Mold Me

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” — Jeremiah 18:1-6

In the days of the Old Testament, clay for pots came straight from the ground. The lump of clay was dirty and had no beauty about it, especially with its disarray of twigs and pebbles. The potter would have to pick out the impurities by hand if he were to use the clay properly. Kneading and pressing the clay, the potter also removed air pockets so the clay wouldn’t explode in the heat of the fire.

Even today, as in the Old Testament, skilled potters have a vision for each lump of clay. There is purpose in every measurement, in every stroke of the hand, in every tool used, and even in the speed of the wheel. Eventually, the dirty lump of clay, full of sticks and stones, is shaped and molded by the potter’s hand to make a beautiful vessel to be used and to be shown for the glory of the potter.

It’s not easy for us today to fully comprehend this imagery of the potter and the clay, especially because most of us are not skilled potters. But this week, our team ventured out of Ljubljana, to Radovljica, for a day to learn about this Old Testament imagery and the chance to put ourselves in the potter’s shoes. (And let me tell you, if you’ve never used a pottery wheel, it’s harder than it looks!)

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The first and only time I used a pottery wheel was in eighth grade, and it was kind of a disaster. But I decided to give it another go this past week.

I started by throwing the clay onto the wheel and struggling to adjust it to the center. (If the clay isn’t centered, it will be unstable and will most likely collapse.) When the wheel starts to spin, I learned I needed to keep my hands steady while putting tremendous pressure on the clay. This was no easy task, because the clay wants to move from the center. So, I had to continue applying pressure until the clay stabilized (nearly 10 minutes!), all the while keeping the clay from drying out by sprinkling water on it.

Next, I pressed both of my thumbs into the middle of the clay to start the formation of the mug. Slowly, as I continued pressing the clay with my left hand, I was able to start forming the design I wanted with my other hand. I was so excited at the shape it was taking. But soon, the clay started to shift because I didn’t keep on as much pressure. I struggled to keep it from distorting, but eventually, I decided I needed to collapse the clay and start over. I was sad, but I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a distorted mug. I wanted a pretty mug. So finally, after more pressure, more struggle, more shaping and guiding, my product was finished on the wheel. But I wasn’t satisfied with just a clay mug, I wanted to give it color and decoration. So I painted it and added some decorative flowers, and finished it off with my initial, signifying that it was my work.

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As followers of Jesus and believers in His promises for us, we are the clay. We came from the ground, being dirty and full of twigs and pebbles. Through the sacrifice of His Son, He cleanses us of all our impurities and gives us relationship with Himself. But He doesn’t stop there; God envisions beauty from clay.  He puts us in the middle of His wheel and applies pressure so we are centered and stable. And He keeps us centered throughout the process, always keeping one hand on us to direct us and shape us into who He wants us to be. When we start to dance away from the middle or go lopsided in our sin, He pulls us back, for He is not satisfied with a second-rate, distorted lump. He desires beauty. He has purpose. He desires to mold us into exquisite pieces of art that resemble Him and are used for His glory. And He desires marking us with His initial, saying, “She is mine.” If God, our perfect and personal Father, is the potter, what better hands could I ever be in?

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. — Isaiah 64:8

Balkan Adventure: A Journey to the “Motherland”

A few weeks ago, my teammates packed up our rented STINT mobile and began our Balkan tour with a  five-hour trek through the Croatian countryside to Split — an ancient city with a rich history and an exotic, Eastern-European feel.

Upon arrival that evening, the warm, salty sea air, palm trees, and old architecture greeted us like friends. We strolled along the stone streets, illuminated by street lanterns positioned along the buildings. Along the shore stood several cafes with seating that faced the sea. “This is beautiful,” I exclaimed, repeating this nearly every time I turned a corner. I was surprised at how nice the old city was.

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After spending the night at the Tchaikovsky Hostel, a few minutes’ walk to the shore, we ventured through town, passed the crowded fish market and narrow streets, to Diocletian’s Palace, the focal point of the city. The nearly two-hour walking tour of the palace was a great use of our time. Not only did we see the best preserved palace and walk along the original stone streets, but we also learned the history of the 4th century palace and of Diocletian, the only Roman emperor to retire.

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Jupiter’s Temple

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Diocletian’s Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few interesting facts I learned:

1. Diocletian’s Palace is so well preserved because people have been living inside the palace walls since it was built.
2. Diocletian worshipped Jupiter, and he believed he was the son of Jupiter. And there are 3,500 year old sphinxes from ancient Egypt that guard Jupiter’s Temple.
3. Diocletian chose to retire to Dalmatia (Split) because he believed the water had healing qualities for his arthritis. (The water in Split has a high amount of sulfur. He also grew his own cabbage, which also has a high amount of sulfur in it.)
4. The room of the palace pictured below is the vomitorium. The vomitorium was common in the Roman Empire because it was customary for privileged guests to make themselves vomit during and after a 27-course feast to show appreciation to the emperor. A 27-course meal is a little excessive, if you ask me.

