The Dream of the Rood

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Every year at this time I am reminded of this poem that I had the pleasure of studying a couple different times in literature classes. The Dream of the Rood is one of the earliest known Christian poems from the Middle Ages. The author is unknown, and it has been translated numerous times since its discovery and appeared in a 10th century manuscript that was found in northern Italy. What I find especially intriguing and inspiring about this poem is it was written from the point of view of the tree that was chosen to be the cross used for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While there are many translations, the one from translated by Alfred David (2000) is my favorite, because of the rich language and descriptors he uses to describe this story. However, a couple of sections (lines 79-82, and line 126), I prefer to reflect differently than David’s translation, taking from Dr. Aaron K. Hostetter’s later translation. Hostetter replaces worship of the cross with merely a somber symbolism that allows the cross to be the vehicle Christ used to gift us with our salvation. So if those sections that are bolded make you uncomfortable, like they did myself, click on over to Hostetter’s page to read his translation. By and large, both translations of this ancient Anglo-Saxon poem are beautiful in their own ways, and take the story of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity to a whole new understanding. Therefore I give you, The Dream of the Rood:

The Dream of the Rood

Attend to what I intend to tell you

a marvelous dream that moved me at night

when human voices are veiled in sleep. (1-3)

 

In my dream I espied the most splendid tree.

looming aloft with light all around,

the most brilliant beam. That bright tree was

covered with gold; gemstones gleamed

fairly fashioned down to its foot, yet another five were standing

high up on the crossbeam – the Lord’s angel beheld them –

cast by eternal decree. Clearly this was no criminal’s gallows,

but holy spirits were beholding it there,

men on this earth, all that mighty creation. (4-12)

 

That tree was triumphant and I tarnished by sin,

begrimed with evil. I beheld Glory’s trunk

garnished with grandeur, gleaming in bliss,

all plated with gold; precious gemstones

had gloriously graced the Lord God’s tree.

Yet I could see signs of ancient strife:

beneath that gold it had begun

bleeding on the right side. I was all bereft with sorrows;

that splendid sight made me afraid. I beheld the sign rapidly

changing clothing and colors. Now it was covered with moisture,

drenched with streaming blood, bow decked in treasure. (13-23)

 

Yet I, lying there for a long time,

sorrowfully beheld the tree of our Savior

until I could hear it call out to me,

the best of all wood began speaking words: (24-27)

 

“That was years ago – I remember –

that I was cut down at the edge of the forest

torn up from my trunk. There powerful enemies took me,

put me up to make a circus-play to lift up and parade their criminals.

Soldiers bore me on their shoulders till they set me up on a mountain;

more than enough foes made me stand fast. I saw the lord of mankind

coming with great haste so that he might climb up on me. (28-34)

 

Then I did not dare act against the Lord’s word

bow down or fall to pieces when I felt the surface

of the earth trembling. Although I might

have destroyed the foes, I stood in place. (35-38)

 

This this young man stripped himself – that was God Almighty –

strong and courageous; he climbed up on the high gallows,

brave in the sight of many, as he set out to redeem mankind.

I trembled when the man embraced me; I dared not bow down to earth,

stoop to the surface of the ground, but I had to stand fast.

I was reared a rood; I raised up a mighty king.

The heavens’ lord; I dared not bow in homage. (39-45)

 

They drove dark nails into me; the dints of those wounds can still be seen,

open marks of malice; but I didn’t not dare maul any of them in return.

They mocked both of us. I was moistened all over with blood,

shed from the man’s side after he had sent up his spirit. (46-49)

 

Oh that mountain I have endured many

cruel happenings. I saw the God of hosts

direly stretched out. Shades of darkness had clouded over the corpse of the Lord,

the shining radiance; shadows went forth

dark under clouds. All creation wept,

mourning the king’s fall: Christ was on the cross. (50-55)

 

“Yet from afar fervent men came

to that sovereign. I saw all that.

I was badly burdened with grief yet bowed down to their hands,

submissive with most resolved. There they took up almighty God,

lifted him from that cruel torment. Then the warriors left me there

standing, blood all over me, pierced everywhere with arrows.

They laid him there, limb-wearied; they stood at the head of his lifeless

body. There they beheld the lord of heaven, and he rested there for a while,

spent after that great struggle. (56-64)

 

Then they set about to construct a sepulcher

warriors in the slayer’s sight. Out of bright stone they carved it;

they laid the lord of victories into it. They began singing a lay of sorrow,

warriors sad as night was falling, when they wished to journey back

wearily far from that famous lord; he rested there with few followers. (65-69)

 

We, grieving there for a good while,

stood still in place; the soldier’s voices

faded away. Finally men brought axes

to fell us to earth. That was a frightful destiny!

