Saturday, August 19, 2017

122 Steps Closer


That's how many steps it takes to get to the top of that the Svatojánská Věž ("Holy John's Tower") in Frýdek-Místek.

In this time of preparation for JV Kid's Camp (I leave tomorrow with the team!), I have a few days with my parents to get over jet lag, catch up with the town's happenings, run errands, and pray. 

We also got to finally see something we have wanted to see for years - the view from the top of the tower, which is only open during quite random hours of the week. To get there, we walked past shops and parking lots, my favorite antique bookstore, and other familiar sights. 

This particular verse written out in stone and placed at the top of the stairs stopped me in my tracks. 

The verse reads, "'I tell you,' he answered, 'if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out." 

To see that written here in this little region of the world reminds me that the Lord is at work, and he will accomplish his purposes. The question is, will we join in the joy of proclaiming alongside other believers that the King has come, and he is Lord?  

"As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'"

I leave for camp tomorrow. Wow. Soon I will be with the JV Kids, and I absolutely can't wait. I will only be here in Central and Eastern Europe for two weeks this time, but it won't be too long before I move here!

These past few days here in Frydlant have been sweet, but I sure am ready to head into what I came here for. At the same time, I recognize all the more these days that I can do absolutely nothing without Christ. 

I texted back and forth with my mentor (in Wheaton) today, as I was feeling the spiritual battle and weight of my own sinfulness, and her words of prayer meant more than I can even say. Would you pray this for me, my fellow staff at JV Kid's Camp, and the JV Kids this next week? 

"My prayer is that... when all is said and done, your life and your actions and your heart will glorify Him alone. What a wonderful gift it is that God created us to be able to do that for Him." 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What You Find in American Homes

It has been so sweet to live life alongside my church family in these past six months, as well as to meet many other dear families who live locally in the Chicago suburbs. It has been especially meaningful to get to know their kids and their family culture. Each home that I have lived in, come to for a meal or babysat in has a unique style, set of values, traditions and family lingo. As someone who grew up in Czech, I have truly enjoyed seeing more of this day-to-day home culture here in the Illinois.

I love to observe cultural differences and nuances. It tickles me to think that so many people view the world differently from one another, yet we were all created in the image of God! I have learned much from living in my American culture (more on that another day!), and I have also enjoyed noticing what is considered "normal" in an American home.

After babysitting in many homes, I thought it would be fun to start noticing which things show up most frequently in family kitchens here. What are commonplace "kid snacks"? What do parents direct me to for feeding the kids for breakfast?

Many of these things are ones I grew up with as well, since my parents are American (and there is also some crossover), but here is my imperfect list of what you will typically find in most homes in the Midwest:

1. Cheese sticks - I find that most kids get really excited about this one, even though they are common! Now the real question you peel them, or do you bite them? In Czech, they use spreadable cheese, like the farmer's cheese below.

2. Cheerios - Growing up, we only had honey-nut cheerios, but I love that the plain ones are in style here in the States! Kids love them, and it's a staple for snacks, breakfast, and really any time of the day. I would say that in Czech it is more common to have Muesli or cornflakes.

3. Peanut Butter (and Jelly too!) - I love that you can find PB in almost every home here. PB+J continues to be a classic among kids, and I fully agree that it makes such a delicious combination. My Czech friends were baffled by this when I was in elementary school, but our imported peanut butter back then was a treasure, and the PB+J never seemed strange to me!

4. Ice-Cream - Well let's just say it's maybe a good thing that I can't have dairy, because otherwise it might be difficult to resist the ice-cream that is sitting right next to the ice-cube trays in the freezer.

5. A Gallon of Milk - Although, alternative milks show up quite commonly too these days! It still surprises me how often I see almond/cashew/coconut milk right alongside regular groceries. In Czech they still like to use what they call "shelf milk". Many Czechs use fresh milk, but boxed milk is still quite popular as well, as it can be stored for months unopened in the cupboards.

What else do you think belongs on this list? What do you keep on hand in your own kitchen at all times? 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hello and Ahoj

Did you know that the Czech word for "hello" is "Ahoj"? Yes, the word does sometimes sound like a pirate's "ahoy matey" (as English-speaking kids love to remind me), but in the Czech language the emphasis is on the first syllable, not the last.

On another note...

One day I hope to learn more about graphic design. It's not an area I am particularly skilled in, but I find it fascinating. Is there anyone reading this who would like to teach me some basics...and in return I'll send you some postcards or a bar of Czech chocolate? Hmm...I don't know if that would be a fair trade.

