Faith


Another year has come and gone. And similar to years past, a few days of vacation helped to finish up the year and hopefully provide a “reset” before jumping into another annual adventure. It seems as though the list of to-do’s keeps growing instead of shrinking though. Whether it’s email inbox “housecleaning” or organizing the dreaded Tupperware cabinet, the demands of home and ministry seem to be more overwhelming to me this year than ever before.

So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’m certainly NOT going to give in! I may have some moments where I need to escape reality (nothing like a hot bath and a glass of white wine), but then it’s back at it. But it takes a lot more than determination to really make progress. So here’s a list of things I want to remember as 2016 kicks off:

  • Relationships first. Jesus and then others. People before projects.
  • Start with a solid plan. Prioritize. Tackle one thing at a time.
  • Enjoy the journey. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Finally, worship God in all things – tough or not.

Okay, self, let’s go. It’s 2016!

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Yesterday I attended a memorial gathering for one of the most Godly men I have ever met, Jonathan Smith. I met him when I first started volunteering with Dare 2 Share in 1993. He and his wife Maybelle, along with Greg Stier, founded the ministry with a vision to reach teenagers and equip them for a life of discipleship and disciple-making.  It was obvious right away that Jonathan had a solid grasp on Scripture. He taught with authority because he had spent countless hours praying over and rightly dividing the text.

It was humbling to hear the stories at the reception from the folks that Jonathan’s life touched. Most of them spoke of him as their professor and mentor. They talked about his legacy living on through them. It was such an incredibly honoring moment in time.

I remember Jonathan saying something very profound to me as I was just beginning my ministry journey. I had been really struggling with not being able to do more. I wanted so much to make a difference for the Kingdom and I honestly felt like I could never live up to my own expectations, let alone God’s expectations of me. I constantly felt as though I was falling short no matter how hard I worked or what was accomplished. It was an all-consuming battle for better and it was wearing me out.

He simply pulled me aside and gently said, “Debbie, you need to understand that God is more interested in what He is doing IN you than what He is doing THROUGH you.” Wow. Why in the world would God be more interested in my individual spiritual growth than He would be in outcomes for His cause? It was counter-intuitive but Jonathan convinced me that it was true.

I often think about his words to me, especially when I am particularly focused on getting the job done. That simple statement comes to mind and provokes me to take pause and remember that if I work from the inside out He will accomplish His purpose IN me first and then THROUGH me second. At this service, I caught myself reflecting on this sage wisdom once again and was struck by how Jonathan applied this truth to his own life. As a leader, I want to model this “inside out” approach, helping others prioritize their relationship with Him first and their performance for Him second.

It may have been 25 years ago but I remember the conversation well. The lunch invitation came as a bit of a surprise to begin with since I hadn’t heard from Tom since I’d left the telecom company we’d both worked for months before. He had been released through one of the waves of reductions that were all too familiar in the high-tech industry in the late 80’s. He sounded eager to talk and was willing to make the hour or so drive to where I was now employed to share a quick meal.

It was great to see him. He and his wife were doing well. He was ready for the transition even though the timing was not his choice. He sought some advice but made it clear that he really just wanted to encourage me and thank me for my leadership. I was a bit embarrassed but very appreciative. How kind of him to come all this way to tell me that! Our time was comfortable and casual until he asked me a question that really caught me off guard… “Debb, what would you really do if you could do anything at all – if money and other responsibilities were all taken care of?”

First of all, I was only in my early thirties, and I’d already been reasonably successful (at least by the world’s standards), so I hadn’t really ever pondered a question like this before. Rick and I had just bought our first home. Our kindergarten son was enrolled in a good Christian school. Life was moving right along. My career ambition was to start my own company and I had a plan to accomplish that in less than 5 years. Tom pressed in with the question again, maybe because he sensed that my plans were somewhat shallow, or that there was more, I’m really not sure. However, after a few minutes of thought my response to him was, “I’d do something to help teenagers.” Then I went on to explain that it seemed like there just wasn’t enough support for kids during that season of their life. They needed something to draw them away from bad choices that would create baggage for them to carry the rest of their lives. I recalled briefly my own teen years with some regret, wishing I had made some different choices.

Today marks 20 years to saying yes to full-time ministry with Dare 2 Share. I had no idea this ministry even existed when I had lunch with Tom that day. But God obviously had a plan. I have had the privilege of playing a small role, albeit behind the scenes, in the lives of countless teenagers over those years and I’ll never get tired of hearing their stories.

