Last weekend I went to the high school graduation party for my youngest niece. I was happy to stop by and congratulate her. I also had the thought of how quickly the years went by because I still remember praying for her the day she was born.
Yesterday I went to the graduation party for a daughter of friends from church. It was great to see friends from church there and a blessing to see a special family celebrate their daughter’s achievement. It was also the first time I went to a graduation party that had root beer floats. For my readers in other countries, root beer is a type of cola not beer and we put vanilla ice cream in it to make a float.
Whenever I go to the graduation ceremony or party for refugee friends, it has an extra meaning. For that family, it represents hope rising from the distress they have been through. For a refugee graduating, it represents an accomplishment achieved while studying in a second, third, or fourth language.
Several years ago, I had a group of young people from Vietnam that I helped with English and preparing for college. Going to their high school graduation ceremonies was a tremendous blessing. Their parents worked hard in meat packing plants to support their children working towards their futures.
There has been an unspoken reason going to such celebrations has been a blessing for me. It goes back when I was in Junior High, That was when it began, There were no ceremonies for me, no birthday celebrations, and no family at my 9th grade promotion. So when it came time for things like university graduation, I didn’t tell anyone, I simply had my diploma mailed to me.
I don’t regret going through what I experienced because it has part of what has made me who I am today. It has given me much more empathy as I help my refugee friends. It is also part of my motivation to do whatever I can to help refugee and immigrant youth to realize their dreams of attaining higher education.
All of that makes me think about how the bible talks about God comforts us so we may in turn comfort others with the comfort we received from God in 2 Corinthians 1.
It also causes me to reflect on the truth of Romans 8:28:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Even the negative experiences in our past Jesus will work for the good if we let him guide us through this life and ask him to be our Savior. Whatever our present circumstances are, if we give them to Jesus, he can work through them for a future blessing we have no idea of at the time.
Last Friday morning after my students had finished with “shopping” from the free donated items and left, one of them came back to the room after she had taken her items to her car. She wanted to thank me for helping her achieve her goals and gave me a gift.
Hombre de Dios, Man of God on the coffee cup along with a bible verse in Spanish. She knows we share the same faith in Jesus. I have visited her church. She also knows I like to drink coffee in the morning.
I felt so blessed by the gift. Each morning when I drink my coffee at home, I will think of her and her family and pray for them.
I took it with me to my lesson time with my friend Karen from Mexico. We met at Barnes and Noble. I took it with me so she could take pictures for me.
Jessica, the mom from my morning class, has seen me drink coffee every morning she has been in class. She has even seen me do things like drink cold coffee left over from the day before.
Coffee makes me feel awake and alive 🙂
The thoughtfulness behind the gift is the real blessing. It comes from a young woman who was so shy when she started my class, but has grown so much in confidence. It comes from someone I call Mi Hija.
So I am writing this post for her to see and know how much I appreciate her and how blessed her gift made me feel. Also to say I am so proud of her.
The older I get, the more I realize that it is the lives we touch with the love of Jesus that really matters in life. Occasionally, those we bless turn around and bless us, but we do not share Jesus’s love to be blessed by others. However, it is nice when it happens.
I read a couple of blog posts this week that I enjoyed about answers to prayer, one about an answer of no and one about an answer of wait. For me an answer of no is a temporary disappointment that I get over to move on. Wait is an answer more difficult to deal with because then I wonder when.
I enjoyed reading both of the posts. They caused me to think about my responses to God’s answers of no and wait. Then I thought about something else. There are hundreds perhaps thousands of yes answers that I take for granted. I would like to encourage us to think about the every day yeses that we can too easily take for granted.
What got me to thinking about the every day yeses we take for granted was actually jesskidding’s post. When I read it, I thought about all of the yeses she gives her child every day as do all moms such as yes you can have a hug, yes I will tuck you in, yes we can read a book etc. Moms say yes so many times to their children, but kids can tend to focus on being told no.
Then I thought about all of the yeses God says to us at times without us even asking. Yes, I am always with you. Yes, you can be with me forever in heaven because of Jesus. Yes, you can have friends at church. Yes, you can have air to breathe. The yeses are endless when it comes to God, but we focus on the nos and the waits. I think we tend to take all of the wonderful yeses for granted.
Have you ever wondered how God feels about us taking him for granted? One time Jesus healed 10 people who has leprosy but only one returned after showing himself to the priest for confirmation to thank Jesus. The man was a Samaritan who Jews considered foreigners. Jesus’s response was in Luke 17:
“Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
A good way to not take the yeses for granted is to take time to thank God and appreciate him. In the morning, I like to start my day listening to worship music and praying. One thing I try to do is thank God for the classes I teach, the opportunities he gives me etc. I think taking time to do so in the mornings has helped me with the depression that accompanies the chronic illnesses I live with.
