When Food & Forgiveness Collide // Stories From Abroad: PARAGUAY ’17 – Part 3

Sorry for the long absence, but these past few weeks have been jam packed with working two jobs and getting ready for my next adventure in Asia. I leave in just a few short weeks, so there has been a lot to do.

Before I head out again though, there’s still a bit more to my story in Paraguay.

PICKING UP WHERE WE LEFT OFF…

The next morning we rose with the sun. We gathered in Pastor Cipriano’s living room area for a quick breakfast and then the work began. We reloaded the SUV with the supplies for our first outreach, climbed on in, and we were off. Today would be the farthest we would travel from home base. With roughly 3 hours of dirt-road travel ahead, we had plenty of time for me to interrogate everyone and find out as much as I could about the country, the culture and the ministry that was about to take place.

As we journeyed onward, Peter and Pastor Cipriano shared with me about the Indigenous of Paraguay. Many people have said that the Indigenous are a “hard people, very difficult to get close to, and almost impossible to successfully preach to”. They explained to me that some people even still refer to the Indigenous as ‘Animals’, seeing them as inferior and having little value.

Pastor Cipriano was different though. He saw these people and saw their need, the need for the Gospel. The Indigenous, a people who were overlooked and even forgotten by most, were at the forefront of his heart.

Pastor Cipriano had diligently gone in to several of the Indigenous communities as a forerunner to the Gospel, building relationships and essentially opening the doors that were once closed to foreigners, so that our team could come in and bring the good news of Jesus Christ. And today, we would do just that.

TWO PLACES AT ONCE:

As we were traveling, Peter and Pastor Cipriano mentioned how close we were to the Brazil border and that at one point, the road would actually briefly take us through Brazil. So of course, drawing from a previous experience where I stood with one foot in Nepal and one foot in India, I figured we should repeat history – this time, one foot in Paraguay and one foot in Brazil. So we did – and it was quite epic, at least I felt epic.

(Here I am standing in two places at once.)

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WHERE FOOD AND FORGIVENESS COLLIDE.

Ministry this week would come through huge meals, known to locals as the Karu Guasu. Peter explained to me that the Karu Guasu was “traditionally the time when the Indigenous tribes would gather together in order to put right any disagreement between tribes or families; a time of reconciliation! Every now and again, they would share a big meal together and make things right.”

How perfect! We are taking in a message of the ultimate forgiveness and reconciliation and sharing it through a meal that throughout their history has symbolized reconciliation for their tribes.

Peter shared this in his own blog and I feel it sums things up perfectly.

“This is a coming together of the indigenous culture and the gospel to facilitate a natural and then spiritual time of reconciliation. It is totally aligned with their culture and a wide open door to proclaim the eternal reconciliation from heaven through Jesus Christ!  In my view, what Pastor Cipriano does is brilliant, ingenious and a wonderful combination of physical and spiritual ministry.’

THE FIRST COMMUNITY.

As we arrived at the first community, there were people already gathered. And while you could sense a bit of curiosity, the people seemed to be keeping a cautious distance. That didn’t stop us though. We unloaded supplies and gathered some of the woman of the community to begin preparing the meal. There were tons of veggies to chop and lots of chicken to be prepared. Once everything was ready, it was all thrown together in a large pot and placed on an open fire.

As the food cooked, Joana, Emily and I, set out to break the ice and build some relationships with the children. We made a plethora of balloon dogs, swords and hats. We learned their names and did the best we could to make them feel special.

As the cooking was almost finished, Peter, Pastor Sergio and Pastor Cipriano gathered the community to sit beneath a large tree. Pastor Cipriano would take time to share the brief history and purpose behind a Karu Guasu (mostly for the children). Then they shared the Gospel, simply proclaimed what Jesus had done for us all and what they could do to receive the free gift of salvation. And just like that, we had new brothers and sisters added to the kingdom of God.

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After the simple message of salvation was shared and we prayed with those who wanted to receive, we shared about healing and prayed for those who were sick.

One of the most incredible things that happened during all of this, was that the Chief of this village/community, gave his life to Christ! And after doing so, was completely set free from the headache he had suffered from for a long time. This may seem like a small miracle, but the potential impact is massive. The Chief, the leader of this community, acknowledged his need for a Savior. He is ultimately the leader of his people and influences each of their lives. He has essentially become a catalyst for change among his community!

The Gospel is such a powerful force for change. And I have no doubt as Peter and his local team return for future follow up, we’ll truly begin to see these lives transformed!

(Pictured below is Peter praying for the Chief.)

