Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Joy Over Jealousy

I'll admit I was jealous. I was jealous when my good friend Caleb (see his blog here) got the news that they would be traveling this month to pick up their little girl, when they hadn't been in the process near as long as we had. I was jealous when he got to go with his dad and meet her. I was jealous when their Gotcha Day, the day she became their's forever was on Christmas. I was jealous when I found out little Julia would be home by New Years.

I'm a very jealous person, aren't I? At first I felt justified, and wallowed in my own jealousy. It wasn't fair that Evan wasn't coming home and Julia was. Why did we have to wait so long?

Then I caught myself. How dare I? How dare I be upset over a baby coming home to her forever family, let alone the sister of one of my friends? Not to mention questioning God's timing... All those justifications melted away, leaving only cruel and hurtful jealousy.

I had absolutely no right to be jealous. In fact, I had every cause to be joyful. One of God's princesses is coming home to her family! She was saved from a "life" in a institution, abandoned and unloved. Evan will come home when it's time for her to come home, which leaves only room for absolute and uninhibited joy at the homecoming of another princess.

Please pray for their trip home from the Ukraine tomorrow. It's a long plane ride, and they'll have a 4-year-old who's not even used to them, let alone a plane.

Jealousy is a seed of Satan, but it can be overcome by joy. Don't let jealousy get in the way of being truly happy for others. I can say now that while, no, I'm not happy that Evan isn't home yet, I am ecstatic over the fact that my friend gets to experience the fun and joy of having a sibling with Down syndrome now. I am filled to the brim with joy that this little baby was saved from a life in an institution. And jealousy has been vanquished.

Another baby is coming home! Let's rejoice!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Raising Up a Generation

I am tired. Tired of this world's youth being content to be passive. Tired of teenagers ignoring their calling. Tired of youth rebelling against what they know in their hearts to be true simply for the sake of rebelling. Tired of teenagers being focused on the inconsequential, the mundane, the worldly. Tired of teenagers putting God second, or third, or tenth, or last. Tired of youth searching for something to fill them up when it's right in front them.

What are we doing?

We fritter away our days focusing on relationships and popularity and social interactions and appearances. We get our satisfaction from having the most friends on facebook, texting people at all hours, and looking in the mirror for something that we won't be able to find. We feel the emptiness in us; we feel it gnawing at our very souls, but we can't figure out how to fill it because no one has showed us that God can.

As modern-day Christian teens, we've seen God work through people, but not us. We've heard all the stories of the Bible, but we don't understand how they apply to us. We've heard them say that we can have a relationship with God, but we don't know how. We want that relationship, we want to do something with what we believe, but no one gives us any avenue for action. So we are stuck.

As a modern-day Christian teen, I'm ready. I'm ready for God to work through me. I'm ready to delve into God's word. I'm ready to have a relationship with Him that will fill me so that I am overflowing with love and joy. I'm ready to move to action. I'm ready to cast out my days filled with worries about appearance, wasted time on the computer, and pointless conversations with friends who aren't really friends. I'm ready to open my eyes to the effects our culture's spiritual laziness has had on the world. I'm ready to do something about it.

It's time. Time for God to raise up a generation of those who forego their comfortable, empty lives for a life bursting at the seams with passion and zeal. Time for the youth to hear God calling us out of ourselves and into Him. Time for us to see the crushing oppression of the orphan, the widow, the fatherless. Time for us to open our eyes to the hopelessness of the world around us, open our eyes to our duty, as believers, to bring them hope. It's time.

There are those who will move, and those will not. One path leads to a fulfilled life beyond your wildest dreams, and the other, to a life-long search for something you've seen, but ignored.

Which path will you take?

Friday, December 17, 2010


Beautiful. There isn't a girl in the world who doesn't desire with all of her heart to be beautiful.

While most Christian girls know that beauty comes from the heart, not from appearance, it doesn't change the fact that they want that outward beauty.

Sometimes I wonder why God made me to look the way I do. Why I wasn't created to have what the world views as beauty. There are other strong, godly girls that are skinny, don't have acne, and have gorgeous hair. Why me? Why can't I be beautiful like those other girls?

It took me years to hear God's answer. Maybe because I wasn't paying attention. Maybe I didn't want to pay attention.

God whispered to me. He whispered, You are! Can't you see it? You're every bit as beautiful as the other girls! Do they have huge hearts for special needs orphans? No! Don't you see? You have a beauty that no one else could ever have! I made you so beautiful just for Me! You are perfect!

What confidence you can walk with, what joy you can have knowing that the God of the universe designed a type of beauty specifically for you. Every girl has her own beauty. Their own special type that makes them stunningly gorgeous in God's eyes, and in the eyes of those who know Him.

The other people don't matter. And, really, why would you want to impress someone who won't accept you for who you are? Their acceptance isn't important. If they don't see your beauty, then they're obviously blind to what God has created.

Because beauty is a truth. Beauty can not be refuted, not when you know it in your heart. It cannot be denied, when you believe it. People can say all they like. They can make all sorts of accusations about your beauty, but there is one simple reply that will refute all of it.

I am beautiful because God says I am beautiful.

The God of the universe, Lord of Lords, Creator of Heaven and Earth cannot be argued with.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ignoring What You Know Is Coming

Let me make it very clear that there isn't much that I dread more than puking. I would rather have a cough or cold for months than throw up once.

So you can imagine how scared I was when I woke up on Monday morning to find out my brother had barfed like crazy all through the night, was still sicky, and my mom had caught the bug too. Refusing to touch anything they had touched or go anywhere near them, I apprehensively made my way through the day, washing my hands as often as possible and carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer in each hand. I felt queasy all day, most likely because I was paranoid. But, later that night, I felt it coming on. You know how it feels. You know, you just know you're going to throw up. And you can't do a single thing about it.

The dread before throwing up is terrible for me. I mean, I know it must be horrible for everyone, but it's absolutely dreadful (no pun intended) for me. I get so scared that I can barely focus on anything.

None of the handwashing, sanitizing, or staying away from the sickies helped me one speck. I got that stomach bug and there was nothing I could do about it. What was crazy was that I went to all that trouble avoiding it, and got it anyway.

It makes me think about Jesus. If knowing I'm going to throw up causes that much fear in me, I can't even begin to imagine how much knowing He was going to die struck fear in Jesus.

He was fully human. He must have felt fear. He lived his entire life knowing that He was going to die. He must have tried to avoid it. He pleaded with God that there would be some other way to save the world.

I just can't imagine how he'd live. How he'd go every single day and live it like he would live it anyway when he knew he was going to die.

It had to be the hardest thing in the world, ignoring that. But, He did it. It makes me wonder. Should we try and avoid what we know is coming? Or should we accept it, and focus on the things of the present?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who God Says I Am

Testimony. A public recounting of a religious conversion or experience. When I went to Peru this summer, I had to give my testimony. I'm usually very good with words, at least when it comes to writing. But, this was difficult for me. I didn't know my testimony. I hadn't had a "conversion" like some people. I'd grown up in the church. I failed to realize, though, that my testimony is just as powerful as anyone else's. It's just different. They're all different, and they're all part of God's story.

I'd like to invite you to read my testimony today, and also browse this site for other incredible testimonies. God is so good, and this is such an example of that. So many people with so many different stories, yet they all weave into one.

How I came to have a relationship with Christ, and who I am in Him, IS who I am. You cannot know me, truly, without knowing this.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holding On By a Thread

"I gave you empty stomachs in every city
       and lack of bread in every town,
       yet you have not returned to me,"
                                        declares the Lord.

"I also withheld rain from you
       when the harvest was still three
             months away.
I sent rain on one town,
       but withheld it from another.
One field had rain;
       another had none and dried up.
People staggered from town to town for water
       but did not get enough to drink,
       yet you have not returned to me,"
                                        declares the Lord

"Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
       I struck them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
       yet you have not returned to me,"
                                        declares the Lord.

"I sent plagues among you
       as I did to Egypt.
I killed your young men with the sword,
       along with your captured horses.
I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps,
       yet you have not returned to me,"
                                        declares the Lord.

"I overthrew some of you
       as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire,
       yet you have not returned to me,"
                                        declares the Lord.