What are you creating right now? How does the process of doing so point you to the Lord? 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Finding Treasure: Mattoni

I stopped by an obscure grocery store on my way to small group yesterday and ended up meandering through the international section, which appeared rather extensive even from a distance. Angelo Caputo's Fresh Market did not disappoint! They had a whole aisle of Polish juices, cookies and Milka chocolate... and even a Czech surprise too.


I seldom find Mattoni here in the States, but when I do, I get a huge grin on my face.

Mattoni is a lightly sweetened mineral water. I grew up drinking Mattoni at any and every occasion. In fact, did you know that you have to specifically ask for still water in a restaurant, or else they will go ahead and assume you want sparkling water? I approve. I'm a huge fan of sparkling water, and it all began with Mattoni.

Although I didn't buy any Mattoni this time, I look forward to having some when I'm back in Czech in two weeks for JV Kid's Camp!

I love moments when you realize the world really isn't so big. Two places really can collide...even in a grocery store. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Andy Griffith and Classics

My family was never the kind that watched many old movies or classic TV series. I remember watching Sound of Music and Singing in the Rain, but my scope of classics did not go far beyond those. I never minded much, because honestly as a kid I thought I didn't like old movies!

Fast forward to today. Now as an adult I am continually surprised by the charm of old movies - they are like treasures!

I watched White Christmas for the first time in college with my roommates. I remember the evening my friends and I huddled on the hard floor of my dorm room (my bed was lofted, so you couldn't sit on it for movies anyways!) and watched Charade with Audrey Hepburn. Oh, so many delightful stories!

The family that I am living with has a 14-year-old ("M") at home who has now introduced me to two "new" old shows/movies.

1. The Andy Griffith Show

2. Father Goose


Oh, and we still somehow ended up on the floor of my room watching it. We were painting nails, so I suppose it was appropriate. M, thanks for introducing these treasures to me! They are delightful, and so are you. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Today and One Day

Today the kids I babysat played pretend "Bible study" at one point in the day.

Today the church I work at on Wednesday evenings included the kids in their worship leading and prayer service.

Today the kids at that same church prayed a blessing over the adults, and the adults over the kids.

Today I met four Korean kiddos and we had fun playing ball together, even though we couldn't speak the same language.

Today the Lord reminded me again why I get excited about how he is stirring the hearts of children, what a privilege it is to get a front-row seat to the praise, prayers and curious faith of children.

And today I heard a story of a teenager from a church in the city who took her life. This was the second story I heard of like this in the past week.

And I struggled to find words to express empathy to a friend last night, because relationships hurt sometimes and I haven't walked through what she is walking through.

And a few days ago I doubted my ability to enter back into Czech culture seamlessly, recognizing that I will undoubtedly have culture shock again as I adjust to "adult" life there in a way I have never experienced before.

And today I worshipped alongside kids at church, singing "You are good to me," and then also mourned from a distance with a friend who lost her grandmother.

The Kingdom is now and not yet. And oh, how I pray that the Lord's Kingdom would be here, just as it is in heaven. I praise him for snippets of that here, for ushering in his Kingdom even now, by his people and by his Word. Yet I long for the day when redemption is completed and all is right!

Let us pray the words of the six year-old from the family I lived with last month. After reading a Bible story one night before bed, we talked about Jesus returning for a second time to fulfill all of the promises God made, and to rule and reign as King in this world.

I asked her before bed, "Is there anything you'd like to pray for, Moira?"

"Pray that Jesus comes back soon. That'll be the best."

Yes, yes indeed. Maranatha: The Lord is coming. Let us take hope, and also rejoice in how he is already victorious!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No Time Wasted

I received a note from my boss yesterday that my food demo was cancelled for the following day because of a glitch in the delivery system of the product. This meant that my Tuesday schedule was unexpectedly wide open. 

While I processed that last-minute schedule change in my head and adjusted to the new plan, I couldn't help but wonder what the Lord had in store instead of the demo. It seemed too last-minute and too obscure of an issue to be merely chance. And even if it were, I had a feeling that the Lord would redeem the time and bring his purposes to a now "free-schedule" day. 

Sure enough, only an hour later, I received a text from a mom in Oak Park whom I have babysat for once before. I got connected with this family quite "randomly" actually, but it was such a delight getting to know their two girls, ages 5 and 3 last week.

"Hi Claire! Super last minute so no worries but anyway you are available to watch (J) tomorrow from 8 am to around 5?" she asked in her text message.

