Celebrating Life Events- A Wedding for Vietnamese Friends

Events in life are milestone markers that help us remember the past and celebrate special moments. Last Saturday was a wonderful example of such celebrations when I went to a wedding at a Vietnamese church here in Lincoln.

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me with the newly married couple

It was such a blessing to attend the wedding of two precious friends from Vietnam. The bride, my friend Tram, came here in August 2009. I met her during her first week in America along with her brothers and parents. She came to my weekend groups to improve her English. One of my greatest joys was being able to help her with scholarship applications, go to New Student Enrollment at the university here, and to see her begin college.

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with her parents

One of those memories that always brings a smile to my face is when they were in high school and were first dating. I figured it out but was sworn to secrecy. 🙂

Tai is good man and I am confident they will have a great future together. It was a wedding that I absolutely did not want to miss.

Such events bring up memories for me. The reception was definitely a walk down memory lane for me. I saw many of my former students there and relished knowing how much they have accomplished. Knowing they will have a better life than I have brings me joy.

Among my friends there, 3 are in Pharmacy school, 1 got her Masters degree in Architecture, 1 is in Nursing school, and the bride got her MBA and CPA and the groom graduated from the university and is working in IT.

The ceremony was beautiful and the reception was fun. It was a moment that I left feeling that perhaps God has indeed used me for his purposes.

 

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An Injured Foot + No Crutches = Teaching English for the first time

My first trip to Romania in June 1997  is etched in my memory for several reasons.

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Me in Constanta in 1997

It was my first trip to another country that I interacted with people and the culture. I had gone to Canada as a teen but that was a canoe/fishing trip that started in Minnesota, so didn’t meet any Canadians.

I met many wonderful people and who I look forward to seeing again in heaven if not in this life.

It was the first time I stayed with a host family in another culture.

Pamphlets I had written about Jesus were translated into Romanian and well received.

My translator Mihai and I had A LOT of fun 🙂

One thing I will never forget about that trip because it led to what I do today. My role on the trip was not teaching English. I went around and talked with people about Jesus. I did hang out at the school where the classes were for a while, but did not have a class.

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One evening I was shooting baskets with some kids on the playground basketball court. It was a freak kind of accident. All I did was push off my left foot and I felt a pop and could also hear it. I could not walk on it. So there I was in another country newly out from under communism and I had hurt my foot.

Compounding the problem was that even though my translator and other Romanian friends checked all over Constanta a city of over 300,000 people, there were no crutches to be found to purchase. So the missionaries made a makeshift one with a broom stick so I could hobble along. My original purpose was out.

But God causes all things to work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes according to Romans 8. 

Because of my hurt foot, I hung around the school where the classes were. I went into the classes and used my acting skills to improvise acting out words for the students. I enjoyed being in the classes so much that I returned to Constanta in June 1998 to teach my own conversational English language class. That is what started me on my path to becoming an English Second Language teacher.

If we look at a situation like I was in on that trip, we might think that An Injured Foot + No Crutches = A Disaster.

BUT

With God that equation comes to An Injured Foot + No Crutches = Teaching English for the first time and a whole new path opened up for me in life.

Music Mondays- Who You Say I Am and an old classic :)

On Saturday I shared about my dream house and how my real dream house is in heaven. On Sunday I shared about God our heavenly father. There is song by Hillsong that I love that is about our identity in Christ and also has a reminder about our father’s house. The song is Who You Say I Am.

When I think about identity, I seem to have a few different ones.

To my students I am teacher and in fact they don’t say my name even long after they have finished my class. I can see them ten years later and they still say teacher when they see me which is how they show respect in many cultures I interact with.

Of course there are other ones like friend, brother etc but they use my name.

There are ways that I was identified in the past that I regret because of my mistakes and ones I used to resent because of things others did. I mean who wants to be known as son of an alcoholic or son of a mentally ill parent.

Ultimately the only identity that matters is the one God gives us because that is the one that will last forever. I won’t be teacher in heaven but there will be other roles there. Gladly I won’t have any identities I regret or used to resent in heaven. In God’s eyes, we only have one identity- His Child  thanks to Jesus. In John chapter 1 we read:

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”

Jesus gives us the right, the birthright, to be children of God when we receive him.

