Saturday, January 28, 2017

Being Awake....By Emma Zwemke


Sometimes your children grow up. And sometimes they have thoughts that challenge you at the core. 

Sometimes they write responses to their scholarship applications and you have to share them.




Entertainment is dangerous.  
Not that it is evil.  I do not mean that at all.  I could almost wish it were evil, it would be so much easier to deal with.  

It goes like this.  You are working hard, trying to please God in your thoughts and actions.  And one night you are tired, so you watch a movie with your family.  And there is nothing wrong with that!  So you do it again the next night.  The night after, you start a tv show on Netflix, and you get hooked, so you stay up late to watch the next episode.  There is nothing wrong with that either.  And for the next month, that is what you do every night.  And it is not really wrong.  Only, you stop thinking.  I mean, you think, but they are only superficial thoughts, thoughts lulled to sleep by the constant stream of information you have been pouring into your mind.  Because you go to school all day, and you do homework in the afternoon, so night is the only time you would have time to think deep, slow things, but you have spent all night putting shallow things into your brain.  You are not awake in your spirit.  You do not find any opportunities to minister because your mind was too sleepy to remember to pray for them.  You do not get anything out of the Bible because you are so muddled inside it only takes five minutes to forget everything you read.  You are cranky and anxious because you have forgotten to pray for joy and peace.  And none of your friends are there to slap you awake; they are all sleeping too.  
        It happens so often.  It can be caused by anything I enjoy doing which does not require me to be still and muse.  I try to avoid it, but I cannot see clearly what is happening until I am awakened.  Usually it is a book that gets me out of it.  The other day it was a biography of Amy Carmichael.  Once it was The Lost Princess, by George McDonald.  Sometimes it’s the Bible, but I have become so used to the rhythm of its words that I usually cannot catch its meaning when my mind is drowsy.  But when other good books talk about the doctrines espoused in the bible, the exposition is different, and the things I had forgotten come back to me all at once like a bucket of cold water in the face.  Then I wake, remembering that I am supposed to watch and pray, supposed to give all my time to God, not my own pleasures. I am always so frustrated, because I knew all of it before, but I had let the thought slip from my focus.  
I do not know how to fix it, how to keep my mind perfectly fixed on God.  But I know now how easy it is for my mind to wander, and that is half the battle.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why So Many Benches?

View from the bench (below)
    Life has been a blur of change and transition over the last year or more. And now that we have arrived on the other side of the pond, everything is exactly the same and yet completely different.
One of many places to rest from your journey
    Our family structure has transformed in ways that I would never have imagined two or three years ago. I no longer homeschool our girls. The five of them span all three schools here. (As a side note, I have a new found respect for all the parents that send their kids to school...it is much more work than homeschooling (at least for me), and not being in charge of what they are learning or the schedule at which they must attend, is challenging at best.)

  We are bombarded with newness: New language to learn, new rules to follow, new neighbors to meet, new students and staff to relate with, new road laws, new weather, new schooling.  It has had moments of being overwhelming. I think the low point came two weeks after our arrival. I had to shop school supplies for all five kids going to three different schools, and some of the required items were totally new to me...like "house shoes" for Caroline. (Yep, she had to have a special set of shoes that stay at the school that she switches into each day. It's brilliant really, when you think keeping the classroom clean, especially during the winter months.)  But even with that bump, I foolishly thought, "School supplies? No problem, this teacher and homeschooling mom knows school supplies." Then I walked into a couple of shops and what I saw looked more like art supplies than school supplies, and I began to get this knot in my chest and my brain stopped working.  We just had to leave the store and try again later. I was defeated by school supplies.  All that I thought I knew had crumbled beneath me, and I began to realize that in this new land everything would take longer and be harder to accomplish...for awhile.

 I needed to pause and take a deep breath, and breathe in the Truth that my Loving Father made me, redeemed me, and led our family to this place. And where He leads, He provides, and gives wisdom to those who ask it. The circumstances may have been too much for me, but they will never be too much for my Redeemer.

  Maybe that's why Germany has benches everywhere. Even in seemingly remote places on the sides of pastures and along hiking trails. Maybe here in Germany they understand that life is not lived in the packed schedules alone, but there must be margins of space in which to process it all. To sit and ponder the deeper truths, and the meaning of things beyond the surface circumstances.  I was so bewildered by these benches in the middle of nowhere.  But then I began to sit on them during my walks...they encourage you to pause, and rest. When I see them all over the tiny village we live in now, I remember the words of Father:

Psalm 46:10New King James Version (NKJV)

10 Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!