They buried us in a deep pit. But thanes of the Lord,

friends learned about me

adorned me with gold and silver. (70-76)

 

“Now, man so dear to me, you may understand

that I have gone through grievous sufferings,

terrible sorrows. Now the time has come

so that far and wide men worship me

everywhere on earth, and all creation,

pray to this sign. On me the son of God

suffered a time; therefore I now tower

in glory under heaven, and I may heal

any one of those in awe of me.

Long ago I became the most cruel punishment,

most hated by men, until I made open

the right way of life to language-bearers.

So the lord of glory, guardian of Heaven,

exalted me then over all forest-trees,

as Almighty God before all humankind

exalted over all the race of women

His own mother, Mary herself. (77-93)

 

“Now I command you, my man so dear,

to tell others the events you have seen;

find words to tell it was the tree of glory

Almighty God suffered upon

for mankind’s so many sins

and for that ancient offense of Adam.

There he tasted death; yet the Redeemer arose

with his great might to help mankind.

Then he rose to Heaven. He will come again

to this middle-earth to seek out mankind on Judgement Day, the Redeemer himself,

God Almighty and his angels with him,

so that He will judge, He who has power of the Judgement,

all humanity as to the merits each

has brought about in this brief life. (94-107)

 

Nor may anyone be unafraid

of the last question the Lord will ask.

Before the multitude he will demand

where a soul might be who in the Savior’s name

would suffer the death He suffered on that tree.

But they shall fear and few shall think what to contrive to say to Christ.

But no one there need be afraid

who bears the best sign on his breast.

And on this earth each soul that longs

to exist with its savior forevermore

must seek His kingdom through that cross.” (108-118)

 

Then compelled by joy, I prayed to that tree

with ardent zeal, where I was alone

with few followers. Then my heart felt

an urge to set forth; I have suffered

much longing since. Now I live in hope,

venturing after that victory-tree,

alone more often than all other men,

to worship it well. The will to do so

is much in my heart; my protection

depends on the rood. I possess

but few friends on this earth. But forth from here

they have set out from worldly joys to seek the King of Glory.

They dwell in Heaven now with the High-father

living in glory, and I look forward

constantly toward that time the Lord’s rood

which I beheld before here on this earth

shall fetch me away from this fleeting life

and bring me then where bliss is eternal

to joy in Paradise where the Lord’s people

are joined at that feast where joy lasts forever

and seat me there where evermore

I shall dwell in glory, together with the saints

share in their delights. May the Lord be my friend,

who on earth long ago on the gallows-tree

suffered agony for the sins of men: (119-143)

 

He redeemed us and gave us life,

a home in Heaven. Hope was made new

and blossomed with bliss to those burning in fire.

The Son was victorious in venturing forth,

mighty and triumphant when he returned with many,

a company of souls to the Kingdom of God,

the Almighty Ruler, to the joy of angels,

and all those holy ones come to Heaven before

to live in glory, when their Lord returned,

the Eternal King to His own country. (144-153)

 

“The Dream of the Rood.” The Norton Anthology English Literature, 9th Edition, Vol. I, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2012, pp. 32-36.

 

 

Displaced Joy

Christmas-Lights

On the drive home this evening, the thought struck me how beautiful the city lights were against the wet pavement, with a few Christmas lights added to the mix. That was my first thought. Which kind of shook me. Because this time last year, and the year before, and every year prior for the last few years, my thoughts were so very far from that. My thoughts were centered on how the early darkness just seemed to press in on me and I couldn’t breathe. Winters saw me stocking up on St. John’s Wort, an herbal anti-depressant. That’s what my winter nights consisted of: St. John’s Wort, lots of Chinese food, and many tears.

I think that is perhaps why the passing of Robin Williams hit me so hard this past summer. While I may never have considered taking my own life, the thoughts could have easily have been there. I felt the hopelessness and helplessness of being stuck in a situation I felt would never change. My life felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I had lost my joy and I didn’t know how to find it again. So many of us are on the precipice that Robin found himself plummeting from. Had he lost his joy like I’d lost mine?

Robin Williams

I’ve heard so many sermons over the years by many preachers that Christians shouldn’t be depressed. It just wasn’t allowed. It was sinful. Christians were always supposed to be joyful. I felt like I had failed in some regard, because I wasn’t a happy-go-lucky Christian with a smile plastered on my face 24/7. I was supposed to have the “joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” Isn’t that what the song says? So what the heck was wrong with me? The enemy takes pleasure in taking a person’s deepest, darkest thoughts and using them against them.

displace: to remove from the usual or proper place.

While that’s the medical definition of the word, doesn’t it make sense? A person’s joy should be located in their heart. But what if someone went in and performed destructive surgery, removing that joy? The enemy had displaced my joy.

I felt at the end of my rope. All I knew to do, was to continue praying and seeking the Lord.

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14, NLT)

Day after day, some harder than others, and week after week, much prayer and much encouragement got me through. I won’t lie and say that I always remained optimistic, and there were times I tried to take things into my own hands.

However, with a divinely orchestrated answered prayer, my life recently changed for the better.

