Bekah's Heart, Joy

A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine about some advice his parents had given him:

“Live now on earth as if you’re already in heaven.”

Because eternal life doesn’t have to wait until earthly death, we can experience the joy and power and peace of heaven while still in the struggles, despair, and anxieties of this earth.  We were discussing what that could actually look like, but came up with very few answers.  Well today, one came to mind as I thought about Pastor Carl Steufert! If anyone I know did this “heaven on earth” thing well it was Carl.  This beloved pastor, coworker, friend, husband, father, and more cherished every single moment of life and truly found the joy in EVERYTHING.  Not only did Pastor Carl understand what it meant to live as if heaven is here and now, he brought a little slice of that heaven to everyone he interacted with every day.   And now I can’t help but smile through the tears as he is truly living in the 100% beautiful joy of heaven!

When you would call him on the phone it was always “a beautiful day out here in Clarence” and he would want to know about the beautiful day happening in Tonawanda.   For the years that I had the privilege of being a coworker of Pastor Carl’s I always cherished his presence and wisdom in our staff meetings.  He was one of those people who didn’t say much but when he did you definitely listened because you knew it would either be incredibly wise or absolutely hilarious… often, it was both.

I loved the ways Pastor Carl really cared for all people.  He especially loved being around young people in the congregation and looked for opportunities to encourage them whenever he could.  This summer Pastor Carl and his wife, Thea joyfully attended a Bible study I was leading on Sunday mornings.  He was always a calming presence in the room if discussion was getting heated and just like the staff meetings, wouldn’t say much, but when he did, you listened.  I was so thankful for the high school and college students who got to know such an amazing, joy-filled, gracious, wise man through this opportunity or through his service as one of our college prayer partners.

The Streuferts were some of the very first people I met upon arriving at First Trinity, and not without reason.  The connections between my family and theirs began long before I was even born.  In addition to members of our families attending college together, my maternal grandmother, who I never had the privilege of knowing, was one of the teachers for Pastor and Thea’s children in elementary school.  Through them I have gotten to know more about the amazing woman that my grandmother was.

I could go on and on about the amazing Carl Streufert.  From conversations over a dinner when they invited a friend and I to Olive Garden with them one holiday to the final conversation I had with him in the hospital just days before he went to heaven… there’s only one phrase that seems appropriate, (and for those who knew him it will come as no surprise)… the only way to desribe knowing him:

WHAT A JOY!

Thank you God for Carl and for the joy and grace and peace he brought to this world in his time here! We will miss him but look forward to the joyful day when we see him again! 

 

Bekah's Heart, Joy

Joy… only in Jesus.

Joy is an interesting thing.

I love joy.  I’m not sure, though I understand joy.

I love the ways in which God provides joy and I love to hate the ways Satan tries to steal it away.

Joy is not happiness; it does not waver with circumstance.  It is a sense of comfort and contentment that overtakes our soul.

The concept and expression of joy is plastered all throughout Scripture. In Nehemiah we see that strength comes with joy.  The Psalms are full of examples of people singing with joy.  There is inexpressible joy in knowing Jesus.  I could go on and on about the things Scripture tells us about joy, but the one thing God has been teaching me lately, is that joy is found ONLY in HIM!

How often, even in Christian circles, do we talk about “finding joy in our job”, or “finding joy in interacting with others,” or “finding joy in figuring out who we are in Christ”?  To some extent these things are even Scriptural. It’s true: God DESIRES for us to find joy in life!  However, as I read Philippians 4:4 the other day, He brought to light another way of thinking about this.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice!”

True joy is found only in Jesus.  He doesn’t want us to find joy in our jobs.  He wants us to find joy in HIM… which he may choose to give us through our jobs.  He doesn’t want us to find joy IN our relationships with family and friends. He wants to GIVE us joy THROUGH our relationships with our family and friends. Yes, my family or friends can bring me joy, but there are also days when they can bring me grief, or pain, or frustration.  But if we see God alone as the SOURCE of joy and choose to rejoice in HIM, then joy truly isn’t circumstantial.  It remains even on the tough days at work or in the midst of broken relationships.  It makes it possible to live out this command to be joyful ALWAYS when we remember where the joy comes from in the first place.

Bekah's Heart, Joy

Joy Protects

The concept and experience of JOY seem to be popping up everywhere.  The current sermon series at FT…. conversations with friends… and now, it’s suddenly appeared the last few days in my personal devotion time as I work through Kelly Minter’s study on the book of Nehemiah.

