January Germs: and how not to fear them

january germsOld man winter, what a season you can be. I’m not referring to the way in which you drop the temperatures well into the negatives or the layers of snow you bury us under for months at a time. No, it’s that subtle silent awful THING that seems to be unknowingly sprinkled all throughout, lying in wait to prey upon its next victim.  

Sickness

The Flu

Stomach bug

Germs

If you are like me, the mere mention of those words contain power enough to send you into a wide eyed panic, gathering your chicks under your wings as you brace for the worst. Shortly after becoming a Mom, I quickly realized that we would now have the opportunity to sample every strain of Influenza the season had to offer. My default became fear, panic, anxiety, worry, and a frantic attempt to control.  

“God, please don’t let us get sick!!”… “God, heal us quickly!!” became a common prayer, prayed multiple times a day as we went through bottles of hand sanitizer at an alarming rate. My emotional, physical, and spiritual health began to take a toll in my constant state of worry.  

Certainly, this is not how God intends for us to live. His Word is rich, full of truth and encouragement but in the process I had forgotten what it was like to LIVE out his promises in my day to day. I sat down, pen, paper, and Bible in hand as He helped me regain perspective.  

God works all things together for my good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God strengthens and upholds me. “So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

God has given me a sound mind, not a spirit of fear. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).   

God is always with me. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). 

God offers me peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

This piece of paper now sits open on my desk every winter season. It serves as a daily reminder of His truths and helps me to regain perspective when I begin to give in to fear and worry. I may not be able to prevent germs from finding their way into my home, but I can choose to stand on His promises regardless.  

I want to be a woman whose prayers and thoughts aren’t smothered in worry and fear this time of the year armed with my Lysol wipes in hand, but rather, trust. Trust that if and when the dreaded germs strike, He is with me, offering strength, peace, and encouragement. I want to have a sound mind, not a spirit of fear, because I trust that he truly works all things together for my good.  

This season, my prayers have a slightly different ring to them. Sure, I still ask God to keep us healthy but have added, “whatever comes our way this winter, help me to respond in a way that reflects who you are in my life. I trust you.”  

Nicki 

Who is going on retreat?

pexels-photo-54204Every year our Women’s Retreat is a big event. Our goal is to make it a special time for women who want to get away from the grind of life and need some encouragement. Granted, retreat is not for everybody, but if you have never gone on our Women’s Retreat I want to challenge you to step out and try it.

I met with Hilary Hammond who is on this year’s retreat committee. Here is what she had to say:

What made you decide to go on one of our retreats for the very first time? 

Hilary: It was because someone had invited me to help out on the retreat committee. I was asked to serve with the hospitality team. I had been coming to AAC for about 5 years but for various reasons I had not become connected with the church. I thought this was my opportunity.

When you went on the retreat, what did you like about the weekend?  

Hilary: There are so many things, but for me personally it was a way to see whether or not I really wanted to get more involved in the church and in Women’s Ministries in particular. I also liked the liberty to pick and choose to do my own thing. I did not feel obligated to stick to a schedule. The retreat gave me space to breathe and freedom to experience the weekend in ways I needed to.

As a mom with small children, was it hard to leave the family behind?

Hilary: Actually, things were a bit rough at the time and I think I really needed to get away. It is kind of funny as I look back, because I had been breast-feeding my daughter and she needed to be weaned. I couldn’t do it, so I decided to just leave. I said, “Ok, honey – here’s the bottle!” And off I went. He had never had the kids over night before, so the weekend was a challenge for him. But he did great! I was so thankful. When I came back, my daughter was weaned. And nobody died. :)

And you are still married? (laughter)

Hilary: Yes, we survived and it was worth it! I have been back to retreat 2 more times!

How has retreat encouraged you?

Hilary: There have been many ways, but the speakers have wonderful things to say and generally I love the breakout sessions where we hear from other women like me from our church.  I come away thinking, “I’m not so crazy after all!” The retreat provides some perspective and Biblical advice. It helps me realize I am not alone in my struggles and questions.  

Any final remarks for those that might still be undecided about coming to retreat?

Hilary: Many times finances can be an obstacle. People say it is so expensive. But when you really add it up, 2 nights at a resort, 3 delicious meals as well as inspiration and entertainment for the weekend, it is really a deal! The church also has financial assistance available so money shouldn’t be the reason for a woman not to come.

Ladies, there is still time to register for Women’s Retreat this year!

Click here for more information and registration.