What a difference a year makes. What a difference a day makes.

The Lord has returned my joy to me. I don’t think that my joy was attached to any particular situation, but when the Lord answers a long-prayed prayer, it’s hard not to let it affect your demeanor.

I’ve been reacquainting myself with the little things that bring happiness to my heart. I can now smile on the way home, because I know that there is hope.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

So I have my joy back. It may not be as bright, shiny, and naive as it once was. It’s a little burnished and scuffed, but it’s there.

I’m smiling more.

Elf-Smiling

I now have a happy heart instead of a sorrowful one when I sing along to a Christmas carol.

ELF

 

The darkness may only last for a little while because joy comes in the morning.

Future and a Hope

jeremiah-29-11

This week marks 9 years since the horrendous car wreck that should have claimed my life.

I was high on life and Jesus. It had been six months since the Lord rescued me from the pit of darkness and despair, and I had rededicated my life to Him. I had found a new church just a few months prior, and was soaking in His goodness. June 22, the day after the first day of summer in 2004, was a scorcher. We had dressed up at work in summery clothes to commemorate the first day of the summer solstice (since we had missed it the day before!), so I was wearing my bright orange and yellow Hawaiian shirt, dark blue capris, and leather sandals. It was hot. So hot. The AC in my 1997 white Chevy Cavalier had went out about a week before, so the windows were down as I was driving home from work that evening. The heat, and my lack of sleep from the night before, was lulling me into a doze that brought a rude awakening. Not even a quarter-mile from my house I dozed off for about 30 seconds and veered off onto the opposite side of the road. When my eyes opened all I saw was green flying past me at a ridiculous rate. I panicked. I tried to pull my car back onto the road, but I was already driving in the grass covered ditch. When I jerked the wheel, my car started flying.

I closed my eyes, held on tight to the steering wheel, and just remember praying “Please God, don’t let me die,” over and over and over again, as my car flipped in the adjoining field. After what felt like an eternity, I finally landed with a great thud. I was upside down, and could only see dirt through my shattered windshield as I hung from my harness. Again. I panicked. I hastily saw that my only exit was my driver side window that had been rolled down, so I released the seat belt I had been wearing and dropped onto the ceiling of my car and scrambled out. I sat up and did not really know where I was initially, other than sitting in the middle of a large field, next to my upside down car. I knew I had to call someone, and realized that my cell phone was in my purse. I reached into my car again, freaking out thinking that it might collapse on me as I lay reaching for it, and pulled it out quickly. Hands shaking, I dialed my sister and told her I had been in an accident and was sitting in the field belonging to the Hendricks family. All I could remember thinking at that moment was that my parents were going to be so mad at me for wrecking my car (they weren’t, but I obviously wasn’t thinking rationally at the time).

Within seconds, the sweet neighbor lady and friend of our family across the street called 911 (we had recently just received that in our rural area), and the two ladies who had been behind me in their car were making sure I was all right. My parents and sister arrived in record time, as they were just down the street. I don’t know how much time had spanned since the wreck until the ambulance and highway patrol arrived. I have a vague recollection that I was in shock and rambling incessantly.

Did I hit anyone in my car? Had I hurt anyone? (No, I had not). Where were my friends? I needed them? Oh my gosh, I hurt so bad! Make it stop hurting!

As they strapped me to the board from the ambulance, I remember the medics raising my shirt and tapping on my tummy, making sure I had not ruptured anything. My friend JC was there, as was my cousin Loren. When nearly everyone in the area has a police scanner, everyone and your brother will show up to a scene of an accident. They loaded me into the ambulance, and I heard my mom say to take me to Cox South. I didn’t want to be alone. I know now that I was truly in shock, because I was thoroughly freaking out. My cousin, who was a firefighter at the time with West Republic, offered to ride along with me to keep me calm. He did a good job. While the medic was checking me over, my cousin talked to me to keep my mind off of my current situation. I was in an amazing amount of pain. My back hurt. My the pain in my head was unbearable. I really did not know at the time what my injuries entailed.

After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the ER. They carted me to the back, my cousin still with me, thankfully. At some point the rest of my family arrived, though I don’t remember when.

I was still strapped to the backboard, my head placed immobile by a strip, as well as the rest of my body. I was barefoot. I knew this, because suddenly the frigid AC of the ER reached me and my bare feet. My mom sat beside me as they waited for the doctor to come in and examine me. After trying, and failing, to get a blood sample (my veins are incredibly hard to get to), they pricked my finger and squeezed it until they had an ample amount of blood to use as a sample. That freaking hurt. Much of the next couple hours were a blur as they examined me. I remember crying a lot. I was in pain. It felt like my back and head were on fire. I am claustrophobic, so being strapped to a backboard for hours did nothing to ease my sanity.  They gave me some kind of pain medication. My shirt was cut off. I begged them to spare my bra, since I had just purchased it (I know, strange request at the time). I was shimmied out of my capris by my mom and the nurse and converted into a hospital gown.