Every once in awhile, I think about that brief encounter with Tom. Not only did God use him to plant a seed for future ministry in my heart, but his gratitude served as a foundation for developing a passion for leadership in my soul. There have been almost 200 co-laborers (not including the hundreds of volunteers) that have served or are still serving with D2S these past two decades. What a blessing to me to have been a part of their lives too! I have served alongside some amazing people that inspire me in so many ways. My life has been forever changed because of their friendship and love. My character has been strengthened because of their commitment to Christ. 

As I mark this milestone, I’m asking myself the question again. “What would you do if…?” And the answer is still the same.

If you are a close friend or colleague, you know that I just returned from Israel a few weeks ago. Being invited to attend the GYI Summit was an amazing privilege. So much so that I kept the invitation pretty quiet until just a few weeks before we were scheduled to leave. What made this trip so special was so much more than the fact that I was going to walk where Jesus walked (although that is amazing!). It was the fact that this phenomenal gathering was bringing together up to 200 ministry leaders from over 50 countries around the world – all of whom are focused on mobilizing youth to make disciples who make disciples.

GYI Summit group shot

Any nerves I had about traveling to the middle east quickly subsided as I met one brother or sister after another. I can honestly say that I have never in my life felt more welcomed or more loved. I did know a few folks… my friends from Dare 2 Share training partner, Sonlife, who were responsible for extending the invite to me in the first place. However, the overwhelming love from others from different cultures and ministries made such a strong early impression on me. It was a clear indicator that I was about to forge friendships for life in just a few short days.

I wish I could unpack every story exchanged, every smile shared, and every special conversation for you. But even if I did, I doubt you would be able to really grasp the sense of Holy Spirit fellowship that was taking place. Within less than 48 hours after I arrived, I was sending up a prayer of gratefulness to God for allowing me to experience His Church in this way, and in THIS place!

I continue to reflect on those conversations and have loved keeping in touch with my new friends. God is also paving the way for some significant Kingdom-advancing opportunities for us to work together to mobilize teenagers to make disciples. Your prayers toward that end would be very much appreciated.

P.S. A special thank you to all of the staff who worked so hard to pull this event together. May God bless them immensely for their vision to see a global movement among teens accelerated.

Yesterday was my hubby’s birthday. His day. His choice of how he wanted to spend it. He decided he wanted to go on a long motorcycle ride together. It was a beautiful Colorado day so it sounded good to me.

It’s amazing how much thinking you can get in on the back of a motorcycle all day. There were no distractions, just the gentle breeze of the warm air as I leaned back and held on. No music was piped into my helmet and there was no way for me to constantly check my cell phone. At first I just took a deep breath and allowed myself to take in the beauty that surrounded me in the canyon as we headed to the hills. But then I found myself recounting the last few months. The ministry and life ups and downs reminded me of the constant curves we were encountering on the road.

May began with a trip to California to join dozens of other friends and co-laborers for the Youth Ministry Executive Council. The event didn’t disappoint. It was filled with great connections and fellowship. It inspired and refreshed me. Then, two days later I found out that a friend that I just shared a meal with there, Rebecca Long, had died in a tragic accident. She was 32 years old. What in the world? I still think about Rebecca a lot, praying for her family almost daily. I can’t even fathom their pain.

Next stop in May was a trip to Daytona Beach, FL to train trainers for the Assemblies of God. After years of talking about partnership and building a strong relational foundation, the dream of training trainers with D2S content to energize and equip exponentially was finally here. It went even better than expected and paved the way for a much needed week of vacation with my hubby. Still reflecting on Rebecca’s death, Rick and I headed out to sea.

June and July brought even more partnership “high’s” as we collaborated with Sonlife on their Muve events in Chicago and Portland and announced a full training partnership that includes multiple levels of cooperation in order to accelerate the vision for 30,000 Gospel Advancing Ministries by 2025. But right on the heels of that, I received news that my aunt has stage 4 bone cancer. Another hairpin curve. Does she know Jesus as her personal Savior? Will God provide a way for her to hear His redeeming message of hope through His Son? Am I to be the messenger that she needs? I find myself praying through these questions, waiting for His Spirit to lead me to answers.

Our own Lead THE Cause University went into its third year this summer with a brand new program, the addition of Core Trainers, and a soft launch to the youth leaders in attendance of the values of Gospel Advancing Ministries. It went great! There were a lot of moving parts, but I can honestly say all of the hard work paid off! Yet, there was one looming black cloud that kept that experience from being picture perfect. One of our hand-picked, solid, in-the-trenches-getting-it-done youth leaders fell morally. When the news came it hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. The wind still escapes me as I think about it and it eventually leads to a knot in my gut that makes me want to wrench, but then I remember that God is in control of ALL things and He doesn’t need my help.