In yesterday’s lesson on the first part of Nehemiah chapter 8, Kelly focused in on verse 10:

“… and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Now up until this point in the book of Nehemiah, a lot has happened.  The short version is that God put it in Nehemiah’s heart to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls that had been destroyed when all of God’s people were taken into exile years before. The people band together and despite threats and battles with the people around them, they were able to accomplish this task miraculously in only 52 days.  This made the people who had been taunting them freak out because they realized a task like that could only happen with God’s help. The people began to move back in the city and some might think that Nehemiah’s job there was done, but he knew that all of what he had already done to restore God’s city of Jerusalem meant nothing if the people’s hearts weren’t focused on God.  That brings us to chapter 8 where they gathered everyone together… “both men and women and all who could understand what they heard” (8:2) and Ezra began to simply read God’s Word.  From early in the morning until midday he read, others explained what they were hearing and answered questions, and they ALL worshiped and praised God as they heard his Word again.

Though, as they wrapped up their time together, the people began to weep, likely because they realized how far away from God they had gotten while in exile… how far they had walked away.  But this is where Nehemiah steps in saying:

“Go your own way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10; emphasis added)

While God’s greatest desire was for them to return to him and live in his ways, this day was not about grieving, but rather a new beginning a chance to start again and remember the grace God had for them.  By telling the people to CELEBRATE today, Nehemiah was reminding them of God’s great grace and love for them.  It was as if he was saying, don’t grieve the past just live in my ways, in my joy, as you go forward.

In the book I’m using to help me study Nehemiah, the author points out something neat about the word “strength” in the phrase “the joy of the Lord is your strength”.   She notes that the Hebrew word for “strength” here is maoz which means “refuge, stronghold, fortress, place of protection”.   In the midst of a day where they realized just how far they had fallen from God’s will for their lives, they were reminded to find refuge and protection in joy.  What I love about that is that it reminds us that joy is not about being happy or having things go well in life.  Rather, joy comes from simply being in God’s presence, in his refuge, in his protection when the things around us may not be going well.

Joy protects our hearts when they get overwhelmed.

Joy protects us from bitterness when things don’t go as planned.

Joy protects us from despair when hope seems gone.

Joy protects us from complacency and ingratitude when things ARE going well.

Joy provides a place of refuge in a world that often isn’t throwing “happy” things our way.

And so I end with this question for you: How has the joy of the Lord but YOUR protection, your refuge, your strength, lately? May you CELEBRATE and rest in His grace today!

 

Bekah's Heart, First Trinity, Haiti, Internship Highlights, Joy, Mission Work, NY Adventures, Random

I love my life! (And I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.)

At 11:45 this morning I passed this sign on my way back from helping run the ropes course for Operation Purple Camp at Pioneer Camp and Retreat Center: 

The crazy thing about this is that I drove past that same sign for the very first time exactly two years ago today at the end of a 1,200 miles journey to move here from Kansas.

When I passed the sign today, I found myself instantly breathless and in awe, recalling all that’s happened in the last two years.

I recalled the nervous excitement of pulling into this parking lot for the first time greeted by car-washing youth and my amazing teammates and I think about the one that will take place this coming Saturday in that very spot.

I think about the hard times, the good times, and the in-between times that have filled the last 730 days.

I’ve been stretched, comforted, challenged, pranked, loved, encouraged, invited, broken, healed, sick, healthy, prompted, cared for, listened to, led, followed, supported, …. changed.

And most importantly, I remember the countless amazing people I’ve gotten to experience each day of the last two years with.

Earlier today, a friend commented that I lead a very interesting and fascinating life. As I thought about her comment a little more, I decided it was really true…. I do have an awesome life.  Even in the midst of any struggles or hard times, I have a family who loves me, an awesome job with the best teammates, opportunities outside of work to explore and serve, a wonderful home, a healthy body, the freedom to worship my Savior, friends all over the country and world to share life with, and most of all, a God who created me, saved me, and sustains me each and everyday.

I love my life!  (And I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.)

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full!” (John 10:10)

Bekah's Heart, Blessing, Family, Joy

24 Years to Celebrate

Dear Doctor,
Do you remember 24 years ago when you told a young couple that their brand new baby girl wouldn’t live more than a couple of hours? Do you remember saying that if she did live that her lungs probably wouldn’t work properly and she’d likely have disabilities and challenges with learning?

Just thought you might want to know that the same girl just used her perfectly healthy lungs to run five miles this morning after using them to sing for about an hour all to celebrate the 24 years of LIFE God has given her before heading off to the awesome job that she got after graduating college with honors last year.