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I found some beautiful flowers inside the palace.

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And I found the smallest street in Split.

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“Helena Pedina from Hercegovina”

There’s a story that’s been passed down in my family about my great maternal grandmother, Helena Pedina from Hercegovina. Actually, it’s not really a story so much as it’s a joke about her birth name. How often do you meet a Helena Pedina from Hercegovina? So naturally, it’s now a running joke with my team. (My mom’s family is from Croatia and Albania, as well.) Anyway, my mom, Helene, was actually named after her, so you understand why I was so excited to tour this region.

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After two nights in Split, our team continued our adventure to Mostar, Bosnia Hercegovina, a city with a mix of old and new. The newer part of the city surrounds the older part. The newer city still has remnants of the 18-month siege during the Bosnian War in the early nineties. Golfball-sized bullet holes blanket run-down buildings and abandoned parking garages. Though the city is striving to rebuild, these buildings serve as a dark reminder of the country’s past.

In the older part of the city stands the Old Bridge, a 16th century bridge built by the Ottomans. Although the bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian War, it has since been rebuilt. This landmark is symbolic of the connection between east and west. On both sides of the bridge is a maze of souvenir shops full of scarves, trinkets, paintings, copper pots, jewelry, and postcards. (I caved and bought a beautiful oil painting of the Old Bridge from a second-generation artist, pictured below.)

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As we made our way out of the city, we stopped at the Karadjoz-Beg Mosque, another 16th century landmark. The architecture boasts with intricate details. From the top of the minaret, we had the best view of the city. But the height was too much for me to handle, especially after climbing the steep and narrow 100 steps to get to the top. I couldn’t really enjoy the view because I was so close to hyperventilating. So within a minute, I had to go back down. I guess you could say that the view was “breathtaking.”

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After a few hours in Mostar, we once again hit the road, traveling to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Hercegovina. Sarajevo also has an interesting past, which is particularly evident in the architecture and overall look of the city. The capital has a mix of modern shops and parks, concrete buildings from the Communist era, along with old Austro-Hungarian and ancient Ottoman influences.

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Avaz Twist Tower

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An Old Market

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The balcony where Tito would speak.

I love history and seeing historic landmarks (I get that from my dad), so the one thing I really wanted to see was the Latin Bridge, where WWI began. If you remember from history class in high school, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. This was the spark that started the war. A museum now sits at the corner to show the history of the time period,  and it also displays the pistol that Princip used, as well as his pants (pictured below).

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Tourism aside, I think the best part of the trip, though, was spending time with the Sarajevo STINT team (a team who is laboring for the Gospel, like we are in Slovenia) and meeting other Bosnian believers who have a heart for their country. And I’m so thankful for the hospitality of the local church that welcomed us and cared for us while we were there. What a blessing it was to be encouraged by this team, spend time sharing stories, eat some čevapčiči (chay-vap-che-chee) together, and just get to see their lives and ministry in Sarajevo. Because of this, I came home with a greater heart for the world and a greater perspective on perseverance for the Gospel in Slovenia. And for that, I am thankful.

Homecoming to Ljubljana

It’s hard to believe that I first arrived in my beautiful new home of Ljubljana, Slovenia already 15 days ago. It’s also hard for me to articulate all the emotions I experienced or even to capture all the things I’ve already seen or done. But I’ll at least try to give you an idea. Let’s flash back a few weeks to the day I was supposed to leave.

Thursday, September 12 was an odd day emotionally. That morning, I finished packing last-minute items in my two, 50-pound suitcases, loaded up the car, said “bye” to my Aunt Michelle, and made the drive with my parents to the airport. I remember feeling a mix of excitement, anticipation, fear, sadness, anxiety. The day for which I had been preparing for the past four months (or four years if you want to get technical) had finally arrived.

At the airport, I met one of my teammates Hilary (pictured below). After checking in our bags, we said our tearful goodbyes to our parents, which I must say was hard, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hug them until April of next year. (I’m getting choked up now just thinking about it. *Wipes away tears*). And as usual, Mom and Dad waited to leave until I waved once through security.

Dad, Mom, and Me at the airport. Teary goodbyes... I'm so thankful for them.

But at this point, Hilary and I were ready for the long day of travel to finally get to a place we’d only heard about for years. The outpour of prayers, love, encouragement, and support on Facebook, Instagram, and through text messages was incredible.

We found our gate, and shortly after heard the news that our flight to Newark was delayed. First for an hour. Then for two hours. There was a groundstop in Newark, JFK, LaGuardia, Boston, and Washington Dulles because of an approaching storm. We were back and forth on the phone with our teammates, who were waiting for us in Newark, and our location director, trying to figure out what to do.