Despite the horrific thing I had just gone through a couple of hours earlier, it was generally determined that I had come out unscathed. I was lucky, they said. I merely sustained a whiplash, possible concussion, and immense bruising across my upper body from the seat belt. No internal injuries. No longterm effects.

I had a hard time going to sleep that night, as the moments leading up to the accident kept replaying in my head.

The next day, my parents went to the place where my car had been towed to, and took pics for the insurance company, as well as talked to one of the EMTs who had been on scene, JC’s dad. He said that I was lucky that I made it out alive. My car had flipped end over end quite a few times before landing. My steering wheel had been warped dramatically out of shape by the sheer supernatural strength by which I had held on. He said I was lucky that I was even able to crawl out of my window afterward, as he had retrieved some things (my keys probably) from the interior of my car while it was still in its upside down state. And he said he had been barely able to get in and out while crawling on his stomach. He is a super skinny and lanky guy.

I was not lucky.

I had just been given a miracle.

I was off work for a week recovering from the back and neck pain. I went back to work and I was still suffering from debilitating headaches. I remember thinking in moments as I tried to concentrate on what I was doing at work, if there would ever be a day when I wouldn’t have one of those headaches or would this be my forever. It didn’t last forever.

I had to go through 8 weeks of physical therapy to regain full mobility in my neck again. Those were long weeks of painful therapy. But it ended.

As I sit here, in another season, a season of discouragement and the unknown, I know that this too will end. Although, it is not nearly as severe or painful as some of the other seasons I have found myself in, it isn’t any less difficult. I believe that if God brings you to a season, He fully intends to bring you through it. As I reflect on the things He has brought me through, I know that He too will bring me through this one.

In the years since, and even just the last few days, I am reminded about something that I once heard a pastor say. The enemy will come up against and attacks frequently those who God plans to use in a big way. He must have something pretty big planned then, for all the ridiculous things He has rescued me from. And I hope – I pray – that He will use the places I have been to help others that may be going through similar circumstances.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Blurred Shades of Grey

If you are living and breathing and participating in any form of social media these days then you’ve probably heard whispers (or shouts) about the popular book “Fifty Shades of Grey”. If you haven’t, you will. I haven’t read it, and I refuse to. From what I’ve been able to interpret from reviews and other blog posts, it is not anything that I would want to read. Ever. Or recommend to anyone I know and love. And I hope my plea, and those like mine, reach you before you fall into the trap of reading it. Although I know I’ll probably receive flames about what I’m about to write, I can’t sit idly by as girls, godly girls even, are pulled into the allure of this story. This book is sadistic trash. I’m sorry if you disagree and if I’ve offended you with my statement. Actually…I’m not sorry. Here’s why…

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is classified as an erotic romance. In all actuality though, it goes way beyond that. It is really just a bunch of sickening BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, Masochism).  That description in itself is enough to make me blush to my roots and want to throw up. If that makes me a prude, then so be it. But more than that, is the simple fact that so many people are held captive by the lies and bondage of this particular genre, unaware of how much damage it is doing, not only to their psyche but to their soul.

Not only are married ladies in danger, but single ladies (and some rather young influential ladies at that) and their future marriages as well. Men already have unhealthy expectations of what women should look like and what sex should be thanks to the pages of magazines that portray women as sex objects. Now ladies have that issue to battle as well due to decades of lurid romance books (i.e. soft porn, though there’s nothing “soft” about it in my personal opinion). They have this fairy tale image (laced with eroticism) of what sex and love is. Though, still never having experienced either myself, I know it can’t be as fantastical as those books make it out to be.

I can already hear what you’re thinking. “What the crap do you know about marriage? You’re single and still a freakin virgin!” I don’t have to be married to observe what a marriage should contain and what it shouldn’t. What it should contain is Respect.

What does respect have to do with this book? Everything. Respect is something that, if you don’t have it for yourself, you probably won’t have it for your mate (or future mate). The way you look at yourself and the opposite sex can fully effect your marriage. Respect is lacking from this book. The main characters in this book do not respect each other or themselves. In fact, their relationship is nothing to admire. It’s disturbing and all sorts of wrong.

I know what you’re thinking. “It’s only a book…it can’t hurt me.” Believe me, I know all the justifications and arguments out there, because I had these internal conversations with myself so many times. Everyone has addictive qualities about something, whether it be alcohol, tobacco, pornography, self-gratification, whatever it may be… the thing is, we all have vices that will trip us up given the chance. And if you know this, you should do everything you can to protect yourself from it.

I write these things not to cast judgement on anyone (that’s the last thing I want to do), but to warn you. I’ve dealt with years of self-worth issues because of reading books and stories similar to this one. The images and thoughts that the words of the book will evoke will stay with you for life. Ingrained into your memory. The things they will make you do will cause you to not even recognize yourself. Trust me. It’s been several years since the Lord helped me to break free from this bondage, and still to this day I have to battle with those images that try to surface and make me stumble. Daily.