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After the conclusion of prayer, the meal was served. The entire community ate together, the same way that you and I, might sit down to Sunday dinner with our families. It was a beautiful sight!

As things were wrapping up, we distributed some clothing that had been donated from a church (where Peter lives) along with fishing hooks and fishing line. Why? Because the need among these communities is great. And anything that can be done to help, is worth it.

Day one was a complete success in my books. I was honored to take part in helping Peter’s team and anxious to start the next day. Only partly anxious though – I know how these trips go, you blink and they’re over. So as anxious as I was to get to the next community, I didn’t want things to go by too fast.

***BE SURE TO CHECK BACK OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS AS I CONTINUE TO PUT PEN TO PAPER, SO TO SPEAK, TO FINISH OUT THE STORIES OF MY ADVENTURES IN PARAGUAY. I PROMISE, YOU WON’T REGRET IT! 
IF YOU MISSED PART 1 – THE ARRIVAL, OR PART 2 – THE JOURNEY CONTINUES, BE SURE TO CHECK THEM OUT!

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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Journey Continues // Stories From Abroad: PARAGUAY ’17 – Part 2

My first night in Paraguay was spent in The Casita, a two-room guest cottage that doubled as a schoolhouse for the Ratcliffe children. I was both humbled and honored to stay in this beautiful place, especially knowing that the Ratcliffe family, which consists of Peter & Evi, along with their six kids, were staying just a short distance away in their two-bedroom home. You heard me right… eight Ratcliffes, and two bedrooms.

Grace For The Space.

My first thought upon seeing their home was how warm and inviting it was. Then I learned this amazing family managed in a two-bedroom house with one bath. My next thought – Dear Lord Jesus! How is that possible?! I couldn’t share a bathroom with my two brothers growing up and I always had my own bedroom. Currently, I live in a three-bedroom house… by myself. Okay, not completely alone – I do share my space with two huge dogs, but still. To say that I struggled with feelings of guilt is an understatement.

Pictured above (left) is the entrance to The Casita and (right) is the view from my bed – it was absolutely gorgeous and unexplainably peaceful.

What amazed me though was that they never complained. Not once. The five oldest kids (two boys and three girls, age two to seventeen) share one room and baby Naomi, sleeps along with her parents in the other. And they all make it work. How is that possible, you’re probably asking? The conclusion I have come to, is that when God calls you somewhere, He ALWAYS gives the grace needed to fulfill His work.

One of the things that I feel truly sets this family apart from others, is that they believe – each of them, that God called them to the nation of Paraguay. These kids weren’t forced to give up their lives in Oklahoma because their parents were “called”. They were “called” right alongside them. It’s undeniably evident in the sacrifices these children willingly made and continue to make daily so that the people of Paraguay can come to know Jesus.

I wish that I could give an account of their story, the epic journey of one family’s unyielding faith and God’s unending faithfulness, that brought them to Paraguay nearly three years ago. That will have to wait for another day, and for me to persuade Peter that their story truly should be written and published for all to read.

And We’re Off!

I woke early the next day and joined the Ratcliffe kids for a quick breakfast before we finished loading everything for our journey to the Indigenous. Our vehicle of choice, the 22-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser. Okay, this was the only option. This baby had seen a few miles in her life. And although she was still trekking on, she was definitely moving at a much slower pace than she probably traveled in her prime. Her AC had long since quit and the engine had a few minor issues, but she got us where we needed to go.

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Pictured above, Old Faithful – it really is time to let her rest.

Insert PRAYER REQUEST here:

In all seriousness, this family really needs a newer vehicle to enable them to continue the work they are doing. If you believe in prayer, please pray and believe with us for God to provide the vehicle needed. – Thanks!

**And if God speaks to your heart about financially helping with the purchase of their next vehicle, please send me an email to jamielynnsivak@gmail.com and I can send you more information about getting a donation to them directly.**

Back To The Story…

Our first stop was to pick up some of our team, Pastor Sergio and his 25-year-old daughter, Joana. After a “quick” three-hour lunch, (what can I say, Pastors know how to talk…lol) we made our way to purchase the needed supplies for the first three of our outreaches.

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Here we are waiting to check out with our four shopping carts full of supplies. Left to Right: Pastor Sergio, Joanna, Emily and me. Peter was taking our picture.

Then we were on the road again. We traveled for hours. I lost track of time, but can say that we easily drove for 4-5 hours. The sun had long since gone down as the paved roads ended and we began winding through the seemingly endless dirt roads. After some time, we finally arrived at what would be our base camp for the next three nights, the home of our main contact and the heart behind the outreaches, Pastor Cipriano.