                            -- Amos 4:6-11

It's ironic that I read these verses for the very first time the day before I needed them the most. The day when hope like it was gone. Poof. Just like that.

We got an update from our judge. It turns out that we won't be gone in late December; she'll issue our court date in late December. We won't travel until mid- to late January. But even that's iffy. And, to top it off, she's making us redo all of our lab work. All our blood tests. Lots of our documents. All because they'll expire before our actual court date.

I don't think I've ever felt so hopeless. So frustrated that there's absolutely nothing I can do. It's not like Peru, where at least I can raise money. No amount of money will make this process any easier, or make it move faster.

Looking back, I don't know why I thought my parents would be gone on Christmas, let alone that Evan would be home. Do I still believe that God can give us a Christmas miracle? Absolutely. Do I believe He will? I don't know. Not enough to get my hopes up anymore. Not again. Not just to have them crushed into a pulp. It hurts too bad.

The truth is that I am holding on to Amos 4:6-11 with everything I have. God gives us hardship as an opportunity to turn to Him. So that's what I'm doing. There's literally nothing else I can do. I don't think I've ever had a situation where I have come before the Lord more humbly or in a more pleading manner. Please, please, please let her come home soon, I beg with tears streaming down my face. I can't do this. Without God, I absolutely cannot do this anymore.

My only consolation is knowing that at least I'm giving the devil a hard time if God truly is giving us this hardship to show Satan that we will turn to Him.

I'm begging you to lift sweet Evan and the rest of our family up in prayer. All we want is for her to come home. And it's so hard when you're so full of hope, and I'm generally the visionary, the one who sees things as they could be. It's especially hard to be let down when you're the one who can see that.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hoping Against Hope

I've hoped for a lot of ridiculous things in my lifetime. A lot of things that probably couldn't happen. Some of them did, and some of them didn't. But, none of them ever seemed as hopeless as this.

There are 21 days until Christmas. The likelihood that Evan will be home in 21 days is nearing nonexistence. The likelihood that my parents will, at least, be in Russia getting ready to bring her home on Christmas is slim, at best. So why do I still have hope?

I can't explain it. People have warned me time and time again not to get my hopes up. Don't get too excited about what may never happen. But, I can't seem to help it. I know God's in control, but I want her home so badly. Is it that such a crime? To what to spend Christmas with my family? All of my family?

Yes, it'd be fantastic for everyone to be home on Christmas. In fact, it'd be the best gift in the world. But, I'd take that gift a few days late. Would it be sad and lonely for me, celebrating Christmas with just me and Levi and my grandparents? Of course. But we would have an overwhelming joy knowing that our family would be home soon, bringing our sister with them.

So even though the chances are slim, even though it is almost impossible that we'll get a court date in the month of December, I am daring to hope against hope.

I truly, truly believe that God can give us a Christmas miracle. There is no doubt in my mind that Evan can be home by Christmas. Whether or not God sees this as the best course is entirely out of our hands. But, what isn't out of our hands is our ability to plead with God, to beg him for what we want. Because God wants us to be happy. He wants Evan to be happy. And Evan coming home would make me happier than a million mission trips, happier than five thousand iPods, happier, even, than having Christmas with my family.

I beg any who read this to please, please, lift up our little Eva Noel in prayer. We love her so much, and we just want her to be home. Pray for a Christmas miracle.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Adoption Update (Finally)

Well, for those of you who have been reading the blog for quite a while, you may remember a post that I wrote a little over a year ago. It announced that we were adopting again! That I was finally, after years and years of prayer, going to have a sister. We thought she'd be home in June. We thought we might even have our first court date by March.

But God's plans weren't the same as ours. Months passed, and we heard nothing. Then something happened. Something that threw us off. A woman in TN who had adopted a little boy from Russia had literally sent her child back on a plane with a letter explaining that she couldn't handle him.

You can imagine that this upset the Russian government. We were scared that they might close down all adoptions, scared that Evan might never come home. But God was merciful. While the process has been agonizingly slow, we've come through it. Adoptions were not closed, but they were prolonged.

For the past six months, Russia and America have been working to come to an adoption agreement so adoptions can proceed. The agreement still hasn't been signed. And Evan's judge, for the longest time, refused to issue any court dates until that agreement was signed.

Most of my family had lost hope of getting her home at Christmastime. The chances were slim. The agreement wouldn't be signed until late December or January.

But, yesterday, we got an email from the adoption agency. Our judge is going to start issuing court dates! Even though the agreement isn't signed!

Talk about a Christmas miracle! Maybe she'll be home! This is the first time in my life that I've prayed that my parents will be gone on Christmas - that they'll be in Russia bringing home the best Christmas present of all time.

Please pray that Evan will come home soon! I can't help but think that I only have two and half years left until I go to college. I want to spend as much of that time as possible getting to know my little sister. I want her to be home.

Her middle name is Noel. That can't be a coincidence.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I love it when babies come home. I love it when the orphan comes home to their forever family. I love reading about it. I love seeing how it changes the life of the orphan and the lives of the family members.

But my heart is still jealously broken every time I read about a baby coming home. Because my babies aren't home. My sister is stuck in a run-down orphanage waiting for us.

The bad thing about having an incredibly active imagination is that you can feel things. I can feel Evan in my arms. I can hear her laughing. I can see her running around with Levi. But she's not there. And this dreamer can't stand it.
I just want my sister home. I don't understand why God wants us to wait. I know He has a reason, but that doesn't make the wait any easier.

I have another sister, though. My other sister is stuck in a Peruvian orphanage. Her birth parents never gave up her legal rights, so she will never be available for adoption.
This hurts almost more than Evan. Evan will come home. She'll grow into adulthood surrounded by people that love her more than anything in the world. She'll grow up knowing that she is God's beautiful daughter, and that she is dearly, dearly loved.
Carmensita won't. My Peruvian sister will never come home.
It breaks my heart. Does she have anyone at the orphanage that loves her like me? I hope so. Are they reading her the bible I got her? I hope so. Does she know that she is dearly loved? I beg God every day that she does.

All through Evan's adoption process, and ever since I got back from Peru, I can't help but feel that this is not the way that God intended things to be. God cannot have meant for one of his children to come home and the other to have to live without a family. God cannot have meant for any of his babies to live without a momma and a daddy and brothers and sisters to love them to pieces. And when I think of how much more His heart breaks for them than mine, I wonder how He can live. He loves Carmensita and Evan. He wants His children to step up and help those who can't help themselves. And I think it's about time we did.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Leader By Default

What is a leader?

"Someone who has incredible character."

"Someone who's excited about their cause and about being a leader."

"Someone who's confident."

"Someone who remains calm in crazy situations."

"Someone who's good at forming relationships."

"Someone who's good at talking to people."

I guess that people automatically assume that I'm a leader because I'm passionate about my cause, and maybe that's true. But, I can promise that I don't always like to be the leader. I don't think I'm a natural leader. I'd rather follow someone else. But, the truth is that in the area of teens aiding with special needs orphans and orphan care in general, there isn't anyone else to take the lead. I wasn't born a leader. I was forced to be a leader because no one else will step up and do what needs to be done.

And I can't stand it. I am a natural worrier, and I can't begin to tell you how stressed I've been the past few days. I'm running two fundraisers for the Christmas Warrior Project 2010, not to mention school, church, orchestra, and all sorts of other things. I would give up the Christmas Warrior Project. I really would. But I can't. Because NO ONE ELSE CARES ENOUGH TO TAKE THE LEAD. Only me. That's not me being such a natural leader - that's me being forced to lead because no one else will.

I don't like leading. Frankly, I don't think I'm very good at it. I definitely don't have "incredible character". I'm not excited about being a leader. I'm not confident. I have a breakdown when things don't go perfectly right. And I'm absolutely terrible at forming relationships and talking to people, especially people I don't know.

But this is where God has put me. And, I guess he likes to be ironic. Because He chose the worst possible person to lead in the world. A person who stresses so much she can't believe her brain hasn't exploded. A person who is scared of talking to "normal" teenagers because she's afraid they won't like her. A person who doesn't want to lead. God shows us again and again that He likes to use our weaknesses to show His strengths.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Life In Fast Forward

I feel like my life has been in fast forward for the past few weeks.