John 15:5-8 (NKJV)
    5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
These water fountains are found in every town. Many are for the refreshment of hikers.


 















When you loose your directions, where do you go for your compass? The answer to this question reveals more about us than you may realize. For it is at these exasperating moments in life, that we reach out for what we truly believe. When life gets overwhelming, what is your usual response? Do you give yourself a pep talk and think positive thoughts? Do you make you life busier in hopes of distracting yourself from even getting to any depth of realization? Or do you stop and remember the Truths of God as He reveals them in His Word? Do you know Him and the rest He offers to those who truly seek Him?
Overlooking the little village of Vogelbach


 
Matthew 11:28-29  (NKJV)

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.






When we pause and train our minds to dwell on what is real and true, the circumstances fade, and we see the lasting structure of the things behind.

Then, when the spinning slows down, we can begin to enter into the place of worship that comes through thankfulness.
Sometimes you need to rest when you make it to your front door

 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.







This lovely bench is the meeting place of many neighbors on a Friday evening. They share a beer and talk about the week.



As you journey, take time to pause.




So I am learning to rest in Him, to look to Him for direction and strength for the day. And when I see the benches I remember to "be still" and "abide" in His love and Grace.






If you don't, you might miss the view.




Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Packing and De-Cluttering...A Spiritual Activity?

   This is our life right now...boxes, piles, and lists. What you see behind Ryan are all the boxes that we are shipping to Germany by boat. We have reduced the possessions of our family into 372 cubic ft. There is more of course. There is the stuff we are bringing with us on the plane.  That amounts to three suitcases per person.

The things that made the cut.
   Our house looks empty, except for the pile of things being shipped to Germany, and the pile marked "yard sale", and the pile marked "donate". It could be a strange and unsettling feeling for some folks, but I have found it to be freeing. Over the last couple of months we have sorted and cleaned and found so many THINGS that we forgot we even owned. 

  There were several episodes of tears when choices had to be made, such as, which two baby dolls to keep out of five. Yes...one child had five baby dolls all serving the exact same purpose.  Yet, it was still painful to choose which to keep and which to give away. One child has a particular love for collecting stuffed animals, and it was difficult knowing that not all of them could come. And it wasn't only the children that had to make tough choices...oh no, Mama likes her books....A LOT! So what if I have that book on Kindle, or two copies of the same...books are treasures, MY treasures! (Insert Gollum voice here)...My Precious.

The house emptying out of all it's STUFF
The words of Jesus have hit our family hard in this area.  

Luke 12:15-21 (NKJV)

 15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”


There it was plain as day...perhaps kicking me between the eyes... "for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” My 8 year old kept saying, "But, this toy (or thing, or scrap of paper) reminds me of (insert memory here)." Hmm, if memories are only tied to the things we possess, and if getting rid of things makes us loose those memories, then I could see how people would get caught up in feeling like their life DID consist of the things we possess. But, Jesus promises that our life does NOT consist in these possessions. So, we bring ourselves under the authority of scripture. Where our thoughts differ from what is plainly taught, then we must ask for help and wisdom to bring our thoughts in line with God's teaching. 

The child who loves her stuffed animals decided that God was telling her to get rid of ALL of them. We reassured her several times that we were NOT asking her to give them all away, only to narrow it down.  But, she prayed and felt that God was asking her to trust Him and love Him more than those toys. She cried a little, then all on her own got gift bags from the closet and made little gifts for special children in her life. She chose to give those toys to others, and found that it increased her own joy, and freed her room of space. 

Below is a picture sent from the mother of one of the children who received a bag full of stuffed animals...our daughter was SO happy to see how her love increased as she gave away her possessions. 

The love given to others.
Verses 16-12 in the above passage speak on investing in the Kingdom of God more than our possessions on earth.  This is counter-cultural in our society, and many have a hard time seeing how this truth plays out in their lives.

 But we have met many on our support raising journey who have counted investing in the Kingdom of God of the highest return rate for their possessions. We are so encouraged that these people are willing to invest in the lives of missionaries and their families by supporting us and the work at Black Forest Academy. 

 We are thrilled to see God continue to raise our monthly support. We are at 62% of our monthly needs so far. At 90%, we can buy tickets and leave for Germany. The time is quickly approaching, and we could grow uneasy, but we put our trust in the God who has called us and who will provide the means to accomplish what He has called us to do.