"Wow. Funny you should ask! My job tomorrow in the city was just cancelled today (the company had to reschedule), so I am unexpectedly available tomorrow. I need to be back in the suburbs by around 6 to take a family’s photos, but that works out well with your needs too! Ha! The Lord is good, isn’t he??" I responded.

After a lovely day with a 3-year-old, her mom came home from her work at the hospital, and we both marveled at how God would answer a prayer that she hadn't even thought to pray. He knows our needs way before we do, all the way down to clearing my schedule so that this family didn't have to worry about childcare for the day. The Lord is always covering us with his care and love.

(Here's a little person we created together out of treasures we could find from the yard)

This kind of specific care from the Lord abounds. He has been so faithful and near even in ever-changing transition-filled life, and he has surrounded me with the body of Christ in ways that are so tangible here in the suburbs of Chicago for this time. For that reason, all the more, I was so happy to be a small part of God's work in revealing himself and caring for a family here in Chicago today.

This was about God's glory being displayed in such a simple act of his grace - both to this family, and maybe even more so to me!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Not Shaken

I read this Psalm to the kids tonight before they went to bed, and it seemed to penetrate more deeply into my own heart as I read it through their eyes. The six-year-old responded, "So that means God is wrapped around us, he's always with us when I go to sleep." Yes, dear, yes. 

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Psalm 62:1-2

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Temporary Home: Summer Edition

I moved in with my youth pastor's family over a week ago, where I will be living for this next little stretch, until about mid-July. Our youth pastor is leading the outreach team to Slovenia in partnership with Josiah Venture, so I am helping out at home with their four kids for these two weeks.

The two older kids, ages 6 and 4, have been the embodiment of childhood in the summer, which is beautiful. The simple things bring them the most joy - like reading books borrowed from the library, walking to the evening tailgate on Sundays together, eating popsicles on the driveway, waving flags for Fourth of July, and imagining shapes in the clouds.

They have made me smile with their curiosity, their wonder, their joy and spontaneity.

I think the world of this family, and I feel so blessed through this time of jumping into everyday family life together with them. I came into this time unsure of how to adapt and serve this family, since I had only ever talked with them a couple of times at church before this. But the Lord has answered your many prayers since I moved in. These weeks have been incredibly sweet, and I have learned so much from these kids and their mom!

What has the Lord surprised YOU with lately? What trial has he turned into rejoicing? Or what did you fear, which ended up being a gift from the Lord? How has he been near to you in this last week? 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Kingdom and Cities: Why I Came to Cherish Chicago

I hopped in the car this morning, travel mug full of coffee in hand, and drove into the city. Of course, "the city" is always Chicago in my case.

It was a work day at Plum Market, where I demoed chicken sausages. Though the concept of working on a Saturday baffled the kids (the family I'm living with has four kids under the age of six and a half!) in the morning at the breakfast table, I also thank the Lord for the provision of this job and how he shows his kindness even in these times. 

After finishing up my four hours of the demo downtown, I met up with a friend who also graduated from Moody this past year, and we walked around Millennium Park together. I couldn't help but remark on the mercy of the Lord to ease the transition out of the city, into the suburbs, and now back to Czech. For example, though demoing is quite random, the Lord has given me opportunities to go into the city for work every few weeks this way, which has connected my two worlds for this season. 

Chicago will always feel familiar. The "L", and the light blue and red colors of the city (represented on its flag), the streets and the traffic, and the architecture and the Art Institute, and the lessons the Lord taught me in that place. Those will always remain. Friends may move, communities will change, but I praise the Lord that Chicago represents so much of his grace and love.

He used the city to humble me, to show me what little love I had, yet what great love HE has.

When I first came to Chicago, I was overwhelmed by the crowds, sirens and constant noise. I felt a strange inability to worship my Creator in a "man-made city", or so I said. It wasn't until my second semester that I was hit (and convicted by!) by two truths:

1. God's most prized creations are people...and there were millions of them around me every day in the city. What beauty to praise the Lord for, far beyond mountains, oceans, or valleys!

2. The city is God's design. Not only that, but it's how he has designed eternity.

With every person that passes by, I see how broken God's heart must be, yet how compassionate and unending his love is all the same. To know that God wants to redeem cities amazes me. He will usher in a new heavens and new earth with a new Jerusalem at its center - a huge city (about 1370 miles wide and long, according to Revelation 21!).

"And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, shining with the glory of God. Its radiance was like a most precious jewel, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."

And in this redeemed city, there will no night, no darkness, no corruption or violence, desolation, hopelessness, fear, greed, separation, or absence of God. The Lord will be right in the midst of his people, and all will be made new.
"But I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need for sun or moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its lamp." 

