Neoblogs: A New Home

We are currently in the midst of recreating our blogosphere in hopes to bring back the many neobloggers in the fellowship.

  • New additions include now a base site that displays all the most recent posts from current authors.
  • Linked sites for better navigation
  • Updated user functionality for both readers and authors

If you would like to start your own blog or migrate your existing blog back to our new home feel free to contact me at interns@neoxenos.org

Current users may also contact me for support with updating themes and looks for their blog site.

To access you blog site just click you name listed on the site to take you to your blog page, then just click the login link on the side!

UPDATE!!!!

As those of you who have blog sites may have noticed, you should have received an email to set up a new password. This was cause by a transition in our database to make future endeavors much simpler. If you have ANY issues logging in please contact me.

As far as linking social media with your blogs, we will be using Jetpack, you can find this on your dashboard. To do this follow these steps:

1) Log into WordPress and go to your dashboard
2) Towards the top left-hand side click on the “Jetpack” tab
3) It should go to a screen with a giant banner saying to log in with your wordpress.com credentials, along with 6 bubbles of options below it. Click on the giant banner to login and create a new user for yourself (its really easy)
4) After this go back to the previous page and click on the “Sharing” bubble.
5) Once there drag in the social media forms you would like, i.e. twitter or facebook. Make sure you are logged into those accounts. Then simply click the connect button.
6) Before you save at the bottom make sure to change the “Button Style” to “Official Buttons” and then on the “Show Buttons On” section, click the “Posts” tab.
7) Then save and it may take a few minutes to show on your blog, as always if you have any issues, shoot me an email (interns@neoxenos.org)

27!

Another year in the books! 

Today I am TWENTY SEVEN YEARS OLD. That is a lot of years… But not too many. 

I am more than plenty shocked that I reached 27. There were times this past year I didn’t know if I could emotionally, spiritually or physically last. I really didn’t know. Yet, here we are! As I sit here writing this reflection I am swollen with tears of gratitude for every piece of my life. Every piece of the last year, every hope for the next. Without any doubts in my mind, so assuredly, I can say – I don’t know what the hell I did to deserve such a beautiful life.

There’s been pain. Yet, in the grand scheme of these 27 years, that has just been a background or a support to the beautiful things this old girl has seen.

Here are some things I’ve gotten to see recently: 

  • A deepening understanding of marriage ultimately bursting out of a more intense, prolonged, intricate understanding of another human being every day. And the copious amounts of beautiful moments one gets to have glimpses of while living side by side and being knitted to another human soul… I feel this taste of heaven is far too worthy for my self-focused, sin drowned self should ever have had the privilege to be granted. 
  • The storms people weather to be there for each other can be great, but never insurmountable. I’m so thankful for everything my people have done for me. Their actions are saturated in respect and deserve honorable recognition that I only can trust God will glorify them for. They’ve challenged me and confronted me with where I lack in responding selflessly toward them.
  • Growth – it’s real! The privilege has all been mine getting to be even the smallest fleck apart of some of these lady’s growth! Their faith shown in their emotional, spiritual, adulting growth, as they open their hearts to learn compassion, truth & trust has been overwhelmingly joyous. I’ve walked away from MANY conversations THIS WEEK simply awestruck and with no words but: “there is a God.” What else could explain the tremendous transformation in the people I interact with daily other than God himself? If it were something else, these people I see grow wouldn’t look the same – they’d look different. In a different way. But I know it’s God because each time I see them, their souls seem to shine brighter – meaning, I guess, they’re even more of who they were than the last time I saw them. It’s right & true to who they are, the person God made them to be. They’re simply becoming who they are, settled into the glory that is them in Christ. 