Would you like to join our support team with a monthly or yearly pledge? All donations are tax deductible, and earn incredible heavenly interests.  :) 
Will you test the Lord's words and see the joy of giving greatly expand your life more than any earthly thing you could possess?

You can make your pledge at this site:  https://give.teachbeyond.org/support/zwemkes/

Our girls at Berry College, visiting friends and the eagles on campus.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


  Through the Wardrobe

What you see here was pleasantly discovered during our orientation to Teach Beyond at Wheaton College last summer.  Ever since I was a child I have been enchanted and challenged by The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis.  It wasn't just the magic of a hidden world that could be lurking in any of our homes; (although I did check many closets, wardrobes, and the like in my younger years); it was Aslan, the lion, that broke the evil witch's spell over the frozen land by offering himself as an innocent sacrifice for the guilt of another.  It was the first real glimpse I had of the Gospel of Jesus, stripped of all it's institutionalized religious lingo.
   So what is this picture to the left? It is the wardrobe that C.S.Lewis' grandfather built, and which inspired him in the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Inside were fur coats, one of which belonged to Lewis's brother. I nearly cried as my daughters were allowed to open the wardrobe, touch the coats, and dream.
   
(Since writing this post, I have heard from a very reliable source that C.S.Lewis, in writing LWW,  was actually inspired by an E. Nesbit book, in which a young girl finds a new world through a door. Lewis attached the door idea to a wardrobe...not any particular one though.)

  We, all of us, dream. We hunger for our fallen world to be freed from the evil spell of sin. We hunger for the Justice that comes through Mercy, and that Mercy is found in the One who gave himself as a sacrifice for our guilt. And once we have found Him, we are forever beholden to His service, bound by the love He shows us, bound by the full freedom of His forgiveness.

 So maybe our family won't be going to Narnia anytime soon, but the adventure of serving the Lord at Black Forest Academy in Germany, feels like taking a step into the wardrobe and entering a new world full of wonder.

Right now we are overwhelmed with all the obstacles that stand between us and this new world. Things like selling our house, organizing all our belongings into: keep, store, sell, and give away; raising the rest of our monthly support in order to love those students at BFA well; all these things make us see mothballs and wooden backs to the wardrobe, instead of crisp white snow and a lamppost lighting the the darkness of the forest. (those who have read the book will get the reference, and those who have not read it, need to)


 But in the midst of the uncertainty and the busyness, we hear our Lord calling us to be still in Him, that He will show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal to Him. He whispers again that His tender mercies are over all His works, and He promises that where He calls us to serve, He will provide. 
  
 
It's a scary thing to trust your life to the Lord. He might call you to do something that will make others sad or angry. He might not call you to the suburbs near all your friends and family, with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a secure job with a plentiful income. When we say that we will follow Jesus, it means that we will surrender all our hopes and expectations to His will. Things may look different than what the American dream promises.

We are so thankful that He is leading our family to serve at BFA. We are anxious to get there, but He is still working to show Himself strong in the journey on the way.

Thank you to so many who have joined us in this journey through prayer and financial support. Presently we are at 100% of our relocation funds and 40% of our monthly needs. And we cannot go if we are not sent. Thank you for helping to send us!


I'll leave you with the following passage from the book, it describes the feeling of losing your life to follow Christ, as seen through the character of Aslan, the lion:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion."
 "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion
..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

If you're looking for the "safe" life, then don't follow Jesus.

But how comforting to know that He is good, and that He loves us deeply.
 



  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Vaccines Vs. Measles...What's a Christian to Do?

   The past two weeks have been an explosion of articles, blogs, and opinions over the battle of vaccines and the measles outbreak in Disneyland.  Passions are up, and judgements are flying from both sides, causing this girl to walk around having debates and arguments in my head, and knots in my stomach.  The fear mongering and the hate has run high, and it's coming from both sides of this argument.

  This post is not about which side you should be on, nor will I choose scriptures to try and support one view over the other.  I would like to take a moment to focus on the root of all this unrest in our hearts.  As I have prayed about it, researched the science on both ends, and tried to work around media biases, and the like, I think that the real root of all this passion and anger is fear.

 And for those of us who claim to be Christ followers, who claim to trust in a Sovereign Lord, and who claim to live no longer for ourselves but for the one who redeemed us, fear has no place in our reasoning, and no place in our motivations.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
  "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

Fear drives us to put up barriers to protect ourselves. It creates camps of "us" and "them", and it motivates us to start building fortresses where we think we can provide our own safety at any cost.  Loss of control for our lives and the lives of the ones we love, in any form, can drive us to fear-motivated reactions. And when we are afraid, we have little room in our hearts and thoughts for anything else.