Here we were in the middle of the jungle in the black of night. Okay, this may not actually be classified as “jungle” terrain, but that’s what if felt like… Pastor Cipriano led me, Emily, (Peter’s oldest daughter) and Joana, to the room we would share for the next few nights. When they opened the door, the bugs that had congregated at the entrance to welcome us, overwhelmed me. Let’s be honest – I cringed a little. Not so much at the accommodations, but all the creepy-crawly things that wanted to join me. I was thankful though for electricity and running water. Things could be worse after all, I could be in a tent with the bugs and have no electricity or water.

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Above is my room/bed at Pastor Cipriano’s.

After a series of introductions and a late meal, I gave in to the exhaustion from all of our travel and found my way to my bed. It was hot and humid, but I was still in American mode and determined that no mosquitoes would feast on me that night. So I doused myself in deet and wrapped myself in a bed sheet – head to toe. After about two minutes, I was dripping in sweat and my missionary mode kicked in. “Forget this!” I thought, as I threw back the sheet and decided to trust God to not allow my body to become a buffet for the mosquitoes. It was late and tomorrow would be a busy day. With that, I closed my eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep… I had no idea what tomorrow would bring, but whatever it was, I was going to be ready.

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Here I am with Pastor Cipriano. As usual, I tower above the locals…
***BE SURE TO CHECK BACK OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS AS I CONTINUE TO PUT PEN TO PAPER, SO TO SPEAK, TO SHARE ABOUT THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED. I PROMISE, YOU WON’T REGRET IT! 
If you missed Part 1 – The Arrival, be sure to check it out!
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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Arrival // Stories From Abroad: PARAGUAY ’17 – Part 1

It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened. In the time I was away, I did a few small things like traveling southward a wee bit. My travels took me all the way to Paraguay where I had the amazing opportunity to partner with some of the greatest missionaries in the world. No, I don’t know all missionaries in the world and therefore my opinion might be a bit unjustified, but trust me on this one.

Where Faith and “Crazy” Collide:

On February 15th, my dear friends, Peter and Evi sent me a message. This is what it said:

“Hi Jamie! Blessings!! Evi and I have you on our heart! We wanted to invite you to come visit us next month… does that sound crazy?”

Of course it sounds crazy I thought! You want me there next month!? Sometimes I’m very practical and other times I throw caution to the wind and go for it. On February 16th, after a little bit of prayer and a lot of reckless abandon, I sent the following message:

“Okay so…. drum roll please…. I’m gonna come to Paraguay!!”

I know. As I’m writing this, I wish my reply had been slightly more epic or poetic or something, but that’s all I’ve got. And with that, I set my heart and faith on getting to Paraguay and I had just 1 month to see God make it happen.

My goal: raise $4,200.00.

$2,200 – airfare, visa, travel, insurance, housing and food

$2,000 – expenses for outreaches to five indigenous communities

Exceeded Expectations:

Now, I have seen money come in over the years and I have learned that no matter where I start at, God is ALWAYS faithful to bring in whatever is needed to accomplish His plan. And this time would be no different.

After two weeks, I contacted my church. They had received some donations on my behalf over the past few months and were holding those until I needed them. I had no idea how much money they had for me. The initial discussion indicated around $2,000. I was overjoyed as this would cover almost all of my expenses and then we would just need to see about $2,000 more come in for the outreaches.

Then the check was delivered. I opened it expecting $2,000 and was blown away to see the check was not for $2,000, but for $3,700!! Almost the full amount needed for the trip and outreaches! I can’t begin to describe my joy at seeing God’s faithfulness! I totally expected it, but I definitely had a few nights spent telling God that I didn’t know how, but I knew He would. And He did! What’s even more powerful is that the donations received at my church were monthly to a certain degree and the check was made out for donations from September – January. I didn’t even know I was going to Paraguay until February and the money that was needed was already within my reach. God had met my need before I knew about it.

Now I still needed roughly $400 and before I knew it that money was in my hands. In the course of five days, I received donations to cover the entire trip and outreaches and then the money kept coming. I received $800 above and beyond the cost of everything!! I’m so thankful that I serve a God who not only provides, but exceeds my expectations EVERY TIME! (The extra funds will go towards my summer trip to Asia – which is a huge help in paying that off!)

Insert mini-sermon here:

GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL. It may come down to the wire from time to time and it may look absolutely impossible, but that I believe, is where God does some of His best work. If you’re standing in faith and holding out for God to work a miracle in your life, keep standing. He’s working, and in His way, He’s going to do something that exceeds your expectations and gives Him all the glory.

