Saturday, April 30, 2011

In the midst of it all...

Tuesday morning I wasn't feeling very well. Fighting a cough and frog-throat, I had to run to the back of the store for the multiple times to cough. Around the 36th time, co-worker came back me,

"Leslie, you gotta be taking care of yourself. You need to rest."

"Oh, I don't have time to rest. I can't take days off of school with finals coming up, and work doesn't let me call in. Plus, I need the hours..."

"Leslie, you're going to eventually reach that point when you can't get out of bed, and you're not going to have any choice but to let yourself rest."

The next day, my coughing had gotten so bad that I could barely walk across the house without having a terrible fit, and I missed my first day of school this semester. That afternoon, I went into work to let them know I couldn't come in the next day, and guess what co-worker came up to me...

"Leslie, I thought you couldn't miss school? You couldn't miss work?"

A humbling experience for sure, and the past four days on my couch with bronchitis has given me plenty of time to dwell on it. I've realized that if I keep pressing on without rest, attempting to rely on my own strength, I'm going to collapse. These struggles are a reminder that I'm not strong enough.

While preparing for this upcoming summer, I often feel overwhelmed. Finals this next week, trying to work and save up money for both the mission trip and a visit to my hometown. Coming down with bronchitis and being forced to miss two days of work and three days of school isn't helping either of those... At least, from my perspective, it seems not to be. But when I stop and look up to my Father, He reminds me that He sees so much more. He sees just what I need, and He will provide.

The hardest time to see the whole picture is when you're standing in the middle of it.
Like an abstract painting, I look in every direction but only see random brush strokes.
Some light, some dark, all swirling around in an endless twister of color, nothing making sense.

I take comfort in Christ's provision. 
I'm just one person, stuck in the midst of the story.
He is the one painting it around me.
He sees the whole picture and the finished product.
When things feel out of control, it's because He's reshaping the picture to make it ever more beautiful.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places

Forgive me, now, 'cause I have been unfaithful.
Don't ask me why, 'cause I don't know.
So many times I've tried, but was unable.
This heart belongs to You alone!


Forgive me, I'm ashamed. I've loved another.
I can't explain, 'cause I don't know.
No-one can take Your place, there is no other.
Forever Yours and Yours alone!

("Forgiven," by Skillet)

It can be easy to fill our minds filled with so much stuff. Family, friends, work, school, guys, movies, and so on... For me, it is very convicting to look at how much time I spend dwelling on these things. I vocalize that Jesus is my priority, but how much time of my day do I spend with Him? In America, I feel like we often trivialize how important God truly is. If an individual generally spends 15 minutes every day (give or take snooze button days), they're doing great, right? I just can't help but wonder... is there more to being a Christian than that?
Even if I do manage to squeeze in 15 (or... gasp... 30) minutes of God-time into my day, how does that compare to the rest of my life? How many hours did I spend on facebook or hanging out with friends today? What percentage of my thoughts were consumed with that cute Christian guy? I know that it would be an extremely humbling experience to math out how much of my day isn't for Christ. What does God have to say about that?

"You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3)

Now, I've been a Christian my whole life. I've never worshiped nature or a statue... but I worship other things. My dreams, guys, friends, my desires to be appreciated, loved, and thought of as beautiful. But if those things are being put above God on my priorities list, they're becoming gods in my life. Idols. I want my life to be different from this, I want it to be 100% Jesus.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Pray continually. I can't even picture what that could look like in a person's life. Imagine, prayer can be more than "rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for this grub," or even the more devout "God, please help me to not kill my brother today..."  Whatever a continual-prayer-life looks like, that's what I want to look like. I want to be so consumed with the love of Christ that He truly is the biggest focus. I want to get to the point that I would be joyfully willing to give up everything else in my life.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spiritual Warfare

Yesterday a lady from church commented about our upcoming mission trip to the Czech Republic:
"The more bad things happen, the more you know you're heading in the right direction."

Well, I think I might just be heading in the right direction.

Friday night while spending some time praing and reading the Bible, I decided to commit myself to getting up 15 minutes early every morning to spend some time with Jesus before starting my day. Consequently enough, even though I set two alarms every morning...
  • Friday I woke up 5 minutes before I had to leave for work
  • Sunday I slept through first service (I was going to bring a friend from school to church with me, too)
  • And today I slept in until 15 minutes before I was supposed to leave for school.
While rushing out the door today, I fought back my frustration and recognized that there must be something trying on to keep me from getting that quality time with Jesus. Instead of letting myself getting worked up, I tried over and over to re-focus that energy on praying so that these circumstances would strengthen my spirit instead of break it. But the more I focused on Jesus, the more satan showed that he wasn't ready to give up...

