I’m Going Up Yonder

cloud-1044223_1280Going Up Yonder–I used to hear that song all the time. It’s an old song, and when it’s sung right–in four-part harmony–it’s really quite a nice tune. Hearing it now always makes me think of the elderly saints in the old Pentecostal church down South. They’d lived a difficult life, scraped in the dust to grow enough food to feed their family, worked hard in hot, dusty fields and factories.

tree-981183_1280Life was hard. Their view of heaven kept them going. They dreamed about “up yonder” because it gave them hope. It got them out of bed in the morning.

Many of the old gospel songs spoke of Heaven and the life beyond this one, for that very reason. Life was hard. Death came all too often, sneaking up and snatching away their loved ones. Not unlike those housewives, visiting the chicken yard on a Saturday morning. They had to have something for dinner of a Sunday.

rooster-1001892_1280I remember watching the scene as my grandma would choose a hen and go after it. All the other chickens would run for their lives. Did they have enough brains to know what they had avoided? Their lives returned to normal after Grandma left the pen, squawking bird in hand. Back to digging in the dirt, looking for bugs and earthworms. Something to fill their bellies, thus calming their fears.

Isn’t there more to life than this? Back then, I couldn’t wait to get back home where life was a little easier. We had indoor plumbing and air conditioning. Chicken came from the meat department of the local grocery. We picked fruit and vegetables from the bins in the produce department. Mom didn’t work in a hot, dusty factory. She sat at a desk in an air-conditioned office. Dad didn’t plow in the field, he got in the car and drove to his next appointment, selling insurance policies.

The experiences gained from life on the farm made me grateful for what I had. Happy to clean the sink and bathtub when it was my turn. I liked the aroma of chicken cooking without having to smell the bleed-out beforehand. I didn’t want to think about the living, breathing creature with eyes that held terror in its last moments. I just wanted to sink my teeth into the moist, tender meat that Mom put on the table.

Grandma, Granny, and Aunt Lona
Grandma, Granny, and Aunt Lona (left to right)

Granny stood among those old saints who sang about going up yonder, way beyond the blue. Life in heaven someday was what they lived for. And she was determined to go there and take her entire family with her. Aunt Jen used to tell me about spending the night at Granny’s house when she (Aunt Jen) was a girl. At night, when all the lights were out and everyone was headed for sleep, Granny would lay upon her bed and pray. She’d call out the names of all of her children and grandchildren–Aunt Jen was one of those. I suspect later on, my name was brought up on a nightly basis, as one of the great-grands.

This was a way of life for Granny. A way to get from one day to the next. Speaking over her children and believing God that each one would live and not die. And that each one would live for Jesus. Granny lived to 96 years old. Many of her children and grandchildren, greats and great-greats were and are believers in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Her children and some of her grandchildren have all passed on now, but for the most part, they lived good, long lives.

childrenpolaroidI’m thankful for a granny who prayed and wrestled heaven and earth for her family. A hard-working, hard-praying woman who lost most of her sight as a girl, but kept right on. She even pieced and quilted almost up to the end, keeping her hands busy and mind occupied. No doubt her prayers accompanied the stitches she made.

Now I’m a grandmother. My children and grandchildren are the subjects of my daily prayers and I hope to pass on the faith that is a vital part of my life. The reason my forebears didn’t give up–the hope that got them out of bed in the morning–stirs in my heart each new day. I hope and pray that you’ve found that purpose in your life as well. If not, I hope you’ll take the time to find it.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”–1 John 1:9 NIV

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NIV

7caa5-0416131633Did you, or do you have parents or grandparents who pray(ed) for you? Have my memories sparked a few of your own? I’d love to hear them. I hope you’ll leave one or two of them in the comment section below. Happy Spring!

Love is a Battlefield

Remember that eighties song, Love is a Battlefield? This post is not about that song. But it does describe a battle similar to the one in the song.

Love is difficult. To keep love alive and your heart pliable, you need to learn to forgive. Forgiveness is hard, but not impossible. You can practice forgiveness daily, just by reading your social media timelines. Remember to keep an attitude of forgiveness as you read!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about courageous forgiveness (you can read that post here). running-573762_1280Often, forgiveness requires great strength. Forgiveness also requires something else: endurance. It’s not a sprint, it’s a cross-country run. You need to think in terms of forever.

mule-893336_1280How do you achieve the forever forgiveness? Being stubborn really helps–take it from one who knows. But it can also work against you. Stubborn refusal to forgive someone holds them captive…in your mind, emotions, soul. In your heart of hearts.

Let them go.

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Come on, make my day!

