Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Celebrating His Goodness

"They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness." Psalm 145:7

Sweet friends,

   It is so much fun to write to y'all today, because I have so many fun celebrations to share with you! I love that God gives us such sweet opportunities to celebrate Him and His goodness. I love celebrating! I am a party girl, give me any reason to celebrate and I'll be there! I can't even imagine the party that goes on in heaven every time someone comes to know Christ. I can't wait to be a part of that party! More so now than ever before, I want to celebrate everything. I don't want to miss a single opportunity to celebrate the blessings God has given us.  Last weekend, Matt, McKinley and I traveled to Colorado to celebrate some wonderful things in my family. We are praising the Lord that I felt well enough that we were able to go. It was truly a small miracle that we were able to go in the middle of chemotherapy. (9 down, 7 to go!) I know that it was only through His strength that I had enough energy to be there. I love it when the only response that God gives us is to praise Him for His goodness and provision. I love that we have a God who doesn't stay in the shadows, that He makes himself known in all of creation, and in all His people. I love that we got to celebrate so much of His goodness this past weekend. The Lord has done so many great things in my family over the past years.  To watch Him relentlessly pursue them (us) and eventually capture their hearts has been one of my life's greatest blessings. Please indulge me while I brag a little on them:)

   Right when we arrived in Colorado, we headed to the Colorado High School State Track meet where my baby brother Lance was competing. His event is the 400m. I knew he was a great runner, but to see him run was more of a treasure than I can possibly explain. He did amazing, excellent, unbelievable: he set his best time, he broke his high school's long standing record. He ran it in 48.36 seconds. How awesome is that! To God be the Glory! I know that is only through the Lord, that Lance is able to run that fast. A year and a half ago, Lance tore his ACL in his knee and there was a large likelihood he might never run again. Now he is breaking records and going on a track scholarship to a Division I college. That's dedication.  That's perseverance.  That is the hand of God. Although Lance is 19 now, to me he will always be my chubby, curly haired baby brother who was running away from his 4 older sisters. So, to see him now as a handsome, smart, incredibly talented young man is such a blessing to my heart. But the sweetest thing about my baby brother is that he knows he is running for such a bigger race than that on the track: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us RUN with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2 May we all Run the race God has marked out for us, keeping our eyes totally fixed on Jesus. If we want to win the race, we better keep our focus on the finish line. I am so thankful that I have a little brother who reminds me of that!

  Below is a picture of the whole Loken gang at the state track meet. We are all kind of obsessed with Lance!

After all the track meet celebrations subsided, we had some BIG graduation celebrating to do! Lance graduated from Arapahoe High School and will be attending the University of Wyoming in the fall on a track scholarship.  We are so proud of him and so excited for the plans God has for him. We know that college can be such a tough time to really pursue a relationship with Christ, but we are praying hard that God will do BIG things in Lance and through him. 

        My little sister Ranai graduated from Colorado State University.  She was selected to be a part of Teach for America, and was recently hired as an elementary school literacy teacher in an inner city Denver charter school.  When I think of Ranai, this verse instantly enters my mind: "Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16 The light of Christ shines so brightly through Ranai. Just being around her makes you want to know Jesus more. CSU is forever changed because of how Ranai loved people there. I just beam when I think of how blessed those elementary school kids will be to be loved by her. She is going to love the heck out of those tough kids, change their lives, and make Jesus more famous along the way. We are thrilled to get to watch it! I pray that we can all let Christ's light shine brightly through us.

   My older sister, Rachel, also graduated from college. Y'all if you knew my big sister's story, you would be blown away. She is a beautiful picture of what is possible only through God. Four kids later, 7 moves around the country, her husband being deployed 3 times, losing their house and all their belongings to a flood last spring, and somehow Rachel still managed to graduate from Regis University with a degree in finance. To say Rach is an inspiration is an understatement. "With man this is impossible, but not with God, ALL things are possible with God." Mark 10:27  I wish every one of you could meet Rachel, her sweet spirit would encourage your heart more than I can explain. No matter what adversity Rachel faces, she trusts in the Lord and lets His love flow through her.  I pray we can all see life's challenges as opportunities to trust God and show the world that anything is possible with Christ!

                   Here is a picture of the gorgeous graduates!