Here are some things I really look forward to this next year: 

  • Becoming a better wife. I have somehow scored the jackpot of husbands. He is on a whole ‘notha level. The way he lives is such an example to me. I just really hope and ask that I can be continually transformed to support that spirit in him. 
  • Becoming a better friend. I’m not a good friend. I’ve seen that so much this year. And friendship takes energy & willingness to fight for. I want to learn to fight better for these women God’s given me that sacrifice so much for me!
  • Becoming a better sister/daughter/daughter-in-law/sister-in-law. Family is just becoming more important to me every year. I’d like to help cultivate a loving family environment instead of being so self-focused. 
  • Becoming a better discipler. What an honor it is to be in the position to fight for someone else?! Yet, how terrifying that can be when our own sin shines brighter than Jesus! I hope to learn more how to rely on God and just point them to God before anything else. And become better at communicating what a freakin’ blast it is to be on God’s adventure of grace! 
  • Learning to bring everything back to the Gospel and bring it up whenever I can! It’s all about the Gospel, isn’t it? So, how can I forget it all the time?!
  • Being alive another year! Recently, I got some good news about my heart… That is, they don’t think anything is wrong with it! So, my chest pains, fatigue & dizziness are most likely due to my hormones still adjusting after having my thyroid removed. Which is a little annoying since that’s not really a solid answer with solid next steps. HOWEVER, I’ve found some things that make me feel a ton better. Not 100%, but MUCH better! Things like cutting out gluten & working out certain ways. I am so thankful for doctors, friends, medicine and nutrition to help us along. I am sad I can’t eat my 2 favs (beer & donuts) but it’s worth it to have a clear head and more energy than 2 naps could have given me before! PTL!
  • Hopefully I get to be a mom soon. 

OK, that’s it. That’s the end of 26 and the beginning of 27 for you. I can’t wait to see what happens. Thanks for being there for me through this year! 

Staying Salty

As the number of years I am alive grows, something I’ve sadly come face to face with is that life isn’t fun anymore. It’s just so different now. I don’t get to taste adventure on my lips at the start of every day, I’m not eager to find out new things and take detours. It’s just much more practical and getting harder to see the color. I’ve described it to a couple of people that growing older is like losing color.

With this slow tilt to grayscale comes more difficulties getting excited about the not-so-practical – or, the spiritual – in my life. The sad day has come (or just begun) that I’ve been dreading… God isn’t as romantic as he once was to me since life isn’t as romantic. Waking up and living for him is getting harder. My soul isn’t aching with praise, my bones aren’t shouting to joy – they just kind of grumble for sleep all the time. It’s stupid, sad, annoying and depressing. Why couldn’t it be like it used to be? When I was simply in love “with the God of my youth”? 

As much as this natural digression is happening, I’m determined to not let it settle. I know I won’t always feed off of passions and convictions as my life becomes less about me and more about others, family, & responsibilities. I’ve already noticed doubts forming because I think too much of my faith was founded in passion and not everlasting, solid truths of who is God. So, over the last couple months, I feel like I’ve had to take it up a notch with God. Try some new things. Get uncomfortable. Discipline myself. And call on God for more than I ever have had to do before. I don’t know if this is “right” necessarily, but a wake up call is exactly what was called for before I slide too far into the dusty drabness I was heading. I hope it continues. I really don’t want to settle for a distant God who isn’t involved in my moment to moment decisions, who isn’t leading me on daily adventures and isn’t asking me to choose faith in every circumstance. I think what I want is my faith to remain salty! 

So, as I call on God for more things than I feel like I ever have (practical or no, still large things that wouldn’t have happened if not for his intervention and strength) … He’s taught me some new tips and tricks for remaining faithful as life becomes less about what I can’t see and more about what’s on the to-do list… And here are 3 huge things he’s whispered into my life. (Which is so exciting and I feel so privileged to have a little spark from Him. He’s still there and still so good, so personal, so understanding…) 