On my way to school, I had to merge into the left lane. I checked the area, had plenty of space to merge, turned on my blinker, and started to pull over. Well, the lady I was pulling in front of did not want me to enter that space, and tried to speed up so that I couldn't pull in. She nearly rear-ended me, blared her for merging into "her space," then turned on her brights and followed me for 10 minutes.

Later, I spent 45 minutes in the library editing the final draft of a paper I had to turn in at 11. About five minutes away from being ready to print, all of the computers in my row blacked out and wouldn't turn on again, making me not only unable to print my paper, but I lost all of my edits. (Thankfully, that teacher was gracious and is letting me turn it in this afternoon.)

Looking back over my day, I can't help but see that there's more going on than meets the eye. (It probably didn't help that last night I was praying that God would work in me and refine me... no matter what it takes. A dangerous prayer!) But I've seen God bring beauty through it, encouraging me through the song "Forgiven" by Skillet, and through Christians around me. One of my classmates sent me this bible verse today, and it really touched my heart:

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
1 Peter 4:16

I have a feeling that these trials are far from over, but I have peace and confidence in Christ that it will be worth it in the end... even if the more I seek Him, the more the enemy will try to stop me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Miluju tě

Czech to English translation: I love you.

     The Czech Republic is one of my favorite places in the whole wide world. I've been there twice before on mission trips, teaching English at a family camp and building relationships with the awesome people that I met! It was an incredible experience to work alongside other Americans on my team, long-term missionaries, and the local church from Vysoke Myto. As well as those trips, this last October I spent one month back in the Czech Republic, spending time in Prague and Vysoke Myto, visiting not only good friends and brothers/sisters in Christ, but also my European sister, Andy! You see, during my Junior year of high school, my family hosted a Czech foreign exchange student. She is my very best friend, and God has blessed my life immensely through knowing her!

     Warning: be careful when asking me any questions about the Czech Republic, because I could talk your ear off for many hours. It's hard to explain, but there's this passion in me that has a heart for the Czech Republic. I can picture it now... the cobblestone streets, ancient buildings, cathedrals, metros, trams... the culture, the language, the food (kofola, schnitzel and fried cheese with tartar sauce!).... the people. Some of the people dearest to my heart live in the Czech Republic; Michal, Zuzka, Andy, Bondy, Tatiana... I would give my life for these people.

     However... my heart also breaks when I think of the Czech Republic. The darkness and hopelessness of the country. The Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic countries in the world, and it's such a heavy feeling to realize that nearly every person I come in contact with does not know the love and grace of Jesus Christ. These faces in my mind, these people in my heart... so many live their days without the hope that I have.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

     I know that God has called me to the Czech Republic. This passion, this love... I know it's not coincidental. I can't wait until July 8th, when I will hop into a plane and fly acrossed the ocean to the country that I love!
Miluju Českou Republiku!

Translation: I love the Czech Republic! (Thank-you to my good friend, Michal, for helping me with the grammar!)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mission Trip to the Czech Republic

Hello everyone! I just wanted to make you aware of my upcoming mission trip to the Czech Republic. This upcoming June, from the 8th-20th, I will be joining some other members of my church on a mission trip to Olomouc, Czech Republic! We will be serving side-by-side with local missionaries, building relationships with high school and college students.

Quick Facts About the Czech Republic:
1. The Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic countries in the world, with less than 1% of the population practicing Christians.
2. The Czech Republic was under Communist rule from 1948-1989, and is now a parilamentitary representative democracy.
3. According to a 2009 census, the Czech Republic has a population of 10,489,970 people.
4. Olomouc, the town in which we are going, has a population of 641,555 people (2010 estimate)

If you're interested, Mike Young (the missionary that we are joining up with) has a video with more information that was prepared the summer of 2009:

How we'll be reaching out:
In most of the world, English has a huge draw to non-native speakers. The "language of commerce", English is an important tool if an individual wishes to succeed. Using this as an opportunity to draw in the people, we will be hosting English classes to not only provide an opportunity for the Czech people to practice with native Engish speakers, but also to get to know them and begin building relationships.

God thrust this onto our team extremely last-minute, with about two months to prepare and fundraise. I totally have faith that if He wants for us to go, He will provide financially! Each member of the team must raise $2,500 by June 1st.

Thanks to, below I have an opportunity for you to help out financially if you feel compelled to! You can donate using a credit/debit card, or by transferring with a PayPal account. (Note: using ChipIn does not qualify you for a tax write-off. If you are interested in donating with the ability to get a tax write-off, email me and I'll let you know how!)

Also, I understand that many of you are not in a place to be able to help out financially. That's totally okay! What I would appreciate even more so is to pray for my team and I as we prepare and travel to Europe!