Long, Okay “Short” Awaited Arrival:

After 4 weeks of planning, (what can I say, sometimes spontaneous trips are the best) 3 flights and roughly 20 hours of travel, I finally set foot in Asuncion, Paraguay on March 17th. I was greeted by the familiar British accent of my dear friend, Peter Ratcliffe and his precious little 7 year-old auburn-haired angel, Rebecca. I hadn’t  seen the Ratcliffes in nearly 3+ years and in this moment it felt as though no time had passed at all. I love how true friendships can withstand time and distance. I was overjoyed to see these two, but couldn’t wait to get to their house where I could wrap my arms around Peter’s beloved wife and my dear friend, Evi, as well as their other children. This reunion was long overdue!

After loading all of my luggage and suitcases full of gifts for the Ratcliffes, we were off on the two-hour drive from Asuncion (the capital) to Sapucai and the Casa de Ratcliffe or what I would soon discover was named the “Cottage of My Dreams”.

As we traveled with windows rolled down, (because the a/c doesn’t work) Peter and Rebecca brought me up to speed on the overview of what they were doing in Paraguay and what I could expect in the outreaches we had planned for the next week. Before I knew it, we pulled up to this quaint little casa set in a tropical paradise. Luscious fruit trees surrounded us and the smell of gorgeous flowers welcomed me in. And this paradise could never truly belong to the Ratcliffes if there weren’t at least a few animals roaming around. Chickens, hamsters and parrots were easily spotted along with “Simba” the kitten, “Smokey” the puppy and two beautiful horses who found their place among the Ratcliffe family.

Finally, I stepped out of the car and flung myself into the arms of each of the remaining Ratcliffes; Emily, Joy, Daniel and then my precious Evi! I can’t really describe the feeling – but it was sort of like finding something you value but didn’t even realize was missing. Then came little Joseph. He was born in Paraguay and so I hadn’t had the privilege of meeting him yet. And boy was it a privilege. He is by far the cutest thing I have ever seen, but more about him later. Then I met little baby Naomi the most recent addition to the family.

And with that, I found myself surrounded by people I truly cherished and while I really had no idea what was in store for the next 10 days, I knew in my heart I was exactly where I needed to be.

Pictured above:

First picture is me with the Ratcliffe ladies (all except baby Naomi). Left to right is Emily, Evi, me, Rebecca and Joy.

Second picture is Rebecca and Joy introducing me to their hamsters.

***Be sure to check back over the next few weeks as I put pen to paper, so to speak, to share about the days that followed my arrival to Paraguay. I promise, you won’t regret it!

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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Encountering Miracles // Stories From Abroad: KENYA ’13

The amazing organization that I was a part of for 8.5 years, Global Ventures, is headed out to Haiti this week and I’m headed in a different direction the following week to Paraguay. Okay, same general southerly direction, but mine will take me a little further south.

As I was reminiscing about some of my memories with Global Ventures, I found a blog I had written during my time there, about one of the most amazing encounters I have ever had team leading on a GV trip. And in honor of #throwbackthursday, I wanted to share it with all of you.

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“Massive Miracles in Kenya”

Global Ventures – December 2, 2013

My team and I were on the outskirts of Mwingi, Kenya doing Gospel presentations at local schools. We had just finished a presentation at an elementary school when I noticed my co-leader Blake speaking to a woman I had never seen before. He called out to me to get our team and the equipment and follow him. The woman was the director of a nearby school and she had heard our presentation, so she invited us to come and share with her students as well. I personally love it when we are able to minister at unexpected locations, but this was not just any school; all the students were deaf and many were also mute.

Please understand, I believe in the power of God to open deaf ears and cause the mute to speak, but I had never seen an entire school healed before.  Honestly, I was a little anxious about how to proceed. How do you share the gospel with people who can’t hear you? I didn’t know how to make it work, but I knew we had to try.

I was amazed as Blake stood in front of the students and began communicating with them in sign language. I’ve known Blake for years and had no idea that he knew sign language. He greeted them and introduced himself. The student’s hearts instantly opened to our team. Next, one of the teachers who was fluent in English and sign language jumped in and started translating as Blake began to share with them the story of Jesus.

As he finished the story, Blake gave all of the students the opportunity to pray and ask Jesus into their lives. What happened next was possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen: In complete silence and perfect harmony the entire school “signed” the prayer of salvation. I was in awe. Not one of the students heard the gospel with their ears, but they “heard” it with their hearts, believed, and received.