I love the song Who You Say I Am because of the lyrics- “I am child of God, I am who you say I am” and “in my father’s house, there’s a place for me.” Beautiful lyrics that express such a wonderful truth. We are who God says we are. We are his children because he says so and he has a place for us.

Okay so for a golden oldie, a classic song from the 1970s. If you can remember that era in Christian music, then you are dating yourself 🙂 haha. There was a group called 2nd Chapter of Acts that was one of the first contemporary Christian music groups. It was a group of 2 sisters and 1 brother. Their harmonies were beautiful. They were pioneers in Christian music along with others.

The group had a song that I love because it reminds us that there is an eternal home waiting for us in heaven. I love the lyrics- “Why should I worry, why should I fret because I have a mansion builder….”

So here is Mansion Builder by 2nd Chapter of Acts. I hope you enjoy it and I hope your Monday is blessed. 🙂

 

Father

What is a father?

I wanted to know if a father is someone who gets drunk and withdraws ignoring a person.

I wanted to know if a father is someone who abuses.

I wanted to know if a father is someone who doesn’t show up for important events and moments.

I found a father, not my birth father, but a father who has never and will never abuse, will always be there for not only important moments, but all moments.

My new father changed my life and adopted me because of his son Jesus and Jesus dying for me on the cross.

My new father empowered me to be able to forgive my earthly father and gave me the opportunity to help my earthly father make peace with God a year before my earthly father died.

What is my heavenly father like?

His love is so immense for us that he sent his one and only son to die for us on the cross, so that we could have forgiveness and eternal life.

His love for us is pure, empowering, never ending, always present, and passionate.

His love is jealous for us. He does not want to and will not share us with false gods.

His love for us endures pain, the emotional pain of letting his one and only son be crucified for us.

Our Heavenly Father WANTS you.

Our Heavenly Father WANTS us.

He wants to love us, cherish us, forgive us, protect us, heal us, free us, and empower us.

This song by a Catholic monk, John Michael Talbot, focuses on Jesus on the cross speaking to Our Heavenly father while Jesus was on the cross. Please listen to it and let the realization that Our Heavenly Father endured his son being tortured and crucified for us because he LOVES us. Happy Fathers Day to all the dads out there.

 

My Dream House

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If I were to have a dream house, one that could be a place the both represents me and one that I would enjoy, it would be as follows:

1 big office for me with a map of the world on the wall, a big globe on a table, room for my books on bookshelves, a desk big enough for my computer and to study at, and of course a VERY comfortable chair for me and some chairs for guests.

1 room for entertainment with a big screen TV, a nice sound system, many comfy recliners, a small fridge for refreshments, and some game tables.

1 kitchen where someone else cooks for me because I am a terrible cook.

2 pools, one indoors for the winter and one outdoors for the summer

A big deck outside for barbecues

A large living room with many comfy chairs for conversation

A nice Master bedroom

Several Guest bedrooms

Okay, so that will not happen in this life. At least I don’t foresee it happening.

BUT

My real dream house, or home, is the one Jesus talked about in John 14 when he told the disciples:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

This life is temporary and anything we have in this life is temporary. Even the nicest homes in this life will be gone someday. But the home Jesus is preparing for those who believe in him will be eternal and I am sure will BLOW our minds. We cannot fathom how awesome the home is.

An interesting aspect of the culture Jesus was speaking to was that when a man and woman were engaged, the father of the groom would add a room onto the house. When the room was ready, the father would tell the son it was time to bring his bride home. SO when Jesus spoke the words- “In my father’s house are many rooms” and I will come to take to where I am” it would have been a very clear meaning to his disciples.

Yes, it has been 2,000 years, BUT God doesn’t forget us or his promises. When the time is right in God’s eyes, he will say to Jesus, Go get my children, and Jesus will come for us. This post is not about the various views regarding it. This is only an encouragement that one day Jesus will come for us.