Eventually, we boarded the plane (three hours after we were supposed to have taken off). But we didn’t go anywhere. We taxied on the runway for more than an hour waiting for the OK to take off. That OK never came. Eventually, we went back to the terminal. At this point, our other teammates were boarded on our flight to Munich.

I was confused. Frustrated. I was upset with God. So many people are praying for us, why won’t You let us go? But God reminded me that this wasn’t a surprise to Him. It’s obvious He didn’t want us on that plane, just based on the fact that so many people were praying, and it still didn’t happen.

We scrambled to find other flights out that night. But nothing happened. Lloyd, an airport employee, was working with us to try and book flights for us. When he went into the computer, flight itineraries were booked for us for the next day. We got the last seats on the flight to Dulles, then to Munich. I still don’t know who booked the tickets, or how we got the last seats. But I do know the Lord provided in this way for us. And in the midst of everything, I still had deep-seated peace knowing that God always does what is best for me and what brings Him the most glory. Though I didn’t understand, I knew Hilary and I would be OK.

After 9 hours in the airport, my mom picked Hilary and me up from the airport and took us to a hotel, where Hilary and I spent the night. I was so nice getting to spend another few hours with my mom and getting to hug her again, especially after the day we had. I’m so thankful for that.

The next day, we gave it another go. This time went a little more smoothly. When we finally made it to Munich on Saturday morning, the rest of the team greeted us with smiles and hugs, which were very much needed on our end. There was overall a sense of relief when we got there. And the drive from Munich to Ljubljana was breathtaking, which helped a lot, too. What an awesome reminder of God and His creation!

Since then, we’ve been adjusting to life in the city, learning how the buses work and our way around the grocery stores, preparing as team for our start on campus, catching on to some Slovene words, and figuring out how to work the washing machine and dishwasher in our apartment, just to name a few things.

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Ljubljana!

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the fun has been exploring Ljubljana and some nearby villages. Last weekend, as a team we hiked through one of Slovenia’s national parks and spent the night at the weekend home of Uroš (oo-rōsh), one of the student volunteers in our campus ministry Vsak Študent.

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John. Photo by Uroš

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Did I mention how beautiful this country is? Because it is.

I’m just constantly amazed at how the Lord has provided in the last few weeks, and throughout the last year to bring me here. It’s incredible to think of all the little ways He has made this year possible — physical healing, prayer and financial partners to send me, food that I can eat here (including rice milk gelato!!), and encouraging teammates, who are also a lot of fun!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

I’ve also been blessed to see some of fruit that God is producing in the ministry in Ljubljana. (In my next post later this week, I’ll share more about the spiritual climate in Ljubljana and share stories about some of the students I’ve met.)

P.S. To follow our ministry in Ljubljana and what our team is doing, check out our blog, Sent To Slovenia.

Transitions and an Unchanging God

Transition and change are in my job description, at least as a follower of Christ. At any moment, He could call me elsewhere, and when He does I need to be ready for that.

It seems like I’ve been through a lot of transitions in the past year and a half — with writing a thesis, graduating, watching my friends get married, raising funds for my intern and now STINT years in fulltime ministry, walking through physical and spiritual healing. And now, my latest transitions, leaving my home of the last 13 years (My parents are downsizing, and I’m so thrilled for them!!) and moving overseas to Ljubljana, Slovenia, a country I’ve only seen in pictures. It’s hard to think I won’t be coming back to my old room, but I know for sure that this is best.

The Lord started giving me the desire as a freshman to spend a year on STINT sharing the Gospel abroad to those who have never heard. And the day has finally arrived. What seems like years of preparation and prayer are finally happening… TODAY!

My Room at HomeMy Life is in 3 bags!

A few weeks ago, I began to dread today — dread in leaving my family, friends, home, my familiarity. It was a bitter feeling, and I was actually mad at God for calling me to do something hard. Wow, what a bad attitude in my heart. Those attitudes of entitlement that I’ve been dealing with the past year, came flooding right back. In that moment, though, God reminded me that He has called me to this, not for me, but for His glory. It’s because He’s gracious to me that this will be hard. I know that He is present and working in my life because He’s led me to something that will cause me to trust in and solely rely on Him. That’s how much He’s cares about me. He cares about us so much to leave us unchanged. Sanctification is a privilege and it’s by His grace that He doesn’t leave us where we are. This year will be hard, but this year will be so so good for me.

Since then, God has replaced those feelings of dread with feelings of excitement and His peace. I’m so confident that the Lord is going to do an amazing work in Slovenia, in the lives of my team, and in my own heart.

