Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Practice of Joy: learning to embrace trials

I'm on a joy journey. I'm hunting down glimpses of joy this year, gifts left by my Father on this road of life. Sometimes it feels easy. The sun shines and it's a big-hat kind of day full of joy abounding in every corner. Other days, I droop. I have to really dig to unearth joy and find it's meaning, claim it for my own.

Yesterday I was sick. Stuck in bed with a bad head cold. I get sick about twice a year - maybe. I was annoyed. I have a crazy-busy week ahead full of kids and plans and selling Haitian jewelry. The bottom line is: I don't have time to be sick. But whenever I'm sick I'm forced to pause. Pray. Think. Press reset on my plans.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have a joyful heart. One of our pastors shared a message a few weeks ago about the "joyful heart." He brought up some good points, challenged me with some questions I need to keep asking myself.

"What are you allowing to rob your joy?" he asked.

The first thing that pops into my head is the mountain of laundry on my couch. Kids who disobey repeatedly. The papers piling on my desk. A to-do list that is never finished. Do I really allow these things to steal my joy? Am I robbed by the very things that could be seen as gifts? Is my joy so weakly rooted in a day's circumstances?

I dig deeper. What really plows down my joy? Arguments over petty things with my husband. A harsher word than I intended to deliver to my child. Dear friends who might have to move because of an ugly job situation. Miscommunication across cultural lines as we reach out to friends in Haiti. Contemplating the world's evils like sex trafficking, child abuse, orphan situation. My joy is slammed by sin.

Pastor Josh reminded me that I need to remember this:

**I am loved by Jesus and forgiven through the Cross.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

**God is in control. He is with me and I have hope for the future.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

These truths pierce me. Set me straight. We have access to a kind of chocolate-truffle-from-God kind of joy.

The first heart exercise I need to do is to ask God to give me His perspective on my circumstances.

2 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
Or written another way...

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.


How can this be? Trials are related to joy? Challenges should be considered a gift? It seems to be a message resonating from so many lips. Monday night we sit in class - a college course on world missions - and I hear the message again. "We need adversity in order to see the glory of God."

I know in my most human of hearts, my most American DNA, I do not want to step into adversity. I would rather run. Yet I know I will chase headlong into the difficult if it means uncovering more of His glory.

I'm changing my lens - realizing that joy walks hand in hand with pain.

And when I look pain in the face I have a choice. I can wince. I can complain. Or I can count. I can count the glimpses of joy, the gifts that my Father has given me. I can weep with my sister who is hurting and find joy on the other end.

This month I have tasted chocolate-dipped strawberries. I have kissed baby's dimpled knees. I have strolled beneath the pink canopy of blooms. I have dreamed the future with my husband-lover. I have allowed the comfort of His words to seep in deep. I know joy in quiet moments, small gifts.

This practice of counting, naming joys may seem too simple. Making lists doesn't get us into heaven. What I have found is that writing down the gifts found in the everyday leads me on a path back to my Creator. He is the one who sacrificed His son on the cross to cover my sins. That is a free gift wrapped in grace. No amount of lists or mustering up "happy thoughts" for a moment can pay Him back. He knows adversity. He invites me to a table full of wine-pain and bread-joy.

He blesses us daily so that we might be a blessing to others.

I am humbled again, remembering this:
Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Following God as He expands our ministry

This winter God has been opening new doors for our family and for Christian Friendship Ministries as we continue to focus our efforts on connecting resources to Haiti. We hosted the 2nd Annual Valentine Crossfit Challenge (See picture at left of us at the competition). This was a great morning of sharing Haiti with a new group of people from around California who were competing in a fun fitness challenge. February proved a very *busy* month for us as we also participated in many events and speaking opportunities for our church's Missions Month. The Bridge Church dedicates one month a year to raising awareness and funds for a special project. This year the focus was on raising money for orphans through Children's Hope Chest in Russia. We were invited along with other missionaries to share about our work in Haiti with many individuals, groups and Sunday School classes.

Perspectives class
This spring we are enrolled in a college course called "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement." This is a community class offered at another local church. We have wanted to take it for several years but the timing never worked out. We are getting a taste of the student life again with the hefty readings and assignments - but it's worth it! Our kids also attend their own "mission class" on Monday nights. We have learned about the Biblical mandate for sharing the gospel, the importance of going to unreached people groups and some strategies for community development. The course has challenged us to think through some important issues as we continue to partner with the ministry in Haiti and shape the work of this non-profit.

Plans for Summer
Our family (of 5!) is currently making plans to return to Haiti in early May. We would appreciate your prayers as we hunt down affordable plane tickets and make our travel plans. (Anyone have frequent flyer miles they would like to share?) We are very excited to have 10-12 individuals interested in visiting us and helping us this summer. We also have a short-term team from our church that will join us in July to help with our Vacation Bible School in the Savanette church.

Plans for the Future
We plan to return to Fresno at the end of July. We believe God is calling us to long-term involvement in the leadership of Christian Friendship Ministries. In other words, we know we are in this for the long haul. We believe our role is to equip, empower and encourage the Haitian leaders so they can in turn make disciples and help other Haitians. We also know there is a vital need to raise awareness and more support for the ministry here in the United States. Right now we see ourselves as a "bridge family," traveling back and forth between Haiti and the U.S. in the next few years. We are now praying for God's direction for the fall to see how Ericlee should split his time as U.S. director of CFM and wellness coach/personal trainer.

God's provision
We are so thankful for God's continued provision. We have been praying a long time for God to provide in some key areas. Some of those answers to prayer include:
-a new intern to help us here in Fresno (Fresno Pacific student Brianna Watson)
-a couple willing to provide financial support for our Haitian director, Peter Constantin
-25 bicycles provided by a church for the laypreachers in Haiti
-breaking ground on construction of the new orphanage building in St. Raphael
-further Bible education here in Fresno for Music Director Walquis Seriphin
-new contacts with California businessmen to help with new job creation for Haitians
-seed money donated to start a micro-loan program when we return to Haiti this summer

Remember Haiti Cycling Team
We are so grateful for friends like Dave Scalzo who have stepped forward in helping us raise awareness and funds for special projects in Haiti. Dave is leading our "Remember Haiti Cycling Team" as they prepare for and ride the Eye-Q California Classic Century Ride on May 19. So far the team includes 15 riders. SImilar to our "Remember Haiti Marathon Team" they are meeting regularly to ride and also getting sponsors. The money raised will help with the needs in the upcoming year for the schools in Haiti.  If you or someone you know likes to ride, let us know. We would love to have you join our team!

Haitian Bead Project
Our Haitian Bead Project continues to gain momentum as Dorina has had the opportunity to sell the jewelry at various venues and share the story of the artisans. Several local stores in Fresno are now carrying the jewelry. We also recently launched a new web site for the project at, designed by our friend Kirsten Gould. We encourage you to check it out and share it with friends. This summer we will be bringing a team of friends to Haiti to work with our Haitian artisans as we expand to some new products. Please let us know if you would like to help sell jewelry to your circle of friends or co-workers

We recently were challenged by speaker and author Francis Chan who spoke at the Fresno Pacific Ministry Forum. He said we should all be doing more things that are "above our heads" so that we can depend more on God and witness Him at work. We are certainly in above our heads as we work for change in Haiti. We appreciate your continued prayers and faithful partnership!

Serving Together,
Ericlee & Dorina
Meilani, Giada & Zayla