When God writes your story

kids-toy-chalk-coloredAs I sit here, in the warmth and glow of the Christmas tree, my eyes settle just beyond the window glass. My children, dressed head to toe in mismatched winter attire, giggle and play in the freshly fallen snow. The man whom I have loved for well over a decade, pushes a heavy shovel up and down the sidewalk as he pauses to chat with neighbors doing the same. Sometimes these moments seem surreal, as though I am glimpsing at a life I had always hoped for as a little girl dressed head to toe in pink and lace.  

But as most stories go, our journey bringing me to this beautiful glimpse displayed out my front window, did not come about in a calculated, smooth, expected sort of way. Our story is not ordinary and for that I am grateful. I have learned along the way that when we allow God to truly enter into our story and begin to write, although often unexpected and difficult at times, the outcome far exceeds our greatest expectations. God’s faithfulness is sure and His ways are always higher.  

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

I grew up here in town, just on the outskirts of Appleton. My family and I began attending Appleton Alliance Church in 1989 when I was about 5 years old. Sunday school, Awana, and the yearly children’s musical (yes, that was a thing around here once upon a time), fill many of my memories in those growing up years. I first fully understood the Gospel message at Awana and dedicated my life to Christ, but it wasn’t until my youth group years that my faith became alive and active. I met my husband at youth group Junior year of high school, and 4 years later we married in the “new building”. Shortly after, we moved to Eau Claire, WI so my husband could finish up school. Little did we know that Eau Claire would become home and we would spend the next decade there!  

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Our time in Eau Claire was rich. We became involved with a church plant and before we knew it, my husband and I were serving in full time youth ministry. As we were stretched and experiencing the full joy that comes along with serving, we found ourselves leading a missions trip. On that trip God began to individually plant the idea of adoption on our hearts and when the time came to start “talking” about what it might look like to start a family, we both quickly realized perhaps God had something different in mind for us.  

We began to pray “What’s next for us, God, What is your best for us in this?” When He began to answer, we simply obeyed as each step was laid before us.  

As God started to make us aware of the brokenness in our own community our hearts began to ache for the children in need of a loving, safe family right outside our front door. We decided to pursue adoption out of the foster care system. God began to prepare the way and as we took those sometimes hard and uncomfortable steps He placed before us, we experienced Him in a way like never before. We were told things like….

“You will not end up with young children.”…Our kids were ages 2 and 3 when they came home.

“Their birth parents’ rights will not be terminated”…The kids came to us 100% legally free.

“It will take a minimum of 2 years to finalize the adoption.” …It took 7 months.

“Your kids will be damaged”…Our kids are healthy and our home is full of laughter.  

This is only a glimpse of God’s goodness and faithfulness in our story. He also answered some of the deepest desires of my heart, only known to Him. From high school on, my prayer journal pages are filled with a plea for twins, when the time came, specifically, a boy and a girl. It was a God-sized desire He had placed on my heart and when we decided to adopt, I somehow thought I was “giving up” that desire, as though He could no longer work in that area.  

I will never forget the moment we first learned about our kids. As our social worker began to share with us all about a “ possible sibling placement” and the words “twins, a boy and a girl” tumbled from her mouth and landed on my heart, my eyes filled with tears and my body began to tremble.  I heard nothing else she said because I KNEW in that moment, without a shadow of a doubt, that those children were meant for us. That God hadn’t forgotten. And as God often does, He not only met one of my deep desires, but provided immeasurably more because this sibling group included 3, our sweet spirited big sister as well.

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As I sit here on this chilly December afternoon catching a glimpse of “my people” out our frosted front windows, God continues to write a beautiful story for our family. This past summer God made it clear that He was about to write a new chapter for us. My husband was offered and accepted a position at AAC. We loaded up 2 moving trucks and made our way across the state to the place we grew up and will once again call home.   

 

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We are excited to be here for this next chapter of life, filled with great expectancy and hope. God is faithful and when we choose to live like we believe that to be true, responding in obedience, He can and will do immeasurably more.   

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” Ephesians 3:20

Nicki

Check out Nicki’s adoption blog here

Christmas Postcards from Israel

Israel

During the month of October I had the privilege of going to Israel with a group of people from our church. This is not the first time I have been to Israel, but each time I go I gain some fresh insight that inspires and encourages me about God at work in our world.

unnamed-3This time I was reminded how small a space Israel takes up compared to all the fuss it generates on the world stage. It is just over 260 miles long and 100 miles wide: approximately the size of New Jersey! But this country has had more influence throughout world history and in modern times than I believe any other country has had.