I know from personal experience that words and images can effect the way we think and operate. Media of this nature will suck the very life from your soul until you are lying in the dark one night wondering how you got to that point. But you can break free. It takes time. You’ll have scars. But even Jesus has scars. Scars are part of the story, too.

I was at a women’s rally a couple months ago and the guest speaker reiterated over and over how as ladies we are worth something. That as ladies of faith we needed to share our story. No matter how ugly it is. Some of you may already know my story. Some of you may not. This was a very dark part of my story, and you can read it in its entirety here. But ultimately I want you, ladies and guys, to know that there are things out there that are meant to divert us from the path that the Lord has laid out for us. Things like smutty books, magazines, websites, movies and such. It’s not too late to stop. It’s not too late to get help. There’s freedom there for you if you’re willing to fight for it. And it is worth fighting for.

This has gotta be the good life

“Hopelessly
I feel like there might be something that I’ll miss
Hopelessly
I feel like the window closes oh so quick
Hopelessly
I’m taking a mental picture of you now
‘Cuz hopelessly
The hope is we have so much to feel good about”

~OneRepublic “Good Life”

As I’m reflecting back on my latest trip to Oaxaca it made me realize a few things that I’ve been struggling with for a so many years.

The second afternoon when I was reconnecting with my spiritual parents, and was relaying everything that had taken place since they had moved to Oaxaca, was when it struck me. And I’ve been contemplating on it ever since.

I love serving in my church youth ministry. I love my job. I love how unique my family is (and how we’ve grown closer over the last couple years). I love serving on short term mission trips, and how each time I have been thoroughly enriched with deep experiences and lasting relationships. I love how I have so many different and amazing friends for every part of my life and that I can share my dreams, hopes, and ambitions with them.

I am blessed in ways that I truly never grasped before. I was always rather forlorn that “this” hadn’t happened yet, or “that” hadn’t happened yet, that I never truly was able to just be okay with my present.

But I’ve realized, how content I really am with my life – and I had not felt that way, well…ever. I think for the first time in my life I feel…content.

But you want to hear about my trip, so without any further delay, here we go. 🙂

We arrived in Huatulco, Oaxaca on Saturday, May 7th in the afternoon and was quickly launched into ministry. That day was the nationally recognized “Children’s Day”. A local pastor that we were going to be partnering with that week had organized a children’s event, kind of like a little festival, with music, dancing, dramas, giveaways and everything! It was so awesome to watch the children being celebrated that day. Most of these children had walked miles just to come to this event that only lasted a couple of hours. But for them, it was the world.

After the children’s event, the pastor and his team took asked us to come down the road with him to a plot of land that they were believing to purchase to build their church building on. They have huge vision for their area. They want to build a church that will accomodate 1,000 people, as well as a residence for the pastor, a visitor’s apartment, classrooms, a kitchen, and more. The small sum they are believing and praying for to accomplish this work: $90,000. So we spent the next moments praying and joining with them in faith for this to come to pass.

We stayed in a quaint little hotel in Puerto Angel that night. The next day was Sunday, so we had an amazing church service in the hotel’s restaurant. Though I digress – after breakfast, but before church started, we all went down to the pier to watch all the fishermen bring in their catch. It was actually quite fascinating. Some of our group even asked the fishermen on the pier if they could fish, and the little Mexican guys were ever too obliging. Those were some great and entertaining moments. 🙂 But back to church – the Leadership College’s leader, Chris Myers spoke on how your life changes when Jesus gets inside your boat. His analogy was about a friend named Tony who threw something inside his own boat when he wasn’t expecting it. Somehow I think I know who this Tony is. The worship was awesome and the church members were so welcoming of us. After church, we all changed and went down to the beach so we could get boated out to a little lagoon so four of the church members could be baptized. On the way there we saw some manta rays in the ocean as our boat flitted and coursed over the waves. It was pretty cool! The little lagoon wasn’t so little. It was actually part of a tourist attraction complete with a luxurious hotel built into the rock-faces. It was a little odd to see men walk around in their Speedos as the baptisms were going on. Only on a missions trip.

  

  

Our team then went our separate ways that afternoon – the LC’s staying to do more outreach and ministry in that town, and myself and the rest of the construction team (Don, David, Mike, Brad, and Kristen) heading to Roca Blanca Mission Base. We had some amazing Enchiladas Verde that evening at the mission base (probably the best and most authentic meal you’ll have while you’re there) and met the families that we would be serving that week. We settled into our rooms that evening, and I got to know my new roomie for the week, Kristen.