Thanks for not giving up on her when “science” said she had no chance. You see, her God created science … and He created her! He created her for a purpose, part of which she’s still figuring out as she stumbles through each day. But she knows there is one–there must be–because even you were baffled that she made it through ONE night on earth, let alone 8,766. So, thanks again! Thanks for letting God use you to work miracles in that little girl so He can use her to prayerfully do the same for others.

Love,
That Girl 🙂

Bekah's Heart, Joy

Deeper than my View of Grace


As I mentioned in Friday’s post I led a presentation at a middle school/high school retreat Saturday.  (I meant to post this on Saturday, and even had it written, but am just now getting it posted.)   Anyway, I used part of Jami Smith’s song, “Your Love is Deep” to outline our time together at the retreat.  Over the next few days, I’ll be adapting my presentation into blog posts focusing on each of the lines of the verse of that song.   Today’s line: “Deeper than my view of grace.”

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I’ve been learning a lot about grace lately.  I’m not exactly sure what I used to think grace was, but I know that my “view of grace” is not the same it used to be.

I think my former picture of grace was just some word we sang in some popular Christian songs and a word thrown around in theology classes that we wanted to make sure we focused.  Grace was about salvation… it’s what saves us from death on the cross.  Grace is well…. Yea… I think that about summed up my view of grace.  And I’m so glad God’s love is deeper than that view I held for so long.

 

As I’ve worked through some tough stuff in my life over the past year I began to realize that grace is so much more.  In the session Saturday we (me and the two young adult women that I asked to come help me) talked with the girls about the expectations we/they have either placed upon us/them or that we place upon ourselves.

 

Somewhere along the line in my life I had accumulated a lot of expectations, mostly from myself, and those expectations kept me from realizing what true grace really is about.

 

True grace really is about freedom to simply be the person God’s created you to be.  It goes beyond simply getting into heaven and salvation.

God’s grace gives me strength to go through each day.

God’s grace calls me to live a godly life but at the same time removes pressure to perform.

God’s grace tells me that I don’t have to live under the expectations of the world but that I can simply just be who I am.

Grace is about joy… and contentment… and peace.

 

And even cooler yet is that even with my new view of grace… God’s loves still goes deeper than that!

 

What about you…. What is grace to you?

Bekah's Heart, Blessing, Family, Joy, Random

The August In Between


We often find ourselves talking about our lives in seasons, or stages, or as chapters in a book.

A few weeks ago one phase of life (student) came to an end. This weekend new phase will officially begin (professional).

And here you have… the august in between …

  • A celebration of 31 years of marriage for my amazing parents.
  • Church with the whole family.
  • A night to catch up with a camp friend.
  • A morning at a coffee shop hearing about a friend’s recent trip to Africa.
  • A visit with my might-as-well-be-a-sister (former roommate) and her husband playing games, eating well, and exploring small-town Iowa.
  • Long hours on the road … just me and my Jesus.
  • An afternoon at camp and the kind of friend with whom you could talk for hours even if you haven’ t talked in years. Sharing hearts… the truest parts… sharing laughter … sharing hikes … sharing macaroni and popsicles… sharing life.
  • Another beautiful woman opening her beautiful home … and heart, not for the first time. Catching up. Celebrating together, thanking God for the places to which He has called us to and the people with whom we share life with.
  • Driving into that town… the one that greeted you so warmly for 4 years … and knowing… while it’s good to be back… home is now about 1000 miles east.
  • People… souls… so many… touching my life as they’ve often done in the past… hugs exchanged… meals shared… the sudden, joyful, realization as I speak from my heart, that I really love my job, my home, my life in Buffalo.
  • A beautiful woman I barely knew(yet knew so well), and her daughter, welcoming me with open arms, an open home, and open hearts… inviting me into their world
    of beautiful NE sunsets…

    and reminders of Jesus, the vine… me, the branches….

    and God’s abundance and grace…

    and smiles and swings and pickles and kittens and catapults …

    and homemade icecream with fresh blackberries

    and smiley pancakes….

    and so much more!
  • More meals with beautiful women.
  • 3 days of sister-sister-niece time.
  • A visit with a cousin, her husband, and beautiful baby recently moved back to The Sunflower State
  • a new hobby (sewing on the sewing machine my parents got me for my birthday)
  • 5 wonderful days with my parents… cleaning, garage sale-ing, packing, moving, loving, laughing, sharing, creating, being.
  • fun fortunes the day before leaving KS
    “Travelling to the east will bring you great rewards.”
    “You will always be surrounded by true friends.”
  • Supernatural packing space in the car
  • Seeing a beautiful friend on our way through St. Louis and her making us dinner too!
  • Fun conversations and experiences with dad on the way out.
  • Making it to NY in 2 days and many people ready to help me move in once I got there.
  • The feeling of truly being home… in my apartment… sleeping in my own bed… driving my own car… going to my own job… home. 🙂

There you have it… a small peek into… the August in between.