God does not need “big” to be effective in accomplishing His purposes.  

Nazareth

unnamed-2One of the places we visited was a re-creation of the town of Nazareth during the time of Jesus. Again, what struck me was how small the town was. Historians say there were probably no more than 300 people that lived in Nazareth at that time. And Jesus, the God of the Universe, spent 30 human years in this Podunk town doing what? Everyday life? I wondered if the Creator of the Universe could not find something more to do? Something important such as stopping wars, ruling kingdoms, building cities, inventing air conditioning…(it was hot!)

This communicated to me more than anything else that God values and understands the insignificant, the ordinary, and the mundane of this life. And He has determined to come alongside of us, in the heat, hard at work.

unnamed-1Sea of Galilee 

Further on was the Sea of Galilee which is a freshwater lake approximately 64 miles in circumference. “It was here,” we were told, “that Jesus spent most of his 3 years of public ministry ~ an area not more than 100 miles in diameter.” It was in this comparatively small space that Jesus healed the sick, fed the multitudes, calmed the storms, cast out demons and raised people from the dead. This small place was His world stage.

He comes not to the glamorous, the glitzy or the powerful, but to the needy. The ones willing to admit that they are disenfranchised with messy lives and desperately need His help.

unnamed-5Bethlehem

Next on our itinerary was the “little town of Bethlehem.”  We came to the Church of the Nativity built over a cave that tradition strongly indicates was the place where Jesus was born. The entrance to the cave was small and we all had to stoop in order to enter.

Yes, everything seemed small.  

I pondered this while bowing down to see the Silver Star marking the spot meant to indicate the place where the Almighty entered our world as a tiny baby.  

“Don’t dismiss inconsequential, small beginnings,” God seemed to be whispering. I began to wonder if God was trying to make a point of the humility He needed in order to come as our Savior.

I further bowed down on my knees to glimpse the spot, and as I did I realized with sudden clarity: just as the Creator of the Universe humbled Himself, I too had to humble myself.

The main message of this particular trip for me seemed to be this:  if I truly want to “see” God’s redemptive purposes in my life, I need be prepared to bow the knee and make myself small in order to magnify Him. This is certainly a worthy point to ponder as we come to celebrate the babe in the manger this holiday season.   

group in Israel

Judy

Your Powerful Prayers Online Study

Powerful prayersLife is challenging and many of us want to know how to live victoriously. James 5:16(NLT) says, “the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” So prayer is obviously key to accessing the strength to live productively and victoriously.

But even Jesus’s disciples needed to learn with how to pray. “Teach us to pray,” (Luke 11:1) they said to Jesus as they watched him. The disciples realized that not only did Jesus need to pray but that there was a connection between Jesus’s power and his prayers.

So what exactly is prayer? We know it is important, but I believe it is safe to say we all have struggled with understanding why we don’t get answers to our prayers. Or at least the answers we want! Often times we give up on prayer thinking God has ignored us and we just don’t rate. “God is going to do what He is going to do, and my prayers aren’t necessarily going to change His mind.”

If you have had thoughts like this I would encourage you to pick up Susie’s book, Your Powerful Prayers. She does a great job of dispelling these undermining and destructive perspectives on prayer.

I love Susie’s definition, “Prayer’s primary purpose in our lives is that we might enjoy intimacy with our Creator and participate with His purposes here on earth.”

In other words, prayer is about relationship, not about “getting what we want.” Nor is prayer about “changing God’s mind” but rather a way of participating with God as He writes His story in our lives.

Susie goes on to say that so much of our sense of defeat stems from not understanding how much God loves us and values us. We don’t appreciate what God has blessed us with in order to pray effectively. Nor do we always understand we are to pray with His righteousness, not our “righteousness”.

When we are able to grasp and apply these concepts to our prayer life our prayers become a powerful weapon in which we are able to defeat the attacks of our enemy.

Some of the highlights for me in her book are the actual prayers Susie herself has prayed and written out. She has a gift of prayer. Her personal prayers have often soothed my soul and helped me in expressing my faith and fears to God.

This gem of a book will help you understand how loved you are and how effective your prayers can be.  I am so excited we are able to offer it as an online Bible study this winter ~ I believe it can be life changing!  Join us January 12th for our online Bible Study “Your Powerful Prayers.” 

Choose rest over stress this Christmas

Choose RestI may just go insane. It’s December and I’m already starting to panic.

