice cream bars. We have been SO BLESSED with the beautiful weather this week, and our evening walk was no exception. It was wonderful!

Tomorrow we'll get to spend more time with the little girls from the Home of Hope--eeeeek!--and look at some possible places for a future ministry center.  Be praying!

Here are a few additional things to pray about:

* the VAN (see my FB or my blog post from yesterday)
* sleep and health and strength
* that God would continue to lead in the coming days and we'd be obedient
* that lives will be changed

Blessings to you all! Te iubesc!

Monday Mania!

Monday...our first full day of ministry...was, well, full, to say the least.

We began with one of my favorite things of all time--morning worship, prayer, and devotions with the team and CTL staff. What better way to start your day than unified in God's word and unified in praising Him??

I love to sing (on my own or in the car, of course), but there's something about praising in Romanian and English that always warms my spirit and gives me just the slightest glimpse of what Heaven will be like--the unity of all nations as we come together as a family to praise our Lord and Savior.

Brian shared a more in depth intro to Jonah and the staff was glued to what he had to say--I'm telling you, we have some amazing teaching here, folks! He'll continue teaching through the book during the week and we are all truly looking forward to it.

After morning devos, Mom, DeAnn, and I went with the Mamas, or Educators, from the Home of Home (or Casa Eva in Romanian) to Starbucks for a time of fellowship. It is our heart and our desire to be an encouragement and resource to these ladies in any way we can.  Thanks to all who we're praying specifically for this time. It was truly an honor to connect with them and hear their hearts. We got just a glimpse of their tremendous task in raising four (and soon to be six) little girls with rough backgrounds and a desperate need for love, confirmation, and stability. These Mamas, as Brian affirmed them earlier in the morning, are our heroes. They need our prayer and support more than anything. Will you please join with us in praying for them and for these precious girls?

Speaking of the Home of Hope girls, there is one immediate need that YOU can help with.

BEGINNING OF SHAMELESS PLUG:


PLEASE HELP!

Greetings from Romania. We need your IMMEDIATE help! These little orphaned and abandoned girls (pictured below) are from the CTL Home of Hope. They desperately need this van.

Designate your van contribution by calling Linda at the CTL office (661-588-9000) or contribute online at www.childrentolove.org. By June 30, it is our goal to have these girls transported to school, medical appointments, the ministry center, and Sunday School TOGETHER in this van!

"Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them, you did to Me." -Matthew 25:40

* All donations are tax deductible and all contributions will go to the CTL Romania fund.

REMEMBER: Designate "THE VAN PROJECT"

"Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them, you did to Me." -Matthew 25:40

END OF SHAMELESS PLUG.


After Sbux, we enjoyed some delicious Ciorba (soup) for lunch back at the ministry center and got ready for the long journey over to the Chitila orphanage. Although it takes quite a while to get there, the trek provides a great opportunity for reconnecting with old friends and getting to know new ones.

Chitila is an all girls' orphanage and it mainly houses girls with special needs. It is an a utter joy to see their faces light up as you enter the room. Regardless of whether or not they know you, they will run up to you, yearning for your attention. We sang, played some team building games, and Anna told the story of the gospel using a simple book with colored pages and a beaded bracelet. Black = sin. Red = the blood of Christ. White = the forgiveness of sins (if we accept Christ as our Savior. Yellow = Heaven. Green = eternal life. Although these girls have "disabilities," they have such a deep and clear understanding of the gospel that it puts many of us who "lack disabilities" to shame. It is truly a beautiful thing. We pray that God will use the Truth to penetrate their hearts and guide their lives.

After Chitila we traveled back to the ministry center for some dinner and down time. Without going into detail here, I must say that God is already doing a MIGHTY work in and through this small team (and all of you that are behind us and with us). Satan is, of course, trying to thwart God's plan, but we know that what Satan tries to use for evil, God will CERTAINLY use for good. Please join us in praying against Satan and FOR the continued work that God is doing right here and right now. We serve a mighty and powerful God!!!

I sit here tying this from the trampoline in the backyard of the ministry center to the incredible sight of a lightning storm in the distance (one of my absolute favorite things!). Talk about the power of our ALMIGHTY God! The God that is giving us our own personal lightning show right now is the same God that can use YOU to provide a van for  the Home of Hope girls. He is the same God that has a perfect and sovereign plan for the lives of all of these children and for the ministry of CTL.