You may feel you have every right to hold someone captive in your emotions. Their treatment of you was horrendous. He stole your innocence. She lied about you. Your father hit you. Your mother called you stupid. Therefore, you decide they will never hurt you again. Because you mean never to speak to them again, and if they even look your way–

Are you familiar with this kind of pain? The crying out? The anger?

When others meet the angry person you have become, they will want to turn around and run the other way. Can you blame them?

Not forgiving someone doesn’t always manifest as anger. Fear is another symptom of not releasing forgiveness. You may not want to leave your house, for fear of running into the person who hurt you or caused you pain. You may even consider changing churches, or leaving a job.

You’re on the run. And that’s not healthy, either.

In that post about courageous forgiveness, I talked about facing the hurt. Forgiving the perpetrator. Moving forward. Every time you remember the hurt, turn it around and say a prayer for the person who hurt you. This way, you’re taking ownership and retaining your freedom from the past.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.–John 8: 14-15 NIV

But you can’t do it alone. I have faith in God. I’m confident that when I pray, He listens. I’ve seen prayers work in my life. Sure, there were times when my prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling. Everyone goes through that. It’s a time of testing. Persevere.

chain-218900_1280Why? It’s worth it, to gain the confidence that comes with freedom. And now, I can move beyond what happened to me so long ago. I can trust and love, not just because the one who hurt me is long dead, but because I made peace with what happened. I released that person from the memory of guilt that kept a part of me in chains.

When I truly forgave and overcame the memories, the chains loosed and fell away. My freedom was complete.

I still have memories that pop in for a visit now and then. I see something on television, or hear someone talking about a similar event, and I’m tempted to experience that pain chain-297842_1280again. The chains rattle, as though they’re ready to jump back into place. But I refuse. I whisper my thanks to God for His everlasting forgiveness and mercy. My heart is free.

I’ll end with this story of an ongoing situation in my life. Someone among my relations can’t stand me. The problem started a long time ago through no fault of mine. Though I’ve tried over and over, I can’t fix the situation. My apologies for whatever it was that happened (I truly don’t know) were not only not accepted, but publicly rejected. I’ve even received letters calling me ugly names.

I was tempted to be angry, and actually gave in to anger for a while. I mourned the relationship that this event blocked. The sorrow, the anger, the mourning–these can also be stepping stones along the way to healing. Like when someone dies. When I finally recognized that, I was able to face the pain and let it go.

I can now say that I have forgiven this one also. I still hate the circumstances and mourn the loss of relationship–that’s only natural–but I love this individual with all my heart. I pray whenever I think of them. I bless them and hope for the best in their life. Will I ever see this relationship healed?

Though I would love that, it really doesn’t matter.

I’m no longer bound by the dark, hateful unforgiving nature that presses in on the bad circumstances of life. Neither am I bound by the temptation to hold a person captive with that hate. You see, holding them captive keeps them in my thoughts far longer than letting go of the bad feelings.

Love is a daily, ongoing battle sometimes. The battle is for your soul.

James1-2_8 Rev

Caitlin Emfinger, Missionary Associate to Ecuador

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Caitlin Emfinger

I wanted to start this post by introducing myself. My name is Caitlin Emfinger, and I’m a Missionary Associate in Ecuador. I live in a small city called Sucúa. I work in a girl’s home named the Hope House, as well as among the Shuar communities. Every Sunday, I get to tell kids about Jesus and the Bible. Every week, I get to encourage and help teen girls grow closer to God.

My life is not the typical life of a 23-year-old.

This past year was my first year as a missionary. That’s still crazy to think about. I remember near the beginning of the year reading through Matthew, and this passage in chapter 8 stuck out to me:

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” 21 Another of his disciples said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me now. Let the dead bury their own dead.

10382758_10205496515509169_8092237309379138912_nOh man. I had no idea how hard this was to live out. The cost of following Jesus is different for everyone, but you can be sure that it will cost you something. For me, that was leaving everything I ever knew to live in a different country to tell the people there about Jesus. When I left in December of 2014, I left the only place I had ever called home. It was the longest I had ever been away from my family. My whole life had been spent there. I left a place that was familiar. It was comfortable. It was safe. Life was easy. But God never called us to safe or comfortable, and He definitely didn’t call us to easy.

In verse 22, a man asked Jesus to let him bury his father before following Him. Jesus replied, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.” When He calls us, we can’t let the things of this life keep us from following Him. Many times, that means leaving the things we care about most behind to follow Him. There is always something that can keep us from following. “But God, let me graduate college, let me get married, let me have a kid…” There is always an excuse, but we cannot let those excuses drive us away from the life He has waiting for us.

