Monday, January 26, 2015

Preparing my Heart for Prison Ministry

{worship time @ the rally}

Yesterday was the crusade rally. It was perfect, as always. I always look forward to that day so much as a fueling jumpstart for the following four days of intense prison ministry. God spoke to my heart so strongly through the incredible times of corporate worship + sharing of the Word. It was once again a time to just lay aside everything else-the things that are hard + painful + consuming in my life right now-and focus on this specific eternal work that we are beginning for the next four days. It is also just pretty amazing to be able to work with this group of volunteers + family bands + evangelists who come together from all over the USA, and from every type of background + denomination. Being in the trenches of ministry as a group like this brings about a unity that is so special so to experience.

Coming off of three weeks of almost non-stop ministry with my family, and before that two months of ministry at home + with my church, it is easy to sometimes go from one thing to the next without stopping to refocus + redirect onto the current ministry opportunity. I've been involved with my family in prison ministry for ten years now, and it is one of the most emotionally exhausting, but spiritually rewarding, things that I've done. It isn't exhausting so much because of the physical labor, or time, because that really isn't even that much. But rather it is all of the spiritual warfare, the forces of darkness that I can acutely feel working against us. This is manifested in different ways-weather challenges, difficult guards at the prisons, and schedule mixups, just to name a few.

And that's not to mention the family issues, relationship challenges, and personal struggles that invariably come up during these four days. Sometimes I feel like, seriously...why do we have to deal with all this right now? And then I remember, ah, yes...we're not fighting against flesh + blood. (i.e. all our issues =)) We're fighting against principalities and spiritual wickedness in high places! (Ephesians 6:12)
No wonder satan is doing everything he can to attack + discourage us! Every time we enter one of these prisons we are waring against His kingdom of darkness. 

Getting lost on the way to our first prison service, and arriving there way late, and being extremely frustrated with a family conflict, and feeling a very big lack of quality quiet time in my life right now, and wanting so badly to figure out how to mend some broken relationships...all these things are just the surface of the deeper spiritual warfare that surrounds us as we prepare to go into these prisons + spread the light of the gospel into the darkness.

So thankful that we can know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord, and that in His strength + might we have the victory every single time!

{note: if you would like to stay updated on what is happening + up-to-date prayer requests/praises here @ the crusade this week, please visit the WeCare Program Facebook page here}

Love you all! Thank-you for your prayers!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Guest Post By Laura Christine||Living a Productive + Educated Life

Tonight I am delighted to introduce you to a dear friend of mine, Laura Johnson, of Laura Christine Portraits.
I have known Laura for a number of years. I can't even remember how our families originally met, but we got to know each other throughout the years as both of our families are in music ministry  + we would meet up at certain music events, and family camp.

One of the things I appreciate so much about Laura is that she is a FANTASTIC example of an exceptionally productive young woman! She works hard at everything she does + she is 100% committed to excellence. (as you will be able to tell just from her photography in this post.)

I personally feel like striving for excellence in productivity is something that is greatly lacking in our generation of young women. I believe it is one of our greatest weaknesses-the tendency to while away our single years nothing. When I say "excellence in productivity", I am am referring to a personal work ethic + drive in which one is motivated to "shoot for the stars" and to fully live out Ecclesiastes 9:10a. ("Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might".)

And listen, just because you went to college and got a "degree" does not mean you are necessarily productive! Neither can you automatically be called a productive young woman just because you did not go to college, or because you work an 8-5 job. We are talking about productive here in the terms of doing something you LOVE, because you are called to do it, for the glory of the Lord and to be a blessing to those around you.

So really, college is not the issue. The issue, simply put, is how you choose to spend your time. But since college is such a hot-button issue anyway, with people everyone trying to persuade you that you can't know "anything" without that all-encompassing degree, I wanted to introduce you all to one of my friends (Laura!) who has gone against the status quo and definitely proved the truth to be otherwise.

If you have read my blog you know that I am passionate about this! (read my full article on this here) I want to see daughters take back this ground that we have lost. I want to see a new generation of women who are skilled, driven, passionate, productive, and knowledgable about life! I know these five adjectives may scare you and you may be thinking "I can never attain to that!" but never fear-I can't either, and neither can you, on your own strength. As daughters of the King, we are a work in progress! Praise the Lord that we have a God who is so much bigger than us + who has given us a holy calling of living for Him, by HIS grace!

Now...onto the main post! (Sorry, I always get on a soapbox when I start talking about this subject!)
Hope y'all enjoy her article (in italics) below!

