Birthday in Budimpešti

“But for all our fears we are not alone. Our trouble is that we think of ourselves as being alone. Let us correct the error by thinking of ourselves as standing by the bank of a full flowing river; then let us think of that river as being none else but God Himself. We glance to our left and see the river coming full out of our past; we look to the right and see it flowing on into our future. But we see also that it is flowing through our present. And in our today it is the same as it was in our yesterday, not less than, nor different from, but the very same river, one unbroken continuum, undiminished, active and strong as it moves sovereignly on into our tomorrow.” — A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man

Last week in Budapest, as I sat in a room full of fellow STINTers to Eastern Europe, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed at the work the Lord is doing throughout our region. I listened as the speaker, John, a Cru staff member working in the regional headquarters in Budapest, used Tozer’s analogy to explain how God is moving.

“God’s work is flowing now,” he said, encouraging us to not simply focus on the future, but also to open our eyes to what the Lord is doing now.

I’ve said this before, but STINT can be discouraging at times, especially when you don’t see instant results. And to be honest, I can really let discouragement get me down. It takes a toll on my attitude and can make me think that there’s no hope.

But I’m thankful that God doesn’t allow me to remain in this state of mind. And STINT Weekend in Budapest was just another way that the Lord reminded me that our labor is not in vain and that ALL of God’s promises will come to fruition. Not just some of His promises. But ALL of them. I was reminded of God’s goodness and His desire for Jesus to be glorified throughout the whole earth. I was reminded of the Gospel and my need to depend fully on the Spirit, otherwise I can’t do anything. And I was reminded of God’s love, not only for the world, but also for me, His child.

What a privilege it was to hear stories about life-change and how the Gospel is spreading in Montenegro, Bosnia, Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. We were also able to share needs with each other and spend time praying together.

It’s amazing to think that just 20+ years ago, in my lifetime, most of these countries were closed to missionaries and the Gospel. But since the fall of Communism, we’ve watched as the Lord has opened door after door to allow for His life-giving and life-changing message. Just with Campus Crusade for Christ International, we have campus ministries in nearly 100 cities! And we’re praying for another 100 cities to have student-led movements by 2020. We know that the Lord can make this happen.

Even just in the last few years, since we began the partnership in Slovenia, we’ve seen God raise up students to help lead the movement here. We’ve watched as the Gospel has captured the hearts of young people and how God has used these 18-22-year-olds to reach their friends and families.

While the conference was incredibly encouraging, I also just had a lot of fun exploring Budapest! (Not to mention, I got to celebrate my 24th birthday!)

Budapest — or Budimpešti in Slovene — is a beautiful capital city beside the Danube River, with charming castles and glorious Austro-Hungarian architecture. The city bustles all day, but becomes magical at night, especially around Christmas. Bright lights illuminate the most beautiful of buildings — the Opera House, Parliament, and other government buildings — as well as the vibrant and classic Christmas markets in the city center.

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The narrow streets are aligned with stalls of mulled wine and cider, sausages, roasted and sugar-coated almonds, chimney cakes (large cylindrical cinnamon rolls), candies, chocolates, and handcrafted pottery and ornaments. Shoppers, families, couples, and friends happily stroll around the stalls. There’s an air of excitement in anticipation of Christmas.

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And I was even more excited, not just for Christmas and a chance to explore a new city, but also to celebrate my birthday with my team, complete with a gingerbread latte (soy and decaf) at Starbucks on Friday and a day full of dietary cheating on Saturday. (I didn’t go overboard, or make myself sick, but I did indulge a little.)

The best part was dessert, though, at Alexandra Bookcafé, a café located in a former French department store. I felt like I was dining with royals in Paris, just by the elaborate décor. And the desserts were divine — coconut hot chocolate and chocolate cake with fluffy chocolate and vanilla mousse filling. I savored every minute.

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Let’s just say that it was marvelous to feel normal for 24 hours, not concentrating on my restrictions, but enjoying freedom.

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And the next day, I got to relax and detox at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, a popular destination for tourists and nationals alike. The 100-year-old baths have 15 indoor pools, 3 outdoor pools, and 10 sauna and steam chambers. Don’t worry, everyone was clothed.

After an afternoon of hot-tubbing, the STINT teams gathered together for a traditional goulash dinner, singing Christmas carols, and just spending time with each other before we all left Budapest.