With the help of many, many generous people, I sent off donated clothes, toys, and stuffed animals for the orphans in the orphanage I visited in Peru so that they could get Christmas gifts. The woman who took the gifts down for me was also kind enough to take down three lovingly wrapped shoeboxes, each filled perfectly, with a translated, hand-written note. I love all the kids I met in Peru, but Carmensita, Hectór, and Cesár have a special place in my heart.

I also had the opportunity to volunteer with Show Hope, Steven and Mary Beth Champan's organization that helps fund adoptions and started a special needs orphanage in China. This past weekend was what they called their "Fellowship Weekend", where out-of-town donors come in to see where Show Hope is going and be honored.

Some teenagers were valet parking cars on Friday night. For the first time in a while, I am so incredibly thankful that I don't have my license yet. I was helping sell merchandise. The night before, Chris Wheeler, my old youth pastor, and the director of the new Student Initiatives branch at Show Hope, sent me a text message asking me if I would be willing to share in front of the donors why I cared about orphans so much while he explained what Student Initiative was all about.

I was hesitant - I always am when it comes to talking in front of people - but I accepted. God had put this opportunity in front of me, and I wasn't about to miss it. Although, I did warn Chris that he, of all, people, knew I wasn't a very good speaker.

While my anxiety never brought on a panic attack (thank the Lord), and I never got to the point where I couldn't eat, I was still tense. I was nervous. I hadn't really thought about what I'd say. Why did I care about orphans so much?

My stomach was twisting and turning as the time came for me to go on stage. Three of my fellow orphan advocate friends came up as well. Of course, I just happened to be sitting closest to Chris, so I had to go first.

"Let me introduce you all to Tori Hook," he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Tori has a blog." I froze. Chris had not said a word to me about this. He did not tell me he was going to talk about my blog. And, as honored as I was that my blog was good enough for Chris to share, I still felt embarrassed. I didn't want all this attention. I didn't deserve all this attention. And, I didn't want people thinking I was some sort of SuperChristian just because I'm good at writing. But, he continued.

"Tori's blog is called Shining City Teens, and let me just read you all what it says about the blog..."

He went on to read EVERY SINGLE WORD of Shining City's mission AND the "about the author" section. I'm surprised the entire audience could not see the beet red of my face. Especially when Chris got to the part about how my favorite things are cookies, candles, Snuggies, and classical music.

Then he handed me the mic, saying, "Why do you care so much about special needs orphans?"

I felt my mouth go dry, my pre-planned words leave my brain, and leave a blank chasm where my mind used to be. So I did the only thing I could. I let God talk for me.

"Like Chris said, I have three siblings. All adopted. Two of them have Down syndrome. And they have changed my life like crazy. But the thing that really gave me a passion and a fire for special needs orphan care is: when I went to Peru this summer, I saw the special needs kids there unable to live up to their potential. Because they don't have the resources. They don't have what we have here. And it struck me that the only difference between my brother and sister and those kids is that my brother and sister have a forever family. And, I don't think that, as a Christian, I can stand by and watch while kids like my brother and sister are desperate for someone to love them."

I am always amazed that my words come out so smooth. People always tell me how good I am at public speaking. But, really, truly, it cannot be me. If God left me on my own when I was public speaking, I would probably puke, faint, start crying, or all three. But, somehow, God transforms my weakness into something beautiful. I guess that's just how He works.

The team who brought the gifts to Peru also came back a few days ago. Unbeknownst to be, they had distributed the gifts while they were there, and gotten pictures of the kids. Just yesterday, a man who was on the trip explained to me that he had gotten a video of one little girl opening her box. My hand flew over my mouth, tears sprung into my eyes, and my heart literally stopped. There were only three boxes, and only one little girl. That could only mean one thing - they'd gotten a video of Carmensita for me. They got a video of my baby girl opening her Christmas present. I broke down sobbing in the middle of the Sunday school hallway. They also have some pictures of the other orphans getting their gifts, which I will post, along with the video of Carmensita, as soon as I get them.

My dad is speaking at youth church on Wednesday. I'm leaving for a weekend vacation with a friend on Thursday. The Christmas Warrior Project 2010 is taking off. My heart is SCREAMING ideas for the orphanage in Peru. My life is on fast forward. At least for now.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Christmas Warrior Project 2010

I have a passion for special needs children. It's the way God made me. He made me to be a fighter for these precious children, but the truth is, God calls everyone to care for "those who cannot speak for themselves," to care for "the least of these."
The truth is that once we know the wrongs of the world, we can't pretend like we don't know what's going on. God does not look kindly upon people who see His most vulnerable, most destitute children and turn their eyes away because they don't want to deal with it.

I'm going to reveal a bit of the truth today. In places like Russia and Eastern Europe, special needs children with conditions like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism are orphaned at birth. They are abandoned because there is such a large social stigma against them. Their own parents refuse to think them beautiful, to recognize them as the gift from God they are. These children are put into poorly run orphanages. Oftentimes, they are left strapped to chairs, unable to progress because no one gives them the chance to.

When these children turn 4, they are given a test, a test that asks them things they would never know because they've never been allowed outside the orphanage. If they cannot pass this test, they are labeled an "imbecile" and sent to an institution.

In these institutions, children are tied down in cribs, left to starve for weeks on end, lying in their own filth, their cries ignored by their entire country. Here they wither away, unheard, and die, most within a year of being transferred to an institution.

While this is a disturbing and disgusting reality, there is still hope - the hope of adoption. The Statz family has chosen to bring home little Claire, who has Down syndrome, from Russia. But, adoption from Russia is expensive, and they need all the help they can get. The goal of the Christmas Warrior Project 2010 is to aid the Statz family in bringing home Claire, as she is nearing her 4th birthday, and needs to be brought home as soon as possible. Our goal is $1000 or more.

If you would like to donate to bring home this precious baby girl who, otherwise, is destined to die in a filthy crib, you can contact me at:

Even a dollar or two will help to bring Claire home. Now you know the horrible truth. And you cannot pretend like you don't.

If you say, "Hey, that's none of my business,"
Will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know,
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.
- Proverbs 24:12

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why Do We Not Trust Him?

It strikes me how many collective hours, collective days even, that we spend worrying. And, truthfully, none of it really matters. Drama with friends? I probably won't even be friends with these people in ten years. A bad grade on a test? Who's going to remember that even in one year?

We spend so much time fretting about things that don't matter, and it is draining our lives.

I'm in Chemistry this year (which is modern-day torture), but through the class, we've learned about how things like the air are formed, and how the things that form the air are formed, and how those things are formed. And, I think, Wow. My God made each microscopic bit of what makes up air absolutely perfect so that I could breathe it. He made it so that two elements that he created just happen to form water perfectly.

If God can do all of that, and do it so that it runs absolutely perfectly, why do I not trust Him? Why in the world would I not trust the person who could take our mess of the world and turn it into a fully-functioning machine to take care of me, his most special and intricately designed creation?

It doesn't make any sense. And I am ashamed for it. How must He feel to know that his children, His best friends, his treasures don't even trust Him to take care of them in the simplest situations? It's no wonder He doesn't give us anything big to do - we can't even trust Him with the small things. He sees us destroy ourselves trying to do things on our own, and then shove Him away when he tries to help. We are such monsters. We push away the only person who can help us because of our own selfish pride. It is disgusting.

And what's amazing is that He still loves us, even after all this. So, you have to ask yourself, Why do we not trust Him?

Photography by Tori H.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


There's something special about church camp.

Besides doing all sorts of fun things, it really brings you back to God, and reminds you of who He is and what He's given you.

Our campus was absolutely gorgeous, and the messages were incredibly moving. The subject was bracing ourselves by living lives of confession, repentance, and dependence.

I felt like I had always lived a life of confession, though, for the most part. Sure, there were one or two things that I had been hiding from God and from others, but, generally, I don't like to hide my faults. How else can I and others learn from them? And, there had never been a greater lesson on dependence than getting sick in Peru, not to mention having to leave all those suffering babies behind.

The most moving thing that I learned at camp wasn't even something we were "learning" about. I realized how lucky I am to have friends that are on the same path toward Christ that I am. I take my friends for granted, but it finally fell on me how entirely grateful I am to God for giving them to me.