Caught up in this moment of perfection, I was startled when Blake turned around and handed everything over to me. I began to tell them of the miracles that Jesus worked when He walked the earth, and how He still healed today. I shared of His love, compassion, and power to heal. Then I prayed. It wasn’t an articulate prayer, I simply joined faith together with my team.

I asked the students to raise their hands if they could tell a difference in their bodies, but many of them didn’t raise their hands, they just began to run forward to our team. We tested them and watched in amazement as God restored hearing and speech to many students. There were so many of them being healed, in fact, that my team wasn’t able to test them all! We know, though, that at least 15 were proven healed, and truthfully I believe there were even more.

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Here are the students as we arrived.

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This was one of the students who prayed the prayer of salvation using sign language. He was 15 years old and had been deaf and mute from birth. We signed a prayer of healing and God opened his ears and he began to say his first words!

The Power of God has no limits!


 

On that day, I remember being blown away at the power of God and His ability to work through someone like me. To be completely honest, I didn’t walk into that situation fully confident of anything. The one thing I knew though, was that the power of God is real and His love for people in undeniable. I have seen it in my life and in the lives of countless people around the world.

I hope that encounter encourages you the way it continues to encourage me. God is capable of unimaginable things! If you are in a place in your life where you need a miracle, set your heart upon Jesus. He performed miracles while He walked upon Earth and He’s still performing miracles today!

If you’re reading this and have a need in your life that you would like prayer for, please comment or email me. I’d love to pray with and for you!

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GLOBAL VENTURES:

For more information about missions and to get involved with Global Ventures, you can check out their website at GlobalVentures.tv. You can also follow them on Facebook at GLOBAL VENTURES. Do it, you won’t regret it! They have amazing, life changing trips and are always looking to take new people, just like YOU!

 

 

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK AND GLOBAL VENTURES ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

March’s “Check It Out” List

Almost every year (seriously) I pull out my favorite Missions book, The Coming Revolution, by R. Mark Baxter. It inspires and challenges me. No matter how many times I read it, God uses it to speak to my heart, right where I’m at. I’m thankful for this book and others that have helped light the way for modern day missionaries, like me. 

If you have a heart for Missions than do yourself a favor and check out some of these incredible books. I’ve personally read each (some multiple times) and I highly recommend them. 

My Top Five Favs:

  • The Passion For Souls – Oswald J. Smith

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  • Bruchko – Bruce Olson

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  • The Man with the Bird on His Head – John Rush & Abbe Anderson

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  • The Challenge of Missions – Oswald J. Smith

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  • The Coming Revolution – R. Mark Baxter 

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Here are a few others recommended by long term missionaries:

(These I haven’t read yet, but they’re definitely on my list).

  • Eternity In Their Hearts – Don Richardson
  • Peace Child – Don Richardson
  • End Of The Spear – Steve Saint

Be sure to comment and let me know what your favorites are!

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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PhotoBlog: Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

March 2, 1904

The day that Dr. Seuss was born.

In honor of one of my all time favorite authors and the fact that today would have been his 113th birthday, I decided to find a creative way to say “Happy Birthday!” I hope you enjoy the results.

Dr. Seuss, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!

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“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

– Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

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This one isn’t as crisp as I would like, but sometimes the best moments aren’t perfect.

I love that he looks like he’s actually curious about the story.

Of course the SLEEP BOOK will make you a little sleepy.

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Dr. Seuss, Oh The Thinks You Can Think!

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Can we read them all?

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This ones my favorite.

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When a good book is coming to an end and you just can’t handle it.

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“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

– Dr. Seuss

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I hope you enjoyed celebrating Dr. Seuss as much as we did!

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God, Dogs & Cheerios: When Late Night Snacks Lead To Life Lessons.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes we watch others receive the goodness of God in their lives? And we wait for the same goodness to appear in our lives, in exactly the same way. Only to end up missing out on the gifts God is giving to us because our gifts look different.

I don’t think I had ever really gave it much thought, until last night…

I’ve found that God speaks to people in different ways, ways that will touch their hearts and help them truly grasp what He’s saying. In my life, God speaks to me in various ways but one of my favorites, is through my boys (my dogs), Prince and Picasso. And sometimes it’s in the things I find myself saying to my dogs – without even realizing it. (Okay, yes. I do talk to my dogs. I am that woman and I’m okay with it.)

Let me set the stage for you…

It’s late last night and I’m studying. I tend to be a late night snacker, a habit that I’m trying to break, but last night I failed. Fortunately for you (and me), or I would have missed this little moment where God spoke to me. I’ll work on my snacking habits another night.