Tomorrow we will travel to Tei (one of my favorite places). I cannot wait to see all the little ones and tell you all about it afterward. Tomorrow evening we'll have a worship night with the staff and some of the teenagers (always an incredibly powerful time). One of the former staff members that I absolutely adore will be here tomorrow night, and I am beyond excited for that.

Please please please keep praying for:

* the VAN
* health, strength, and sleep
* openness and obedience
* that lives would be changed
* that the name of Jesus would be made great in the lives of these precious children (and in the lives of the staff, interns, and teams)

Thank you all so much for praying and giving in any way you can. You are making a difference and impacting our world and the Kingdom.

God bless. Te iubesc (I love you)!!






Sunday, June 1, 2014

...but SUNDAY'S COMING!

"Now to HIM who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to HIM be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."  ~Ephesians 3:20-21

My cousin gave me his verse before I left for Romania and has been praying through it for me and for our team. Let me tell you what, today, this verse was so true in our lives. If you read my previous post, you know that Brian didn't sleep last night. He was exhausted this morning (to say the least). Before we left for church, we prayed for him and this verse immediately came to mind. No, Brian couldn't do a fantastic job on no sleep (although he IS an amazing teacher) but God reminded us to wait and see what HE WOULD DO.

Guess what? God did. No surprise there....

We got to to Brian's friend Chris's church and were able to see some old friends that meet in the same building earlier in the morning (what a fun surprise). The music was wonderful as always--I love hearing Romanian worship. Brian taught on the book of Jonah, and God certainly brought the Word through him.

If you haven't read Jonah in a while, go read it. Its four short chapters are packed with such truth. I'll try to highlight a few things in a Reader's Digest version here.

* God was clear in his command to Jonah to ARISE, GO, and CALL OUT to the city of Nineveh.

* Jonah, unlike most prophets of his day, was disobedient to God and fled as far away from Nineveh on the map as one could go.

* Jonah's circumstances (there just happened to be a boat waiting for him and he just happened to have the right amount of money) may have led him to believe that he really was following God's will, BUT he was in clear opposition to the word of God.

* In the end, God showed Jonah mercy.

Application?

* We are all called to ARISE, GO, and OBEY God's commands (make disciples, honor our father and mother, keep the wedding bed pure, etc.).

* Like Jonah, we are often disobedient and run from God rather than to him.

* Like Jonah, we often confuse our circumstances with God's will rather than sticking purely to God's word and his commands.

* In the end, we can ALWAYS run back to God and receive His mercy.

* WE ARE ALL JONAH.

So, what word do you want to describe your life? OBEDIENCE? or DEFIANCE?

Powerful stuff, huh?


After church we went with Chris and his family to the mall to have lunch. Spicy chicken strips and garlic sauce from KFC anyone? How has America NOT gotten this memo? That stuff ROCKS!

We enjoyed a nice leisurely lunch before going back to the same building for another church service--this time with the Teen Challenge church.

The atmosphere was quite different from the morning service. There were more people and the music went on for quite a bit longer. We even sang the chorus on a couple of my favorite songs in English--it was powerful! Brian was going to preach the same sermon, but I have to say, it was COMPLETELY different. He was able to pick up on the nuances in the crowd and let the Spirit lead him in a way that would so clearly reach their hearts. It was amazing to witness that. Prayer is powerful. The Spirit is powerful. God's WORD is POWERFUL. As we drove home after church, the pastor (who wasn't even there because he's out of town) called to tell Brian that he had already received texts and calls about  how  powerful the service was.

God's power was made PERFECT in Brian's weakness (sleep-less-ness). I am so honored to get to hear that guy speak every Sunday.

As I sit here typing, John just arrived safely--so thanks to all who have been praying.

Tomorrow morning we'll get to see all the staff (I'm so excited) and Mom, DeAnn, and I will spend a couple of hours with the Mamas from the Home of Hope. PLEASE be in prayer over that. It is our heart and our desire to love on them and encourage them however we can. Pray that they would be open to sharing their needs and that the Spirit would speak through us (ESPECIALLY Mom and DeAnn) and show us how to best meet those needs. In the afternoon we'll travel to an orphanage that I've gotten to spend some time in, so I'm quite excited about that as well. I'll keep you updated!