My favorite moments of camp were probably the most ridiculous - singing Disney songs on top of the cabinets in the cabin, making up a dance about cupcakes, and attempting to write notes in Spanish.

The full weight of what my friends are to me fell on me this week, and just thinking about it is almost crushing. God has given us the most beautiful gift in the world, the gift of allowing us to have friends that walk with Him. And we can't forget how lucky we are to have that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wicked Barbecue Jesus Freaks

It has been a crazy two weeks.

I had a great fall break. It's never bad to get a break from school. I went to my grandparents' house, rightly labeled "The Spa," where I got to sleep as late I wanted, eat whatever I wanted, and watch as many movies as I wanted. Needless to say, I was in Tori Heaven. But, can you believe it? I actually missed getting up and walking. I noticed the effects that not walking had on me. Restless sleep. Bad breakouts of acne. Who knew what a difference walking was making?

While I was there, I got to see the Broadway show (well, not technically on Broadway) Wicked. I had heard this show built up and built up and built up by friends. Needless to say, it lived up to my expectations. The music? Fabulous. The effects? Breathtaking. But the best part of all? The story. As someone who loves writing, reading, and stories in general, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time thinking, Whoever thought this up is the most creative genius in the universe. Word of advice, though - Don't read the book. My parents won't even let me try it because the foul language is so frequently used.

While I was there, I got to eat some small town barbecue. Believe me, there is nothing better than a good barbecue sandwich, a hot bowl of Chili, and some sweet tea.

What I was not expecting over fall break, though, was the disagreement I'd encounter over my plans for my life. As of now, I don't even know if I want to go to college. My dream life would be living in a dirt poor orphanage, loving on kids for my whole life. As I was relating this to a few people, all they would say in reply was, "Well, I wouldn't do that."

While they didn't say it, I could see it in their eyes. They disapproved. They did not think that I was using the gifts God has given me to my full extent. Film score composer? They'd love it. Famous author? Just as good. But not dirt poor. Not a dirt poor girl living in a dirt poor place.

Truthfully, this opposition took me off guard. I was not used to people discouraging my dreams of working in an orphanage. In fact, I was used to being built up for it. My family, my church, my friends - they all support my goals, college or no college, rich or poor. I won't lie - it shook me. Is this how most people feel? I thought. Do they feel like I'm going to waste? There was a time not too long ago that I thought that very same thing. God's gifted me at writing classical music, at writing in general, at academics - I can't just throw all that away.

But, just because I don't use my talents in a way that the world sees as rewarding, does not mean that God isn't using them. And I've learned that not a lot of people will understand that. But only One opinion really matters.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What the World Says

I read a recent article on the abortion of a baby with Down syndrome. The parents of the child had him or her carried in a surrogate mother, but when they found out the baby had Down syndrome, they ordered the surrogate mother to get an abortion. She didn't want to, but felt legally bound to it.

While you're reading these comments, keep this picture in your mind:

"The parents should have included a termination clause in the contract in case the fetus was found to be defective. If the surrogate didn't agree in advance, I really don't see that they have any recourse."

"I got no problem aborting that child and if the surrogate wants to continue than she can deal with the kid."

"[Second] I support what the couple wants. I would abort. I would not want to be a downs syndrome person nor would I inflict my own offspring with it."

"For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone in this day and age would give birth to a Down's Syndrome baby. Why give yourself a life sentence, as that is what it is. I'm glad this woman did the right thing."

"Wow. All this whining about the 'right' of a social failure to burden its parents BEFORE IT IS BORN. The only good choice, the only smart choice, is to have only HEALTHY BABIES delivered, EVER. Sooner or later, a genetic dropout will be a burden on society. It should be terminated NOW, before it can become a lifetime 50,000/year maintenance tax."

"to prevent a life time burden is a wonderful gift"

"[yes] but those genetically defected children grow into significant and overwhelming adult burdens like changing diapers on a morbidly obese 30 yo male who is aggressive for instance - this is not cute and snuggly any more of course adults should be breeding and making related decisions - easy call for for downs especially"

How dare they. How dare they say that about Levi? About Evan? About Down syndrome people everywhere? Obviously, these people are inexperienced when it comes to special needs. For example, I've met a lot of kids and people with Down syndrome, and I have NEVER met a thirty year old man with Down syndrome who still needs diaper changes. Maybe it does happen and, you know what, that's okay.

And, a burden on society? Not able to contribute? Alright, if the world wants to get real about who's REALLY contributing to society, we've gotten to broaden our horizons a bit. What about the elderly people living in nursing homes? They're not contributing at all. Why don't we just go ahead and kill them with a gas mask or something? Oh, it won't be painful. And, really, they can't help us anymore.

What about the people who have cancer, terminal cancer, even. They can't contribute anymore because they're too weak. Let's just get rid of them.

What about soldiers that get wounded mentally or physically in action. Well, yes, they helped for a little while. But, they can't help now. Why keep them?

And, if we really want to point fingers, let's point at the REAL non-contributors. Thirty-year-old men who are still living with their parents, can't get a job, and go around getting drunk and getting girls pregnant. How are these people contributing to society any more than people with special needs? In fact, they're probably contributing less!

Anyone who's ever met Levi will tell you that he is a precious, precious boy. A boy who's learning, who tries his hardest to do his best. A boy who loves unconditionally and to the fullest. A boy who always sees the bright side of life. A boy who has changed more lives in the three years he's lived than most people probably ever do.

Levi is not defective. Levi is not inflicted with Down syndrome. Levi is not a social failure. Levi is not a burden on our family. Levi is not a maintenance tax. Levi is a beautiful boy, who has contributed more to our society than anyone I know.

And I wonder how long God will let His special ones be treated like this.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Glee and Christianity

Most of you have probably heard of the TV show Glee (if you haven't, you must be a hermit). Is it the most appropriate of shows? Definitely not. But, as a teenage girl, I'm not gonna sit around and watch Veggie Tales my whole life. Glee is a good show. It's funny, it's got a relatively good plot line, so I'll enjoy it, thank you very much.

For those who don't know, the show revolves around a diverse group of high schoolers struggling with popularity, sex, etc. (the normal teenage things) as they're in the school's glee club.

There is one boy in particular, named Kurt, who is homosexual. Tonight's episode revolved mainly around Kurt, whose father was in critical condition at the hospital.

Many of Kurt's friends tried to console him by telling him that they were praying for him, and encouraging him to turn to God in his time of trouble. This was his reply:

"I don't believe there is a god. And, even if there was, God's a jerk, isn't he? God makes me gay and then makes His followers go around saying it's a choice , as if I'd choose to be mocked every day of my life."

While I don't believe that people are born gay, and I do believe that being gay is a sin like any other, one that can be overcome (albeit, it's really, really hard), I think that Kurt has a point here. As a Christian people, we like to rate sins. Sins like adultery, homosexuality, and murder are the "worst" sins. We must be better than people that do that. Our sins aren't that bad. But we forget that we're no better than they are in God's eyes. We're all equal. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have no right to judge gay people, just as we have no right to judge liars because, really, our sin is just as black to God as their's is.

I don't justify their actions. I don't agree that people should actively pursue a homosexual lifestyle. But, neither should I justify my own actions, or the actions of others. It's okay to tell one lie. I don't believe that people should lie, or cheat, or commit adultery, or have premarital sex. I don't agree that I should lie, or worry about what the next day will bring, or judge others.

All are sins. All are equal. A gay person has every right to say, "I don't agree with you lying all the time. I think that's a horrible thing to do, but I still love you." We're so easy to do this with people who commit "minor" sins. When will we realize that God loves gay people just like he loves us "good Christians".

Being a Christian isn't about making people conform to what you believe, or converting them to Christianity. Being a Christian is loving people where they're at, wherever they're at, and letting God take care of the rest.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

To the Kind and Honorable Judge

To the Kind and Honorable Judge of an Unnamed Region:

In your land there lives a people,
An aching, tyrannized people.
Their mouths are open in a cry,
That the world is deaf to.

In those people lives a girl.
A lonely, little girl
Who waits with open arms
For what will never come.