  1. You can’t feel faith
    1. This idea swirled around my life for the past year – I just couldn’t muster the feeling of faith and every time I was faced with a decision to turn to God, I never ever, ever felt like I WANTED to… Surprise! Sinful Elli still exists. There are days when I feel like she’s grown stronger than ever (whether that’s true or not, it’s a challenge.) 
    2. So, I came to the realization that —- DUH: Faith isn’t a feeling. Wait, I think I’ve been saying this for the past 10 years of my life. Why is it just clicking now? Well, it’s “hitting different” as the kids these days would say. When I’m really faced with some terrifying, faith breaking, emotionally draining, physically daunting realities I never had to face before – and then God asks me to choose faith instead of fear… HOW?! Well, Faith isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice. Some people like to swap the word faith for “trust.” Which is a little more concrete. You don’t always feel like trusting someone. It’s scary, hard, vulnerable, and uncontrolled. You don’t know the outcome.
    3. I’ve been wrestling with anxiety. Nothing crazy, but I think some residue from health issues and fears I don’t know how to process. But this anxiety has taken such a form of its own in so many new areas of my life because I’ve let it. Because it was easier to feel fearful. It made sense to be fearful. My body TELLS ME to be fearful, so I go with it, and the anxiety wins and has been gaining ground. This was a terrible mistake on my part. I forgot how quickly emotions get out of hand and I forgot how much power my choice has in dealing with emotions. God’s asking me to choose faith over fear. To trust him over freaking out in those instances and I realize – it’s not going to ever be the choice that feels natural. That’s what I realize in Psalms (our summer reading plan.) David had emotions, he didn’t “choose against them” to become a stone-face non-person. But what he did was chose IN them. While feeling the fear, the anxiety, the rage, the guilt, the sadness; he presented these before the Lord and then would decide to place them in God’s hands and trust him with the outcome. It’s a CHOICE – will I “identify” as anxious, or as “in Christ.” 
  2. I need to go to God’s Word for conviction. 
    1. Again, too many of my passions about God came from feeling. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I know feelings don’t last – they actually fade out of memory very quickly. And are subject to much change over any given amount of time. On the other hand, I think faith should be more like a work out – like in Philippians 2 – “Work out your salvation.” Wrestle with it. Figure it out. God will come into contact with each person differently since each person is different, but God is universally the same and never changing. These concepts require wrestling, taking time to understand, and really grasp not just applaud and wash right through you. 
    2. That means, the essential factor will come straight from God’s Word. The moments I’m weakest are when I drift away from the Bible. Thoughts seep in, feelings I haven’t felt in years, doubts rage uncontrolled – because I’m not constantly getting more information and my mind likes to fill in the gaps with its own ideas. 
    3. And I can’t muster my own ideas about God. Yes; poets, songwriters, authors all have wonderful things to say about him, but you can tell when the heart of these pieces are based in scripture, in what God says about himself. Lofty convictions that come from emotions aren’t going to last long. What does? When God himself tells me about who he is. Which is QUITE funny… if you think about it. I catch myself so often wondering “where is God here, why isn’t he talking to me about it” or even making up ideas about maybe what God would say or do or even just shrugging him off completely… But that would be like having all these questions and talking yourself through these dilemmas about a friend, while they’re sitting RIGHT NEXT TO YOU! Doiiii… Just open the Word. See what he has to say for himself!
    4. I’ve really seen recently the spiritual battle is just to open the Bible. And then once you’re there, not to rush through so you can literally check off today’s date in your reading plan or feel good for a second about God’s promises, but not actually look deep into your life to see how these Words need to remake your view of God. It’s so easy to skip over, yet I truly believe God wants to talk to us himself, all we have to do is open our Bibles and our hearts to what he has to say. 
    5. Don’t expect some big, deep, awesome, joy-inducing conviction if you’re not in your word. Yeah, we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, so I do believe he convicts, obviously. But the Word has the power to cut through both joint & marrow, soul & spirit… and it even has the power to discern the thoughts and intentions of the human heart.
  3. Fun, excitement, romance, life always, always, always, always can be found in, when we go back to, if we can simply remember the fact that – Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. 
    1. What can break through the fog of life like rays of sunshine better than anything else? LOVE! The fact that there is a God of the universe who created all things, who is present in this life, who cheers along his creation not wanting to see them fall, who is ready to give chance after chance after chance, and who greatly sacrificed so that we could live life abundantly. Love.
    2. Yes, this is where joy comes in the morning. When you wake up and realize the whole why of how I got here – because God had compassion on me. And he ransomed my sin. And he set me free because he loves me. 

Today, I get to experience the joy of those who are faithful to the Lord their God, after many months of wrestling with Him, and battling to lift open the Bible day after day – he answers. 

There have been some good days & some really bad days, but God remains faithful. The question is: will we? 

Ted

Ted was raised to value hard work and success, but a chance encounter changed his course and redefined what that would look like going forward. Now, the Lord is working to make his dream a reality in ways he could have never imagined while giving others significance too – on the farm. We are joined by Ted’s wife, Indre and my wife, Lauren.