I love seeing glimpses of this - his kingdom - here in cities now too. The Kingdom of God is here, and it is not yet. One day all will be redeemed when Christ returns. I'm so excited for that day!

Until then, I will savor the moments where the Kingdom is near in the city - like tomorrow, when thousands of believers gather in churches amidst the broken streets. I will be in the suburbs, but God will be with his people, communing with them, by the Holy Spirit there too. He is near. 

"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" 

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God."

I may be moving to Czech soon, but I still pray even now for the Gospel to take hold in these American cities too. Father, may revival spread throughout these regions! Make your Truth known and bring redemption.

I know your heart longs for that far more than mine, Lord. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Rhythms and Transition

Chaos or routine. 

Which would you choose? 

I suppose you could find something good and something hard in both. Maybe it's even a matter of perspective and personality. But maybe neither of these is the goal. 

In the past five months, I have lived in three different homes. In these months, I have also spent three weeks in three other homes for dogsitting, and have made trips to Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon and Washington. This has been an adventure, and has also been stretching. 

There is no denying the fact that I look forward to the day when I move to Czech and get settled in an apartment there as I start working with the JV Kids. I will be visiting JV families across the 13 countries JV missionaries work in, but my homebase will be in Czech. I can't wait to host guests, create a home, offer it as a safe and welcoming space for people, and put away my storage tubs for a time!

Yet I am treasuring these months too. The Lord has met me in such kind ways when I have failed to trust him, to feel weary, confused or expectant of the future. He is teaching me to rest in him no matter the circumstances. It makes no sense, but he has brought peace and joy to each of those homes, each of those moves. He teaches me these days what it means to create rhythm, and to lean on his grace when I don't have strength to adapt on my own. 

One of those ways of creating rhythm amidst transition has meant enjoying the simple routines... like learning how to make coffee! I finally have my very own bag of Intelligentsia coffee, which feels very nostalgic after the years Tyler worked at Intelligentsia in the city. And the Aeropress is a travel-friendly coffee brewing method. I'm learning the tricks of the trade, and have a long ways to go to be like my brothers, but it has been fun!

Other rhythms that are travel-flexible, and transition-friendly:

  • Listening to the Word in the mornings - I'm an auditory learner, so this helps me focus, whether I'm on a walk, making breakfast or reading along in my Bible!
  • Savoring times in the car - these times can actually be restful as I am forced to simply think, ponder and focus on driving
  • Finding spaces and people that do remain constant no matter the moves - church, friendships, a park, a coffee shop, a lake
  • Prayer! Focusing on the Lord and on the people around me is the only way to get my eyes off of my own selfish desires and needs. This is where the Spirit convicts my heart and reminds me of truth from the Word too. He is constant to provide, and he gives joy to those who turn to him!
What are your "stability zones" in the midst of transition? Where do you turn to in the stress of chaos or the monotony of routine? May the Lord meet you precisely there. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

GGB: God Goes Before

Three weeks ago I sat in my "aunt Michelle's" house (she's been like an aunt ever since I can remember!) and she told my mom and I about a phrase that a wise woman had once told her. 

God Goes Before. 


Michelle has a tiny frame, which sits on her kitchen counter and displays those three precious words. The words don't stand out boldly, though one would expect they would, since Michelle herself is bold and vivacious, colorful and vibrant. Yet these words whisper in her home. They speak gently of truth, and bring the attention off of circumstances and onto our gracious Heavenly Father. 

When I was staying at Michelle's house in Oregon, I had one morning free amidst the many meetings and opportunities to share about God's work with JV Kids. I didn't have anything scheduled for a time when my mom and Michelle were gone doing a radio interview. Michelle is (among many other talents and skills) a painter, and when I asked if I could use the morning to paint, she graciously shared her painting supplies and canvases. I'm no expert at painting with acrylics, but my heart was so refreshed nonetheless.

Before a landscape came into shape on my second canvas, all of my thoughts, feelings and prayers needed to come out on the first. As I painted, one phrase stuck in my head.

GGB - God Goes Before.

So I painted the above canvas with that phrase in mind. And this theme has followed me ever since. Or, rather, I know God has been pursuing me and his people, going before us, since the beginning of time, but my ears and eyes are attune to seeing him in this way.

Today was one of many days of seeing him go before me in grace and provision in the littlest of ways.

I wasn't sure how everything would fit together today, because the timing was so tight. I prayed in the morning that God would stretch the time and provide even daily bread for today, since I didn't even know how I would fit lunch into this day. He went far beyond what I had asked!