In that girl there lives a heart,
A sad, perplexed heart,
That waits for what
It's never known.

In that heart there lives a love,
A love the bearer can't detect.
It's hidden away, buried deep,
Under confusion and misery.

In that love there lives a sister,
A melancholy, hopeful sister,
Who above all else wants one thing,
One thing she can't yet have.

In that sister lives a love,
A love for what she's never known,
But understands she's bound to love,
Whether she knows or not.

In that love, there lives a heart,
A heart that beats with fury,
A righteous indignation
That none can take away.

In that heart there lives a girl,
A stranded little girl,
With the smallest sliver of hope
The world tries to cover up.

In that little girl there lives a people,
A people only she can fully know
Whose suffering is yet to be discovered,
And never yet may cease.

In that people there lives your land,
Your land that hates with a fiery passion,
When you are the oppressors, and they are the oppressed.
They have no fire for you, and no water to quell your flames.

Best wishes to you. May God bless you.


One Who Will Never Understand

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't Underestimate

Tonight, I spoke to a group of 400 middle and high schoolers. Yes, it was only for about 2 minutes. Yes, it wasn't a "sermon" or a testimony or anything, it was just things that my youth pastor had taught me. But, it was a big deal for me. Two months ago, I would have had a full-on panic attack. I wouldn't have eaten anything all day, I would've been so nervous I'd make myself physically sick. But, now I can do it.

Or rather, I can't do it. God can do it through me. Truthfully, when I speak, I'm as nervous as ever. God calms my thoughts and puts the words in my mouth.

Don't underestimate what He can do through you. Teenagers are capable of so much more than the world, and especially they, themselves, think they are. No, I'm not a good speaker, but yes, I can be when God speaks through me. God takes your imperfections and turns them into something beautiful.

Don't underestimate what God can do in your life, and through your life.

On a sidenote, for all who are interested, a little update on Carmensita, my precious Peruvian girl. I now know the way to send money to Peru for her to see a doctor for her eyes. Once we know exactly what's wrong with her, this process will become more elaborate. We'll start researching medical visas and surgery grants, if she needs it. Also, I've been able to sidestep the horrible Peruvian mailing restrictions (no toys, no clothes, etc.) by a wonderful woman offering to take the gifts for Carmensita, Héctor, and César over to Peru for me when she goes! God is so good! And he is doing incredible things through this little girl's life!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Call

Since I was about twelve years old, I've known that my mission was Africa. I remember the first time being a missionary to Africa ever entered my little mind. I was watching "Idol Gives Back" on American Idol, and they showed footage of the judges visiting the children in Africa. I sat transfixed. I want to do that. It was followed my a song sung by the African Children's Choir. The music was beautiful, and I fell in love with it.

I've had various phases since then. The rock star phase and the famous film score composer phase (I'd send my money to Africa). The orchestra director phase (I'd start a youth orchestra in Africa). Or the just plain, old teacher/orphanage worker phase (in Africa, of course). See, I've never second-guessed my call to Africa.

I went to Peru this summer as, well, sort of settling. They didn't have a youth trip to Africa, so I guessed Peru would have to do. I honestly was not prepared for how much I would love it.

All through the week while I was there, I considered the fact that maybe I wasn't called to Africa. Maybe I was called to Peru.

But, I was so happy to be home, I figured, no. That can't be it. I didn't love Peru, I loved what God did in Peru. That's true, but when I think about it now, I think maybe, just maybe, God does want me to serve him in Peru.

Because my views have changed since that trip. Before, my heart was set on Africa, and I wanted to go on as many other missions as I could. Now, that's still sort of true, but it's changed. I would absolutely love to be able to go to Africa. But, I have to go back to Peru. I have to see my friends again. I have to love on my kids again.

It scares me. Not knowing where I've been called. It limits my preparation. I don't want to bother learning a language yet, what if I never need it? I can't roll my "R"'s, so I can't even pronounce Spanish. Why would God send me to a country where I can't even pronounce the words?

I don't know. I just don't know much of anything yet. And, I don't like it one bit. But, I suppose He reveals everything when He should, so, for now, I'll just try and be patient. Try not to think about Peru every hour. Try not to let my heart hurt for my Peruvian babies. Try not to think about the life-changing decision I'll have to make someday. I'll try, even though I don't know where I'm going.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Devil Attacks

As I walk down the sandy, dirt path, surrounded by hundreds of colorful lines of laundry and vegetables springing up out of the ground, I'm filled with an uncontrollable excitement. My heart rate is beating quickly, a huge smile overtakes my face. Soon I'll see her again. Soon, so soon, I'll get to hold my little Carmensita in my arms. I walk into the bland rooms of the baby house, and walk up the creaky stairs to where the babies are sleeping. Just waking up, they're being sent to take their baths, a glorified scrubbing while freezing water is splashing on you. After all the babies are in the bathing/dressing room, I look frantically around for Carmensita. I don't see her yet. I don't see any little crooked eyes, I don't hear anyone singing a song with the words "bonita, bonita" in it. Ten minutes later, I couldn't stand it any longer. Where is she? I get one of the translators to ask an orphanage worker for me, ask her where my baby girl is.  The woman replies with no emotion, but the emotion on the translators face is enough for me. Shock. Tears. What is going on? With a quivering voice, the translator replies, "She's dead."My head spins, my heart rate explodes, I'm having trouble breathing. Dead? No. No, no, no. She's not. She can't be. The translator asks the orphanage worker again, if she was absolutely positive it was Carmensita. She was sure. There was no mistake. Carmensita was gone forever. Died in a dirt poor orphanage where no one cared about her because she was different. I felt hot tears roll down my cheeks, my heart feel like it's been stabbed, sobs start racking my body.

And then it's gone. I sit straight up in bed, shaking, the tears still fresh. Just a dream, Tori. Just a dream. It's not real. Carmensita is fine. You're sending her to a doctor, remember? It's all okay. Slowly, slowly, I coax myself back into sleep, still shaking.

It was an attack. A direct attack on me from the devil. He meant to unnerve me, he meant to make me scared. He meant for me to doubt Carmensita's safety. I know that God holds Carmensita in his hands, and I know that He loves me, but I was shaken. You can't have that kind of a dream and not be shaken.

The devil attacks. Don't think he won't. I've never had a dream like that before, not that I can remember. It had to be the devil. I didn't know the devil could invade dreams, but I guess he can. Don't underestimate him. Yes, God is ten times more powerful than him. Yes, he has already lost the battle. But, we are sinful people. Don't underestimate his skill at taking over people.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bad = Great

Something that I have realized, but can never fully understand in the moment is that what seems bad at the time, God will often turn into something great.

For instance, last weekend, I learned that my youth pastor, my spiritual hero (minus Jesus and my dad, of course) would be leaving the staff at our church. Needless to say, I was absolutely devastated. I cried for a day and a half. Who would teach us? Who would take us to Peru? I felt desperate, and I hated it. Things were never going to be the same. I'd never see him again.

Over time, I realized that all of this was an extreme exaggeration. His family is good friends with our family, I babysit his daughter. Of course I'd still see him. I can be excited for him now! He's taking a job at Show Hope, where he will help students be involved in orphan ministry, and I get to help him develop the program! I might get to go on mission trips with him to orphanages! How cool is that!?!?

What I thought was so horrible for the moment, God used to bring about something so great I could never have imagined it! Through this change, my youth pastor will touch hundreds of teenagers and get them involved in caring for orphans! And I get to help!

Even when things seem like they couldn't get worse, be encouraged that God will turn it around, and show you how beautiful He can make a bad situation.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

God's Perfect Timing

Meet Carmensita. Carmensita is a little girl I met while I was in Peru. She lives at an orphanage where the children are not adoptable because their parents never gave up custody of them.

Carmensita is around four or five years old, yet she still lives in the baby house. She eats in a high chair. This is because of her eyes. She has "a neurological problem in both of her eyes" as well as a "deformed left leg". She didn't get a lot of attention at the baby house, and she didn't seem to have any friends.

I thought she was one of the most beautiful little children I've ever met. She loved to sing, and she would try so hard to focus her crooked, little eyes on me. But she couldn't quite do it. She fell asleep snuggled up to my chest, even called me Mama. Carmensita touched my heart.