  Friends of ours serve the Lord through missions in central Asia. The very fact that I cannot name them or the country they serve in for safety reasons should be a strong clue as to how much danger they are surrounded by on a daily basis. We often read of this danger in the daily news, and we pray for their safety. On a recent visit to our church we were able to talk with them about the challenges they face as they live amongst, and love, the very ones who may take their lives. By any measure of worldly thoughts, these people have a right to be fear driven. However, I was comforted and challenged to see their calmness, their love for the people they serve, and their willingness to live out their position as dead to themselves and alive to Christ.

Philippians 3:8-11(NKJV)

8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

 What example are we being to the onlooking world if our views and opinions are based in fear?  I have seen a good many "believing" people post articles, statistics, and opinions in an attitude of disgust, anger, and hate on social media.  What room have we to speak the Truth in anything but love?  Much less to speak our personal opinions about non-eternal matters with vehemence and urgent despair as if our hope in God was not the rock to our lives as we claim it to be.


   Did we forget that God cares much more for our children than we ever could?  The Christ-follower knows that God's promise of protection in our lives is not centered on physical protection (although He often does give us that as well) but it is a guarantee that nothing can snatch us from His hands, or separate us from His love.  If He was willing to send His own Son to the cross on our behalf, He may allow some of us to suffer physically as well. This means that we must trust Him with our lives and the lives of our children. This in no way absolves us from making wise and careful choices for those He has entrusted to our care, but instead it relieves us from the impossible task of keeping all forms of harm and hardship from entering into their life.


  There are risks to any decision we make for the ones we love and care for. Many times I have had to turn my fears over to the One who directs the wind and the waves, and who changes the hearts of man, especially when it comes to matters of parenting.  It seems as though parenting has a way of driving me to my knees, begging for God to grant direction and wisdom, more than any other area of my life.

  Brothers and sisters, let us love one another, and respond to one another in kindness, peace, and with a sound mind. Let's encourage one another to trust the Lord more deeply, and to care for each other when our little ones are going through hard times, or when we have to make hard choices on their behalf. And, let us show the compassion of Christ as we try to understand our brothers and sisters who stand on the other side of the fence on this issue.

 Vaccines vs. Measles? What should a Christian do? Well, we should trust in the One we have given our lives to, and not give way to fear.  He knows what it is to love a child. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lessons from Disney World

    This past November, our family had the opportunity to take the high school marching band on a trip to Disney World. Already some of you are chuckling at the chaos that 45 high school students and our five girls could create on an action packed four-parks-in-four-days "vacation". Surprisingly, the entire trip brought up few and minor mishaps, one of them being that we left our middle child in the bathroom in "England" at Epcot, only to realize that she was missing by the time we had walked to "Canada". (It sounds worse than it was, as Canada is only a few yards away from England at Epcot. But I discovered that I could still sprint, even in my 40's, as I raced frantically back to get her. She had just exited the bathroom and was beginning to look around for us when I showed up... Why did it have to be the middle child?)

  The older girls had been plotting how to best use our time to hit as many "thrill" rides as possible in each park.  But, I had to remind them that the 7 year old had not yet ridden any roller coasters in her life, and if they pushed her to the thrill rides too quickly, she would hate them and fear them forever. 

  The 7 year old and I had talked before the trip. She likes to prepare herself for things, and has a bit of a hidden fear-streak in her. She asked me about the rides, and told me flat-out that she didn't want to go on any rides that were in the dark, went upside down, or were scary. This discussion took place over the lunch table, and I could see the look of concern coming over the older girls faces as the saw their doom to ride Winnie the Pooh, and It's a Small World, and like rides for their whole 1st time at Disney.

  I told the seven year that she didn't need to worry, even about the scary rides (what constitutes scary at age 7 is a relative scale) as I was sure Disney paid a good amount of money to make sure that the rides were as safe as possible, and that no one would really get hurt at their parks.  Careful what you say, children will listen. (Thanks Sondheim, I understand this now.)

  Our first day, we went to the Magic Kingdom and started off slowly with the tea cups, and then the Dumbo ride. The older girls were getting antsy, but I assured them their patience to warm the youngest up would pay off for the rest of the time. After Dumbo, the 7 year old looked at me and announced that she was ready to ride the new Snow White Dwarve's roller coaster. Okay, no Space Mountain, I grant you, but definitely in and out of the dark, and definitely fast and more thrilling.  She loved it, and thus she went right into the thrill-seeker category of her older sisters, with the caveat  that she would NOT go on rides in the dark.