Thanks for all who are praying. This wouldn't be possible without you.

Prayer needs?
- SLEEP (especially for Brian)
- that we're open and obedient to the Spirit
- that we'd be a huge encouragement to all we come across
- a van (CTL desperately needs a van ASAP to cart around kids--especially those sweet Home  of Hope girls) and we're in the process of fundraising for it. Pray that more money will come in.
- that God would do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think

AMEN!



Keep checking FB/ Instagram/ Twitter for more updates and pictures (when I'm able to). Love to you all!

Noapte Buna (Goodnight!)!





We MADE IT!

Here I sit in a familiar room in a place that I love, waiting for Bogdan to pick us up for church where Brian (one of my favorite teachers of all time) is going to speak....

But, how was our journey to this beloved place, you ask?

LONG.

Yet, surprisingly good (which has me breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing Brian's not so great luck with traveling).

Mel Johnson picked us up Friday morning at around 8:30. We loaded up and headed out. After our obligatory stop at Sbux on the way, we made it to LAX.

Check in went without a hitch. We tried to see if there were any exit rows or bulkhead seats available, but alas, there weren't. Oh well.....we'd survive.

We made our way through security and happened upon an entirely redone LAX. We decided to eat at 800 Degrees (look it up, it's awesome!) and sit and chat for a while. I must say, these folks have some AWESOME stories. Getting lost at sea, anyone?

When the time came, we made our way to our gate and onto our ginormous airplane. Mom and I were sitting across the aisle from one another (with a cat right behind us--no joke, a cat in its own seat) with Brian and DeAnn a few rows behind us. As the plane filled in, Mom and I became BFFs  with one of the Stewards who informed us that once they announced boarding complete, we could switch seats if there were any available. Ding ding ding! Exit row seat was not yet taken!! It was as if little fireworks were going off inside the plane.

Boarding was finally complete... I looked back and smiled at our new BFF, and he told me I could move into the exit row. I must say, I have some pretty awesome prayer warriors out there, because my new seat ROCKED.

Brian was now just one row behind on the left, and I could look forward and talk to Mom if I wanted to. Awesome!

I wasn't able to sleep on this flight, but I did watch a few movies, read, walk around, sit on the floor in front of my seat, completely stretch out, etc. It was the joke that I had my own personal business class seat (as I was sprawled out on the floor). Now, the hard airplane floor wasn't exactly as comfy as a business class seat, but I was NOT complaining!

We made it to Frankfurt without incident and onto our flight toward Vienna. At that point we were all getting a bit (or a lot) weary, but our flight was on time and everything went smoothly. By the time we arrived in Vienna, I'm pretty sure we were all DONE (hence the picture I put on FB), but we knew the end was in sight.

I had a window seat on our flight from Vienna to Bucharest (a first in many many years), and it was totally incredible to look out at the land and the clouds (while I wasn't asleep). I can't even really describe my excitement as we began to descend toward Bucharest.

After quickly snaking our way through the airport and customs, we came upon our luggage belt with our luggage already circling around it. Are you kidding me? How awesome is that! We made it, all our bags made it, and Bogdan was waiting for us right outside. Praise Jesus!

We loaded up and headed toward the ministry center through the rain. As completely exhausted as I was, I think I got my second wind at this point--even more so when we arrived and Bogdan asked us if  we wanted to visit the apartment for a few minutes. Umm A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

We eagerly hopped back into the car after unloading and headed over to the Home of Hope. As we approached the apartment, we could hear the little ones laughing and carrying on inside. How sweet the sound! I wish I could describe their faces when they opened the door and saw Bogdan. They completely adore him. I wish I could describe our faces as we saw these sweet beauties for the first time. Total joy. Total answer to prayer!

We introduced ourselves, got some hugs and kisses, and were taken on a high pitched tour of the apartment. The girls sang for us, showed us pictures, and recited their colors IN ENGLISH. Little Georgiana never stopped smiling. I'm pretty sure these sweet faces will forever be etched into my memory. What an incredible way to end such a long journey here.