In a whirlwind, we blew in the door this week after a long Thanksgiving trip with family. Two days of laundry, unpacking, working, meal planning – just trying to catch back up with life. One holiday down, another to go. The clock is ticking and the to-do list is growing a mile long.

It’s December 7th and my house is still full of pumpkins and leaves. No decking the halls, no Christmas tree, no fa-la-la-la-la. The calendar is chock-full of Christmas parties to plan, cookies to bake, cards to order, gifts to wrap, lists to make, stockings to stuff and friends to see.

And what’s that I feel? A little tingling and scratch in the back of my throat?

Ok, my stress is official. How will I ever get the lights strung, the carols sung, or my shopping done if I am sick!?

As if I don’t already have enough to worry about, the guy in the checkout line asked me if I was ready for Christmas. Seriously? It’s the first week of December for crying out loud! But of course he is ready.

I found myself stressing all the way home. The Christmas season seems so short and the days so few. As I pulled into our neighborhood, I found myself suddenly admiring all the beautiful blues, reds, greens, and whites glistening around me. And just when I started to relax and enjoy the moment, I saw it.

My house.

Dark amid the Christmas cheer, sticking out like a sore thumb. With pumpkins on the porch. Another reminder and clear giveaway that I was way behind schedule. Bah humbug.

For some, Christmas may NOT be the most wonderful time of year. Overcrowded schedules, to-do lists, expectations, loss, financial hardship, loneliness, and family drama can make the stress seem insurmountable.

But whatever the situation, I believe we can choose rest instead of stress this season.

I recall with fondness past memories of falling snow, of hot cocoa and Christmas movies, of my husband and I making snow angels like kids in the back yard. Moments when time slowed down and I wasn’t so wrapped up in fulfilling the demands of lists and schedules. A time when less was more, when Christmas was my favorite time of year. Four weeks of magic and romance and good cheer towards men. A season of peace on earth and joy to the world simply because of the amazing gift of grace God gave us in Jesus.

So I want rest instead of stress for Christmas this year. And like all things in life, I believe rest is a choice. It’s not something we just stumble upon in the midst of our hustle and bustle. Rest is intentional. So here’s how I plan to have rest this year Click here to continue reading on Live Well, Worry Less…

Rachel is one of our regular contributors at Haven Help Us. 

Inspiration for Christmas

inspiration for ChristmasEvery year around this time…wait, let me start over.

Every year around December 15th, I start to ask myself if I’m doing enough to keep our family’s focus on Christ this Christmas. Some years, the closer the 25th gets, the farther I feel from the miracle of our Savior’s birth. Instead of awestruck wonder, I find myself wondering how I am going to accomplish everything that needs to be done.

This year is going to be different. For starters, it’s only the first day of December! That means it’s not too late for anything. And, I’ve come across some wonderful books designed for the specific purpose of helping us shift our gaze towards Jesus during the Advent season. Let me tell you about two of my favorites: [Read more…]

AAC staff survey on Thankfulness

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In this Thanksgiving Season, it’s great to be reminded of the big things we are all thankful for. Those things like God, our family, and our church. Our Haven Help Us team thought it would be fun to interview a few people on staff to see what are some of the other things they are thankful for. You will find an array of answers from serious to comical. We hope this brightens your day and reminds you we all have so very much to be thankful for, this time of year – and always. Let’s continue to keep our eyes open to the big and little things all around us.

Below is a list from a few employees on staff and the things they are thankful for this year:

  • Mostly chocolate, but anything sweet.
  • Sweatpants and Netflix. An apartment with a fireplace and free heat.
  • A new job.
  • Being done with school in 4 weeks. Warm weather this fall. Heated blankets. Sugar.
  • The Giants being a playoff contender for the first time in five years. And that they are playing Cleveland this weekend.
  • Renewed relationships and friendships. Icemakers and countertops.
  • Playing with toddlers. Working computers.
  • Marshmallow shooters. Competitions with family. Slippers. And baby giggles.
  • Apple trees. Being able to run outside and enjoy God’s creation in all seasons.
  • Being able to turn on a fireplace and enjoy the warmth. Having a comfortable home.
  • Having kids who are in the mission field and getting to travel to where they live. A good cup of coffee in the morning.
  • The volunteers that serve at the church.
  • A heritage of believers and kids who are all walking with the Lord.
  • Christmas music and decorations.
  • Orange juice and spicy Kind bars.
  • Chocolate and sunshine.
  • Friends who stand by you no matter what.
  • Sports- especially volleyball.
  • All of the seasons we enjoy in Wisconsin.
  • Mountain Dew.
  • The ability to set boundaries and say no.
  • Wonderful musicians and worship ministry at AAC.
  • Seeing God at work in the lives of so many people.