Monday kicked off a week of beautiful sunrises (early alarm clocks) and awe-inspiring sunsets (late bedtimes). That first day of work was spent at the home of Vidal & Norma and their precious teenage daughters and young son. (Their oldest daughter in graduating high school soon with honors and has chosen to go to university to be a doctor. This is quite an accomplishment for someone who has grown up in near poverty.) This family’s house had been constructed for a few months, however it was lacking the necessary floor and walls, having only a dirt floor and sheets as walls. When we arrived they had got their walls up, which were bamboo slats cut in half and assembled together to create a sun/wind block. For that entire day, together with Vidal’s brothers/father-in-law/cousins/any-male-relatives we worked at mixing cement to pour and lay their floors. It was such a hot day, and the humidity was stifling. I spent the day pulling 5-gallon buckets of water for them to add to the cement mixer, (and sometimes buckets of sand…but that wasn’t too many times). It was great to see the end result of our work three days later when we returned to have a celebratory dinner with the family. We were presented with tacos and coconut bars and bright lights. This was the first time this family has ever had electricity! This was certainly a call for celebration!

Tuesday we made our way to Diego and Betty’s house. They already had constructed a nice brick house with walls, ceilings and cement floors. We were just going to lay the tile for them. Mind you, these were not typical floor tiles. There were heavy, handmade, clay tiles. The process was to transport them into a tank of water so they could soak so that when they were laid, they could adhere to the cement better. This was a hot and strenuous job. The guys laid the tiles, while myself, Kristen, and anyone else readied the tiles. By the third day of doing this, nearly didn’t have fingertips left. If I hadn’t thankfully acquired a pair of gloves from our leader, Don, I’m sure they would have been bleeding by the end of the day.

  

Tuesday afternoon posed a treat for myself, however, as I got to spend time with my friends Rebekah, Arnulfo & Caleb Rios, and Angie, Berna & Bryson Cruz. The Rios’ are pastors of a church in Nopala up in the mountains, and came down just to spend the day with me! I was truly blessed and excited! And the Cruz familia were visiting from Wisconsin and it was their last day before returning home. After much deliberation, we decided to go into Puerto Escondido for coffee and pastries at Cafecito. Once we got there however, we ditched the expensive coffee idea and instead got a value frappe from Oxxo (a fairly popular Mexican convenience store). It was quite tasty, and affordable at only 23 Pesos! We did however get pastries from Cafecito. Since it was dinner time, I had a ham and cheese pastry, which could be compared to a warm and flaky Hot Pocket. It was so good, and really hit the spot. Afterwards, the girls needed to get shoes for their little guys (Caleb who’s 3, and Bryson who is 2). So we went to a market that was down and around the street (I think…I sort of felt lost after all the driving). It was interesting to see all the various vendors with their wares. Produce, meat, sweets, clothes, shoes, basically anything and everything you could ever need or want, or not. 🙂 Once adequate shoes were found for the boys, the Rios family had to jet back to Nopala, so I got to round up the evening with the Cruz family. As it was their last night in town, Berna was wanting Tlayudas (a large grilled taco-like food). Since I’d ate earlier I wasn’t hungry, but I did get a nice cold Sangria. Tasty, and non-alcoholic. 😉 And nifty enough, it was Mother’s Day in Mexico on that day, May 10th, and the little taco shop was giving away handmade mugs decorated for Mother’s. So since I wasn’t home for Mother’s Day, I have a unique gift for my mom.

  

Wednesday again, we spent the day at Diego & Betty’s house working on the tiles. But that afternoon I was able to do a little design work for my missionary friends, James & Cassie Olson, that live and help run the mission base. That was a nice and fun change for me, as I’m not used to extreme physically laborious activities performed in the heat. 🙂 Wednesday evening we joined up with the reset of our team, the LCs, in Puerto Escondido at a Christian-operated rehabilitation center for men struggling with addictions. These men, of all ages, have dealt with debilitating addictions to drugs and alcohol. But as they smiled and welcomed us to their evening church service, you could see the joy of the Lord on their faces. What warmed my heart though, was as the worship set began, and these men just began worshipping with undignified abandon. Dancing, jumping, praising, hands-raised wild worship! It left me in speechless wonder. 🙂 As the evening progressed a few people from our team got up to speak, with translators, about their own struggles with addictions. Michael and Justin spoke about how drugs and alcohol controlled them at various difficult points in their own lives and how Jesus gave them freedom from these addictions. Kristen shared how her life as a PK expected to perform with perfection led her to start cutting herself, and how moving across the country and surrounding herself with good influences (church, people, friends) was able to free her of this addiction.

