Undeniable – Romania 2017

Three weeks. Three of the most eye-opening, beautiful, challenging, life-changing weeks of my life. I sit here now, back on campus on a cold rainy night, and I struggle to find where to begin. It took me two weeks to finally be able to sit down and try and write what’s on my heart. How do you summarize three weeks that completely opened your eyes, delivered you some of the heaviest and most beautiful moments of your life, and broke your heart and yet caused it to overflow at the same time?

As I began the trip, I asked the Lord for three things: that He would open my eyes to see what He sees, that He would show me His heart, and that He would break my heart for what breaks His.

And He did all three.
Never before in my entire life have I seen more of who God is. He is good, He is loving, and He is powerful. We traveled to a beautiful country with incredible people. The relationships we forged while there and the wonderful culture we were immersed in are things I will never be able to forget. Over our three weeks there, we worked with three different ministries (Teen Challenge Romania, Children to Love, and Outstretched Hands of Romania) where we did homeless outreach, cultivated relationships with the dear people in Teen Challenge’s rehab program, worked with orphans, and worked in the Roma gypsy communities. They were some of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.

Yet while we there, we saw and experienced heavy realities that absolutely broke my heart. We visited abandoned buildings that served as homes for the homeless – homes that have no electricity and little firewood for stoves to keep warm in the bitter 10 degree weather. We brought food to families who are struggling with where their next meal will come from. We saw the drug addiction that is clutching the streets of Romania. We were lowered into a sewer where we met a 15-year-old boy who ran away from his dysfunctional home and now lives in the sewer to survive. We hugged and loved on multiple orphans who have never known what it’s like to be loved and cherished by parents. We prayed over helpless little children in a rehab center who have been completely abandoned by their families. We walked through a gypsy village where families of 10-15 people (some of whom were sick) live in dirt-poor, tiny one-room homes. We prayed over a home of around 8 siblings whose mother died and whose father is in and out of jail.

And my heart absolutely broke for it all. As I’ve been back home processing everything, something has sunk deep into my heart: we saw the world as the way God didn’t intend it to be – with pain, suffering, and evil. It broke my heart to see such darkness sitting on such a beautiful country. It tore my heart out to say goodbye to the multiple orphans we developed relationships with, knowing how desperately they want to continue to be loved and how there are so few people in their lives to give them such love. It broke my heart to leave a gypsy home of a dear tired mother with 11 children who shyly smiled up at you as you held their hands and hugged them on your lap. If your heart can literally physically hurt, then mine has been hurting so badly I’ve almost wished I could take it out.

Yet despite seeing such heavy and heart-breaking realities, I saw something else. I saw something a thousand times more powerful than any evil, any pain, any struggle. I saw hope. Hope like I’ve never seen before in my entire life. In those homes – on those streets – in those orphanages – I saw pieces of light breaking through the darkness. God’s presence is undeniably powerful there. And I mean undeniably. I saw Him fighting for each orphan, each homeless person, each gypsy. Yes, darkness and evil are real, but our God is so much more powerful. In the end, the enemy won’t stand a chance against His might and love.

We walked through these struggling places and met people on fire for the Lord, itching to share their hope with broken people around them. We met people curious and hungry for God and His truth. We visited beginning church plants passionate about coming together to worship the Lord, become more like Him, and spread His Gospel. We met incredible people in the ministries we worked with who are selflessly devoted to bringing God’s love and truth to the people of Romania every single day of their lives. We were told incredible stories from the people at Teen Challenge who felt trapped in drug addiction but were rescued, redeemed, and restored by God. We met a precious 12-year-old girl in one of the gypsy communities who had given her life over to the Lord and couldn’t contain her love for Him, despite her poverty-stricken, beyond difficult family situation. We met an older gypsy woman who, despite living very humbly with her sick husband, greatly loved and praised the Lord and had faith of steel.

It’s a lot to take in.

Despite the darkness, God is saving lives. Redeeming hearts. Protecting and fighting for His created and dearly loved ones. People are hungry for and curious about the Lord. Despite such brokenness, the name of God – God, who 1 John 1:5 says “is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” – is uttered, praised, and sought after every day.