But there are way too many other things I forget or neglect to thank him for. This blog post of mine is an expression of me feeling convicted that I need to thank God for more of the wonderful ways he cares for me.
I don’t want to take the every day yeses for granted. God says yes to us every day in numerous ways.
Yesterday it was time, the moment my students were waiting for. It was time for them to have their first follow up test to measure progress with their English. They were all either a little or very nervous. It is such a big deal for them.
It is a big enough of a deal for them to come to class and step out of their comfort zone to study English as an adult trying to make a new life in a new country. They are busy moms taking care of their families. The reason they come to class is to help their children.
The test is an oral skills test, BEST Plus, that is administered one on one by a tester who comes with a laptop.
My awesome Wednesday volunteer Kathleen was in class with us. She had given us a small blow up globe to use in class, and yesterday we used it to for a fun activity while students were coming and going from the test. The students passed the globe to each other and had to say a country they wanted to visit and why.
I was glad Kathleen could be there to see three special moments for three students. She has volunteered in my class for five years, so she met the three students when they first started my class and has watched their progress. The three students, two from Mexico and one a Yazidi mom from Iraq, each passed the oral skills test.
One of the moms from Mexico has anxiety. When she went to take the test, I silently prayed for her asking God to help her to relax and remember.
The other mom from Mexico is shy. When she went to take the test, I silently prayed for her too to feel relaxed.
The Yazidi mom has struggled with health issues the past several months. When she went to take the test, I silently prayed for her.
When they came back with the tester, the tester whispered to let me know they passed. When they came back to class and the tester let me know they passed, I had the student come to the front, so I could announce they had passed the test. We clapped for them and I gave each of them a high five.
All of the students tested yesterday improved, so we will celebrate before spring break in a few weeks. Each of my students made progress and can tell their children they did well on the test.
Their children know mom is in the school going to English class. It takes come courage to step out and do something so different for them. Many of the moms never had the chance to go to high school in their countries. Their children can be proud of their moms.
Each morning I am thankful God has placed me with this group of special moms, so i can empower them with English. When we can celebrate their achievements, it motivates me even more to pray for them and their families.
It is easy to get in a funk sometimes and for me that has been true the past week or so. Sleep being interrupted due to waking up in pain after rolling onto my bad shoulder, wondering if the upcoming blood tests will finally show something, and of course the freezing weather have all combined to get me down a bit.
In such times my normal attitude is to just forge ahead and keep going. I have kept my prayer time, continued to listen to worship music, and read my bible, but not much of a spring in my step lately.
But then it happened again, something that might seem small or insignificant to others but is a huge boost to me. It is when God lets me see how others view me especially someone he has brought into my life to share his love with.
I call her my little sister. She is part of a Mandean family I have gotten to know the past several months. They came here as refugees. It has been my privilege to get to know them and help them with their new lives in America. She wrote about me and a line in what she wrote blessed me.
“He calls me a little sister. Although he is not my real brother, I think he is kinder than a real brother.”
It is because of my little sister from Iran and my other refugee friends that enduring difficult times is worth it for me. What she wrote was definitely a boost for me.
Her first response when she heard I injured my shoulder was to tell me she would bring me dinner and she did. I wish people could see what I see when I spend time with her and her family and with other refugees. Jesus has filled my heart with so much love for them.
Tomorrow I will go to my doctors office early for blood tests, hopefully not too many vials, and in the afternoon I will go to my first physical therapy appointment for my shoulder. Knowing there are people Jesus wants me to show his love to, makes it worth it to do what I need to do to get healthier.
Sometimes we are blessed and it comes from seemingly out of nowhere in a way we would never expect. That happened for me last night.
Last week I saw the mother of a young woman from Vietnam that was once part of a group of young people I mentored and helped with English to prepare them for university. Her daughter is now a successful architect. I met the mother when they were new to America and she was in a class I taught.
In April 2009 after my father died, I prayed about what to do with my extra free time since I would no longer be spending time with my father. As I prayed, the mother came to my mind. I stopped by their apartment one night and met the family. Even though I do not see them much anymore, they are special to me as are the memories.
So last week when I saw the mother, she told me she had a Christmas gift for me and would bring it to me last night. I was expecting something like a picture or gift card. She gave me an envelope and we hugged out of friendship. I did not open the envelope until I got to my car. When I opened it, I found $200.
As a tentmaking missionary, I can’t tell you what that means to me emotionally let alone financially. I get the term tentmaking from Paul in the bible. He made tents in places he went to start churches to support himself. I teach part-time and am supported part-time. It is not a get rich quick thing at all. But the intrinsic rewards are off the charts.