I just returned from Columbus last week. It was a real blessing to see the folks we trained in May (affectionately known as “YAM’s” – Youth Alive Missionaries), training students to share their faith. Even more fun was experiencing the hunger for evangelism that is was so apparent in the 9,000+ students and youth leaders there. Many of the AG practices are well outside my comfort zone, but I still felt like I was truly among family. Then this morning, right before we left for our ride, I received a disappointing email. Another curve. I’d been working pretty hard on something that didn’t work out. At first it throws me off. But as I climb on the back of the bike and take a deep breath, I realize that this too, is just another curve.

It was a great day and I enjoyed the birthday ride with my hubby. I am so thankful for our strong marriage. Today, my son turns 30 years old! Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for even in the midst of the twists and turns!

Jack is my nephew. He is the 14-year-old son of my youngest brother, Darin. He’ just about as tall as I am and has beautiful red hair. I remember rocking him in the backyard swing of my parent’s mountain home when he was a baby, singing softly to him to settle his crying when nothing else seemed to help. It was then that I knew something was wrong. My brother and his wife did everything they could to figure it out until finally he was diagnosed. Jack is autistic.

Although Jack cannot communicate verbally, it’s easy to tell when something makes him happy. He loves music and dancing and things that light up. Over the years I have enjoyed watching him grow and develop, in spite of the autism. Spending time with him reminds me that life is precious and helps me remember that simple things can bring joy.

Last February my brother made the 3-hour trek from Steamboat Springs to Loveland with Jack and his daughter Alex (then 15) to attend the Dare 2 Share conference. Both of us were uncertain of how Jack would respond to the large event and were concerned that the large event with thousands of teenagers would be too much for him. But, as Jack often does, he surprised us. Not only did he do okay, he seemed to be attentively listening to each and every word – for the entire two days! At to our amazement, he began to worship. Even though he had never even attended church before, Jack read the words on the screen and caught on quick to the melody, singing to the best of his ability. It moved me in ways I will never forget. Darin and I began to wonder if God had drawn Jack to Him. We had no way of knowing for sure.

It’s now a year later and Darin once again brought both teens to the Dare 2 Share conference, this time held in downtown Denver. One year older, Jack once again soaked up everything happening on stage. But then something happened during the prayer meeting finale Saturday night that blew all of us away. As the entire arena of 3,000 went down to their knees to pray to their God, Jack was right there with them. And this young man who can barely utter a please, thank you, or hello, proceeded to pray to His God for his mother and to “ask forgiveness for his memories.” As Darin and Alex overheard him praying they raised their heads and looked up startlingly at each other. Was Jack forming sentences? Was Jack talking with ease to God? Yes!

The next thing I knew Darin was pulling me into the aisle to tell me what was happening. We sat on the stairs and held each other and wept. Jack and the family had been through so much the last few weeks. As I gained some composure I turned my head to look down the aisle at Jack. There he was still head bowed, eyes closed, hands together, praying out loud to the Heavenly Father.

As we closed the prayer time with the song “The Great I Am”, Jack was as passionate as any other worshipper – it was obvious that he and The Great I Am had just had a connection. What an amazing God!

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I first heard about this concept a year or so ago but just recently have given it some major attention. As I headed toward the end of a pretty tumultuous year I was ready to hit the reset button in a big way. It wasn’t that I was filled with regret. It was just that it was a hard year, that’s all. So I wondered about the best way to make a fresh start and I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of developing a set of “resolutions”.

Then right before the flurry of Christmas activity I read a blog about the One Word concept and it jogged my memory. So I looked a little closer and decided to go for it. You can find out more by going to http://www.getoneword.com. My goal for this blog is to give you a little bit of background as to why I chose the word I chose, not to sell you on the one word concept.

My word for 2014 is… PRAYER.

Now, it may seem like a no-brainer to you but I want you to know it took me a bit to commit to it. The idea is to choose one word that will transform your life and that’s a pretty daunting challenge. I thought about it for a long time and then really asked God to give me the word that would really transform me.

Maybe this word is so appropriate because of the difficult year I’ve had, I’m not sure. It is definitely the right word for me for 2014 though, there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s not that I’ve been struggling with prayer – I absolutely love to pray and find myself uttering little mini-prayers to God all day long. I’ve also began trying to implement something the whole staff at Dare 2 Share is doing – The Daniel Challenge – praying 3x a day on your knees for revival among teens. I would say that prayer is currently a big part of my life.

The one thing that stood out as I was searching for just ONE word was that it needed to be a word that, if I truly focused on it all year long, would make me a different person when I looked back a year from now. From the bottom of my being, I honestly believe that prayer will do this. It’s going to be a great year!

By the way, if you haven’t read The Spiritual Secret about the life and ministry of Hudson Taylor, you should pick it up and put it on your 2014 reading list. It’s well worth the time.

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