I’m so thankful to have been able to spend my birthday and the weekend being encouraged, not just in ministry, but also in the little things, like chocolate cake.

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23 Things

In honor of launching this new blog, and because I just celebrated my *gasp* 23rd birthday, I decided it would be fitting to post the top 23 things I’ve learned about life, about Jesus, and about myself in the past year. (Of course, there are other things I could’ve added, but I had to stop somewhere!)

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(Photo courtesy of Alex Menrisky. Cannes, France 2010)

23. No matter how many times I watch them, The Big Bang Theory and Friends will always make me laugh audibly.

22. Rocking out to JBiebs, TSwift, and One Direction is a lot more fun when you’re with friends. (I also pride myself on knowing the token rap portions to pop songs.)

21. Choosing to thank God in the all circumstances is like saying, “Lord, I trust You despite my situation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) This contributes to our joy.

20. Friends in ministry always told me that the first year of fulltime ministry would be the hardest and that ministry is like a magnet that rockets brokenness to the surface. I don’t know about the first part because I can’t compare it to anything yet, I definitely agree with the latter. So, yes, it’s difficult, but it’s good for me. (James 1:2-5)

19. Sanctification is a privilege not a punishment. Yes, it can be painful, but God loves us too much to leave us unchanged. (Philippians 1:6)

18. I am in dire need of God’s grace every moment of every day. His grace is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) and His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12).

17. The Lord sustains me. (“I wake again because the Lord sustains me.” –Psalm 3:5) I don’t think this truth has ever been so clear to me as it was this year. In the midst of extreme fatigue, the Lord provided me with the strength, and continues to give me enough strength to get me through each day. And in the midst, the Lord also provides rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and restoration (Psalm 23).

16. Traveling is probably one of my absolute favorite things to do. So far, I’ve been to 14 countries. And I have no desire to stop there. I can’t seem to go a year without going out of the country.

15. I have a deep desire to help fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus says in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 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.” Call me crazy, but I want to see Jesus come back.

14. My time in Morocco was incredibly challenging. But I’ve realized recently that if I added ministry and discipleship to what I did when I was there, I would have my absolute dream job. Combining French, journalism, travel, missions, and Jesus — that would make for a killer career.

13. As much as I don’t like to admit this, I don’t have my life figured out. Or even the next year. This is highly unusual, because I’m a planner. But I’m convinced this is God’s way of saying to me, “Trust Me.”

12. God has created me to be me and to love Him. He knows my heart and because of Jesus, loves me anyway. My past, present, and future are all in under His control. (Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29)

11. I love France. But I think you already knew that. I’ve adored France and the French language since I was 6. Does visiting France five times make it an obsession??

10. I absolutely love people and being involved in others’ lives. But I still cherish my alone time.

9. I get really emotionally involved in good movies, TV shows, and books.

8. I prefer deep conversation to small talk.

7. Leading and shepherding women in their walks with Jesus is one of the most fulfilling jobs I could have. In my opinion, some of the best ways to invest time and money is in relationships with God, relationships with people, missions and sharing Jesus with the world.

6. The Lord has blessed me with an amazing family and wonderful friends who love me as I am and constantly point me back to Jesus.

5. Cooking and baking relax me. Trying new recipes is an exciting adventure for me, especially ethnic foods or vegan baked goods. (I like trying new restaurants, too!)

4. My ideal day would be spent at a café in Europe surrounded by cobblestone streets and old architecture, sitting outside, sipping café au lait, journaling, reading, watching people walk by, and having good conversation with anyone who is with me.

3. Taking steps of faith is hard, but God wants us to live and live abundantly. Cru’s definition of successful evangelism is “Taking steps of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” This doesn’t just apply to evangelism, but to your daily walk with Jesus. What an adventure God calls us to!

2. Living for Jesus does not make life easy, and when you become a believer, your life doesn’t become perfect. Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. (Mark 8:34-35). But following Jesus is worth it. And we aren’t left alone, we have incredible power in the Spirit that’s inside believers. We believers often forget that.

1. The reward for following Jesus is Jesus. It’s that simple. We don’t follow Jesus to receive blessings or crowns in Heaven or even to get to Heaven. While those are great, I’ll say again, the reward for following Jesus is Jesus.

As you look back at the past year, what have you learned about yourself? About life? About God?