(more in a previous post here )

College Ministry, Crossroads, First Trinity, Internship Highlights, Joy

Looks like NY will soon have a new Resident

Yep that’s right… in case everyone at First Trinity didn’t hear this weekend, I officially accepted my call!

 

Check out a copy of my letter below.

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May 26, 2011

 

Dear Members of First Trinity Lutheran Church:

 

What an immense blessing it has been to work and serve God with you the past 10 months of my internship! I could not have asked God for a better place to learn and grow, to be challenged, supported, and loved as I finished my last year of undergraduate studies. I was overjoyed three weeks ago when I heard the results of the congregational meeting and experienced that same emotion again this weekend when I received the call to serve as the Director of High School and Young Adult Ministries.

 

Having prayerfully considered your call, I am excited to report the acceptance of the call to First Trinity Lutheran Church! Without a doubt, I believe God wants me to continue in ministry with you. I am eager to see His great plans unfold as we work together to transform our world, one life at a time, through the power of God’s Living Word.

 

Joyfully Blessed in Christ,

Rebekah Ruth Freed

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SO EXCITED AND BLESSED!

Blessing, First Trinity, Joy

An Overflow of Blessings

Too many to count today, but I’ll try anyway:

  1. Awaking to the sound of birds and all things spring.
  2. Pausing “just a few more seconds” in God’s Presence before rushing off to get ready for the day.
  3. An old dress that I haven’t worn in a long time…. so it felt like a new dress. 🙂
  4. Many compliments all day on said “new” dress.
  5. The aforementioned compliments leading to chances to learn some more names (Yes, I’ve been here almost 10 months and am still learning names. Thanks God, for the grace and humility to keep asking!)
  6. Weather conducive to skirts/dresses… FINALLY!

     

  7. MAY DAY… memories of many May Days past with daisies and gifting and joy on people’s faces.  (Soon I hope to plant a garden, even if it’s just one pot on my balcony.  I miss the flowers that grew outside of my apartment the last 2 years… and the many that grew outside my house growing up.)
  8. Finding another person at church who had actually done May Day baskets before (I think it’s more Midwest thing or something???).

     

  9. Watching high school students ask, and then wrestle with, the question, “What does it REALLY mean to be a Christian?”

     

  10. Witnessing 20 people stand before a family of faith and confess that they believe in Jesus and want to follow him all their lives.
  11. Bread and wine,  broken and shed… for you … for me…. for forgiveness.
  12. Witnessing youth take the bread and the cup for the first time.
  13. God’s sense of humor as he was probably laughing along with the funny faces some youth make when they drink the wine for the first time.  Giving grace as he literally gives grace.
  14. Listening as Jason said a special blessing for each confirmand that went along with their chosen confirmation verse.
  15. Sitting in the back of church reciting my own confirmation verse in my head:

    …but those who hope in the LORD
       will renew their strength.
    They will soar on wings like eagles;
       they will run and not grow weary,
       they will walk and not be faint.  (Isaiah 29:31)

  16. Bending down to bless one specific little girl while serving communion, a visitor today I think, and seeing the PURE JOY and understanding in her face as I smiled and said, “Jesus loves you!  He always has and he always will!”
  17. The First Trinity Youth Band… doing a wonderful job, once again, of leading people into worship.  And this time… singing a song they wrote themselves for the Confirmation class and more so, for God’s glory!  (Lyrics here.)
  18. The other bands doing a great job with the music as well! 

     

  19. Belonging.

     

  20. Confirmation Party-hopping. So much to celebrate!
  21. Coming home and crashing for a 2 hour nap on the couch.
  22. Good music and time to just chill while watching Phantom of the Opera.
  23. French Bread Pizza for dinner.
  24. Many special surprises being planned for people I love.
  25. Free…. washed in the water. 
    Free… to be God’s family. 
    Free… forever forgiven.
    Free… free indeed.
  26. A text message reminder from a brother in Christ:
    “Hey All!  Song of the day: ”You Love Me Anyway’ by Sidewalk Prophets.  I was just really reminded this weekend that Satan continually feeds us the lie that we arent worth anything, that we can never be loved, and that our past deeds keep us separated from Christ.  But Christ speaks truth to us that no matter what, His love is always perfect, always pure, and always enough! Never forget that! Love you guys!”
  27. A new song in my heart, now also on paper.
  28. An unscripted time of praise… Jammin’ with Jesus. Thank you God for guitars!