Laura Johnson||Living a Productive + Educated Life without a College Degree

(Laura) There are a multitude of ways I have spent my time post-graduation as I strive to live a fulfilled, useful, and joyous life. Sitting and waiting is never something I’ve been good at or enjoyed. Ever since I was young, my parents have worked to instill in me a vision for the future - what do you want to accomplish? What are your goals? What if you end up having 10+ years after graduation to do great things and live life with our family - what will you do then? With that in mind, I created a plan and have throughly enjoyed carrying it out. Not that there haven’t been ups and downs along the way - there have been. I’m still human after all! But, overall, so far it has been a thrilling journey that only promises to get better in the next months. I have learned and been forced to grow through the many circumstances that have come about by following through with my goals. 
To go, or not to go? That is the question.
In deciding whether or not to go to college, I did a lot of praying for wisdom, studying the Bible for insight, and figuring out my options. By the time I had finished highschool, I had already studied a great deal in my field of interest and had some concerns about living on my own and the Biblical roles in home and life situations. I didn’t want to go into debt. My dad posed the following questions: If you got a college degree, what would you do with it? How would it help you in realizing your goals? I decided to go a different route - learn as much as possible by myself and then fill in the gaps with targeted, in-person, or online classes. Now I have business coaches. I also participate in a coaching group forum, bi-monthly phone conferences, and monthly webinars to continue growing my business and my personal skills set.
Conclusion: I achieved all my objectives by learning the needed topics without going into debt, and in a much shorter amount of time. At age 22, my business is already 1 1/2 years old AND I’ve been able to continue ministering and performing with my family. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Here are a few of the many things I’ve done since graduation (this kinda feels like some sort of test!) Hopefully, though, this will be of some use and encouragement to you ladies!

1. I’ve been able to be much more involved in our family music group, The Johnson Strings. My tasks include writing weekly blog updates, taking the pictures for all promotional, social media, and web use, doing the graphic design and printing of our CD inserts, and planning, scripting, filming, and sorting footage of all our Johnson Strings music videos.

2. Having the time to experiment in the kitchen, create variations of favorite recipes or make new ones, and learn how to get balanced, delicious meals on the table on time while spending the least amount of time possible is a good challenge and a useful one. How do I know that I’ll always have flexibility with how much time I can spend in the kitchen? I’m (very slowly!) working on a list of freezer meals and great-tasting quick favorites.

3. Taking the opportunity to start my own business, Laura Christine Portraits. Starting a business has been more work than I ever thought it would be, but I’ve certainly learned some great skills and life lessons from it. For example, I never would have been pushed out of my comfort zone as much or as far as I have been in the last year and a half. Put that together with learning about marketing, sales, communication, web use, people skills, and money management, and I have a huge list of things that will come in useful no matter what direction my life takes in the next decades! I’m definitely not good at all those things yet, but I’m learning more every day!

As to my photography business, I am a portrait artist who specializes in creating special wall art portraits of my clients for their homes. These portraits are designed specifically to fit their wall size, mesh with their d├ęcor colors, and add an impressive finish to their home. Ever since childhood, I’ve loved art. Drawing from my former experience in pencil art, painting, and chalk pastels, my inspiration often comes from studying the great old master painters and portrait artists. By using the highest quality materials and special finishes, I enjoy creating masterpieces that will last for generations. I have a studio in a remolded barn at my family’s home that is located on 18 acres in the beautiful countryside, 10 miles west of Cedar Falls.
For the photographers out there, you may be wondering how I learned photography! I got started in 2006 when I bought my first camera to take pictures of scenes to draw or paint. Since I wanted to learn to use my camera well, I started to study photography on my own. After realizing that I enjoyed photography even more than drawing or painting, I started learning more about photography for its own sake. Soon I was reading stacks of books, (you can find a list on my website!) going to classes online and in person, getting my portrait certification and general photography certification, and launching my portrait photography business! (Now THAT was a long sentence!) It's been an exciting adventure ever since! (if you are interested in advancing your photography skills, also feel free to check out this guide for photographers on my website!)
As a young family, our parents were wanting us to have something we could do together instead of sports. The prospective task of driving 6 kids to various sports and the short physical window of opportunity sports take place in helped them to chose music instead. So, our parents enrolled us in the Suzuki school at UNI. After years of lessons in the Suzuki program, we went on to take from the doctors and professors at UNI and other colleges. I have been playing viola for 16 years, and had music lessons at the University of Northern Iowa and Coe College for 10 of those years. Our family has been performing together as The Johnson Strings for 7 years. Playing violin, viola, cello, piano, upright bass, mandolin, and banjo, our styles include classical, bluegrass, and gospel. We perform at various events including theaters, conventions, performing arts centers, festivals, churches, retreats, fairs, and private parties. 
This past year, we have been filming a series of music videos, and are very excited about several more we will be releasing in the future! Choosing the location for each video is quite the process! First, we have a brainstorming session for theme ideas for a specific song and then someone is “signed up” to contact our location choice or to do more research in order to find the perfect location that matches our brainstorming specifications. Once the location and date is nailed down, insurance papers are sent, timing details worked out, and outfits gotten together for the date, and I prepare the shot list and script. 
We do all the filming ourselves. For the stationary shots, I set up the shot and use a tripod. With the moving shots, I mount my camera on a Glidecam and do moving shots of the soloist(s) or portions of the group to add interest and excitement. In order to get shots of myself also, Luke and Seth (and sometimes Dad) have learned how to use the Glidecam as well. A normal video takes us one full day to complete. Believe me - we’re tired at the end! But, it’s worth it. After the filming is finished, I sort the footage and send it along with my notes and ideas to our video editor.

“Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do.”  - Andrew Murray


Thank-you so much, Laura, for sharing with me + my readers today!
I am closing by sharing my personal favorite of the music videos that Laura + her family have produced. This song is one of the most beautiful songs of all time anyway, and they play it SO.WELL.
I'm sure y'all will agree with me that the Lord has blessed their family with some incredible talent! After you've watched this video, head on over to YouTube to watch their other music videos as well. {And don't forget to subscribe to their YouTube channel while you're there!}

Be sure to leave a comment below if you enjoyed this post!

Friday, January 9, 2015

2014 LACP Recap

Head on over to my family's blog to see the full post I just did about the Live Animal Christmas Play
And for those of you who asked, here is a close-up picture of my outfit that I mentioned back in 
this post. After hours spent removing buttons + lining, and then ripping, cutting, and sewing everything back together, the outfit finally emerged as something that fit me! I really felt like the Lord was guiding my hands as I sewed because it turned out even better than I thought was possible. I also took the original hat (a HUGE, floppy affair that wouldn't even stay on my head) and took it all apart, saving all of the fabric, trim, feathers, + bows. Then I told a broad-brimmed straw hat that I picked up at Salvation Army, and with a little love + creativity, transferred the elements of hat A to hat B.....resulting in a hat that went perfectly with the outfit + stayed on my head! #score

Anyway, head on over to my family's blog for more pictures of the entire play, as well as several highlight video clips!

Be back tomorrow as I'll be sharing some goals + thoughts for the New Year!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Life Lately

And here is another "Life Lately" post. This is what happens when I have gotten behind on posting + have a random smattering of pictures that I want to post, but don't have time to write a full post about each thing. So I just combine all the pictures + thoughts to share a few special moments from my "life lately".

Above, beautiful bits of the first snow of the year one night in November as I was driving home.
Out for mexican with my personality twin brother. We talked, ate, and worked on scripture memory. 
                      This baby girl. I love being her "nanny" and snuggling her every chance I get!
Watching this darling little man friend experiencing our church's Christmas Candlelight Service for the first time. He was so solemn + so careful with his own little candle.
Decorating the table for our family's annual Christmas Eve Candlelight dinner. I did a black + white theme.
Finished product!
Christmas time decorating projects!
Stringing lights + greenery on the porch with my sista.
On the job with my brother. Life in the tractor is pretty grand! 
Black Friday shopping with my cousins. Yay for a 50% off purse + leopard print scarf, and buy three, get three free sale @ Bath & Body! Just a few things but great deals are often found in fewer purchases anyways. =)
Peppy piano duets at church with my talented brother Josh.
Running errands + enjoying a little Caribou stop with Liz.
Coffee + kindred spirit conversation with my cousins + beloved aunt at my aunts house.
A night out on the town with these lovely kindreds. Treated ourselves to a lovely time at the classy Basta in downtown Iowa City, and were having such an amazing time that we didn't hear our vibrating phones + the poor mothers were worried sick because they couldn't get ahold of us. When I finally did hear my phone I couldn't believe we had been talking for three hours already! 
Finished up our time at Starbucks (only because Caribou was closed) until they kicked us out. =)
With this precious little child again. Loving this last evening with her before leaving for three months. (*tears*)
Christmas cooking with this guy.
Never a dull moment with us two. =)

For more "life lately" and what all has been going on the past two months, visit my family's blog here! My sister and I are catching up on posting over there right now with posts about the LACP + other church events, our family's Christmas festivities, and various other family updates.
As I sit here posting the flurries are beginning to fall outside. I have this naughty little thought that maybe the snow will pick up and by 6am (estimated time of departure) we will be snowed in + won't be able to leave on tour after all. Probably not...=)
 Everyone (except for my family) thinks I'm crazy to want snow, and not want to leave for the sunny south. All I can say is...I love Iowa, I really do---cold weather and all. (Pause for Soap Box Moment: Fellow Iowans, stop complaining about the weather + be thankful you get to actually be home to see and enjoy the snow & all its winter glory! Maybe if you had to miss it every winter you would be more grateful for it.)

In all honesty though, we all have to learn to be thankful + happy wherever we are. For you, that might be learning to be thankful for a cold + icy winter. For me, it may be choosing thankfulness even though I am living in a 45ft bus with eleven other people for the next three months and will miss my Iowa farm so SO much.

 Have a blessed weekend, ya'll!!