And that is something you can’t ignore.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

When I asked God to open my eyes to see what He saw, He did by showing me a broken world, marred by darkness, but a world in which hope is breaking through and refusing to be conquered. I don’t even know how to fully describe it, but God showed me His heart while we were there. I saw all the people in Romania, and therefore the rest of the world, as people who God deems as worthy, valuable, and inherently precious. He wants them to come home more than anything. The brokenness of our world breaks His
heart. Truly, truly breaks it. But the core of His heart is how He breathtakingly loves His creation. His love protects us, provides for us, comforts us, strengthens us, fights for us. By His great love and grace He chose to come and save us.

And that is literally life-changing.

I sit here now, and I’m thankful. I’m thankful God opened this door for my team and let us go out into His beautiful and loved world and experience His work in it. I’m thankful He let us see His heart, His purpose, and His powerful hope. I’m humbled and overwhelmed.

So friend, as you’re reading this, be encouraged. If you know Jesus, revel at His power and love. Praise Him for who He is. Be reminded that the same God who is saving lives and restoring hope every place on earth is the same God who lives inside of and loves you.

 And friend, if you’re reading this and you don’t know God, let the truth that He loves you, fights for you, and died for you sink in. This God, who can save and redeem any life, loves you more than you could ever imagine. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I’ve seen it. So wherever you are, wherever your heart is, turn your eyes to God who is defined by love and grace. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for reading, friends. More to come. (:

All the glory to Him,

Katie

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~John 3:16

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” ~Jeremiah 31:3

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” ~John 8:12

Here is a link to my photo album from the trip! http://bit.ly/2ldVJJs

 

Enough

“So it’s going to be a lighter semester for you?”

Sitting in our home’s family room with my older brother Ryan, I answered in the affirmative. It was August 9th, the night before I flew back to school. With the way my class schedule was shaking out and the way I thought any extracurricular activities were going to fall into place, I saw my upcoming semester as one that would be filled with pockets of extra time. I pretty much had no idea.

I had no idea that my semester would be my busiest, craziest semester yet. I had no idea what was actually going to fill my time and that it would be a complete 180 than what I expected. I had no idea of the challenges and surprises coming my way. I had no idea how God was going to stretch and grow me.

Yet I also had no idea that I would come to understand the meaning of dependence and God’s love in a whole new light.

Because there was plenty this semester that God used to show me His character and show me my need for Him.

The semester consisted of being a Student Orientation Services leader, writing for campus’s magazine, changing my major, acting in the theater department’s play, staffing for Missions Conference 2017, and being on a missions trip team headed to Romania in January. All experiences that grew me, stretched me and were so much fun.

In all that wonderful busyness and all those wonderful blessings, however, other things in my life began changing. God started to change and take away previous footholds. At the same time, He began allowing difficulties and frustrations into my life that stretched and challenged me.

But that was when I began to understand God’s love more than I had before. It is out of love that He allows difficult times, for those times refine us and bring us closer to Him. It is out of love that He stretches us, for that makes us more like Him. It is out of love that He gives and takes away, for He wants us to truly lean on Him no matter our circumstances.

In changing and unfamiliar times, it is His love and character – Him – that stays constant. God kept putting me in situations that forced me to trust Him. Again and again He revealed to me that in all the craziness, in all the changes, He is enough. He will not disappoint, will not fade away, will not change.

This semester I found myself asking if my true contentment and first focus are in the Lord. In all the busyness, it is far too easy to squeeze God between the commitments. It is far too easy for priorities to shift and sources of contentment to change. Yet God showed me in powerful ways this semester that He is the only true source of contentment and security. As things change, He does not. He is the only One who will not disappoint, the only One who will fulfill. And He lovingly demands us to realize that.

A few weeks before finals, I sat and chatted with one of the women in Biola’s Spiritual Development about the semester and being a part of Team Romania, another experience that God has truly used to stretch, teach and bless me. She asked me what I felt God had been teaching me over the past few months. After I went through everything, she looked at me and said, “So overall, it seems like God has been teaching you dependence on Him.”

I smiled. That certainly was the theme of my semester: dependence on God.

In all the crazy and shifting times, He is our rock. Why in the world we would rely on anything less stable?

It was a crazy one – full of surprises, challenges, lessons and blessings. I now sit in my home in Minnesota, warm in a cozy house as it’s cold and windy outside, and my heart is full. God is good. His love is rich. He is faithful as He leads us. And on that I reflect and am thankful.

Take a moment, friends. Reflect. How did God show you His character this past year? How was He faithful? It’s amazing how much of God’s goodness we see – that we hadn’t caught before – when we stop for a moment and thank Him.