Back to the story… So I get up from my desk and head into the kitchen. Now my house is silent, so of course any noise in the kitchen causes the boys to come running to make sure they don’t miss an opportunity for food. I swear they can be comatose and still hear plastic packaging from a mile away.

So I pull out a box of cheerios; plain, non-flavored, heart healthy, blah, blah, blah, cheerios… definitely nothing to write home about. I’m a sucker for puppy eyes, so before I pour myself some, I get out two small handfuls and set them on the floor in front of each of my dogs. The boys quickly begin to consume their portions. That is until I begin to pour mine. As soon as I start pouring mine, Picasso immediately stops eating and makes his way towards me. Now some of y’all will think that I read way too much into the situation, but you don’t know Picasso. This is the only dog I know that will turn down food in hopes of “better food”. That’s exactly what was happening.

What I said next was what stopped me in my tracks.

“Picasso, you’re eating the exact same thing. Mine just looks different because it’s in a bowl. And while you’re hoping to get some of my cheerios, you’re missing out on yours.” (By this time Prince, my other dog, was happily devouring Picasso’s portion too.) Picasso was too focused on what I was getting and because of it, he missed his chance to enjoy the gift that was right in front of him.

Let me paint it for you like this (and give you a hypothetical human based scenario). Your friend, Karen, receives a job promotion, which comes with a pretty large raise. You’re happy for Karen. The only problem is you’ve believed for a job promotion for yourself and you haven’t received it. And the truth is, you really need God to step in and make a way in your finances. The bills are stacking up and without a miracle you won’t be able to pay all of them this month. You don’t just want a promotion and a raise. You truly need it. You watch Karen’s life waiting for God to work the same miracle in yours. Only to miss the miracle already happening, when you received a check in the mail you didn’t expect. A check that not only paid for the bills you thought you couldn’t pay, but also gave you the extra funds to go out and buy those new shoes you wanted.

You received cheerios. They just looked different from the cheerios that you saw Karen receive.

The goodness of God comes in all shapes and forms. And God’s goodness in my life may look completely different than it does in your life. But cheerios are cheerios. Whether it comes in a handful placed on the floor or poured in a bowl, God’s goodness is still God’s goodness.

I know what I am about to say will sound crazy, but those cheerios really got me thinking. I started thinking about my life and the times I’ve missed miracles that were happening because I was watching others’ lives. In this day and age where everyone’s highlights are on display across various social media platforms, it’s easy to find ourselves envious of others and more focused on the good we see happening in their lives. I know at times I have been guilty of this. My story though, is different from everyone else’s. It’s unique, written and designed only for me. And I want to walk out my journey. Go through my hardships and watch God’s faithfulness bring me through.

I want to receive my cheerios – no matter what form they come in. And I’m thankful for them all.

Romans 8:28 (AMP) And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.

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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunshine, Ice Cream and an Ex-Pimp

This weekend, a good friend of mine put together an outreach for homeless people downtown. His goal was to provide food, blankets and toiletries to help bless some of the people in our city. The main objective though, was to get the Gospel into their hearts.

I’m a missionary. I have shared the Gospel in front of thousands of people and had plenty of opportunities for one-on-one ministry as well. You would think that a homeless outreach was right up my alley – wandering the streets, talking to strangers and all that. Wrong. I repeat, WRONG.

Today’s Confession:

Overseas, where the strangers don’t speak English – that’s my comfort zone. Give me a translator and a crowd of people and I’ll get the Gospel to as many as will listen. Give me a stranger who speaks English though and I suddenly revert to a terrified little six-year-old. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. My thoughts get all jumbled and rarely come out in understandable words. In summary, I have a tendency to come across as a bumbling blonde idiot. And this absolutely kills every ounce of perfectionist in me.

It would have been easy to back out. Believe me. I thought of at least six different excuses. In the end though, no matter how uncomfortable the idea of going made me, I knew that this wasn’t about me. So I made myself get out of bed. Literally MADE myself. I got dressed and then dropped the dogs off at the sitter. Yes, my dogs go to their grandparent’s house when I’m away for more than a few hours. It’s ridiculous, I know. Unfortunately though, it’s a bad pattern that I created and now I just can’t say “no” to those sad puppy eyes. Don’t judge me – you probably have your own version of crazy. We all do – but that’s another blog for another day.

Back to this story… So I managed to pick up my eight-year-old niece, Catlin, along the way. She heard what I was doing and wanted to go too. She happened to be eating chocolate chip cookies at the time and felt she needed to go share her cookies with the homeless. How could I say “no” to that? Plus this kid’s normally a “talker”. It takes a lot; I mean a whole lot, to quiet her. So I figured if nothing else, she could start the conversations with strangers and I’d jump in along the way. Yes, this is pitiful, but that’s where I was.