  

On Thursday, the day started pretty well. Wonderful breakfast of fruit and eggs, and then we all made our way to the chapel to spend a short time in worship/prayer before going to our posts – the LCs to teach in the school and the rest of us to our construction sites (to completion at Diego & Betty’s and to start at David & Gres). We were trying to bust it out to finish all the tile work at Diego & Betty’s house, and it went fairly fast, only having to soak and prep 70-some more tiles. However, about 11am I got to feeling very hot, sick to my stomach, and dizzy. I just thought it was the food or something getting to me. But that didn’t seem to be the case. I was taken to the clinic at the mission base and met with Nurse Laura who determined that I was suffering from dehydration. I got to drink this nifty rehydration liquid (it was pretty nasty, haha!). After taking my vitals again, and talking to the doctor, they decided it would probably be best to get an IV of fluids into me, as any other method would take hours longer. So I spent the next couple hours chilled to the bone (in Mexico nonetheless!) and getting my first IV. My good friend Viri took real good care of me during this time, making sure I had anything I needed and just offering consolation that I’d be okay. Once the IV was emptied, Viri walked me back to my room, crackers and rehydration fluid in hand. I spent the next few hours tossing and turning in bed, trying to sleep off the effects of the dehydration. By the end of the evening, I was feeling much better, albeit exhausted.

Friday we headed out to drive to Huatulco to spend our last full day as “tourists” in a day of fun. Our first stop was at a neat little Belgian chocolate and Coffee Shop. James jumped in to help make cappuccinos as everyone placed their coffee orders. As a coffee aficionado, it was one of the best lattes I’ve had in a really long time. Coupled with a chocolate-topped pastry, it was a delectable breakfast.

  

As the day drew on, however, I began feeling horrible again, and was not able to enjoy any of the touristy stuff that we were doing. We made our way to another little restaurant as lunch time arrived. It was exceedingly hot though, and adding that into the equation, I really didn’t think I was going to make it through lunch. And I didn’t, unfortunately. I was able to down a half a bottle of Coke (the wonderful Mexican Coke!), and only a few spoonfuls of lentil soup. Bradley had to eat my chicken, so the sight of it wouldn’t make me sick. Which I was super grateful for. Another great friend, Danbi, took me back to the hotel and got me settled. That’s when waves of sickness overcame me. I was kind of panicking, to be honest. It’s a scary thing to be sick in a foreign country, without your close loved ones to take care of you. But Danbi was amazing. She sat me down as I was balling my eyes out as my stomach roiled and prayed healing over my body. She got me settled into my bed and left me with bottles of water and Gatorade and Pepto Bismol tablets, air conditioning filling the room. For the next four or five hours I slept fitfully. But about 5:00pm the precipice of the illness hit and I got violently sick. For the next two hours, the sickness just left me, and I was able to relax and a calmness flowed over me. During this time I roamed my hotel room, and eventually settled on turning on the TV. Grasping at hope, I needed an English program to come on that wasn’t dubbed in Spanish. And praise be, “Friends” was on, and it was in English, and only subtitled in Spanish! Nothing really soothes a soul than a little piece of home when you’re in a foreign place and not feeling well. After I felt considerably better, I called to rejoin my group. They had just finished dinner at a pizza parlour in the city center, and were going to go souvenir shopping.

  

  

The rest of Friday evening, and part of Saturday morning, I was able to get some really nice souvenirs for my family. Including some really great, fresh-roasted coffee! You can’t leave Mexico without taking some of the coffee with you.

So overall, discounting being sick and dehydrated, it was a really great trip. I was able to serve in ways that I never would, or ever think I could. I was able to spend some valuable time with friends that I only see every couple of years. And I was able to truly see how God has blessed my life.

**Stay tuned for an all-foto blog post later on…

*No geckos were harmed in the making of this blog. Well, at least not on purpose… 😉

Mark of the Beast? Or just the Digital Age?

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Barcodes…

Many businesses, bands, artists, and even individuals are now utilizing the data matrix barcode system as a means to advertise their goods, services, or even events to the masses. If you have a smart phone with barcode scanning capabilities you can scan these nifty new-age barcodes and you will be redirected to a website with all sorts of multimedia awesomeness.

This got me thinking…in the age of Facebook and Twitter…wouldn’t it be cool if everyone got these barcode tattoos and when you scanned them with your smart phone you would instantly be directed to their homepage with all their stats and interests, photos and everything! What a genius social media tool! I was instantly planning my own tattoo of this design as the idea formed in my mind!

But then I remembered something from those sermons I heard many times over the years in church about the Mark of the Beast.

He (the beast) also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, (Revelation 13:16 NLT)

There’s already been chip implants invented where they can be inserted under the skin that stores personal information, medical history, allergies, etc. One of the features of this chip is it has access to your bank account– a digital debit card, if you will– so a person can make purchases without even having their wallet or purse with them. And there are chips you can have implanted in your pets so if they get lost they can be scanned and all your information is linked to them and they can be returned to you safely.

And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. (Revelation 13:17 NLT)

Now don’t start blasting me with religiosity (or vice versa). This is all merely speculation that has been going through my head this week. I’ve studied the book of Revelation a few times, and still don’t understand it in so many ways. I don’t know how the particular “marking” of the Beast will all come about, whether this is just the precursor of it, or if it has nothing to do with it at all. I’m just throwing it out there for some thinking outside the box.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4 NLT)

Prayer Encounter

Before I forget all the minor (and major details), and so this is archived in a safe place: Prayer Encounter 2011 (#Reach417)

  

  

Prayer Encounter is an interactive prayer and worship experience, aimed at connecting people (students) with God on a deeper and creative level.