Among the many graduation celebrations, there was a very sweet time that I can't help but to share with y'all! My precious husband Matt planned something so special for Lance. One night after we had just finished opening all the graduation presents, Matt presented a very large present to Lance. Lance opened up a real, authentic, brave heart sword. Matt preceded to tell him that the sword symbolized that we no longer saw him as a boy, but now as a man. He read Ephesians 6 over him, explaining to him what it meant to put on the armor of God and to how to be a mighty warrior for the Lord. There wasn't a dry eye. It was beautiful. It was inspiring.  My sweet husband is a rock star for the kingdom and has such a heart for men to realize their full potential in Christ. (I will encourage him to write a full blog post on this- its so good!)  I love how he loves Jesus and how he pours into my little brother. How incredibly blessed I am to be married to the mightiest man of God I know! I am thrilled that my little brother has his example to follow.  

          So , just when you think we couldn't cram any more celebrations into a weekend, we had one more very exciting thing to celebrate! On Saturday, May 19th, on my parent's 33rd wedding anniversary, my other little sister, Ryli, got engaged! Her now fiance, Jase, planned a perfect proposal full of a limo scavenger hunt, love letters, presents, clues, and a proposal on a boat dock lit with hundreds of candles where he sang "Marry Me" by Ed Cash and washed her feet while he read to her from the Bible and told her how he couldn't wait to serve her and love her for the rest of his life.  It was absolutely amazing. I cannot imagine a better man for my little sister. Although the proposal was that out of a story book, their love story is even more beautiful. A year ago, both Ryli and Jase, completely separate from one another, decided to live their lives fully for the Lord. Although they both knew God, they made the choice to go ALL-in for the kingdom. They let Jesus radically change their lives.  My little sister is absolutely gorgeous, by her heart for Jesus is what truly radiates. Jase fell in love with the woman Ryli is in Christ. As both of them fell in love with Jesus, they fell in love with each other. "We love because Christ first loved us." 1 John 4:19 We know Ryli and Jase will have a lifetime of love because they know Christ's love. It has been an absolute privilege to watch them fall in love with each other as they pursue Christ. Matt and I can't wait to see how the Lord will use them for His kingdom as a married couple. They are a blessing. We love them and can't wait for the wedding!

 The four days we were able to spend in Colorado were a treasure. Thank you for indulging me and reading all about the celebrations we had. Although I am unbelievably proud of my siblings and find immense joy in celebrating their accomplishments, I hope I didn't boast in them, but rather I boasted in what God is doing in them and through them. "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:30-31  God is awesome. He truly is good all the time. So many of the things that we celebrated this weekend I feel like I have prayed for 1,000 times before. This weekend was proof that God answers prayers. And when He does answer our prayers, in His perfect timing, it is exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or imagine. "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21   I hope all of you sweet friends can find something to celebrate today. Look at your life, look at the lives of those you love, look for how God is working and celebrate Him. And keep praying.  Pray Big. Believe with your whole heart that God can and will answer your prayers. He's got you.  He's got me. That is worth celebrating every day.  You are Loved!

Joyfully in HIM~

Friday, May 4, 2012

JOY of The LORD - My Strength

"Consider it pure JOY, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

Sweet friends,

  I apologize that I have not written more frequently; life has just been busy these days! I had two wonderful weeks with my best friend of 16 years, Nicole and my amazing little sister, Ranai. We had so much fun playing with precious McKinley, and their incredible hearts just refreshed mine! I am 2 'easy' chemotherapies down and only 10 to go! Besides an icky cold that I just cannot seem to get over, I am feeling great! Oh, how I praise the Lord for that. I now have to get a shot every Saturday to boost my neutrophil levels, which makes me feel like I have the flu on Saturdays. But Tuesdays (chemotherapy days) are really just a tired day, and by Wednesday morning, I feel just like me again :) It seems as though the toughest part of this journey is behind us now. It is wonderful to see an end in sight! I was thinking the other day how 'comfortable' this cancer has become, it is just a part of our lives now. During the time of the initial diagnosis, surgery and hard chemotherapy, I couldn't get through a moment it seemed without completely relying on the Lord for my strength. It was by far the hardest time of my life, but now I look at that time with tenderness and sweetness of heart. For when there seemed to be none of me left, God was everything. I needed Jesus in a desperate way that I had never really needed Him before. It was a treasure.  My prayer now is that even though my health is restored more each day, that my heart couldn't get through a moment without my Jesus.