So I was determined to help her, in any way I could. I asked the pastor of the church we partnered with if it would be possible to send her to a doctor to have her eyes examined, to see exactly what was wrong with her.

I waited and waited and waited for a reply. I don't remember patience ever being that hard. But, finally, I got a reply.

The pastor said it was VERY possible for her to see a doctor for her eyes to be examined, and that it would cost around $75. I couldn't believe it! Finally, finally, there was something I could do to help her, my little Peruvian princess.

They also said that I could send her a Christmas present! Carmensita will have Christmas this year! They also said they could find César, the little boy with cerebral palsy, and Héctor, the little boy with Down syndrome so I could give them gifts too!

Just when I was on my last leg, just when I thought I couldn't hold out anymore, when I was missing Peru so much I'd sit on my front porch crying about it, God gave me a way to help my little Peruvians! His timing is so perfect! He gave me what I wanted only when I needed it.

Be praying for little Carmensita. If her eyes and/or her leg require surgery to be fixed, I will start researching medical visas for orphans. But, as much as I want to see her, I hope that's not the case.

God is so good!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Running for God

I am not a runner. In fact, I am not an athletic person at all. I can run about twenty steps and then be completely winded. But, I need to run.

See, in the next year or two, there are a lot of mission trips I'd like to be able to go on, lots of precious kids I want to love. I want to go to Peru, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, and Uganda. That's approximately $16, 500 worth of mission trips. That's a lot of money. You can be sure that people will get tired of me asking for money for missions, so then what do I do?

How on earth do I get that much money?

My dad gave me a solution. He sure knows how to motivate his daughter. A 5K. I have to run a 5K. He says that if I can do it, he'll pay for one of my mission trips. A whole mission trip. That's a least $1, 500 off my plate.

At the beginning of this week, I could walk a mile in about 20 minutes. The past two days, I've cut that down to 18 minutes, alternating between jogging and walking. That's a big deal for me. I didn't think I could walk a mile, let alone jog parts of it.

I don't enjoy running, though. I don't enjoy it one speck. But, I see it as reaching a goal, as running toward something. Every mile I run is a mile closer to Peru or Africa.

God is showing me that the things I never thought I could do, He can do through me. I can share my testimony in front of a church full of people who don't speak my language. I can run a 5K.

We can run for God, just like we run for a mission, or for any cause. No, reading the Bible isn't always the funnest thing ever. No, we don't always want to go to church, but we do it because we have to keep running. Because if we stop, we may never start again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Never-Ending Aftereffects

It's been exactly fifty days since I got back from Peru.

And, while the incurable restlessness isn't as bad as it was the first few weeks, it's still very present.

I work at preparing the Christmas Warrior Project 2010 with a burning passion as much as I can because it's the only time I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile. Sometimes I try and work on it even when there's nothing else I can do. It's the only way I can get a little taste of what I experienced serving God in Peru here in America. It's only a fraction of it, but it's more than normal.

While I am so incredibly blessed that I got to go to Peru, and it gave me a clear purpose for my life, sometimes I wish I could forget what I felt there. I loved it; it was amazing while I was there. But, the memories become heart-wrenching here, because I can't experience them here.

I almost had a breakdown today while doing algebra homework. I thought, What am I doing? God, why in the world do you want me sitting in an empty bedroom doing algebra that I'll never need and listening to classical music when I could be serving your children? I could be saving the orphans! I could be doing so much more than I am now.

He hasn't answered yet. Maybe I'm not ready for whatever God has planned. Maybe someday, I'll need algebra (as unlikely as that seems).

The memories have faded for those that weren't on the trip. They forget. They don't understand. But, for those who were there, those who experienced, it's impossible to move on in the same way as before. Absolutely impossible.  And, sometimes, we don't know what to do about it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rampant Cussing at a Christian School

I go to a very good Christian school. The people at the school are almost all very godly, very kind people. Except that nearly every single one of them has a fault. They cuss. They use one curse word, time after time after time. And no one cares. It goes completely unpunished. Some of the teachers even use it.

Can you guess what it is? It's the 'R' word. I'm reluctant to even type it, it's become so disgusting to me. I'll even do it in parentheses, so it's like I'm whispering it (retard or retarded).

Only no one realizes that it's a bad word. No one understands that when someone goes... "Oh my gosh, you're so retarded," that they're using a word used to describe the entire population of special needs people in a negative way. We use it as a bad thing. As something negative. As something ridiculous.

This is WRONG. It's a bad word. People always say that they didn't mean it that way. I don't care how you meant it, you still used it.

If I called a black person the 'n' word, and then said, "Oh, but I didn't mean it in an offensive way," that they would just brush it off and not take it in an offensive way? Of course not! The word, in and of itself, is offensive.

It's the same with the 'r' word. You think that just because the degraded people can't understand that you're using what they are in a negative way, that you can just get away with it? No. That's weak, cowardly, and ungodly. That's picking on the weakest of the weak, and using their disadvantage to your advantage.

Now, maybe you understand a little bit why every day, when I go to school, and I hear someone use the 'r' word, my fights clench and I clamp my mouth shut, trying not to angrily outburst at the speaker. Because many of the speakers are my friends. I have nothing against them. They don't mean it, they don't understand what they're saying.

But, if you read this, now you do. You know exactly what the word you're using means. And I challenge you not to use it anymore. But, at least if you do, you'll know what you're saying. And maybe the Spirit will nudge your conscience now that you know.

noun - offensive
a mentally handicapped person (often used as a general term of abuse)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Discipleship In a Christian Environment

Lately in youth church, we've been talking a lot about the Great Commission, and what it means to really make disciples.

Lots of people have opportunities for making disciples in their everyday lives. In public schools, and even private schools, there are people of all different religions. People you can show the light of God to just by setting an example with your life.

But, I wasn't sure how to disciple where I'm at. I have one friend who's of a different religion than me, and that's it. I go to a small Christian school - everyone there is a Christian.

There's not really any opportunities for me to evangelize to those who've never accepted Jesus before.

But, last night, I realized that discipleship doesn't just mean turning people to Jesus, it means leading people who aren't as far along in their faith as you are.

I have a friend, younger than me, that said she looked up to me. When asked who her hero was, who she wanted to be like, it was me. That blew me away.

Just because I wasn't converting people left and right didn't mean I couldn't disciple people. When friends come to me for advice in situations, and I help them make a godly decision, that's discipleship.

When I hang out with girls that are younger than me, and try to set a godly example for them, that's discipleship.

When I talk to people with Down syndrome and autism just like they're normal people (which they are), that's discipleship.

Maybe I won't make many disciples this year who were of a different religion before. Maybe I don't have people in my lunchroom that are Muslim, Buddhist, or any other religion.

But, I do have those younger than me that are looking to me to how to live in a godly way. I do have the opportunity to teach those younger girls what God's Word says for them in their daily lives, and how they can live out their faith. I do have the opportunity to bring the younger disciples closer to God.

Making disciples does not equal converting someone of a different religion to Christianity. Making disciples can be as easy, or hard, as leading those younger in their faith.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It's Only Visible When You Try To See It

For the longest time, I hated going to "big church" on Sunday. I hated it. It was always geared to the adults, and I never felt like any of the deep, elaborate studies they did applied to my life. I would go to youth church on Wednesday nights, but I would avoid "big church" whenever I could.

It was the same when I was reading my Bible. I never felt like I'd learn anything. Nothing in it applied to my life in 2010.

So, after a while, I just didn't bother. I didn't go to "big church". I didn't read my Bible. What was the point if I was going to get anything out of it?

I realized after a while, though, that the only thing that was hindering me from learning in these places was myself. I didn't learn anything at "big church" because I didn't come wanting to learn, eager to learn, ready to learn. It's all about your attitude.

If you come to church, knowing in your heart that God has brought you there for a reason, knowing that you could learn something that will change your life, you'd be surprised how ready you are to write down every word the pastor says, how eagerly you drink in his words.

It's the same with reading your Bible. If you open it up every day as simply a habit, or even simply as something you have to do because "that's what Christians do," then of course you're not going to get anything out of it! When you go to read God's word, you have to realize that you are reading what God has left us so that we can understand Him, and He can teach us. You have to go into it wanting to learn, eager to learn, ready to learn. Only then can we truly absorb what God's trying to say to us.