Prayer Stations:

1. Worship Station – an ipod is attached to a 5-way splitter allowing up to 5 people to experience the same preselected worship songs. This made for a great journaling time.

2. Communion – Do this in remembrance of Me ~ Jesus. (Don’t worry, only grape juice was used). 😉

3. Dear Mom & Dad – Students were encouraged to write letters to their parents sharing with them how much the serving opportunities meant to them this week at Reach417, as well as how their hearts have changed.

4. ImpACT – This station let the students see that they didn’t have to only serve one week out of the year, that they could do this the entire year.  Sign up sheets were provided encouraging the students (and leaders) to sign up for the next ImpACT event in August 2011.  ImpACT is North Point’s Church mission initiative to attack the 4 Global Giants: disease, poverty, illiteracy and spiritual emptiness.

5. Pray For 1 Another: Students were asked to write down a prayer request as well as pray for another student’s request.  A great way to link students together in faith and prayer.

6. At the Cross: Strips of tattered cloth were provided so each person could write down a sin or temptation they are dealing with that is keeping them in bondage and from having a deeper relationship with Christ. Each cloth was thrown at the foot of the cross. Where Jesus took up our sins.

7. Reflect: An illustration of reflection for the students to think back on the last week and how they have impacted lives through their serving, as well as how their own lives have been changed.  Another good journaling opportunity.

8. Baggage:  Past hurts, mistakes, grudges, issues, etc, are all baggage that we carry that prevent us from having a fulfilling life in Christ and genuine relationships with other people. Each student was asked to write down the baggage they are dealing with and throw it into  a suitcase so it could be shipped off to Jesus, because He has said that he wants to take all of our burdens away.

9. Praise Wall: This was a time for students and leaders to offer praise reports or encouragement for others or merely just thanking God for His goodness, by writing them on a huge wipe-off board.

10. Expression: Worship through art.  Sometimes words aren’t enough to express how we feel, how much we love God and everything He’s done for us and through us.  Tablets of art paper, crayons, colored pencils, markers, etc were provided so each student could express their own creative worship.

11. Memorial for Shelby Estep: Beloved student and friend that many of our students and leaders grew to love during Reach417 of 2010.  Shortly after Reach last year Shelby passed away tragically leaving a void in many peoples’ lives and hearts.  We wanted to honor her memory this evening, as well as write encouraging messages to her parents in greeting cards.

Worship Station Playlist:

1. Salt in the Snow by The Classic Crime

2. How He Loves Us by David Crowder Band

3. City On Our Knees by TobyMac

4. All I Need by Shawn McDonald

5. I Will Waste My Life by Misty Edwards

6. Opposite Way by Leeland

7. In Me by Casting Crowns

8. Hosanna by Hillsong United

9. Follow You by Leeland & Brandon Heath

10. Should I Tell Them by Shaun Groves

11. Take My Life by Third Day

12. Majesty by Delirious

13. I Can Only Imagine (Acoustic) by Mercy Me

14. The Anthem by Planetshakers

Prayer Scriptures:

“…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  Isaiah 56:7

“Continue praying, keeping alert, and always thanking God. Also pray for us that God will give us an opportunity to tell people his message. Pray that we can preach the secret that God has made known about Christ.” Colossians 4:2-3

“When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.” Psalm 34:6-7

“I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” Mark 11:24-25

“So when you pray, you should pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name always be kept holy. May your kingdom come and what you want be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the food we need for each day. Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us. And do not cause us to be tempted, but save us from the Evil One. The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen.’” Matthew 6:9-13 NCV

“What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us, always ready to listen to us?” Deuteronomy 4:7

“When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.” Jeremiah 29:12

“I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer.” Matthew 5:44

“…the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Romans 8:26

“ I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.” Ephesians 1:18

“ In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” Ephesians 6:18

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1Thessalonians 5:16

“Anyone who is having troubles should pray. Anyone who is happy should sing praises.” James 5:13

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so God can heal you. When a believing person prays, great things happen.  James 5:13

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.  Jude 1:20

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius… Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions…” So King Darius signed the law… But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.    Daniel 6:6,7b, 9,10

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.   Psalm 4:1

I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God.  Bend down and listen as I pray.  Psalm 17:6

The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.  Proverbs 15:8

The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.  Proverbs 15:29

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.  Romans 12:12

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6

The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,  and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.  1Peter 3:12

And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. 2Corinthians 1:10

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.    2 Thessalonians 1:11

I will pray to the Lord, and he will answer me from his holy mountain.    Psalm 3:4

Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we have continued praying for you, asking God that you will know fully what he wants. We pray that you will also have great wisdom and understanding in spiritual things so that you will live the kind of life that honors and pleases the Lord in every way. You will produce fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.   Colossians 1:9-10

Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Romans 8:34