A song I love is midnight cry. It is about the moment when God the Father says to Jesus, “Go get my children.” I hope that day comes soon. Today would be great. 🙂 I love this video of the song being sung in a church. Hope you have a blessed weekend and remember that day is getting closer. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Never Too Old To Learn Part 2- Why I Studied Portuguese in My 50s

Yesterday I shared about how a trip to Ensenda Mexico in June 2010 led to me studying Spanish for one year in Never Too Old to Learn Why I Studied Spanish in my 50s. Well, 3 years later I went to Rio do Sul Santa Cantarina Brazil for ministry with Celivris Church in Rio do Sul.

I went to Rio do Sul to meet with teachers while our group of students visited classrooms. I also had the opportunity to meet people at a university in Rio do Sul, Unidavi. Because of meeting the President and the Director of  the Language Department, I had the chance to speak to university students at two campuses for Unidavi, one in Rio do Sul and one in another city Taio.

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While I was in Rio do Sul, I tried teaching myself some phrases in Portuguese using Google translate. Having studied Spanish a few years before helped me feel confident about trying to learn some Portuguese phrases. I practiced them with Brazilian friends at Celivris. One phrase I learned was- Talvez nos tenhamos neve esta semana- Maybe we will have snow this week. Of course they laughed and told me no way because it hadn’t snowed for 50 years there.

At this point I would like to mention it snowed there for the first time in 50 years a few weeks after I left.  🙂 haha

After my time in Rio do Sul, I visited some friends in Belo Horizonte Brazil. I knew them from when they lived in my home city Lincoln while they were students. We went out to a restaurant one evening and they told me I should order the food to practice Portuguese. I wanted to tell the server, Eu estou aprendendo Portuguese e fazendo erros meaning I am learning Portuguese and making mistakes because I wanted low expectations 🙂 . But I said, Eu estou aprendendo portuguese e fazendo arroz meaning I am learning Portuguese and making rice. My friends got a good laugh. The server looked confused. And I actually had fun with it.

So when I came back to Lincoln and as I was praying, I felt the Lord show me that I should study Portuguese. I had the feeling that there was more ahead for me to do with Brazil and Brazilian friends. This was easier for me to accept since I had studied Spanish a few years before. I registered for the Portuguese class at UNL and studied for one school year August 2013 to May 2014.

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Sure enough there were many more opportunities for me with Brazil and Brazilian friends. We had many Brazilian students come to the University in Lincoln for a few years and even a few families of visiting professors for one year.

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I arranged for a small group of students to come study English at my college for a few months in January 2014 and again in January 2017. I returned to teach English in Rio do Sul for four and a half weeks in June and July 2015.

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I have learned over the years that if Jesus shows us that he wants us to do something, it is to prepare us for future ministry or life. We don’t have the clear full picture, but then consider what he said to Abraham when he called him in Genesis 12:

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you”

How is that for a call. Go to the place that I will show you. In other words, start going and I will show you later where you are going. At a moment like that we might want to ask Alexa or Siri or check Google maps. The problem would be inputting destination as- God will show me. Our modern inventions would not be able to handle that data. 🙂

Stepping out to follow Jesus is not easy. It is a great adventure though and one that has eternal rewards.

I hope to keep learning and growing as long as I am in this life. If I get to the point that I can’t do that anymore, I would just as soon go home to be with the Lord. 🙂

 

Loved The Movie I Am Not Ashamed, BUT It Made Me Wonder-Can We Christians Talk About The Issue?

I watched the movie I Am Not Ashamed last Friday. It is about the teenage girl, Rachel Joy Scott,  who was the first one shot and killed in the Columbine shooting in 1999. I appreciated that the movie depicted her as the real teen she was. The movie portrayed her as a teen girl trying to find her way, making mistakes along the way, and coming to know and desiring to live for Jesus.

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I would certainly recommend watching the movie if you haven’t already. While her story is inspiring for living for Christ and not denying him in the face of danger, sadly it also made me think about our society today.

There was something else I watched last week. I watched America’s Got Talent and one of the people auditioning was a 14 year old girl. She sang a rap song that she wrote because her father was killed before she was born. I have listened to it again on youtube and must admit that it saddens me that a 14 year old girl,  Flau Jae, has to live in the reality of our culture in America today with so many mass shootings and gun violence. Her song is about her father and not having a father, and also about anyone killed in gun violence.