My plan backfired and Catlin was so shy around everyone she barely said a word. That’s what I get for banking on an eight-year-old. Fortunately I had another friend, Bailey, with me. She’s one of those super sweet and friendly types. So I was a coward and totally let her start most of the conversations. You can judge me now – I’m totally judging myself.

A Ray of Sunshine:

One of our first encounters was with a woman, we’ll call “Sunny” (real names are intentionally changed out of respect for these precious people). She gave us a few of her nicknames and “Sunshine” was the one that really fit. She was quite a “talker” herself, which of course made things easy for me. So for 40 minutes, I did one of the few things that I am actually good at. I listened. Sunny was all over the place and talked 60 mph. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t help but admire her optimism when she told us she wasn’t “homeless” but rather “residentially challenged”. I hated the state she was in but had an unexplainable appreciation for her too.

Sunny shared of so many things she had faced. Things most of us couldn’t begin to imagine and some that made you wonder if she wasn’t making them up. Sunny talked of things that made me question whether or not my niece should hear what she was saying. Part of me felt the responsible thing to do was to politely end the conversation and walk away. After all, I wanted Catlin to learn the importance of helping people, but I didn’t want to give her nightmares. I fought the inner urge to leave and decided to trust God. I knew as uncomfortable as that encounter was, that this was exactly where Jesus would be.

This was exactly where my Jesus would be; out on a Saturday morning, downtown, wandering in a bus station, feeding the hungry and giving them the Bread of Life.

A few times throughout the conversation, Bailey and I were able to interject and share about the grace and love of Jesus and how He was the God of Restoration. Sunny told us that she had already asked Jesus into her life and with that, our next move was simply to pray. We asked if it would be okay and she gladly agreed. So together, Bailey, Catlin and I wrapped our arms around Sunny and began to pray for Jesus to do a powerful work in her life. I believe He is.

We continued to speak with people. Some opened up easily, some, not so much. We tried though. Seeds were planted and we did some watering too.

Ice Cream & Retired Pimps:

One of our final encounters came later in the afternoon. By this time, Bailey had to leave and I had joined up with two of my other friends, Deanna and Aftyn. I was so thankful to have a few more voices to help carry on conversations. We approached two, kind looking older gentlemen sitting on a bench. These two had a different look about them and I thought this would be the start of an easy conversation. The first gentleman immediately got up and walked away, wooden cane in hand. As he did, the next gentleman introduced himself. We’ll call him “Ray”.

 “Hi, I’m Ray. Ex-Pimp. I’m retired.” He said with a grin.

I was torn between shock and laughter. I held it all in though, praise the Lord! I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but that was not it. You have to picture the situation. Here we are, three single girls and an eight-year-old at a bus station, chatting it up with a retired pimp. Maybe it’s just me, but I found this situation quite funny. Perhaps I should have been more concerned with safety or something, but I wasn’t.

With a simple “fist bump”, Ray said “Hi” to Catlin and proceeded to inquire if she liked ice cream. Of course she likes ice cream… she’s eight. They connected. It was a strange but wonderful sight. He told us all about this place up the street where she could get some of the best ice cream. A few fist bumps later and we found out that Ray was hungry and would love some food. Unfortunately we had given out all the food we had with us. So I took Catlin and we went looking for some food to give Ray. We came back just as Deanna and Aftyn were finishing praying with him. They prayed for God’s peace in his life and later found out that was something Ray had wanted for a while. We got food to Ray, gave a few more fist bumps, then said our goodbyes.

These moments challenged me, for a lot of reasons. I hate to be out of my comfort zone, but that outreach reminded me of why it’s so important to force myself out. People need us. They need food and fist bumps. They need to hear that there is hope no matter what their situation. They need to see the real, tangible love of Jesus Christ in action. And in order for that to happen, we have to actually get into action. Jesus had a few words of His own on this topic.

Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV) 

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I have so much growing to do and more than anything, I want to become more like Jesus. That means going where He would go and doing the things He would do.

Jesus went to the places others would not go. He did the difficult things. And because of it, the world was forever changed.

John 3:16-17 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

REAL TALK: Valentine’s Day (after) Edition – The Top 10 Things Singles Hate To Hear

So in honor of another Valentine’s Day spent gloriously single, I thought I would weigh in on this dreaded virus that causes grown adults to cringe at the sight of a holiday filled with hearts, flowers and chocolates. SINGLENESS – ahh!!! Run for the hills!! It might be contagious!