Tera

Meet Cheryl, our Community Care Connection

Community CareWe are very blessed in AAC Women’s Ministries to have so many gifted and loving women that participate and lead small groups. One of these women is Cheryl Bogdan. 

Cheryl is also on staff here at AAC and is involved in our Community Care Ministry.  

Our Community Care Ministry involves the distribution of benevolence funds to help financially hurting people as well as support our Free Hope Clinic. Cheryl works under Pastor Mark Tegtmeier in the area of benevolence. She meets with people who attend our church as well as people in our community.

What kind of help are people looking for when they come to AAC and meet with you?

Cheryl: People who apply for assistance are usually looking for help with rent, mortgage and utilities. And then there are people who need assistance with gas and food. Now we are seeing more people come in and ask for auto help so they can repair their car and get back to work. Few agencies help out with auto care.  

How has the Benevolence ministry grown?

Cheryl: Ten years ago we saw 2-3 people a week. Now as our church has grown, the needs have grown. We usually see 8-10 people a week.

What do you want to communicate to those that are seeking help?

Cheryl: Many people that come for help are truly at the end of their rope. They are dealing with shame and guilt and many times are surprised and relieved with our non-judgmental approach. Our ministry is not just about assistance. We want to come alongside people and be Jesus with skin on. We want to communicate that they are valued and honored as someone made in the image of God. Because of their desperate state, people tend to look down on those who are seeking help. But unless you or I have walked in their shoes we wouldn’t know what we would be like at the point they are at. I try to look at everyone as someone God loves, and I want to make sure they feel welcomed and leave with hope – no matter what their story may be. Some people have just come out of prison, some are single parents, some are struggling with addictions, mental health issues and health problems.

Do you have any “God at Work” stories?

Cheryl: One of the more recent ones is about a woman who was involved in sex trafficking and drug addictions.  Now she has come to Christ and is radically changed. We talked about what it was like to ask for help and I had her meet with our teams…

What were some of her insights?

Cheryl: She shared how self conscious people are as they stand in line and perhaps have a nice purse, wearing make up, or have a nice coat.  They worry that they are being judged. They fear people will wonder why they are asking for help if they have that nice car, coat or purse.

She also told us that people wait until the last minute because they keep thinking there has got to be a way to get through this. People generally don’t like to ask for help. Asking for help takes a lot of humility and people feel they have failed in some way or other.

Have you seen many people who have been helped from the community come to church after receiving assistance from AAC?

Cheryl: Another God at Work story is about a single mom I had met with. We always tell people about the ministries our church offers such as the support groups and children ministries. We invite them to church, not as a prerequisite for help, but to let them know they are welcome. It can be hard to come out because the bus service does not run by our church. Many times people will say they will come on Sunday but I don’t always see them or know if they follow through. However, this time I actually saw the mom I had met with a few weeks ago. She had a big smile on her face and it was very encouraging to me! [Read more…]

Why You Must Lose Your Leaves this Season

leaves4It wasn’t until I moved north that Fall took on a whole new meaning. The charming season now warms a special place in my heart. The very word conjures up memories of apple picking, pumpkin carving, hot cider, and the delicious aroma of Grandma’s pie baking in the oven!

Every year I look forward to pulling out my weathered box from its nestled place in the basement, rediscovering the rustic decor that will soon adorn my home. This year, as I sat down to admire my handiwork, my eye caught a glimpse of the trees out back. Tall and proud, they line the yard with their fiery blaze of reds, oranges, and yellows announcing that summer is officially gone and winter is sure to come.

Soaking in the moment, I was suddenly struck by the irony of it all. The very leaves I admire are actually dying before my very eyes. The thought was slightly disturbing and fascinating all at the same time.

How could death be so beautiful?

I was compelled to rustle through my memory from the old school days when we learned about the abscission of deciduous trees (science words make my head hurt). If the trees were going to survive the season, they must toughen up and dispose of their leaves. Not only is the loss of the leaves important but the nutrients that are received from that loss, and the chance for regrowth, is what guarantees longevity and new life in the spring.

I’ll be honest. Science makes me yawn. But as I gazed at the foliage, God whispered in my heart. There was something I needed to learn from the leaves.

Click here to continue reading on Live Well, Worry Less…