A Day Without Shoes

Have you ever heard of TOMS? They're a shoe brand not only growing in popularity, but also carving their own way in the shoe business. A non-profit organization, with every pair of TOMS shoes bought, TOMS sends a pair of shoes to a child in the world that doesn't have any.
(For more information, check out their website Here)

Yesterday was TOMS' annual "One Day Without Shoes," and guess who participated??

It was really an interesting experience. The whole point of TOMS promoting "One Day Without Shoes" is to raise awareness for the hundreds of millions of children in the world that grow up without shoes. As people all over the United States chose to go shoe-less for the day, TOMS hoped that awareness would eventually bring about change.

Unfortunately, I did work yesterday and in the food business I am required to wear no-slip footwear, but after work I went straight to my college classes and went barefoot for the rest of the day. Throughout the afternoon, I realized two interesting things: for one, there were many people that noticed my bare feet and still didn't say anything. And for two, more people didn't even notice! But from my and classmates and friends, I did get a lot of questions and started a handful of conversations. (Hower, I was unsuccessful at talking any of them into removing their shoes with me!)

One downside I didn't think about before is the fact that I haven't spent a hot day walking around barefoot since my preteen years... and I'd forgotten how hot asphalt can get in the sun! Let's just say, my feet were a little tender by the time I got home last night.

All in all, it was  an interesting experience for me. It's eye-opeing that there are so many children in the world that have to suffer daily without shoes at all. I realized how important shoes are in my daily life, and how exposed your feet are without shoes (even in an easy lifestyle of sitting in the car and walking on sidewalks to class).
For more information, and to hopefully participate next year, check out:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Yucky Monkey

When my baby sister, Alyssa (now one year old), first started crawling, there was a dawning of a new age in our house...
The Age of Chaos.

Alyssa is a mess-maker to the core. She doesn't pull things out of place to play with them. No, that would be too cliche! Instead, she seems to make messes for messes sake. She'll sit at the DVD shelf and pull the cases out as fast as she possibly can, throwing them to the floor around her then crawling away to her next target. Now that she's walking, the situation has gotten worse. She's even stealing the dirty spoons out of the dishwasher and trying to run away with them! Let's just say that our house is consistently in a state of disarray.

A significant problem we recognized when Alyssa went from an object of rest to an object in motion (that will stay in motion until acted upon by an outward force -- a.k.a an adult chasing her down) is the presence of our two dogs, and Alyssa's new hobbies quickly became splashing in the water bowl and climbing over the cranky 13-year-old dog.

In addition to the new areas of mischief, Alyssa also discovered her new favorite toys: the Yucky Monkey.
(Insert theatrical sound effect here) 

A tattered dog's toy, Yucky Monkey may have been only slightly ripped, but carried a very stained and soggy exterior. No matter where we tried to hide him, it was as if Alyssa carried a 6th, "Monkey" sense. We would hide him behind the couch, and hours later she would emerge victorious, monkey in hand. Toss it down the hallway, hide it in the corner, you name it. She found it.

While Alyssa loved Yucky Monkey, but he obviously grossed out the rest of the family. I would find her snuggling and chewing on him, and shudders would ripple through me. However, there was nothing quite like the way her face would light up when she'd find him again. Alas, to the baby's dismay, a few weeks before Christmas, mom eventually threw Yucky Monkey away.

As Baby's First Christmas arrived, we sat around the living room and helped her unwrap her presents. She got package after package of frilly pink dresses, fancy singing toys, and baby dolls... but the shining star of the night came from big brothers, Cory and Nathan. Alyssa was paying minimal attention to the presents, a little overwhelmed at all of the gifts... but as mom helped her pull back the wrapping paper, Alyssa's toothless grin grew wide, her face beamed, and she snatched out and snuggled... a new Yucky Monkey. Cory and Nathan had found an exact replica (but clean this time!) of Yucky Monkey at Wal*Mart and got it for Alyssa. By far, her favorite and most-used present. (It can be difficult to keep the dogs away from him, though!)

You know, this whole ordeal with Alyssa and her Yucky Monkey has me thinking... we so often carry a similar mentality throughout life. I know that I easily form an image in my mind of a "Happily Ever After" for my life - or even just a day - and when things don't quite turn out the way I anticipate, I get frustrated. "God, why didn't things turn out like I had planned?"

Maybe, just maybe, the A that I desire on my test isn't what would truly be best for my future... or maybe instead of being overcome with frustration when I'm running late and can't find my keys, God wants me to use it as a learning opportunity for patience. Because just like Alyssa thought the dirty, germy, stained dog toy was the best thing in the world, the adults looked at the situation and recognized that it's not a healthy environment for her, we can think a situation is incredible, but God sees something better for our future.

God's been teaching me patience lately -- to hold on, and He will provide something better for me than I can imagine.

"In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps."
-Proverbs 16:9

"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

America: the Land of the "Free to Fall Behind"?