Embrace that He is enough. Bank on the truth that He is constant in every circumstance. Rejoice that He loves you more than you could ever imagine.

And let’s head into 2017 with those beautiful truths in front of us.

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Years, friends❤️

-Katie

Jeremiah 31:3

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Romania

  This past October, a friend encouraged me to attend a campus informational meeting about Biola short-term missions trips. The Student Missionary Union was sending out eight teams in January 2017. I hadn’t thought much of going on an SMU trip, but decided to attend the meeting.

As the leaders introduced and explained their eight trips, I sat there unsure of whether to apply or not. I’ve never been on a missions trip before, and I wasn’t sure if this was where God was calling me. However, one trip stood out above the rest – a three-week trip heading to Romania. The ministries would include orphanage and hospital work, street and homeless evangelism, and outreach in Romania’s gypsy communities.

We had a week and a half to apply for the teams. A week went by, and I still wasn’t sure if I should or not. Nothing felt absolutely clear. However, after a lot of prayer, eventually one piece of clarity rose above the uncertainty – to at least apply and let God handle the results. He could open the door if He saw fit, or close it instead. I thought, why not? So I went ahead and applied.

And after the application, individual interview and group processing, I waited. And a week later, I got an email: I had been placed on Team Romania.

I was absolutely shocked. God had opened a crazy door! I was going to Romania in January!

And thus began a whirlwind journey. At first I was incredibly excited and riding the wave of surprise. I met my team for the first time – nine other guys and girls – and found some incredible, God-loving people that I couldn’t wait to get to know over the next two months. I still couldn’t quite believe it all.

However, doubt soon came in alongside the excitement. I kept wondering, was this really what I was supposed to do? It was all so big and crazy, and a huge endeavor to undertake. I became anxious that I was moving ahead with the wrong thing.

Shortly after the doubts started trickling in, all eight teams participated in a collective training weekend. It was amazing. I was surrounded by awesome people who were on fire for God and the Gospel. My team grew so much closer. We were all pushed and stretched through various activities that the missions coordinators had planned for all of the teams. Four different speakers came in and shared their wisdom, experiences and motivation. Everything still felt surreal.

But I remember sitting during one of the talks, just listening, when I felt this huge sense of peace wash over me. A huge wave of confirmation. In that moment, God gently pressed on my heart that yes, as crazy as it all was, this was where He was calling me. And my role was to follow and obey.

And once I realized and accepted that, it all became real and exciting in a whole new way. As humbling as it was, God had opened the door.

The more real it became, however, I began to feel pretty nervous. To be going so far away, for an entire three weeks, and to be in some some truly heavy, challenging experiences freaked me out a little. I was so excited – and I had a truly amazing team – but I was also truly anxious and even afraid about it all.

But I soon found out that that is exactly where God meets us. In our anxiety. In our uncertainty. In our discomfort. God began teaching me so many things in the whole experience. In all my anxiety, He began to show me that He pushes, challenges and stretches us out of our comfort zones for our good. As I was stretched, He taught me so much about trusting in Him. How can we trust Him if we’re not first afraid? Trusting someone insinuates that there we are in an uncertain, uncomfortable situation that calls for us to turn to someone or something bigger. And that certainly was me.

God began showing me that true courage comes from Him. How can we reach the point of courage if we’re not first afraid? Even if we are, He will supply what we need. He will meet us in our fear and lead us to a point of courage. He is faithful to provide.

When I was home over Thanksgiving break, I was up late one night, sifting through my thoughts of anxiety. The trip was only a little over a month away. As I lied on my bed, listening to music, God slowly started to press two truths on my heart:

God calls us to uncomfortable places for His glory.

When we go out of our comfort zones, nerve-wracking as it is, and choose to obey His call, it brings Him glory. When we go stretch out our hands to those who don’t yet know the truth of God’s love, it brings Him glory. We are His vessels. He is glorified when we walk forward in obedience and push through anxiety to reach the unreached.

And secondly, God calls us to not be afraid. Over and over again in His Word He commands us not to fear. The enemy wants the exact opposite. However, God meets us where we are, and leads us through any anxiety we may have. Fear is not of Him. Courage and freedom from fear, on the other hand, are. And as I lied there on my bed that night, God re-pressed that on my heart.