After saying our "see you laters," we returned to the ministry center to unpack, unwind, and try to sleep. It seems the girls were able to do so quite well, but poor Brian did not sleep well.

Please be praying for him as he's about to preach TWO services today. May The Lord be his strength.

Thanks so much for praying for our journey here. Please keep praying as we attend church today and hit the ground running with kids tomorrow. We are INCREDIBLY grateful for all of you. I love you all so much!!

God bless!




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Be Someone...

Today I wore this shirt...




















...and asked my kids to reflect upon the quote for a while. I asked them to think about who they've been, who they are, and who they really want to be. I handed out their journals and had them write down the quote and honestly examine it in terms of their hearts and lives. I was surprised and delighted when an incredible hush fell over my room and my students began to write....and write...and write. Since they were putting so much effort into it, I decided to respond to the quote as well so that I could share my thoughts with them. We had a pretty awesome discussion after we finished writing.

This is what I wrote:

Be someone who makes someone else look forward to tomorrow.

In reflecting upon this quote, I am reminded that I am always an example. Sometimes I am a good, positive example, and unfortunately, sometimes I am a negative, poor example. Which do I want to be? Of course, I want to be the good, positive example. I want people to look at me and see my integrity and know what I believe, but it’s a struggle every day. I have to wake up each morning and decide to live with integrity. I have to decide every day who I am going to be. Most mornings, I am more focused on rolling out of bed, getting myself ready, and the intensity of the day before me. But, I am reminded today that I need to stop and focus in the morning. I need to pause and decide each day who I am going to be. If I don’t, I can easily turn into the negative and poor example. I can all too easily turn into someone with a bad attitude, someone who falls into gossip or selfishness, someone who cares more about making my own day than making someone else’s. And that’s not who I want to be! I want to be a smiling face, a warm hug, a positive word. I want others to wake up in the morning and be glad that they get to come to Warren Junior High because it’s a place where they feel safe and loved and protected. I want to show my students that there IS another way, that it IS possible to make the right choices, that it IS possible to stand above the line. I want to be someone that makes someone else look forward to tomorrow.


So, who do YOU want to be? 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reflections on Psalm 109 and God's Sovereignty

If you missed my original Five Year Flashback post on Psalm 109 and God's Sovereignty, click here.


But you, O Sovereign LORD, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.

Although I often don't understand it at the time (or years later!), God always delivers me for his name's sake. His love is good. His love is real.

When I wrote the original post, I had just begun subbing. It was challenging to say the least,  but I was grateful to be working. I thought for sure that that is what God had planned for me (at least for a year).

Boy, was I wrong! (Isn't that usually how it goes?!)

Shortly after that post, I was hired by BCSD (Bakersfield City School District) to teach 6th grade ELA and history. Since then I have taught three different grade levels in three different schools. At this point, I am finishing up my third year at my third school (how amazing it has been to be in one place for a few years!).

To quote my original post: My God is wise and good and faithful–He is Sovereign and His plans are good. Good thing too–because if I had my way, I’d no doubt screw it all up. Like I wrote previously, I had plans of my own. Thank you God for not allowing me to follow my own plan. Thank you for being the Lord of my life and granting me wisdom, discretion, and peace. How sweet is your peace…

God knew. God knew EXACTLY what was next for me. It wasn't always easy. It ISN'T always easy. But, I ADORE my students, and I LOVE my job. As exhausted as I am, I honestly can't imagine saying goodbye to my kids (and "see you later") to my coworkers in just under two weeks.



As the years go on, teaching has gotten a bit easier. I am more comfortable. I know a bit more of what I'm doing and how to relate to my students. However, self confidence is always something with which I've struggled. I was talking to a good friend about this not too long ago, and this friend's response was, "Well, maybe that's God's way of keeping you humble and in need of Him." My first thoughts? Doubt it. Not two days later I read this from my original post:

Confidence in myself is something I really struggle with. But, what an amazing thing that is. If I don’t have confidence in myself, I have to look elsewhere–to God. He has done well to keep me humble by having me struggle with confidence. He makes sure that as I stand up in front of a classroom of budding minds, He is there with me, guiding me, directing me, teaching and loving through me. Those kids don’t need me and my love–they need God. I am so grateful He allows me to be an instrument for Him. May I never get completely comfortable, may I never fully rely on myself, may I never think that I’m all that my students need…I’m far from it.
Nothing like slapping yourself in the face (figuratively, of course)
What a good reminder as I wrap up this school year and try to use every moment to love on and inspire my kids....
What a good reminder as I pack up and head half way across the world to love on some kids in Romania... 
They need HIM, not me. 