The truth is I am 31 years old. Yes, I just admitted that for the entire world to see. You’re totally impressed with my bravery right now, aren’t you? And I am SINGLE. Yep, you heard me right. Single: not married, not dating, not talking to anyone. Shoot, as far as I can tell there aren’t even any viable options close by. Feel free to laugh now. I am. And the truth – here goes… I am, at least in this moment of time, absolutely and perfectly okay with my status. Just because I made it to a place of “okay”, doesn’t mean there hasn’t been times that I struggled as I watched my closest friends find and marry the love of their lives. Of course I have always wanted my friends to find love, but I wanted it too.

Life can be hard and sometimes watching others step into stages that you yourself want to be, is difficult. I recently received a phone call from a close friend of mine who was struggling. She’s one of the most amazing people I know, but like the rest of us, she just had one of those moments. She needed to talk about that question singles are always asking – “why am I still single?” I listened. She cried. We both laughed. She dealt with her feelings and is back to tackling life and changing the world. We all need to phone a friend every now and again.

Throughout the years I have heard various “well intentioned” statements intended to encourage us single folk. However, most of them do exactly the opposite – especially coming from happily un-single people who married young. So I consulted a few of my closest “still single” friends to hear their favorites.

Disclaimer: This Blog entry was written from the perspective of older singles. After all I am 31, not 21. 😉 If your friends are single and still in their late teens or early twenties, these words don’t quite apply.

Here are the top 10 things singles hate to hear:

10. So and so is still single and they’re older than you. So why are you complaining?

9. You must be too difficult (have too many requirements) because you are the total package.

8. Don’t give up, there’s still plenty of time.

7. Oh, you’ll find the right one. It’s all in God’s timing.

6. They may be married but would you really want to be married to their spouse? You’re better off single.

5. It will happen when you least expect it.

4. If I was single and younger, I would totally have wanted to marry you.

3. Enjoy your season of singleness.

2. You can do so much more for the Lord while you’re single.

1. The longer you wait, the better it will be.

On behalf of all the older singles everywhere.

To all our married friends, we know that you love us. We love you too and truthfully many of you are a shining example of what we are believing to one day find ourselves. We know that you probably mean well but sometimes these particular statements only serve to make things worse. Instead of using the cliche encouraging statements, try the following.

  • Take us out for the evening and spend some quality time with us (You don’t have to pay, simply making time for us is enough). Just please don’t make us the 3rd wheel to what would have otherwise been a date for you.
  • Get us a gift. This can be as simple as bringing us our favorite coffee – its always nice to feel like someone is thinking about you.
  • When you see us struggling, offer to listen. That’s it, just listen. Don’t give expert advice, even if you do know what you’re talking about. Sometimes we just want to be heard. (Now if we ask for advice – go for it.)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY – Take time to pray for us. No matter how great you are with advice, no words you give will ever impact our lives the way simply praying for us will.

For better or worse, for the allotted time, whatever it may be, we the single people are and will continue to be – single. And that, is perfectly okay. Thanks for sticking with us. We need all you happily “un-single people”.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

PS – Special thanks to my unnamed “still single” friends for adding to this post – You know who you are. 😉

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PhotoBlog: The Camera, The Catlin and The Wardrobe

If you know anything about me, you know that I love photography. I don’t like to call myself a photographer though because that implies that I actually know what I’m doing. Let’s be honest here – I don’t. I shoot for fun and sometime I capture a moment that I find inspiring or simply beautiful. Every once in a while, I get crazy and try and make some photo magic happen. Recently I wrote a blog about one of my favorite book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. After the writing was complete I decided I needed to do a photo shoot to come up with a feature photo to use on the blog. 

So I did what all good artists do, (at least thats what I tell myself) I pulled inspiration from real life and convinced my 8 year old niece that she should be a part of this magical adventure into the Wardrobe. She happily agreed – on one condition. She got to take some pictures of me. Seemed like a fair trade.

A little bit of hair and make-up and we were off to capture the spirit of Narnia. Okay, maybe just the Wardrobe portion. Narnia will have to wait for another day.

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You have to have the perfect shoes.

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And that smile. She can be such a little monster but that smile has a way of making up for it.

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And then there are those freckles.

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Add a little bit of sparkle.

 

And lots of laughter.

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A little dash of excitement.

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One hardcore “wookie shirt” as she called it…

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And eventually you find yourself stepping out of Narnia.

All of it happened so quickly. There’s a certain magic in these moments though. The kind of magic that will live on, beyond the days of youth and innocence, beyond Narnia.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED