Reflections in the New Year

When I was 20 I did my youth ministry internship with Ray Blais. Ray was the director of Camp Li Lo Li, the camp I had volunteered at for the previous 4 summers. He was the first person I had ever met who was in full time ministry and was trusting God to provide for all of his family’s needs.

I remember listening to his ‘God stories’ and seeing his intimate relationship with God and wanting to experience something similar.  As I was trying to comprehend how someone, especially a husband and father of 3, could live like this, he handed me a fist full of pocket calendars and invited me to ‘take a look.’ As I flipped through them I read the short, hand written notes in the daily calendar squares, of how God had provided so faithfully. Several of the stories he had already shared with me so as I glanced over the little notes they meant so much more to me. There were too many for him to recall and time didn’t permit him to share them because there were so many! Ray kept a record of these stories to remind himself, and others, how faithful His God was.

Almost 20 years later, I now have my own set of pocket calendars, packed full of ‘God stories’ and as I’ve been sitting and looking back over them my eyes have teared up and my heart has overflowed like David’s did in Psalm 40:5;

IMG_4459 IMG_4455

“You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you!I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.”IMG_4456

I’ve had the privilege of telling hundreds of people the story of how God provided Mercy House and the security system, or how more recently God provided our new van… but looking back it was the ‘less significant’ stories that impacted me the most today. I had forgotten so many of them. The times when we had been praying for $50 and my GST check for $68 came in the mail, or when we needed groceries and an encouraging letter from a friend arrived at just the right time… with a grocery gift card included with it. Looking back and seeing my hand written notes on the exact days that God worked these miracles carries a different measure of reality and works to renew my confidence in our Great and Awesome God. The God who WAS, is our God who still IS and always will be. He NEVER changes, He ALWAYS remains the same. He’s our immovable rock that we can stand firmly on and trust completely in.

Almost all of the stories recorded in these calendars included names. Names of people who’s hearts God stirred up to be a part of what He was doing. These stories are YOUR stories! When I read the stories, I read so many of YOUR names. I’m just as encouraged by YOUR examples as I am when I read about the people in the Old Testament who were willing to trust God and follow Him. Our CrossTrainers story includes stories of friends who walked away from profitable jobs to obey God and serve Him in this ministry. There’s stories of young people who chose to serve God with us instead of seeking a more profitable career. There’s stories of heartache between our staff team and years later, stories of reconciliation. There’s stories of abundant provision through people serving God in the market place as well as stories of stay-at-home mom’s, single parents, retired seniors, and even people in full time ministry who gave just as sacrificially. There’s stories of ‘random’ cheques that have come as the Spirit prompted the hearts of people to give and there’s stories of the not so ‘random’, but just as inspired, monthly support, that came from people who have quietly and faithfully come along side us.

We are so thankful to God for YOU! The PEOPLE God has used to play significant roles in His story of CrossTrainers… which is just a small part of His greater story.

If you would like to hear some of our God stories, I recently recorded several of them for Hope Stream Radio. Here’s how you can listen:

  1. Visit hopestreamradio.com
  2. Click on Contributors
  3. Click on Jodi Greenstreet (WOW Living is the name of the segment)
  4. Click on WOW Living to see a list of all of the recorded segments
  5. Click on any segment you would like to listen to

Our prayer is that your faith will grow through hearing these stories and that you will be encouraged to follow Jesus whole heartedly in 2016. Thank you for playing an important part in this story.

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Advent and Happy New Year!

Every year as a kid, my mom got us Advent calendars, you know, the kind with little doors that have the most unnatural chocolate treats behind them. I loved them! It was all that was within me not to open doors in advance to eat the chocolate. (It may or may not have happened a few times). It was a fun tradition that carried on with me as I grew up. Now I have the very grown up version of the calendar that I put up each year and move the little snowflake marker as each day ticks down towards Christmas.

A number of years ago, I came up with a new plan. I decided to do “Advent gifts” for a couple of my closest friends. I went and got new gym bags (which was Dec 1st’s gift) then proceeded to fill the bag with 23 other little gifts, all wrapped and labelled for what day they were to be opened. As someone who loves to give gifts, I loved every day! I’ve been able to continue to do this for quite a number of years, sometimes not the whole 24 days (depending on my budget) but in some way or another.

However, this year it just wasn’t possible. I barely had money for gifts, let alone to do advent gifts. I was truly bummed. It’s not a big deal, and my friends don’t think I love them any less, but it was always such a joy to find little things that were unique to them, or inside jokes between us to show that I was thinking of them and how much I love them. So to say I was disappointed was an understatement.

I spent some time with the Lord at the end of November asking why He was keeping things so tight that I couldn’t spend money on this? He knows how much I love to do it to bless others. And so I complained to Him that I couldn’t bless my friends the way I wanted to this year. Inevitably, when I’m in this sort of heart condition, the Lord has to smack me upside the head. I had started to memorize Matthew 6 in an effort to trust Him more, and as I was going through it on November 30th, the thought struck me that I am only giving out of what God’s given to me. Those gifts aren’t really from me, they are from Him. He provided every penny. It was a passing thought that I didn’t spend much time on. However, the Lord wasn’t done teaching me.

The next day, December 1st, was our final wrap up to our women’s Bible study, and doesn’t one of the ladies walk in with a big yard rake and hand it to Kelsey and say, “I heard you needed this”. We laughed, she thanked her (Kelsey and her husband had just moved in to their first home and had a tonne of leaves to rake out of the yard) and we went on to finish our night. Then the next morning, December 2nd, we got our weekly pick up of day old baked goods from Costco, but they had an extra skid for us, that was 1002 diapers! Kelsey and her husband are also expecting their first baby in 2 months! Then someone else dropped of 6 fabulous bar stools for Jenna, our youth director (they go through stools really fast at the Hub Youth Centre). As I’m thinking about all these things the Lord gave me a nudge to remind me of what He’d said… all these gifts were from Him. All of a sudden I realized that God had been doing Advent gifts for my friends and I hadn’t even noticed! It truly was a gift from Him each day. He wasn’t using me to do it this year, He was taking care of it all by Himself. Using different people on different days to bless others. He didn’t need me. My friends didn’t need me. All I needed to do was recognize the gift and the Giver!

All of a sudden I wasn’t so disappointed about Advent, I was excited to see what God was going to do the next day and for who? And no word of a lie, every day from Dec 1-Dec 24 there was some incredible gift that God provided for my friends, for the ministry and even for me. (I wrote them all in my journal so if you really want to know each day just ask!) It was the simplest of things, but it changed my perspective entirely. I purposed each day to see the Advent gift from the Lord. Some days were really obvious, a couple were little things, but day in and day out, there was some blessing.

It occurred to me that this didn’t have to be something that was just for Advent. Not just on those 24 days did I get to pull back the little door on my calendar and see what God had for me. This was a perspective I could take in to every single day. To look for the good gift that the Father of Lights (James 1) had given me that day. Today is December 29th, and I’m still writing a list. Some days, I get to be the conduit that God uses to bless someone else, others, I’m the one blessed, and still others I get to rejoice with another over the gift God’s given them. It has changed my heart into a thankful one. A heart that is now quick to see and point out to others the incredible ways God works. It makes every day exciting, and gets me out of bed with anticipation of what He’s going to do today.

I pray that as this year wraps up, you can take a moment to recognize those Advent gifts for yourself, and I’d challenge you to start looking every day, even asking “God, what are you going to do today?” then start recognizing Him and glorifying Him! Happy New Year!

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Can He do it? Yes He can!

It has been a long time since I’ve written here, but the Lord totally floored me the other day and I had to write it down!

For the most part I love worship music. However, every once in awhile there comes a song that I just don’t enjoy. This year our church introduced several new songs from “The Vertical Church Band” album The Rock Won’t Move (which I highly recommend) but there was one song that I just did not like. It has some great harmonies, but the chorus makes me think of Bob The Builder and reminds me of some kids worship songs. But the thing that I kept making fun of was the lyrics.

Can He love His enemies?
Can He make them family?
Life is in His mighty hands
Life is in almighty hands

He can do it, yes, He can
He will prove it, our God can
No one else can save us, redeem us, create a new life in us
Only Jesus can © Vertical Church Band 2013

Every time we sang it at church, I just kept thinking, “Well obviously! What kind of a question is that?” It drove me crazy, I even used scripture, thinking of Jesus’ response to the father who asks “If you can…” in Mark 9, and Jesus responds “IF I can? With God all things are possible…

So this has become a running joke among my friends, some of whom love the song and some who agree with me and skip that track on the album. But tonight, the band actually was playing a free concert at our church. It was great, 2 hours of some rocking worship songs and of course, they play “Only Jesus Can” and I sort of cringed, but then the Lord spoke so clearly to my heart and said, “you ask these questions all the time!” and I was startled for a minute. And then I realized I totally do!

Every time I worry about whether God is going to meet my bills, I’m asking “Can He do it?”
Every time I worry about meeting the Ministry expenses, I’m asking “Can He do it?”
Every time I worry about our full time staff, and how they are going to buy groceries…
Every time a situation stresses me out, relationships struggle, …
Every time I think I’m never going to change, never going to get past this…
Every time… I’m asking “Can He do it?”

So in reality I have been making fun of myself! If the answer to the song lyrics is so obvious to me, why isn’t it obvious to me in my own life? OBVIOUSLY He can!!! Why am I even asking that question?

I was so convicted while we were singing it, that for the first time I had to sing it loud because they were my questions! Thankfully, I found the Grace of God in the second line of the chorus. Even though I am asking such silly questions all the time, God loves me so much that He doesn’t respond like I did, instead His response is, “He will prove it…” He probably shakes His head at my lack of faith, then smiles and loves me anyway, and goes on to prove that “Yes He can!”

Oh Lord, help my unbelief!

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God and dog

A friend of mine showed me a Youtube video song about “God and Dog”, by Wendy Francisco http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H17edn_RZoY It’s really quite cheesy and yet incredibly profound (especially if you are a dog owner).  I was blessed this summer to get a puppy from very good friends of ours.  She is a golden retriever with 1/16 lab and she is beautiful!

Through much of last year, the Lord was teaching me about His promises for me in the Book of Deuteronomy.  He started opening doors and answering prayers that have been years in waiting, the house that we bought with CrossTrainers to start the discipleship program was the first huge answer, as was my car that God provided, and the puppy.  So, as God seemed to be leading me into a Promised Land, I could not get the name Jordan out of my head.  I felt like I was crossing the Jordan with Him into a brand new territory that He had prepared… so my puppy’s name is Jordan.

She has been so great! I’ve been able to take her to camp with me and she was so awesome with the kids, she did our booth at Carrotfest in Bradford (our local town fair) and drew half the people to our booth just to pet her.  She’s been a huge blessing to me.  What I didn’t really expect was to learn so much about God from her.  I mean, He is the master teacher so He can use anything, and He has my attention with this little furball!  Lots of people make jokes about how cats think they are to be worshiped and dogs will worship you…I used to try and stick up for my cats, but now that I own a dog I think it might be true!

It’s been a new learning curve for me, I’ve had lots of cats, and really, you can’t train them to do much… but with the puppy, training had to start from day one!  I got the crate to start crate training, I had to start house breaking her right away, going outside every two hours, every time she woke up, every time we played or she ate… learning to walk on a leash, learning to jump, sit.. everything took time and consistency.  That was the key; consistency.  You had to go over and over something, reward her and do it again.  And if some one tried to teach her a different signal or word it just confused her.  Then as we started back to our fall routines and our staff meetings started up, I was reviewing our leadership lessons from last year, and the number one thing a leader has to be is consistent! We train people all the time through the way we react, speak, behave… and when it’s not consistent we confuse them.  Just like Jordan, my actions need to be consistent and reliable so those who I’m leading know what to expect from me, and what I expect from them. No wonder dog training classes are mostly for the owners!

But beyond my own lessons in how I need to act, her unconditional love for me blows me away.  It truly is like a piece of God’s heart is in a dog in how they love their owners.  Jordan will sit at the front door if I have to leave, and my roommates tell me she will stare after my car, and then lay down and wait for me to return.  She often falls asleep there.  How many times do I do that to God?  I walk away, put some distance between us and He just waits.  He never leaves, just waits. And then (this is my favourite part) when I get home, she jumps up and is so excited to see me! She won’t leave my side, her tail is going crazy and she has to show me how much she’s missed me.  And then there’s God.  Never condemning when I return, just open arms to hold me tight and tell me how much He has missed me.  Oh if only I could understand how He loves me!

And then, the joy I get when I’ve been away, or even just inside the house and come out to get Jordan, and she comes bounding across the yard to me when I call.  It does not matter what kind of terrible day I’ve had, I can’t help but break into the hugest smile and collapse in front of her to pet her.  In the story of the prodigal son, the father doesn’t just wait, he runs to meet his son.  God runs to me!  If my heart swells to see my puppy run to me, I should be undone thinking that my God does the same!

Perhaps some of you are thinking, wow, she overanalyzes everything!  But if everything that has breath praises the Lord, and creation testifies of Him, I’m pretty sure I can learn how God loves me through my puppy! I dare you to come meet her and tell me otherwise!

~ Patti

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Change

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

 I sat in this same spot 15 years ago after I finished University, looking across Lake Ontario to the Toronto skyline (which I could actually see that day) knowing that I was moving there in 3 months and having no idea what the Lord had in store for me.Image

 I had thought it would be to become “teacher of the year”, marry an incredible man and have a family and live happily ever after.  15 years later I am sitting in a very different place than I thought I’d be.  

 That time in my life was a huge change.  Life as a student was over, all my friends (including me) were moving to different parts of the country, many were getting married, I was beginning a career, alone in a big city, had to find a new church… new life.  That part isn’t much different today, this has been a year of huge change again.  New church, friends getting married, friends moving, I’m moving to a home finally, I lost my Dad a few months ago, ministry is looking different… CHANGE.

 Most of my friends would say I hate change.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  I’m not sure its entirely accurate.  I actually get bored doing the same thing pretty easily, I work a lot better when things change up, not the same thing day in day out… it’s why I became a teacher.  So I’m not sure its inherently change that I don’t like, I think it’s the lack of control that usually comes with it.  If I can control my change, “make my plans in my heart” (Prov 16) then I actually like it.  It’s when other people make the changes, or I have no control over the circumstances that I get freaked out and desperately cling to what currently is.  Dig my heels in and balk at change.  

 When “the LORD directs my steps” (Prov 16) I don’t know the outcome, I can’t protect my heart from being hurt, I don’t know that things will work out, or if I’ll go through this situation alone.

 Even as I wrote that last paragraph I had to smile, because aren’t all those things the very things that cause me to cling to the LORD?  The UNCHANGING One?  He knows the outcome and will protect my heart, or at least comfort it when it’s broken.  He promises to work all things out for good for those who love Him, and there is no situation I can go through alone because He promises to never leave me.

 Perhaps, this is the very reason why the only constant in life is change; to cause me “…to love the LORD (my) God, and to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments and to cling to Him…” (Joshua 22:5)

 The reason I was sitting in this spot tonight was because I had gone home to see my mom today.  We spent some time going through my Dad’s stuff which is always difficult, the memories are still hard to handle.  But as we were looking through things, I found that my mom had kept the shelf from my old bedroom just the way I left it.  On the underside of it, which had been right above my pillow, were tonnes of old papers with verses written on them that I had pasted there to read first thing in the morning and when I went to bed.  The funny thing is, so many of them are still verses that I cling to today, I even have most of them written in different places in my house now.  

 Funny… clinging to Him never changes.

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A Very Full Quiver

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,

the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

are the childrena of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man

who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame

when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

Psalm 127:3-5

 

Gary LaRose was a man with a very full quiver.  If you consider the arrows that this psalmist is referring to as children physically born to him, then technically he and his amazing wife Leonora only had two; April and Patti and no grandchildren.

However, Gary had a greater heritage of The Lord than many may know.

I have been told more than once that Gary and Leonora prayed for a son to be a preacher, but God gave them two daughters ‘instead’.  Two young women, with sharp minds and tongues.  Gary and Leonora had their work cut out for them in training these two arrows to fly straight.  With much prayer and a willingness to let God direct the path they would take, Mr. And Mrs. LaRose released these two women of God to pursue the path God had for them.

April married Nate Thomas, a preacher.  These two have travelled across North America sharing the Gospel in such unique ways.  God has used them to add many children to His family and at the same time, Nate and April have become the parents of many spiritual children.

Patti became a high school teacher and coach.  After 5 years she followed Gary’s example and ‘retired’ young.  She stepped out in faith and co-founded CrossTrainers Canada.  Patti has also spent the last 10 years of her life loving people of all ages and discipling many in the truth of God’s Word.  At times Patti’s path has crossed with April and Nate’s as she has also travelled across North America ministering to hundreds of kids at camps and conferences.  Although Patti is not married and has not given birth to any physical children she also has hundreds of spiritual children.

God has used these two arrows to pierce the hearts of many and see hundreds of lives changed for His glory.  The family of God has grown through the heritage of the Lord God blessed Gary and Leonora with.  Praise God that Gary’s quiver was full enough with them!  He was not ashamed standing in the gate and will one day see many enter through the gates of heaven because of the way he fathered these two beautiful women.

Gary Roger LaRose – October 19, 1939 – December 10, 2012

~ Jodi

 

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Love them like family!

Four Christmas’ ago one of our volunteers, Alejandra, wanted to ask every resident at Bradford Manor to share one gift request for Christmas.  Bradford Manor is a residence for people with mental and physical challenges and many of them are no longer connected with family of their own.

I joined my mustard seed faith with her noticeably larger faith and we went to the Manor to begin making our first ever ‘Wish List’.  We went from room to room knocking on doors and my loving Spanish friend would go to work asking them what they would really like for Christmas.  After the resident shared a request I would quickly and somewhat anxiously add that we could not guarantee they would receive their requested item.   Then Alejandra would agree and tell them we were going to pray that God would provide for their gift… And then she would ask, “Is there anything else you would like?”  I wanted to tell her to cool it but something inside me, or probably Someone in side me, wouldn’t let me discourage her.

The list grew to include gifts requests for over 40 individuals!  Items on the list ranged from winter boots and coats to groceries to make a Christmas dinner.  We began to pray and share the list with a few local churches in town.  We began to get emails and phone calls from people wanting to adopt individuals on the list and by the week before Christmas every name on the list was adopted.

Early in December we had been spending time at the Connection Centre with some of these new friends from the Manor and as Kelsey was playing pool with one older gentleman she simply asked if he was looking forward to Christmas.  He tossed his pool cue on the table, and said, “No, I hate Christmas.”  When she asked him why, he picked up his cane and said, “Because I’ve got no one to spend it with.” and then walked out the door.  As Kels shared this with Patti and I our hearts broke, but since Kelsey and I both had plans to be out of town on Christmas there was nothing we could do.  Patti on the other hand, called her parents and asked if they would consider coming up from St. Catharines to have a simple Christmas brunch on December 25 for any of these people who did not have family of their own to spend Christmas with.  They said yes.

What was only going to be a simple lunch with egg salad sandwiches (a special request of one of these new friends) quickly turned into a feast of delicious warm brunch dishes and over 20 people from local churches there to help serve.

My plans changed and so I got to be there and my heart was so full I thought it might burst.  The best part was when it came time to distribute the gifts.  I wish each of you could have been there to see the faces of those receiving them that morning.  They opened gifts with their names on them that we’re exactly what they requested, right down to the size and colour.  Some seemed shocked, others were in tears but all of them knew that it wasn’t Santa who brought these gifts in the night.  It was people who were a part of a larger family who wanted to love like their Father with the resources He provided.

This is now the forth year we have done the Wish List and it has grown to include any of our clients from A Hand Up (the clothing room) and the list currently has over 85 individuals on it, it’s huge!   Christmas morning we will be hosting another Christmas brunch and spending time with these sweet people all in an effort to love them like family.

A few weeks ago I was asked if the people on our Wish List were also on the food bank list to receive a hamper.  The question was asked out of concern of duplication.  I knew the answer right away because a large majority of our clients coming to the clothing room also make use of the food bank.  I shared this with the person and after I got off the phone I thought and prayed a lot about it and I believe God spoke to my heart, “Love them like family.”

I have never been concerned that my mother or brother were going to receive too much for Christmas, my heart has always been for them to get exactly what would bless them.  Not simply items that they may need, like toiletries, new undergarments or grocery cards.  I want to know what they want and if it is in my power to get it for them I will and if I can’t, but let’s say my uncle can, glory!  It doesn’t have to have my name on it as the giver, I just want them to receive it.  And when it comes to celebrating Christmas it is one thing to host a meal for people leading up to Christmas, but the people I want to spend Christmas Day with are family.  That’s why we want so badly to be open for these people on the 25th, so they truly feel loved like family.

If you would like to help us love these people like family this Christmas please email us at ct@ctministries.ca or visit our website ctministries.ca. We need your help!

-Jodi

 

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