Here is her video. If you want to know what is on the minds of today’s youth, listen to it. I have and I don’t like rap music, but she communicates something on the minds of our youth. Yes her song is more about her father dying, but she also sings in general terms.

When I was a child and teen, there were no school shootings. Now I teach ESL in an elementary school in the mornings and at a community college in the evenings. It is insane to me that I have to think about what to do if an incident happens at my community college. It sickens me that children worry about school shootings and that parents worry about their children being safe.

The only things students should have to worry about are studying, tests, and homework when they come to and from school and wondering if the cafeteria food will be any good. There should be no other concerns. There weren’t concerns about shootings 30 years ago.

Perhaps this won’t be a post that will be popular, but it is long past time to take steps to prevent mass shootings. I applaud retailers FINALLY deciding to stop selling assault rifles but that didn’t happen until this year. That needed to have happened a long time ago.

It is going to take a lot more than retailers finally stepping up. My time in this life grows shorter by the day with retirement age coming in the not too distant future. My concern is for the children, teens, and young adults. What kind of society are they inheriting? Do we care about now and the future for our youth and care enough to do something?

We need to move beyond partisan clichés and each side has them. As our leaders stand polarized playing to their lobbyists and base back in their districts, nothing gets done and the casualties keep rising.

Yes, our country has told God he is not welcome in our schools and and our society is anti-Christian. However, other western countries have also taken God out of the schools and do not have the problem with violence that we do in the U.S.

One questions is do we care enough to reach out to the troubled teen living in our neighborhood or going to the school our children go to? Do our youth groups really encourage and prepare our kids in school to befriend the ones being bullied, disenfranchised etc.?

I would love to see a for real conversation among Christians about what to do. For sure prayer is first on the list.  But what else with no cliches? Some suggestions I have heard seem ludicrous to me such as arming teachers. What other “modern” country has armed teachers? I teach and have never owned a gun. I don’t know any fellow teacher that wants to carry a gun in school.

This has been bothering me for quite some time. Each time a new story about a school shooting comes out, it makes me think about my students and their safety. You may have guessed I am in favor of stricter gun laws, so if that offends you and you don’t want to follow my blog or read it, I understand.

But it comes back to my question- Can we Christians talk about it? Can we talk about it beyond saying something like- Well, God isn’t welcome in the school- and then throw our hands in the air, figuratively speaking.

 

 

 

Never Too Old To Learn- Why I Studied Spanish in my 50s

8 years ago I went with a group from my church to Ensenada Mexico. My home church, First Free Lincoln, partners with a church in Ensenada. That trip may have been my least fruitful one while I was there due to problems with a tooth and developing bronchitis. But when we step out and follow God’s leading, nothing is wasted. In the midst of what was perhaps my most disappointing experience in missions trips, something happened while I was praying one morning.

As I was praying, I felt the Lord was showing me I should study Spanish. My first reaction was to wonder if it was for real because I was already in my early 50s. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy learning and experiencing new things, but to study Spanish in a college class seemed a bit crazy to me. So I prayed- “If you want me to study Spanish, the class has to be at the downtown campus and at 5:30 or I can’t do it because of my schedule.

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After I returned from Mexico, I went to visit my brother in Wisconsin for the 4th of July. As I was driving back to Lincoln from visiting my brother the persistent thought about studying Spanish kept coming to mind. So I went to the registration office for the college where I teach ESL to check on Spanish courses. I found out the Spanish class at the downtown campus at 5:30 in the evening had 1 more opening. I thought- “Confirmation of what God is telling me.” I signed up for the class.

That led to a year of discovery for me about myself and the beautiful Spanish language. I loved the classes and surprised myself at how well I did in the classes.

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Studying Spanish also opened doors of opportunities for me to share Christ’s love with my Hispanic friends in Lincoln. It has been a huge blessing to get to know friends from Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico. It has been so much fun to join my friends for various celebrations.

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Studying Spanish also helped me be a better ESL teacher because while I was studying, I observed different techniques my profesoras used and also as I studied I gained new practical insights into language learning.

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A few things I learned from the whole experience.

1- If an idea comes to you while praying that seems a bit crazy, don’t dismiss it too quickly. Explore it and get confirmation. 