 

And thank you God for this day. A day to simply be free in you!

Bekah's Heart, Blessing, Joy, Lent

“Thin places”

A book I’ve read recently was reminding me of the concept of “thin places.”  This was a phrase used by Celtic Christians to describe those moments were heaven and earth just seem to meet… those moments of awe and wonder… the moments where the junk that fogs our view most of the time is cleared up a little bit and we get a glimpse into God’s glory.  I had many of these “thin places” today and yesterday and thought I’d share just a few:

 

  • A deeper realization of the fact while reading the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan yesterday that God WANTS to spend time with ME.  Truly is crazy love.
  • Staying up way too late on the phone last night with my college roommate talking about all things life. Laughing.  Sharing joys. Sharing struggles. One in NY.  One in CA.  Yet, walking through life together.
  • Getting to go to Camp Pioneer for the first time.  I don’t think it matters WHAT camp you’re at, nor the length of time you’re there (we were only there an hour), camp is definitely a thin place… a place to be closer to God.
  • Easter Breakfast shopping… I’m not sure how many people can say this brings back childhood memories, but it’s definitely a truth for me.  I had fun today with my teammate Jason hitting up Entemanns, Aldi’s, and Wegman’s to track down everything.  Something about memories of doing this with my dad also make me think of my Heavenly Dad… a thin place.
  • Driving back to church for worship tonight it was kind of cloudy (like it has been for the last 6 months) and there was this small, tiny holy in one of the clouds and sunshine was pouring down through it… hope…kinda like the simple light that remains through these next couple dark, but holy days.
  • And about a million ‘thin places’ were found in worship tonight….
    • Laura’s solo on bass of “What Wondrous Love is This?” at the start of communion…
    • Real bread, ceramic chalices, along with a sense of true communion with those at the “Last” Supper (which was really the first)…
    • Bill’s testimony and Pastor’s reminders of how were are united, in the meal and in service…
    • The stripping of the altar
    • A child walking, crown of thorns lifted high above her head, back down the aisle placing them alone back on the altar after it had been stripped.
  • I found myself especially awestruck by the words in many of the hymns and the beautiful music throughout the service:
    • “Never so alone and lonely, Longing with tormented heart To be with Your dear ones only For a quiet hour apart”
    • “Show Me and the world you love me, Know me as the Lamb of God: Do this in remembrance of Me, Eat this Body, drink this blood.”
    • “Just as I am… without one plea… though tossed about…. poor, wretched, blind… fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come…. I come.”
    • “Oh the height of Jesus’ love, Higher than the heav’ns above, Deeper than the depths of sea, Lasting as eternity!  Love that found me—wondrous thought!  Found me when I sought Him not.”
  • One specific hymn struck me tonight.  You see, I just finished reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp earlier this week.  The book, in a way, is all about these thin places, about giving thanks, literally at ALL times, even when giving thanks might be the last thing we want to do. It’s about Ann’s journey of literally COUNTING the gifts she receives from God.  I’ve kept a list similar to this for many years, but once I started reading this book, I started actually numbering them in my journal and just hit 1000 last night.  I almost exploded with joy tonight as I sang these words:

“Thou hast born the smiting only That my wounds might all be whole; Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely, Rest to give my weary soul; Yea the curse of God enduring, Blessing unto me securing, Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, Dearest Jesus unto Thee.”

Yes, Dearest Jesus… thousands of thanks we bring and give to you for the thousands of gifts you pour into our lives each day… gifts we may or may not take notice of. Today, one of those gifts was simply the eyes to see these, and many more gifts… to recognize the thin places and simply be in that place and enjoy the piece of you I was allowed to see. Grant us eyes, especially as we head into these next few most holy days, to anticipate thin places and anticipate You.  In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

 

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So, I want to hear from YOU… what thin places have YOU experienced recently? Times when God seemed to break through the busy-ness and chaos of our lives to put you in awe or speak to your heart…. even if it was something as simple as literally laughing out loud at yourself when you saw your crazy hair in the morning (which also was a thin place for me this morning).

🙂

(Really… I’d love to hear them… so comment below or e-mail me or call me.)