Finally, although I love my job, and although I'm certainly loving life right now, there is always a part of me that wonders what is next. What else does God have for me? This certainly isn't how I imagined my life would be when I wrote that post five years ago. Yet, the end of that last post is a good (face-slapping) reminder....
There are still lots of uncertainties about living here now. So much of my future is unclear. But, I stand on the promise that my God is faithful and my God is Sovereign. Why should I doubt? Why do I continue to doubt? My God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has a plan for His name’s sake, not mine. May my life be lived for His glory, never my own. My plans are futile; His are perfect.
Why wouldn’t I trust in perfect?

God knows. God knows EXACTLY what was next for me. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Five Year Flashback: Psalm 109:21 and God's Sovereignty

Here is another blog post from FIVE years ago. To check out my first one, click here. 

September 19, 2009 at 12:09 am  
But you, O Sovereign LORD, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.
My God is Sovereign. He deals well with me, for His name’s sake. I praise God for that–for His Sovereignty, His goodness, faithfulness, justice, and provision. I could go on and on about the characteristics of God. I have been reading through the Old Testament and it’s been amazing to learn more about God’s character and His Sovereignty. He had a plan when He created the universe, when he decimated the earth in the flood, when He brought forth Israel out of Egypt, and when He created me. My God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The God who (literally) woke me up this morning (my alarm clock certainly didn’t) is the same God that spoke to Moses in the burning bush. Wow….plain and simple.
My God is wise and good and faithful–He is Sovereign and His plans are good.
Good thing too–because if I had my way, I’d no doubt screw it all up. Like I wrote previously, I had plans of my own. Thank you God for not allowing me to follow my own plan. Thank you for being the Lord of my life and granting me wisdom, discretion, and peace. How sweet is your peace…
It’s a miracle watching God work. He does it constantly, but how often do we stop to notice it? I won’t go into elaborate detail, but the new subbing system in the district I came home to work for is quite different this year because of all the budget cuts. I thought I would hardly be able to work, and I was at a loss for what I was to do. However, as it turns out, with the way the system is working (and all the wonderful secretaries I know that have put me on preferred lists), I’ve subbed every day for the last six days and I have sub jobs already lined up for next week and a couple into October. God knew exactly what He was doing when He brought me here and He IS providing for me–in ways I would have never expected.
As a matter of fact, I was actually terrified to start subbing. I didn’t sleep at all the night before my first job. I was shaking the morning I left to drive to the school. Confidence in myself is something I really struggle with. But, what an amazing thing that is. If I don’t have confidence in myself, I have to look elsewhere–to God. He has done well to keep me humble by having me struggle with confidence. He makes sure that as I stand up in front of a classroom of budding minds, He is there with me, guiding me, directing me, teaching and loving through me. Those kids don’t need me and my love–they need God. I am so grateful He allows me to be an instrument for Him. May I never get completely comfortable, may I never fully rely on myself, may I never think that I’m all that my students need…I’m far from it.
Subbing isn’t always easy. I don’t like not knowing from day to day whether I’ll work or not. I want to hit my alarm clock some mornings, and I’m so glad when Friday rolls around; yet, I’m working, and I must praise God for that! I am gaining so much experience, and I pray that I am at least making a slight impact on a life here and there.
There are still lots of uncertainties about living here now. So much of my future is unclear. But, I stand on the promise that my God is faithful and my God is Sovereign. Why should I doubt? Why do I continue to doubt? My God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has a plan for His name’s sake, not mine. May my life be lived for His glory, never my own. My plans are futile; His are perfect.
Why wouldn’t I trust in perfect?

But you, O Sovereign LORD, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.


Stay tuned for my reflections on this blog post and how things have changed (or not) in the last five years.