 Day four rolls around and the weather was horrific. Rain in sheets instead of drops made puddles the size of Rhode Island all over the parks. At the Animal Kingdom, we huddled under a small rooftop trying to find an indoor ride that we could get to quickly to wait out the next swell in the storm.  We found ourselves at the Dinosaur ride, not realizing that it would be entirely in the dark with the added bonus of large dinosaurs jumping out at us to scare the riders.  OOPS, didn't think that through well. And as the 7 year old sat behind me with the oldest girl and their uncle, and we turned the first corner in the pure dark, I began to panic. I thought we were going to undo all our hard work in one frightful ride. I thought we had ruined her trust. I reached my hand behind me and felt her head tipped downward, but I couldn't hear her screaming.

 As we got off the ride, Ryan and I turned to the youngest, and asked her how she liked it. She smiled at us and said, "I'm glad Mama told me about the rides not hurting anyone. I just closed my eyes and remembered that no one would get hurt." Basically, she decided just to close her eyes and trust what I told her.  

 Wow, the faith of a child. Because she trusted that we wouldn't lie to her, she was able to act on faith when her circumstances were not to her liking. I was so proud of her, and deeply convicted in my heart.  Am I trusting what God promises to me in the scriptures are true?  Do I close my eyes (so to speak) when the circumstances of my life are not to my liking, and remind myself of God's Truth to comfort and protect my soul? (Ps. 23)
 
  God is not a man that He should lie. He has proven Himself trustworthy time and again. So when things like our monthly support being at 16% stare me in the face, I must remind myself that He will provide where He leads, and that He makes all things beautiful in His time.  (Ecc. 3:11)

 The circumstances that we see in our lives are much like the facade that Disney portrays all over their parks. There is another world to Disney behind-the-scenes, as Ryan and the four older girls got to see first hand when their ride literally stopped on the slopes of Mt. Everest.  After 45 minutes, and a trip down the stairs inside the mountain, our family was finally reunited. They assured me that things look different "Back Stage".  I wonder how different things would look to us if we could see all that God was doing behind the "show" of our life's circumstances.

  All I really need to remember is that He who promised is faithful, and He is not a man that He should lie.  If I can just get that through my thick head, I will be able to weather any uncertainty in the circumstantial scenes of my life, resting in the knowledge that nothing can erase my name which He has graven on His hand. (Isa 49:16)

 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Step by Step

  

 
  Often there are growing, stretching moments in our children's lives.  And sometimes it feels as though the lesson is more than they can bear. There are often quiet tears, and sometimes the flopping of arms with heavy sighs as they fall back into the couch, hoping to hide in its comfort and warmth.
  
  We try to come along side them and remind them, when you climb to the top of the mountain, you get there one step at a time.  And we cheer them and help them as they work through each new step.  

  How true this is for us as adults, too. God never stops sending us new challenges and lessons.  If we are willing, we will know Him more as He walks with us up the mountain side.

  
He has been encouraging my heart recently in Isaiah 46:8-11:

“Remember this, and show yourselves men;
Recall to mind, O you transgressors.
9 Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’
11 Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
Indeed I have spoken it;
I will also bring it to pass.
I have purposed it;
I will also do it.
"

  As we prepare our family to move to Germany and serve at Black Forest Academy, we have to daily remind ourselves of this very truth. God has called us to care for our brothers and sisters on the foreign field, by teaching, caring for, and discipling their high school students. This means that we must trust that He will get us there, one step at a time.

  Presently, we are at a little over 12% of our monthly pledges and the Lord has amazed us and refreshed us with so many wonderful supporters.  We are truly encouraged to find others who have a heart to join in this work, and to support so many on foreign soil.  But sometimes it is easy for me to take my eyes off the next step before me, and when my gaze rests on that mountain of 100% of our monthly pledges, I start to feel dizzy and overwhelmed....and I look around for a couch.

 Proverbs 37:5 says,  

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.

  He calls us to share the work He is doing with Third Culture Kids at Black Forest Academy, and that is the next step we must take. He is faithful, and He is the One who will bring this mountain to pass. 

  Would you like to know more about what this ministry means to our brothers and sisters on the field? Here's what missionary parents of Black Forest Academy students have to say about this unique ministry:

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