When the Pieces Don’t Fit

We have been watching the news out of Puerto Rico with heavy hearts this week. It’s hard to believe that the same beautiful, sunny places Jacob visited in June are now devastated. I haven’t heard anything about the camp where they worked or the people they met on their trip. I understand communication is pretty limited. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the island.

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In the closet of my home office, I have a stash of jigsaw puzzles. Most of them are Americana-style artwork by Charles Wysocki, but I also have a Vikings stadium cartoon picture, album covers from the 1970s, and (my favorite) propaganda posters from WWII. One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday is to turn on a football game and pick away at a jigsaw puzzle.

A while back, I was working on my favorite puzzle, again, and there was one little hole in an otherwise completed section. I was nearing the end, so I perused the remaining pieces and saw exactly what I was looking for. The colors and shape looked just right, but no matter how I turned the piece, it just didn’t fit. In my eyes it was so obvious that it was the right piece, but it just wasn’t. I had to set it aside and keep looking, trusting that the right piece was out there, and that this piece had a different space to fill. 

It dawned on me that this is just like God’s will for our lives. We see what we think is right and we try to jam it in, even though it doesn’t really fit. But that thing, be it a relationship, job, house, or whatever we’re looking for, has its own place to fit, and there may be a different piece, a right piece, for your life. You just have to trust that the God who gave you all the pieces knows which one really fits. 

I once applied for a job that I thought was absolutely perfect for me. It was close to home, great hours, with an organization I care for deeply. I sent in my resume, and quickly received an email asking me to do a phone interview. That went well, and I was invited to do an in-person interview as well. I was so confidant that my skills and their needs were a fit that I wasn’t even nervous going into the interview. A week later, I got an email thanking me for my time and letting me know that they hired someone else. I was shocked. I thought the job and I were a perfect fit for one another – the colors and shapes were all right, but it just didn’t fall into place.

God has never let me down. I didn’t get that job, but I have a job that I enjoy – one that utilizes my education. And I’m sure He hasn’t let that organization down either. I have no doubt that He provided for them just the right person to fill that role and advance their mission. I believe that because I trust the puzzle maker. He puts the pieces into place even when it doesn’t look like we expect!

Isaiah 55:8-9 says “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Psalm 139:16 says, “…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

What stories do you have of God putting things together in His perfect timing? Share in the comments! “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.” (Daniel 4:2)

Responding to Disaster

The last couple weeks have been heavy, with constant news stories of hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires ravaging parts of the world. Countless lives have been altered by these natural disasters, and millions are in need of emergency aid. So for those of us not directly affected by the crises, what can we do to help?

Of course, the first thing I’m going to suggest is prayer. We serve an all-powerful God. He is not surprised by these disasters. He cares deeply, and his heart is broken for those who are suffering. He welcomes a dialog with us about our needs and our feelings. Prayer changes things, and it changes us. Spend some time talking to God about these crises and the many people who are in need of a miracle right now.

Secondly, don’t start sending boxes of junk to the disaster areas. Every time a catastrophe like this happens, people gather boxes of useless junk and ship them off to the disaster area. Their hearts are in the right place, but overwhelmed locals end up with warehouses full of stuff that needs to be sorted and cleaned before it can be distributed, and they have to dispose of landfills full of stuff that no one needs. You would be better off holding a garage sale and sending your profits to a reputable non-profit organization.

The best thing you can do (other than praying), is to give to a reputable non-profit organization providing disaster relief in the area. They have trained, dedicated staff who deliver things like clean water, medical supplies, and food where it’s needed most. Be careful when you select your non-profit. Some of the big guys that get a lot of publicity have tremendously high overhead, and only a fraction of your donation ever makes it to the disaster victims. Use a website like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to help you find an organization that keeps their overhead low and uses best practices of accountability.

Finally, think local. If you have friends or family members dealing with the tragedy, ask them what they need. I was surprised last week to find out that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey there is a need for bug spray in parts of Texas. I never would have thought of that. They are far enough into the cleanup effort that most of them are getting mail service again, so Amazon can get supplies to your loved ones in just a couple days.

And on the topic of thinking locally, don’t forget the small charities and churches local to the area in crisis. Donating funds to local churches or local food banks will put your dollars to work in the local community quickly.

Some links:

GuideStar

Charity Navigator

Convoy of Hope – Convoy is my charity of choice for giving to the hurricane relief effort. I’ve blogged about them before. Check out my previous posts here and here.

Food Bank Locator

10 Blogs I Follow

Are you looking for more information, stories from the field, or news about the battle against hunger? Do you want to save money on the things you buy for your family? Would you like to encourage your faith? Here are some of the blogs I read – maybe you’ll find something to love!