It's true that the language they use in the Bible is different than the language we use today. It's not easy to read and understand. But that's just it, isn't it? The Bible isn't supposed to be easy. Jesus even created the parables to confuse people who weren't true Christians. Because people who only said they were Christians wouldn't bother making the effort to understand the parable, but a true Christian would work their brain hard to understand what God was trying to say to them.

It hasn't changed today. Yes, the Bible's hard. No, it doesn't always seem relevant. But a true Christian will work and search for the deeper meaning of what God is trying to say. God's messages, whether you're just reading your Bible or you're listening to a sermon, are only visible when you try to see them.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not For You To Know

I was doing a little bit of reading in Acts the other night (I'm trying to read the entire Bible for the first time. Decided I'd go at it in alphabetical order. OCD? Maybe a bit.), when I stumbled across a verse that I had (probably) never read before, but that really impacted me.

He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."
- Acts 1:7

I like to know things. In all actuality, I would like to know everything. I'd like to know why selfish, spoiled rich people are given everything the world has to offer, while the smallest child in Africa is forced to be a soldier for a war he doesn't even understand.

I'd like to know the name of the man I will marry, or even if I will marry. It'd save a whole lot of future drama and heartache, I'm sure.

I'd like to know what God wants me to do after high school. Go to college? Go to Africa? Russia? Will I even live to complete high school?

We all want to know things. We always have. It started at the beginning of time. Why did Eve eat the fruit? To gain God's knowledge. She wanted to know what only God knew. Her desire is in the heart of every one of us, today. We all want to know the things that only God does.

Sometimes I get mad at God for withholding this information from me. I get frustrated, and I yell at Him. Why can't I know?! It's my life! I deserve to know what's going on in my life!

But, I have to check myself. He is God. I betrayed Him, and still He gave his Son to rescue me. I don't deserve anything. I have no right to know anything!

And, even more so, it is not my life. When I became a Christian, I gave my life to God. All of it. My anxiety, my entomophobia, all my faults. I'm so quick to release my fears and faults to God, but I'm less so to release my talents and gifts. When I gave my life to Him, I gave all of my life. My music, my love for special needs kids, my love for my family, everything. It's all His. I am dead. I am no longer my own. I have died, and my body now belongs to God. He brought me back, and now I serve Him, and only Him.

So who am I to ask for any knowledge? I've made so many mistakes with only the knowledge I have. Whose to say I wouldn't repeat the action? What if I tried to change what God's plan for my life was? Knowing would throw off God's perfect plan. It's not for me to know. God is my authority. If He says I don't need to know it, I don't need to know it.

And I trust Him. I've learned to trust Him to reveal what I need to know when I need to know it. Never sooner, never later. Right on time. Because He's God. And God has everything timed perfectly.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's Very Beautiful

Here in America, I think we forget the power of the Gospel. We've heard it so many times, in so many different places that we forget what a moving, incredible story it is.

In Peru, our main goal was not to feed the children, not to care for orphans, but to bring the gospel to the people of Comas.

Truthfully, I wasn't really looking forward to street evangelizing. It made me nervous. In America, you didn't just go up to someone and tell them about the Gospel - they'd think you were a weirdo. Was it any different in Peru?

On one of the days we street evangelized, me and a few friends went up to these two little boys with a translator. Our mission - tell them that Jesus loves them.

We started like always. Giving them a gospel bracelet, and asking them if we could tell them what the bracelets meant. Then we started the story.

In the beginning, God created the world. He created it perfectly. And he created us to have a perfect relationship with Him. But, we sinned. And sin could be anything that we do bad - stealing, lying, cheating. Because we sinned, we could no longer have that perfect relationship with God.
But, God loves us SO MUCH that he sent His son, Jesus, to die on a cross for our sins. So that if we believe in Jesus, He can forgive all of our sins, and we can have that perfect relationship with Him again.
And once you accept Jesus into your heart, God comes to live inside you as the Holy Spirit. It helps you make good decisions, and choose between right and wrong. When you accept Jesus, you want to know EVERYTHING you can about Him, so you learn more about Him by going to church, or reading your Bible, or praying. And then, when we die, and leave our bodies here, if we've accepted Jesus, we get to live FOREVER with God in Heaven. Heaven is a perfect place, where there will be NO PAIN and NO SADNESS. We'll be happy forever!

Then we asked the boys if this made sense to them. They nodded and seemed enthusiastic. One boy in particular was smiling, and he had a bright glow in his eyes. He looked at us and said, "Muy bonita." Very beautiful.

We prayed with them and they asked Jesus into their hearts. They wanted to go home and tell their families. Before they left we asked them, "Have you ever heard this story before?"

The little boy shook his head. No.

Those little boys had never, in their entire life, heard the story of Jesus. In America, we soften the meaning of God's Word. We don't get excited about it like those little boys did. God's Word is GOD. The Bible is God's way of talking to us. We take that far too lightly here. It's time we start looking at God's Word like those little boys - full of wonder and excitement.

Let's get excited about what God has to teach us!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


That's how I feel here in America. Absolutely useless.

In Peru, for the first time in my life, I was living out God's Word all day, every day. I got a taste of what (I think) God has called me to do - love on kids with special needs in third world countries.

So, when I came back, I wasn't used to how slow things would be. Day after day, things moved like sludge. Moving, but barely. I was ready to run at the speed of light, ready to go, go GO!

But God wasn't. Sometimes it's best for us to slow down. As useless as it feels when I'm not in an orphanage, God has a purpose for me everywhere. My problem is that I want to do something big. REALLY big. Something that will change the world. But, sometimes it's the small things that matter the most. Saying "hey" to the new kid at school, reaching out to your little brother or sister, doing your chores without your parents asking you to. God loves it when we do that kind of stuff just as much as he likes us starting orphanages and street evangelizing.

Maybe God has something "big" planned, but maybe not. Maybe it's my job to do the small things, and treat them like big things. God certainly doesn't think I'm useless when I play on the floor with Levi, or when I unload the dishwasher, or when I pray with a friend. And neither should I.

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.
          -- Helen Keller

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I don't like waiting. Never have.

I love Christmas, hate having to wait all year for it.

I love school, hate having to wait all summer for it.

I love summer, hate having to wait the whole school year for it.

I love Evan, hate all this pointless waiting when, really, they aren't gonna do anything better with her.

Most of all, I hate waiting for God to tell me what He wants me to do with my life. I know He wants me to work with special needs kids, but I have so many questions. When? Where? Will I go to college? If so, what for?

I hate waiting for answers to these questions. But, when I finally got the answer, it wasn't the one I was looking for.

You don't need to know that yet.

Maybe I don't need to know it yet, but I want to know it.

But, then again, my relationship with God and His plan for me isn't about what I want, it's about what I need. Maybe I didn't want to get sick in Peru, but I needed to learn that God would be with me in situations like that. Maybe I didn't want Levi to go to the hospital, but I needed to experience that to realize that God is the only thing I really need. I don't want to have to wait a whole year to serve in an orphanage again, but maybe I need preparation.

While these things might not always be clear to us in the moment, God always has a plan, and it's always in our best interest. God really and truly, with all of his being, loves me. Loves me more than my mom and dad do, more than my brothers, more than Evan will, more than my husband will, more than my own children will. He loves me so much that he died for me. How could I think, even for a second, that He didn't have my best interest in mind? How cruel, and distrusting is that?

I need to trust God with my life, whether He allows me to see ten years, one year, five minutes, or five seconds into my future. He knows exactly what I'll be doing every moment of my entire life. The least I can do is trust Him with it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another Year

Well, the summer has just flown by. About the speed of a jet plane, I would say.

I have to admit, while I like hanging with friends and not having homework as much as anyone else, I'm excited for school to start again.

In an odd kind of way, school gives me purpose. It gives me something to do, something to work for.

But, for most people, the only good part of school is that you get to see your friends every day.

I realized a few days ago that I had been living an extremely hypocritical life. I always tell people to live for Christ, and let your life be an example for Him.