So in a week that I knew I need to get 2 new tires because of slow leaks, I was given the money to pay for them. Slow leaks are a bigger deal in the cold of winter. I have been putting air in them each night. Now I can go get the tires and not worry about going out to see a flat tire. With my autoimmune problems changing a tire is more challenging than it was ten years ago.
To know I have not been forgotten is a huge blessing. To be blessed with the money is also a huge blessing because I can get new tires. To absorb and process this spiritually, emotionally, and mentally is a bit overwhelming in a very good way.
I never expected for my friends from Vietnam to bless. They blessed me last summer and it happened again last night. When I first met them, they needed my help and one would never have imagined they would turn around and bless me.
I am thankful and feeling blessed. Thank you for reading. God Bless.
Last night I visited some Mandean friends from Iran for a Friendsgiving dinner. The food was delicious as it always is when I visit my friends.
As much as I love the good food
the friendships are what make my visits so worth my time with them. There is laughter, friendship, shared stories, and more.
Which leads me to share about what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.
First and most important, I am thankful for Jesus. I am thankful for his love that made him want to die for us and defeat death for us. He is the reason I am still alive in this world. He has blessed me with so many things.
I am thankful for my friends from many countries and the opportunities I have to share the love of Jesus with them. My life is enriched because of experiencing so many cultures.
I am thankful for my friends who helped me make it through a difficult summer in many ways.
I am thankful for my home church and their support in prayer, encouragement, and more.
I am thankful for my students and the classes I teach. They give me purpose. I hope to teach until the day the Lord takes me home to heaven.
I am thankful for the teachers and staff at the elementary school where I teach my morning class. Their dedication to make a difference in the lives of children living in adverse circumstances inspires me every day.
I also wish to thank my readers especially those who follow my blog, comment on and like my posts. I am thankful for the bloggers I follow who give me interesting posts to read.
I want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. May your day be filled with family, friendship, and love. May you experience the love of Jesus in your life.
It happened again yesterday. It is the response I get every time. She laughed. But it was a good response of laughter. Her laughter is proof of God’s work in my life. Why did she laugh?
Yesterday morning I shared with my conversation group at church that when I was in high school everyone was afraid of me. I shared with them that the look on my face scared people because I was an angry teenager. She couldn’t believe it. She is a young gentle-hearted woman from Japan who comes to my Saturday morning group. She has only known the Matt I am now.
My young friend’s disbelief about the kind of person I used to be, is one I have seen many times when I share about my past.
That is a testimony to the wonderful life changing power of God working in my life. God can take a person and transform them into something no one would have thought possible.
When we come to Jesus, trust in him, it is the beginning of being transformed into a new person. 2nd Corinthians 5 says:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
But the new life is not just for us to go about our lives selfishly enjoying a better life. 2 Corinthians 5 also shows a purpose for the new life:
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”
God reconciles us to him and then gives us the opportunity to share the love of Jesus. When we come to Jesus, trust in him, God gives us a purpose in this life.
I am thankful that my young friend and other have laughed when I share with them about who I used to be. I hope to experience that many more times.
This may sound crazy, but I will never forget the time I was thankful for a tube of toothpaste. I was in the valley of depression and things weren’t going well at the time. Then one day I was cleaning, which is not easy when dealing with depression, and came upon a tube of toothpaste I had forgotten about. I had bought it a month before when it was on sale. The thought hit me that I would not need to go anywhere that day to buy toothpaste and I thanked God I would not need to go shopping. That moment began my path out of the valley of depression.
Isaiah wrote about what the promised Messiah, Jesus, would do for us. Among those things Jesus would do for us we find in Isaiah 61:
“and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
Jesus will give us a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Despair is not from God. Despair is loss of hope. If we feel there is no hope, that feeling is not from God. Jesus is our solid eternal hope.
When I thanked God for that tube of toothpaste that day, it clicked in my mind to try to thank God for things in my life no matter how small or silly they may seem to others. Step by step Jesus helped me climb out of that valley of depression.
This month we have one of our biggest holidays in America, Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 22nd. That is only two short weeks from today. So Thursdays in November I want to share things I am thankful for.
For me it starts with saying that I am thankful for Jesus. I don’t want to think about what my life would look like without Jesus. On the rare occasions that I see someone from my teen years and tell them that I teach ESL and am in part-time ministry, their response is to ask what happened to you.
Jesus is my Savior not only for eternal life, but also in this life. He literally saved my life from dying when I was sick in the 1990s. He gave my life meaning and purpose.He brought me out of the pit of depression. He brought people from all over the world into my life. I am so thankful for Jesus.
In these days of post election in the U.S., days of turmoil everywhere, being thankful can help thwart the spirit of despair. Please join me in expressing thankfulness to God. What are you thankful for?