It’s amazing. It’s amazing that we serve such an awesome, all-powerful God who conquers doubts and fear and instead gives courage. It’s amazing that we serve a God who loves us so much that He stretches us for our good and His glory. It’s amazing that God looks on us – so small and finite – and uses us for His purposes, whether we’re on missions trips, at school, work, or in our homes.

And in all of those crazy lessons and realizations, I saw God’s rich blessings so clearly in my team. Nine incredible people who have become cherished friends. Four guys, six girls. We’re all a little family. Their hearts for the Lord are beautiful and we have had some serious fun and growth together. I have so much love for them.

I’m now here, at the end of a wonderful Christmas break, on a plane flying back from Minnesota to California, and my heart is full. It’s been an incredible, humbling experience, and I haven’t even stepped foot in Romania yet. We fly out tomorrow, and I can’t believe it.

Crazy right? The way God works is amazing! I am so excited to go share His incredible love and hope with the people of Romania. It is such a beautiful country! I can only imagine the ways God will impact.

What a beautiful truth that we can walk forward confident in God’s call on our lives. Confident in His sovereignty, power and love.

God is faithful, friends. Oh so faithful.

LET’S DO THIS.

-Katie

Isaiah 49:6b “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

-If you want to follow along with our trip, we’ll be posting updates on our website here!

Also, any prayer for our team, trip and the people we come in contact with would be so appreciated and valuable!  (Protection, health, wisdom, softened hearts, etc.)

Breathe

img_0440I look at the date and see September 9th. A month ago today, I was packing my life into
two suitcases and a duffel bag. The next day, I would hop on a plane that would take me 1,500 miles from my home to California.

If I thought life was crazy in the days leading up to leaving, I just needed to wait until my feet touched the ground in California. From the moment I stepped off the plane, a month of busyness, challenges and surprises flew into full swing. I’m only 30 days into school, and those 30 days have already made me feel like summer and home are faraway blurs.

I came back early this year to be a Student Orientation Services (SOS) leader, an experience that the other leaders and I had been preparing for since February. I knew it would keep me on my toes, but I couldn’t know how much it would challenge and richly reward me, both at the same time. The week leading up to the new students arriving was a whirlwind. With all-day training, preparation and a staff retreat to Palm Desert, it was crazy and exciting as we prepared to welcome 1,000+ students (by the way, the heat rose to 115 degrees in Palm Desert – never have I experienced that kind of intense heat before!!). Along with the positive, however, fatigue set in, and it became an exhausting as well as exciting experience. As the week wore on and the pace began to catch up with me, God showed up in a powerful way with a gift of strength that sustained and led me through the rest of the week (He’s pretty good at doing that). Truly, His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.

SOS was an experience that stretched me and strengthened me. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and turned out to be a strong reminder of God’s sustaining strength and power. Amidst the challenges, so many blessings abounded, a huge one coming in my co-leaders. With so much going on and a hundred different things to do, we all leaned on each other and found the sweetest joy and tons of laughter in the family we created. And when all the new students finally came on campus, it was a crazy adventure of leading them through Orientation week and forging new relationships. Being in a leadership position gave me a new perspective about losing the focus on myself and instead looking to the needs of others, which is certainly not always an easy thing to do. I was so blessed by so many people. It’s funny – when you try to bless others, you in turn are blessed. And when you’re challenged and feel pushed to your limit, that’s when God steps in and shows you that He is enough.

SOS started the semester with such a bang, that once it ended and school and everything else started, things right away slipped into a fast pace of moving from one thing to the next. Before I knew it, classes and commitments began, and the semester had swung into full gear. Soon each day was one crazy movement from start to finish.

This week, however, it’s been hitting me how easy it is to let that happen and how hard it is to stop that system from claiming control of my life. Things get going so quickly that before you know it, you’re going through the motions without taking a moment to stop. And I don’t want that to be the case. Yes, life gets busy, but I want to learn to take those moments to stop and simply breathe, thanking the Lord for His goodness and bringing my life before Him. Because in the end, I won’t be as effective or efficient in all my busyness if I haven’t first stopped and brought that busyness to the Lord.

After all, He can handle it all far better than I can.

Constant

IMG_9982 (1)It took me long enough to accept that it’s August. Now that we’re a week in, I have no choice but to realize that school is approaching far faster than the time summer is taking to slow down. It’s Sunday, August 7th, and four days ago I received a confirmation email for my flight back to Orange County, California. I’ll leave with my mom on Wednesday the 10th. Two days. Two days left of 75 degree weather, late-night ice cream runs with my brothers, old home video nights with my family, coffee dates with my best friend – three days left of home.