There are so many times we’re tempted to run from what He’s calling us to because of 11953385_10207404754293946_7597981721756961601_othe cost when we should be running to it. We tell God we would feel safer on this side of the ocean, or even this side of the street. Honestly, that isn’t the case. The safest place we can be is in His will, wherever that is. It’s scary sometimes (Okay, a lot of times) because He takes us places we would never go on our own. But He will never take you to a place just to leave you there. Ever.

I had to make a lot of sacrifices when I became a missionary. One of them is not being able to be in two places at once. I can’t count the things I’ve missed while being in Sucua-4one place or another. I’ve missed birthdays, I’ve missed graduations, weddings, babies… some of the simple everyday things that most people take for granted. I’ve missed my family, and not seeing them every day. I’ve missed the friendships that I had, many of which I’ve lost over time. But everything I’ve lost has been worth it to be right where He wants me.

We have to understand that following God will always mean sacrifice. That’s why He Sucua-2tells us to count the cost. There will always be things that you have to give up for His sake. But all the things we give up are nothing compared to the joy gained by following Him. There is a peace you can’t explain when you’re in the will of God. You get to see Him move in ways you never thought possible, and grow so much closer to Him. And He is always with you. So whether He’s asking you to move across the ocean or just talk to your neighbor, don’t let the dead things get in the way of following Him.

Sucua collage
If you would like to keep up with the work I do in Ecuador, you can follow me on Facebook.

Here’s a link to Caitlin’s latest newsletter – Into the Jungle

Cuenca Update

11110509_10204170624365310_3489856107082246488_oRemember this checklist?

  1. Write first post for 2016.
  2. Complete book 2 of Kinsman Redeemer Series: Sutters Landing.
  3. Get passport photo.
  4. Get passport.
  5. Fly to Cuenca, Ecuador for mission trip that includes a speaking engagement.
  6. Did you see #5?
  7. Omgosh! I am actually going to Ecuador!

This was part of my first post for 2016. Can you tell I was excited?

It’s now the second week of March. We have barely four months left to prepare for our mission trip to Cuenca, Ecuador. I’m really starting to feel the excitement (mixed with a tiny bit of anxiety). Here’s an update on our progress:

  • Applied for Passports
  • Annabelle’s Ruth is being translated into Spanish

Okay, the list looks short, but it represents a lot of time and work. In the meantime, I’m familiarizing myself with the needs and interests of the women I’ll be speaking to in Cuenca. You know, looking at the photos, many of them look just like you and me. And their needs? Very similar to ours. So what’s the difference? Why do I need to go?

Step 1 – Calling. That’s a big thing. Has God called you to do something? What was your answer? Sometimes, we “feel” called, then nothing happens. Perhaps it didn’t happen because you didn’t go. If you’re looking for a job, do you sit at home waiting for a phone call? How will prospective employers know you’re looking, if you don’t let them know?

Step 2 – Prayer. Prayerfully consider, contemplate, meditate on the calling. This is an important step that should not be overlooked. When my son approached me about going to Ecuador, I was hesitant. But I promised to pray about it. My prayer was simple. “Show me Your way.” I kind of needed a sign. I got a big one. Our contact starting planning around my latest book, and formulated plans for me to speak. Was I ready for that? No, but I’ll get ready. God showed me His way and I’m stepping into it.

writing-923882_1920Step 3 – Make a Plan. Someone else made my plan, I didn’t have to. This happens to me a lot, but I’m okay with it. God knows me pretty well. If He left it up to me, well…it probably wouldn’t get done. I’m a champion procrastinator. Or at least I have been in the past. It’s something I constantly battle. But you may be on your own. So…

  • Make a plan.
  • Write it down.
  • Don’t be afraid to change or adjust the plan as you work toward the goal. Sometimes, your plans don’t fit the situation. Be flexible.

In the coming weeks, I’ll work to finish my preparations. The translation of Annabelle’s Ruth will continue. When it’s ready, we’ll print the books. The plan is to have that first printing fully paid, so we can use whatever funds the sale of the books bring in, for the women’s ministry in Ecuador. If you’d like to contribute to the first printing of the Spanish version of Annabelle’s Ruth, you can click the following link, and please reference “Annabelle’s Ruth” in the comments: https://giving.ag.org/Give/Details/600001-693941?MinistryName=unsion&Page

Ecuador-2If God touches your heart to do so, please pray for our team over the coming weeks, as we prepare for this journey. If you’d like to pledge your prayer support, please comment on our Facebook page. Click this link – Owens to Ecuador 2016.

If you’re not on Facebook, you can leave a comment on this post, or use the Contact Me tab above to send me an email. To help with the costs of this trip, you may contact me or visit our GoFundMe page. Any funds collected above the cost of our expenses will go directly into one of the wonderful ministries for women in Cuenca. I’ve supplied additional links below for your information about some of the ministries in Ecuador.