This is a paper that I wrote this semester for my Composition II class. Let me know what you think!
     America is a unique country with unique expectations: “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” No other nation is like America, and America is often esteemed as a safe haven to those in other countries. Andrea Bukvova, a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic, once told me that “America is the last best place for the world. It's a belief to all of us that if something goes wrong in our country, we can always go to America.” America is a place of hope and freedom, a country where any individual can pursue the “American Dream” and achieve anything that they set their mind to. Yet, are our own adolescents carrying this American mindset and pressing on to be all they can be? A comparison of American high school students to students of other world powers reveals that America is falling behind academically, which may be a result of a lack of emphasis on the importance of graduating from high school.

1. How does America Compare?
     America's high school students trail behind students of significant world power countries. Andrea, the foreign exchange student whom I mentioned previously, is not only an excellent example of how foreign students excel academically in comparison to our own, but also a person dear to my heart. Andrea Bukvova (affectionately referred to as “Andy”) lived with my family in Montana during the 2008-09 academic school year. While living with us, Andy attended a Christian private school in our hometown at a junior status. During her year, there were several other foreign exchange students in her class, primarily from Germany. The astounding thing I realized throughout that year is that even though the foreign students were attempting to learn the material in English as their second language, they ranked higher in their classes than nearly all of their American peers. During her year, Andy not only maintained straight A's, but she and the other exchange students placed as the top students in many of their classes, including anatomy and mathematics.
     In addition to what I've observed personally, there are several studies that reveal America is falling behind other countries. One such study was done by The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) on a collection of fifteen-year-old students from 65 participating countries, encompassing “between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country” (“What Pisa Is”, par. 1-3). Surprisingly, America comes in 16th place in this global line-up, falling behind not only many Asian and advanced European countries, but our Canadian neighbors as well, who came in sixth place. (PISA 2009 Results) When comparing the United States, it is evident that America isn't at the same academic level as the countries with whom we are competing, such as China, Japan, and Switzerland (PISA 2009 Results).

2. Why is America falling behind?
     A potential reason for America's lax educational standing is a lack of high school students' personal motivation and a lack of emphasis on the importance of education. High school students often skip school, disregard their homework, or focus more on friends than studies. Unfortunately, while skipping school and procrastinating in their homework are extremely common in High School, even more distressing is that students are dropping out of school in hordes. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the drop-out rate is worse than we would like to believe, surmounting to the statistic that “about seven thousand students drop out every school day” (1). I think that high school students may view high school graduation as unimportant because, instead of attending class for four years to receive their diploma, they can take one test and receive a General Educational Diploma (or GED), which is often upheld as an equivalent to the diploma. With students thinking, “Why waste four years of life going to school if I can get an equivalent in much less time?”, we as a society need to have an answer for them. Even if it may seem feasible for a high school drop-out to achieve the same ultimate outcome as their graduating peers by receiving a GED, there is a distinct difference in income between graduates and high school drop-outs. According to Cecilia Rouse, Professor of Economics at Princeton University, the average high school drop-out earns “over the course of his or her lifetime … about $260,000 less than a high school graduate” (qtd. in Alliance for Education, 2). In addition to the personal consequences, high school students dropping out also affects the entire country. According to the Alliance for Education, “If the United States‘ likely dropouts from the Class of 2006 had graduated, the nation could have saved more than $17 billion in Medicaid ... over the course of those young people‘s lifetimes.” (2) Students should attend school because both the amount of what they can learn and the education process itself is important for not only their own future, but for their family, their community, and their nation.

     In 1997, Gordon M. Ambach, then-executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, expressed his concern for America's Education: “...We're not keeping up with the countries that are going to be our major competitors in the future” (qtd in Fiske Par. 9). As a start, we need to be encouraging our adolescents and stress the importance of completing high school for the benefit of themselves and the world around them. In America, students have the unique opportunity to be all that they can be if they set their mind to it, and that begins with devoting themselves to education and receiving their high school diploma.
     When Andy returned to the Czech Republic in June of 2009, the school board of her high school would not accept the year spent in America as quality education and held her back from moving on with her class. In her hometown of Olomouc, Czech Republic, Andy was not a significantly outstanding student in comparison her European classmates, yet when placed in an American educational setting she shone brighter than her American peers. If Americans don't take education seriously, others will.

Works cited:
Alliance for Education. High School Dropouts in America. N.p., February 2009. Web. 11 Mar. 2011
Fiske, Edward B. “Insights Into Why U.S. Students Lag Behind in Global Academic 'Horse Race'.” The New York Times 11 Feb. 1997.: Web. 11 Mar. 2011
Programme for International Student Assessment. Comparing countries’ and Economies’ performance. EOCD, 2010. Web. 11 Mar. 2011