But, I wasn't doing that. I can't remember once having a serious spiritual conversation with my friends from school. I don't remember mentioning Jesus, or what God was doing in my life. And I go to a Christian school!

This year at school, I'm going to challenge myself to be more open about my faith. If my whole life is supposed to be for God, school needs to be included as well.

It's harder for public school kids to be open about their faith. Where I go to school, pretty much everyone believes basically the same thing I do. But, in public schools, there is a wide range of spiritual beliefs. Even those who say they're Christian may not be living out their faith.

See, I want to be distinguished. I want to be that girl who is really living for Christ. When people talk about Tori, I want them to say, "Oh, yeah, that girl who's crazy about living for God."

I don't want to be known as the composer girl, the smart girl, the girl who's good at writing. I want to be the girl that lives for her Savior.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Crash Landing

My youth pastor said right before we came home that we were all on a mission trip high. And, to prepare ourselves to be injected into society again.

I didn't believe him. I didn't feel like I was on a spiritual high. I felt like I could hear the Hallelujah Chorus and might start crying I was so happy to be home.

Even after I was home with my family again, I didn't feel like I'd come down from a high. I felt like I'd never been on a high, and that now I was just filled with more passion, and more drive to do God's will.

What I didn't realize is that that was the high.

The first few days home, I spent planning ways to help special needs kids, especially the ones I'd met in Peru. I started planning for the Christmas Warrior project.

About five days after being back, I crashed. In Peru, I was used to my days being packed full of doing God's will and loving on "unlovable" kids. Here, there's no orphanage to visit. Here, there's not hundreds of kids roaming the streets.

I crashed big time. What am I doing here? Can this really be where God wants me? Why waste my time going to school, learning things like Algebra and Chemistry? I don't need those things to love on kids!

While, I'm still struggling with the crash from the "mission trip high" I was on, I've realized that, no, I'm not going to be loving on orphans every day here. But, I can show God's very same love by loving on my brothers. I can show his love for children by volunteering in my church's kids ministry.

I may not be able to get people to come to Christ by doing the Hoedown Throwdown in the street and giving them a cheap bracelet here, but I can be open with my friends about God and Jesus. I can let my words and actions show His love.

See, the battle ended in Peru, but the war is still happening right now. In school, at home with our families, on the bus, at church, with our friends. We let our guard down here, and we allow Satan's minions to infiltrate us from the inside. There is a war here in America, a war that we are losing because we refuse to see it. It's time for Christians to put on our armor, and take up God's sword. It's time to fight.

Friday, August 6, 2010

When Everyone Else Is Gone

I left Nashville for Peru with so many drugs I'm surprised it wasn't illegal. I had every kind of medicine I could get - just in case I got sick in Peru, a possibility that scared me more than I cared to admit.

After our first day in Peru, I was still feeling good. But, I woke up the next morning and noticed - I couldn't breathe through my nose!

All my senses snapped into place, and I frantically searched through my explosion of a suitcase for my medicine bag. I found a Mucinex and two vitamins, and took them in one gulp. I was not going to get sick in the middle of South America, not if I could help it.

But, as usual, God had other plans.

I woke up on the next Saturday morning, my stomach churning, feeling like I might throw up. I was absolutely terrified - there was no way I could be sick. Absolutely no way. Other people got sick, but not me. I couldn't be sick.

I went through the morning doing our normal activities, but when we got back to the church later, I couldn't even eat lunch. I just collapsed on my mattress.

I knew I was going to throw up. I had that feeling. That feeling you get in your gut and you just know you're gonna puke.

Now, a little background info on me: I absolutely hate throwing up. I would rather have a hacking cough for months than throw up once. I hate it.

So, I'm in the middle of South America, in a strange country, with no Mama and Daddy to take care of me. There was no one. I sat in the bathroom for an hour and half, hyperventilating and tearing up because I knew I was gonna throw up. And I was absolutely terrified.

But, you know what? When no one else was there, when I felt completely alone, like I had no one to help me, I was on my own, God was there.

I threw up, sure. I felt like crap for the last two days in Peru, and even when I got home. But, no matter how crappy or how alone I felt, God was there.

God taught me that missions is a battle field. Satan will do whatever it takes to get you out, to take down God's warriors. He'll take out the people you love the most. He'll isolate you so that you feel alone. He knows your worst fears and will do anything he can to bring them to reality.

I was a part of a spiritual battle in Peru, and I was injured. Satan brought me down with some kind of gross stomach bug. But, even then, I could feel God as my leader, my general, sitting next to me, screaming not to quit, that I had to pull through, that my fellow soldiers needed me. And, with His help, I did.

But, Peru was only a battle. The war is going on every moment of every day. Every unkind word you say to your mom or your little brother, every selfish thought, every time you lash out in anger, that's Satan's spies trying to infiltrate our camp.

Every time a family member dies, or your house burns down, or you have to go to the hospital, that's Satan trying to take down God's mighty warriors by taking down the things we care about.

But, through all that, God is right next to us with a giant sword, cheering us on, screaming at us not to quit. When everything else is gone - your house, your family, your friends - God is still there.

God fought to the death for us. Let's see if we can do the same for Him.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

All Through One Little Boy

How was Peru?

The three-second answer:

God changed my life and showed me what to do with it all through one little boy.

I want you guys to meet someone. This is Hectór.

Hectór is eight years old, and he has Down syndrome. At first, I was unsure if he had Down's or not - a lot of Peruvians have wide eyes. But then he smiled. And his smile looked exactly like Levi's. Already with tears in my eyes, I went over to say hello to him. He was sitting with his mother at a table. None of the other children were speaking to him.

I knelt next to him and said, "Hola, Hectór!"

His grin immediately covered his entire face and, all of a sudden, I had the air knocked out of me. Two little arms had wrapped themselves tightly around my neck. Two little legs had latched around my waist. And, one little wet mouth kissed me over and over again.

At this point, the sobs started racking my body. This little boy reminded me so much of Levi, yet he probably lived in a hut with no water, no heat/AC, no room of his own. He'd probably grown up with his mom trying to teach him everything she could, not understanding why her son couldn't learn like the other children. He'd probably never been to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. He probably never will.

It wasn't fair. How was it fair, that I, who has everything this world has to offer, could be unhappy anytime, when this little boy, who had nothing was uncontrollably full of joy just to meet a stranger?

How did I get everything, when he was the one that deserved it?

I sat with Hectór, crying more than I can ever remember, for the entire hour we were there. When he noticed my tears, he got up from my lap and ran off somewhere. Heartbroken that I might never see him again, the sobs continued. But, suddenly, I felt two little hands rubbing across my face, full of tissues. Hectór was wiping away my tears. I was blown away. I couldn't believe how selfish I'd always been, how blind. I couldn't stop crying. I didn't know much Spanish, so I said the only thing I knew, over and over again - Gracias!

I felt like my heart was being physically wrenched out of my body when we had to leave. One of our mission trip leaders literally had to grab me by the arm and drag me out of the building. As I was about to get on the bus, Hectór ran out of the building and grabbed my legs shouting, "No, no, no!" I fell to the ground and held him there for another five minutes, sobbing harder than I ever have.

Leaving Hectór was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my entire life, but it made me realize how fortunate we are. I complain about all of Levi's therapies, but what if he didn't have them? He was a late walker already, but what if he hadn't had physical therapy? Would he be walking now?

Or, what if Levi didn't have feeding therapy? Would he ever be able to eat anything besides cheese puffs, french fries, and smoothies?

What if Levi didn't have a hospital to go to? A hospital that treats special needs kids the same as regular kids? He wouldn't even be alive.

What if he didn't have pediatricians to go to? We wouldn't know he refluxed. We wouldn't know he aspirated. We wouldn't have known his heart needed fixing.

Special needs kids in other parts of the world don't have these resources. And we take them for granted. Think of how special needs people are thought different, alien, and abnormal here in America. How much more magnified is that in countries where they don't have resources to learn anything to help them in the world?

While I was in Peru, God spoke more clearly to me than I have ever heard Him. He said these words to me as if he were sitting right next to me:

You will fight a battle. And you will fight for the children that cannot fight for themselves.

That is his plan for my life. And I'm ready to dive in. I'm ready to fight.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
                           - Proverbs 31:8