One song that has been really relevant lately is All Sons & Daughters’ “Called Me Higher.” You can listen to it here. But one line sticks out in particular, “I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home, Never let these walls down.” When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He says we will have trouble, but He promises it will be worth it because we get to experience Him and He transforms us to be like Him.

A dear friend reminded me of this truth last week, that though the nature of our jobs is constantly changing, our God is constant and unchanging. She said, “I’m so thankful that God is unchanging and constant… and no matter where He takes you and who you’re working alongside, He is the same and is faithful.” What a comfort to know, that because of Jesus, God’s love for those who are in Him is unconditional, constant, and unchanging.

So as I get ready for this new transition, I leave you with James 1:17-18 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

Dad, Mom, and Me at the airport. Teary goodbyes... I'm so thankful for them.

Michael and Me, Our last family dinner before they visit in Slovenia!

Hilary and Me flying out of the Burgh

Fighting for Joy: It Continues (Update Part 2)

“It’s a miracle I’m here,” I thought as I stood worshipping to hymns amongst 400 fellow missionaries during STINT briefing in Chicago a few weeks ago. These 400 missionaries, or STINTers (Short-term International), are going to 40 countries on 6 continents.

It’s really a miracle that I’m going to Slovenia. These words rang through my mind repeatedly throughout briefing, a 6-day conference through Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) that prepares STINTers for a year overseas sharing the Gospel and building student lead movements (SLM) on college campuses. The conference was such a wonderful experience for me because I had the opportunity to hear from regional and national staff with Cru about what this next year overseas will look like. I met all of my teammates for the first time (pictured below), and I spent time with other STINTers going to Eastern Europe and Russia, learning about the history and spiritual background of our region, as well as ways to adapt to the culture. To end the conference, we had a night of Commissioning, where we listened to wisdom from Cru President Steve Douglass. That night, we were introduced by region, given encouragement from Scripture, and then prayed for “Korean style” (everyone prays out loud at the same time).

While our region stood in front of the crowd of fellow missionaries, our director Scott Matthews told us to look at our feet. He proceeded to read Romans 10:13-15, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” I can’t imagine a better way to be sent to Slovenia!

Outdoor STINT Photo

From left: Anna, Katie, Melissa, John, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, and myself

But why was it a miracle, you ask? Three years ago, I began to experience pretty significant health issues that spilled over into every area of my life. I suffered with chronic fatigue and infections, insomnia, depression, no energy, and multiple other symptoms. But last fall, the Lord provided a doctor who was finally able to give a proper diagnosis (lead and mercury toxicity), as well as a detailed treatment plan. In January, I started an intense detox process through medication, supplements, and a strict organic diet. When I began treatment, I had no idea if I’d be able to leave the U.S or even how long the healing process would be.

Knowing that God had given me the desire to share the good news of life and reconciliation through Jesus, I decided to step out in faith and apply to spend a year in Ljubljana, Slovenia, helping to raise up a movement on the college campus there. Though I was accepted to STINT, I began to have doubts. How will I continue on my diet in Slovenia? How will I get bloodwork done? What if I don’t get better? What if I’m a liability to my team?

The same day the doubts started, my Bible reading plan took me to Luke 12. In verses 22-26, Jesus says to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Through that, God showed me that I had an incorrect view of His goodness and His provision. And this summer, I’m so thankful that He has been correcting that in my heart. In these past few months, God has provided physical healing. Though I’m not completely healed yet, Slovenia is probably one of the best places for my health to be restored because I have access to organic and local high-quality food. (I know the Lord worked that one out for me!) And He has provided all of my financial support, including extra funds to cover costs for my diet, all to be able to share the Gospel in Slovenia! Praise Him for His abundant blessing!

This year, like I said in the previous post, I had an incorrect view of God’s goodness and favor toward me. But the Lord has showed me this summer that He enjoys giving good gifts to those who are His.

In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

And the thing is, I did nothing to deserve these gifts. Nothing. Often, I think if I work hard enough or do enough good things that God will give me what I want. But that’s a lie. God doesn’t bless me or give me good gifts because I do things for Him. He gives me good gifts because I am in Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on God’s just wrath (the wrath that I deserve for my sin), and in exchange, He gave me His righteousness (a right legal standing before God) and God’s infinite favor. This is propitiation according to Systematic Theology, “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in doing so changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”

Romans 3:21-25 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

What amazing words! I have God’s favor because of Jesus. And He wants to give me good gifts! I knew this truth before, but this summer, I really began to believe it true for myself.

I can’t wait to share this truth and the truth of life through Jesus with students in Slovenia! It’s hard to believe I’ll be there on Friday! I’m so thankful that the desire God planted in my heart my freshman year of college is finally coming to fruition — spending a year overseas sharing the Gospel.  I’m sure the Lord has so much to teach me this year, and I can’t wait to share that with you.

Thanks for continuing on this journey with me!