2- We are never too old to learn. 🙂

3- Enjoy the adventure of learning.

4- God will lead us to do things that others might wonder about.

The last point leads me to share that some of my friends wondered if I would be able to do well because the conventional wisdom is that language learning is more difficult the older we get. Well, in the three courses I took I got an A, A, and A+. God doesn’t care about “conventional wisdom” when he calls us to do something. All we need to do is read the bible and see how many times God called people to do something that went against so called conventional wisdom. A few examples:

1- He called a shepherd boy to be king of Israel.

2- He blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son when Sarah was in her 90s.

3- Jesus took uneducated fishermen and turned them into apostles who would start the church.

What adventures has God called you to?

Thanks for reading and God Bless 🙂

You Are Not Alone

As I was praying this morning, I felt I needed to write this post. Perhaps it is for one person or many, I don’t know, but I felt I needed to write this post today.

We are social beings. God created us to be relational people. Whether we are extroverts who love to be around many people or introverts who prefer smaller numbers or a few close friends, we are created for relationship. God created us to have friendships with other people, to have family relationships, and God created us to have a relationship with him as his children.

But sadly, we live in a world that is full of problems and suffering. There are so many issues that can leave us feeling alone in our circumstances, God has something to say to those who feel alone in this life and at times feeling desperation.

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To those suffering with depression and anxiety, God has something to say.

To those suffering the loss of a loved one, God has something to say.

To those suffering with an illness, God has something to say.

To those suffering alienation from family, God has something to say.

To those struggling with addiction, God has something to say.

To those struggling with family issues, God has something to say.

To those who have been victims, God has something to say.

Whatever our circumstance, God has something to say to us. His message has been written. Jesus promised us something when he said, “ I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” in John 14. He also promised in Matthew 28- ” And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus promised to not leave us and to always be with us. He never changes. At times we let life’s circumstances cause us to feel he is distant from us. It can feel like something is blocking us from being with him, but he hasn’t moved, he is still with us. At times we move away from him choosing sin, resentment, bitterness, but he hasn’t moved. He is still standing beside us waiting for us to confess to him what he already knows.

So if you are reading this today, God has something to say to you. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Call home to our father in heaven. Call home by praying and pouring it all out to our father in heaven. He has asked us to in 1st Peter- “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 

I would like to share a video with you I Am Not Alone by Kari Jobe. I pray it blesses you as you listen.

 

Thankful My Students Kept Me Going Last Summer

Yesterday evening was a blessing for me. I was able to talk with a young woman who was my student in a Newcomer Refugee class last summer. She is one of my Yazidi friends. Her English level has improved a lot since she was a new refugee learning words for money, shopping, and other survival English she needed to know.

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The reason last night was a blessing was because I could let her know how much she and the other students helped me last summer due to her English level having improved. It wasn’t only me helping her and the other students, her sister, her cousin, two women from Ukraine, and a young woman from Burma. Last summer was one of my more difficult ones because it was a long process of seeing doctors to find out what was wrong.

It was also a summer of being in pain, having foggy brain, and not wanting to get out of bed most days. What kept me going and getting out of bed in the morning was knowing my newcomer refugee friends needed me in class, so each morning I would go through the slow process of getting ready to go teach. Each morning I would also pray for my refugee friends and listen to worship music to prepare for my day. After class it was off to physical therapy or appointments.

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Fortunately after all of the testing and appointments what they found out was I have Celiacs Disease which is just another autoimmune issue added to my life. My students could tell something was wrong, but I never let on how serious it might have been or how may tests I was having done etc.

So last night was a blessing because as I talked with my friend, my former student, she understood what I was saying when I told her, “You, your sister and cousin, and the other students helped me keep going last summer. Last summer was difficult for me, but you and the others were the reason I got out of bed in the mornings. Thank you.”

When we go through hard times, keeping our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith is a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute by minute deal. My mornings last summer consisted of me thanking Jesus for my students, praying for them, and praying for strength for the day.

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God answered my prayers by putting people in my life that he knew I would fight for by praying for them because there have been times in my life I might have given up on me, but not on people in need like my refugee friends. Refugees are so vulnerable when they first arrive and need people in their lives who will look out for them. God knows I won’t give up on them.