If you know me well, you know I’m a huge family person who loves few things more than spending time at home with my parents and brothers. My home is one of the sweetest, craziest places in my world – with three hilarious brothers, two crazy dogs and two wonderful parents, my home accurately deserves the “circus” nickname we sometimes give it (ever read those old comics, The Family Circus?). And if you know me well, you also know I’m helplessly sentimental. Even if something great is waiting ahead, I never can avoid that feeling of nostalgia and sadness when something great ends. As two and a half months of a wonderful summer draw to a close, that old, familiar feeling has yet again come for a visit.

My summer was one full of sweet, precious memories. I was a part-time nanny to a 6-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, and the challenges and lessons I learned from that were irreplaceable. I soaked up time with my family and close friends through fishing dates, movie nights, late-night swims, baseball games, beach days and much more.

In all of that sweetness, however, the realization of change hit me this summer. My dad said to me a year ago when I was leaving for college, “Everything is changing, yet nothing is changing at all.” And he was right. My family is no longer the family that is easy to keep track of; we are often going different directions as we’re all growing older. My brothers and I all worked different jobs and pursued various different activities this summer. Then, add on that my older brother will be graduating from college next year, my younger brother will be taking PSEO classes this year, and good grief, my youngest brother will be a freshman in high school (I have no idea how he got there so fast). Our family is changing – and fast.

Family Pic for blog

However, when I step back and look at everything, I see that at the core, we haven’t changed at all. My family is still my family – loving, crazy, hilarious, and seeking the Lord. We still hold the same beliefs and sweet relationships that we did back when my brothers and I weren’t even thinking of college. We’re going through life together. This summer was a sweet reminder that no matter how our lives change and we grow up, my family is constant and always there. And I am incredibly blessed for that. The most beautiful of all, however, is that my Savior is the same way, but 100 times more so. He is constant, He is faithful, He is reliable. He won’t change with time or hide when difficulty arises. He is the One who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And for that I am forever grateful.

Until next time, summer. We had a good run. Now, onto Year 2 of college. (:

-Katie

Lean In

Image_1-2-8“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”

-Victor Hugo

The other day as I was sitting on my couch working on a project, my dad came in the room and sat down across from me, folding his hands in his lap (hint: my dad folding his hands almost always means he has a prepped talk or nugget of gold coming your way). I looked up at him, and he said, “I wanted to come in and talk to you. Right now is the crucial and opportune time for you to explore your options and adequately prepare for your future. You won’t have a time like this again in your life. Take advantage of it.”

He was referring to my upcoming sophomore year of college at Biola University in Southern California. My dad is one of the most motivational people you’ll meet – give him 30 seconds and he’ll inspire and challenge you to go take advantage of your life and live it to its fullest.

As a college student, I’m more than aware that this time of my life is the steppingstone to my future. This is the time to learn and explore, stretch, and take advantage of opportunities. It’s full of surprises, adventures, ups and downs, but most of all, anticipation at the process of turning dreams into realities.

How exciting, right? To document this beautiful, crazy adventure called college, this blog will be filled with all those experiences, all the steps forward, and encouragement and motivation to those who are also in this wonderful season of life.

Right off the bat, college most certainly proved itself to be an adventure. For a Minnesotan, lake-loving girl like me, moving 1,507 miles halfway across the country to a little place in Southern California called La Mirada felt like moving to a new country (which may not be that far from the truth as there are arguments that California practically is its own country!). There aren’t as many trees, Southern California’s brown landscape makes Minnesota feel like a color explosion in comparison, and lakes are few and far between. However, it boasts a stunning coast on the Pacific Ocean, gorgeous warm weather when it’s 15 below zero back home, and crazy fun places like downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Disneyland. It was a whole new, exciting world for me.

My first year was a whirlwind adventure. Filled with the sweetness of new friends, the challenges of transitioning to a new place so far away from home, and the joys of pursuing interests such as theater, student orientation leader services and more, it was an unforgettable year in which God was beyond faithful (He is so good!). And the wonderful thing is, there’s another year right ahead of me! As my dad always says, “lean in” and make the most of it. I can’t wait to see what God has in store! Want to hop on the adventure with me? (:

-Katie

Psalm 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”