Mom and I were free at the same time, and Mom had to take dad's pants to a tailor in Wheaton, so our paths got to cross this morning. It felt as if we do this all the time, as if we always live on the same side of the ocean. I'm thrilled that I will be living on the same side of the ocean and serving alongside my mom in Josiah Venture soon!

God not only answered that desperate plea in the morning, but he gave me an unexpected hour with my mom too!

Then I was able to make it just in time for my next appointment - babysitting for a church family. From there, I made it again just in time for a Skype meeting with a new friend and prayer partner who lives on the other side of the world (hi Janene!!). We finished earlier than I expected, and that gave me even enough in-between time to make a cup of coffee and sit down with no minutes to spare for a conference call for my food demonstration job.

I finished my call just in time to clean up the kitchen, put on the rice, and have dinner on the table for mom this evening. Being able to host her, even in a home that's not my own (I'm at this home for a week of dogsitting!), gives me such joy. That was a sweet gift from the Lord too.

God goes before us, in the smallest of ways. He turns our faces upon him, so we can bask in his glory when we so easily get discouraged and consumed with the cares of this world. The LORD has always been working in this way, going after his people, dwelling with them, caring for the needs of those who call upon him.

O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, 
before God, the One of Sinai, 
before God, the God of Israel. 
Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
you restored your inheritance as it languished; 
your flock found a dwelling in it; 
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. ... 

Blessed be the Lord,

who daily bears us up;

God is our salvation. 

(Psalm 68)

Monday, June 19, 2017

3 Lessons from My First VBS Ever

The tradition of Vacation Bible School in the summer fills the memories of countless kids and adults in the US. 

For many families, VBS is to summer as peanut butter is to jelly. Although our family imported peanut butter from the States during my childhood for those famous sandwiches, VBS could not be so easily replicated in the Czech Republic! I had never seen or taken part in one before!

This brings me to June of 2017, when I experienced my first VBS ever here at my church. 

Actually, did you know that VBS originates from right here in Illinois? Legend has it (a.k.a. Wikipedia says...) that a schoolteacher in Hopedale, IL began teaching Bible classes in the summer of 1894. Then again, another source says it all began in New York in the 1890's. Regardless, It's hard to believe that 100 years later I was born, and now, as an adult, I got to see the Lord work here in this little suburb of Chicago. 

What did I learn from my first VBS ever? Lots! Here are three simple ways the Lord taught me this week:

1. VBS requires the church to be on mission together

One of my favorite aspects of the whole week was watching and partaking of this local body of believers serving on mission in such a tangible way. Almost a third of our church members joined the VBS team in some capacity - that's 94 volunteers!! I loved seeing the way God used all of the gifts of his people to accomplish his purposes. And I LOVED my small role of being a kindergarten counselor and van supervisor (for kids whose parents couldn't drive them to VBS). 

Truly, "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Romans 12:4-5). 

Every one of those 94 people were integral to this past week, and I am overjoyed to have served alongside them. 

2. Teaching kids through all learning styles is worth it!

God has created us each so uniquely, and even the way that we learn differs from one person to the next. What a creative God, who gives us the ability to learn and grow! He reveals himself to us, and continues to pursue us and communicate to us in ways we will understand. 

In the Old Testament alone, God revealed himself through a whisper in the wind, through a burning bush, through his covenant promises, through the majesty of Creation, through speaking to his chosen people, dreams, and visions, and in countless other ways. He does not give up on his people!  

God still reveals himself to us. He still pursues us. God speaks through his Word! And sometimes we understand that best through auditory learning, visually or kinesthetically. Whether that's through songs, hands-on activities, or a thoughtful lesson, God uses all of these to make himself and his truth known in ways that each one of us can uniquely hear and understand. 

I loved when a little 5 year old sang these words as we transitioned from one room to the next - the words had stuck in his head, and I pray the Lord uses them to speak to his heart!

3. Prayer changes everything

The Sunday before VBS, our team leader assigned each section of the pews in church to pray for a specific day of the VBS week. The Lord answered those prayers! He worked in the hearts of these kids, prompting some to ask for Bibles, to read his Word, and to put their faith in him. I was astonished at the questions the kids asked, the conversations that happened in the "in betweens", the hearts he turned to himself, and the way that God could use even one week to fill the rooms and auditoriums of our church with such joy and wonder. 

He impacted the lives of 140 kids by the proclamation of his Word this past week. Praising him for his heart for even the littlest ones!

What have you learned as a kid in VBS? What have you learned by serving in your church's VBS? I'd love to hear.