10. Pocket Your Dollars – This is the first blog I ever followed, and I didn’t realize it was a blog because back then I thought blogs were a big ego thing where people post pictures and talk about what their kids have been up to – like some kind of published diary. But I followed PYD, because Carrie is literally handing out useful information. This site lists the sale prices at grocery stores (specifically she covers the Minneapolis-St Paul metro area, but many of the stores are national chains), and which recent coupons (from newspaper inserts and online sources) can be combined with the sales to get rock bottom prices on groceries, personal hygiene items, and school supplies. She also has a weekly list of freebies and other great deals you don’t want to miss!

9. Living Well, Spending Less – Staying in the money-saving theme, LWSL is a blog I mostly follow via Facebook. They offer great organization and money-managing strategies, and practical advice. They also sell super cute organization items like planners, desk sets, etc., but the sales portion is not overwhelming at all.

8. Kiva blog – I’ve blogged about Kiva before – they’re the site I use to make microfinance loans. Well recently I found out that their organization also has a blog. On their blog they have reports from the field, news about the microfinance niche of the global economy, and follow-up stories about the change that microfinance is making in lives around the world.

7. Compassion blogCompassion is another organization that I have blogged about before. I sponsor a little boy in Burkina Faso, so I get the organization’s emails and follow them on Facebook. That’s how I became familiar with their blog. To be honest, I don’t read it all the time. But once a year, Compassion takes a group of bloggers on a missions trip somewhere in the world, and I read those faithfully! The Compassion bloggers visit the homes and families of children in the program, and they visit the Compassion centers where those kids are educated, fed, and cared for. If the bloggers on the trip are sponsors in the country, Compassion arranges for them to meet their sponsored child in person. How cool is that?!

(Side note: Compassion will help you arrange a meeting with your sponsored child if you’re traveling to their area. It’s on my bucket list, and I’m super excited for a friend of mine who will be meeting two of her Compassion kids this fall!)

6. The Feed (Feed My Starving Children) – Unless you’re new to Food Shelf Friday, you know I LOVE Feed My Starving Children. I have blogged about it, attended their events, and I participate in their book club. I also subscribe to their blog, The Feed. They share stories from the field, highlight inspiring donor/volunteer stories, share resources, and keep you up to date about FMSC events.

5. Bridging the Gap – OK, full disclosure warning. FSF isn’t my only blogging outlet. I’m also a contributor at Bridging the Gap, the Minnesota Assemblies of God women’s ministry blog. But this isn’t about my occasional contributions. My fellow contributors are amazing writers. Some of them are (or soon will be!) published authors. They are godly ladies of all ages and life stages who want to share with you the wisdom they glean along the way. Topics range from humor to the heavy stuff, all wrapped up in the faith we share.

4. Sherburne History Center – While I’m doing shameless plugs… Of course, I also read the blog of the history museum where I work. My boss writes our blog, and it’s full of fun little things our volunteers find in old newspapers, great stories of local interest, and broader historical coverage.

3. No Kid Hungry – Share our Strength/No Kid Hungry is an advocacy group that helps connect hungry kids with resources as well as offering hunger education to the public. They are a great resource for information on legislation, school lunch programs, etc. I follow their blog because I love their summer Youth Ambassador program. In the program they put teenagers to work in the field, then the teens blog about their experiences. It’s really interesting, and their enthusiasm is contagious!

2. All Your Heart Ministries – A few years ago, my friends Kelli and Tracy founded an organization called All Your Heart Ministries. Since then a few more friends have joined their effort, and they have a great organization! Their website, Facebook, and blog are soothing, encouraging, and do a great job walking the line between being gritty-real and maintaining a hopeful and faith-filled mindset. Also, they talk about Bible journaling, which I love!

1. We Are THAT Family – This is another blog I follow mainly through Facebook. Kristen Welch and her family are dedicated to making the world a better place, and they invite us all along on their adventures. The Welch family founded Mercy House Global, and it’s offshoot, Fair Trade Friday. I am a monthly subscription box member at Fair Trade Friday, and I LOVE getting my monthly box of fair trade goodies and learning about new retailers I can support. Kristen’s blog is inspirational, encouraging, and really beautiful.

So those are ten of the blogs I read! There are others, this could have been a MUCH bigger list, but I thought I’d pick some favorites and some variety, and give you some new things to check out.

Do you blog? Do you have a favorite blog you like to read? Share in the comments so we can check it out!

The Sin Struggle

This week I finished listening to the audio version of the book The Man Called Cash, a biography of music legend Johnny Cash. I’ve never been a big Cash fan – country isn’t my thing and he was well before my time – but everyone knows of him and knows many of his beloved hit songs. I’ll spare you the full book review as it’s not what Food Shelf Friday is about, but I did notice something that got me thinking.

It is well established that Johnny Cash struggled with drugs throughout his life. According to this biography, amphetamines were Cash’s drug of choice. At one point in his life he was deeply involved in his habit, and it was ruling and ruining his life. But Cash got clean, and in the process he recommitted his life to Christ. For years, Cash was a drug-free outspoken Christian who was involved in numerous projects designed to share his faith and use his story of addiction and redemption to help others in a similar situation.