   Many friends have asked me over the past months and weeks if I was angry with God. I think everyone kind of expected me to be angry with Him. "Randi, you are only 28, you have a little girl, you love God, you make wise health choices, WHY would He allow you to get cancer?" Oh, I have felt a vast array of emotions since I was diagnosed on October 23rd, like shock, sadness, and insecurity but I can honestly say, anger has not been my dominant emotion. It was clear from the beginning that me getting cancer didn't make sense, so we knew God had to be up to something bigger than we could possibly understand. In the book of John, there is this beautiful story of Jesus healing a blind man that has given my heart so much peace. Jesus sees this man who has been blind from birth. His disciples (aka best friends) ask him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  Isn't that such our human perspective, that we want to blame our sufferings and trials on something or someone. We believe the lie that we must have done something to deserve this. I think some people call this Karma. But Jesus doesn't work like that. Jesus replied to his disciples, "Neither this man or his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:1-3) I read that, and all I hear is God saying "Randi, I love you, I have beautiful plans for your life, but I am allowing you to go through this so that my power may be displayed through you." That brings my heart more joy than I can possibly explain. I used to read the verse in James 1 listed above, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers when you face trials of many kinds..."  and I thought he must be crazy to think we should consider it PURE JOY when we face really hard challenges. Not to just be joyful amidst pain, but to call our trials, Pure Joy. It is completely opposite to everything this world teaches us. In the face of hardship, this world tells us to be angry, sad, bitter, and to wallow in self pity and despair. But now, I get what James was telling us. I get that through Jesus alone, we can consider our trials pure joy.  It is through our deepest losses and struggles that we realize how desperately we need a savior. When we finally get that, there is PURE JOY. Joy is not happiness, it is not an ever changing feeling dependent upon our life circumstances. It is a confidence that the King of the Universe is on our team, that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that He has plans only to "prosper us, and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11. God never promises that we will be happy on this earth, because this is not our home. He actually promises the opposite: "In this world, you will have trouble." John 16:33 I am so thankful that we have an eternity of perfection with the King to look forward to. That we can see the pain and brokenness in this fallen world, and know for certain that this is not where we belong, and that one day, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4  I'm so thankful this world is not our home and that God doesn't see things the way we do.  I relish in Jesus' words: " Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:22 Over the years, my precious hubby has often reminded me, "Randi, don't let this rob your JOY!"

   Today, I received a care package from one of my closest friends who is facing a tremendous trial in her life. After being completely blown away that my sweet friend would take time to encourage me, I dug into this precious, sunshine package and pulled out a devotional called, Jesus Calling. I opened up to May 4th and started reading the love letter written to us from Jesus’ perspective: "The more you give to Me and My ways, the more I fill you with inexpressible, heavenly joy." That's it! The key to having JOY is giving ourselves, our dreams, our struggles, and our deepest desires to Jesus. As our pastor reminded us last weekend, "CHOOSE JOY!" We all have a choice every day how we will face the trials of this world: do you choose anger and bitterness, resentment for feeling that God is ripping you off, or do you choose JOY: trusting that God is working in us and through us for His bigger purposes. Someone once told me JOY stands for Jesus, Others and Yourself. I love that! If I want Joy, I need to put Jesus first, then others, then myself. When faced with this cancer, Matt and I choose JOY. I don't want to waste a moment feeling angry: "Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10  I have seen too many people suffer in bitterness and resentment, and it robs them of the abundant life that God has for them. I know some of you sweet friends are reading this and are wrestling with those feelings of anger, and that's okay. ( I have wrestled with a lot of emotions!) God is not afraid of or intimidated by our emotions, he just asks us to bring all those feelings, good or bad, to Him. Flesh it out with God, yell at Him, let Him know exactly how you are feeling, and then when you get it all out, leave it at His feet and experience a peace and joy that will bring freedom to your soul. God asks us to give that burden to Him, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 Joy, peace, rest for our souls, that is what God wants to give us. He doesn't want us to miss out on all His glorious plans because we choose anger and bitterness. Friends, I know some days life seems impossibly hard, but I pray that today you will trade in your despair and anger and Choose Joy! "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13  Oh, how much we treasure and love you!

Joyfully in HIM~
"Be joyful always." 1 Thessalonians 5:16