It felt like that was a done deal. He was clean for years. It felt like the past and the future were separated by a sturdy wall – the past was one way and it was completely broken apart from the way the future was shaping up. But then, years into his sobriety and veritable ministry, Cash slipped back into his old habits and began using amphetamines again.

I was dumbstruck. How could someone have such a complete victory and somehow end up back in the same trouble?! The author equated Cash’s struggles to what the apostle Paul said in Romans 7:19 – “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Oh. Me too. I just couldn’t see it because drugs are not my pitfall. To me, staying clean from drugs is a no-brainer, and it’s always been easy. But other things have not been easy for me. Take my health as an example. Over the years my activity level, eating habits, and consequently my weight have been all over the place. At one point I clawed my way down to a healthy weight through dieting with Weight Watchers and getting plenty of exercise. Yet, like Cash, a few years later I started falling back into my old ways. Eventually I was heavier than ever.

I’ll bet you have struggles like that too. It might not be drugs or your weight. Maybe it’s your spending habits, gossip, or anger. You want to do better – you know right from wrong. You may even succeed for a while, but eventually you slip back into those old habits.

I wish I could give you a magic formula to make your struggles go away. I wish I had one for myself. But struggle is part of life. John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Good news-bad news, right? In this world we WILL have trouble, no maybe about it. But take heart! Jesus has overcome the world.

Proverbs 28:13 – Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

You don’t have to overcome your sin to earn God’s forgiveness. He offers it freely to us just as we are. Don’t wait. Sin is like a fungus, it grows best in the dark. Don’t let shame keep you in the dark. Pray for forgiveness and confess your struggles to someone who can support you as you fight your battles.

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

James 1:12-15 – Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Keep up the fight, but don’t try to do it alone. Enlist God’s help – he has already offered! And talk to someone who can help and encourage you. It is worth the fight, I promise.

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

I’ve been hearing about Bob Goff and his book, Love Does, for a while now. Some of my friends are crazy about it, and some of them have even met Bob and his wife, Maria. So a while back I bought the book and added it to my ginormous to-read pile. I finally decided to jump in and read it when Feed My Staring Children started a book club on Facebook. They asked interested parties to vote for a book from a list of suggestions. Since I had it on hand and had been meaning to read it, I voted for Love Does. Needless to say, it won the voting (because if it hadn’t, I would be talking about a different book this week!), and I’ve been picking at it for the last few weeks.

During his 1968 Presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy paraphrased George Bernard Shaw when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Bob Goff is that kind of guy. Goff doesn’t do the math, he doesn’t “count the cost,” he just jumps in and does. For a planner/organizer like me, his spontaneity and whimsy were both enviable and stress-inducing. Some of the stories, like the time his kids wrote to heads of state around the world and the family dropped everything and incurred incredible expenses to meet the many who invited them, felt so crazy I almost couldn’t believe they were real!

But as is usually true, I ended up reminded that it’s a good thing that the world is not made up entirely of people like me. Although I don’t share Goff’s whimsical nature or his “act first, figure it out later” mentality, I appreciate his message. He believes that when you love people, you act on it. And he’s not just talking about his friends and family – he’s talking about all humankind and loving like Jesus loved. And Goff’s active love for humanity has led him to do everything from hosting a spontaneous marriage proposal dinner for a stranger to freeing wrongfully imprisoned kids in Uganda.

Goff is a lawyer by trade, and while that seems like an oddly buttoned-down profession for a merry prankster, it works for their family. I’m sure it comes in handy on some of their adventures (like the aforementioned work in Uganda). It would be easy for someone in a comfortable and well-paying profession like law to sit back and feel satisfied that they are doing enough for humanity while sitting in a comfortable office. But throughout his book, Goff pushes the importance of having “skin in the game” – being personally, hands-on invested in others. He and his family live this out, and they want to take us along for the ride.

The book is light, fun, and has short chapters, yet is deceptively deep in its passion and theology. If you can get past the stress of his spontaneity, it’s really inspiring. Check out Love Does and say “why not.”

Favorite Quotes from the Book:

He (Jesus) said the people who followed Him should think of themselves more like the ushers rather than the bouncers, and it would be God who decides who gets in. We’re the ones who simply ones who simply show people their seats that someone else paid for.

We’re God’s plan, and we always have been. We aren’t just supposed to be observers, listeners, or have a bunch of opinions. We’re not here to let everyone know what we agree and don’t agree with, because, frankly, who cares? Tell me about the God you love; tell me about what He has inspired uniquely in you; tell me about what you’re going to do about it, and a plan for you life will be pretty easy to figure out from there. I guess what I’m saying is that most of us don’t get an audible plan for our lives. It’s way better than that. We get to be God’s plan for the whole world by pointing people toward Him.