Joel

Joel grew up in a Christian home where truth was paramount. God worked to use his discontent for the institutional church and his pursuit of a PhD to bring him to Northeast Ohio and give him a vibrant campus ministry. We also talk about “project bankruptcy”, a vision for our church’s future, and reflections on his father’s life. We are joined by Chris and Kevin Baker.

My Story

Hey Everyone! My name is Trey Branch and I have found the secret to life and I just wanted to share it.

As you can probably tell by the title of my blog, the secret to my life is God. Why you may ask? well let me tell you about the adventure that started the beginning of my new life!

The Beginning

My life as a kid was rough and I hate looking back on it, however it has also been an encouragement for me in many ways, when I was 3, I was living with my mom and dad in Akron, Ohio and everything was miserable. I never got to see my mom because she was always at work while my dad stayed home and would get drunk, and high off of marijuana, and cocaine. I didn’t have friends because I wasn’t allowed to leave the house. When my mom was home I would hide in my room as my dad abused my mother into cocaine, and marijuana. Eventually my father went to prison, and my mom still being an addict didn’t have the money to take care of all her payments and her addiction, so we got evicted so we moved into my grandmothers house under the condition my mom would stop. Living at my grandmother’s was nice except for the fact that I still was incapable of making friends, not because I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, but because I had no idea how to socialize, it was never something taught to me.

My mother went through a period of many horrible boyfriends, and the memories from one of them I will never forget. His name was Carlos and no one ever has scared me more than he has. I believe he met my mom at the mall one day, and they really hit it off, she brought him home and he was really nice, we thought he was awesome! Well within a week that changed unfortunately. My brother and I came home late once from a friend’s house and Carlos told us we weren’t allowed to go outside anymore. My mother rejected saying that he was ridiculous and he threw my brother and me into our room and laid his hands on my mother, and that day we became victims of domestic violence, which continued for the next two months. He would force us to hurt one another, my little brother and I would be locked in our room for hours. As a kid the most insecure sight is seeing your mother crying and I saw that way more than I could ever wish! So after weeks of torture, and grief we were freed from it all. What happened was he left and my mother ran over to my grandmothers and called the police. All I remember seeing was my mom was leaned up against our door as he was trying to bust it open while the police where on the way. we never saw him after that day. I don’t know what happened to him either, but I just remember feeling weird being outside, it was almost scary to do so. Anyway that basically sums up the first 10 years of my life. What happened next is where my story begins.

The Start To My Adventure

What I remember is being at home in my room listening to music when my brother barges in saying that he was invited to go to a bible study, and he asked if I wanted to go. I said sure, why not? I would just be doing nothing in my room if I didn’t go. I went with low expectations due to the fact that my experience with strangers for the most part wasn’t really that great. What I experienced was the weirdest thing imaginable, and it was almost scary, I witnessed friendly people interacting with one another, and everyone just seemed to be friends. All I could think was about how much I wanted that, my only issue was I didn’t know how! Well I was Invited to go to the middle school group of the church, and I was more than happy to do so. I went and I made my first two friends and I was excited as can be. There names were Noah and Theo, and they were overwhelmingly nice to me, and seemed to actually care about my existence, and they were the reason why I kept coming around. I FINALLY HAD FRIENDS! It was so nice to have people other than my family that cared about me, and that I could talk to! I eventually started to realize that there was something truly special about these people, what was it? They seemed to have so much joy, they seemed to care about one another, and the hope they had was incredible! I kept telling myself that I wanted what they have, but again I fell at the point of, how? We were all at the main bible study, Called CT and our pastor Keith was teaching that night. It felt like he was speaking directly to me as he answered all my questions.

The only way to know joy, love, and have hope that works was through a relationship with God. YES PLEASE! That is what I thought as I listened to the teaching and fortunately for me he lead all of us in prayer that didn’t have a relationship with God that wanted one and my journey and my life officially began on June 26, 2010.

-thanks for reading!

Joni & Friends 2019

I just got back from a mission trip to Joni & Friends Family Retreat in Shawnee, Ohio. Our team consisted of 18 people with a mix of high school students and adult leaders. Once there, we joined dozens of other volunteers to help serve people with disabilities and their families.

Trip Details

To start, I’ll just say the week was both incredibly tiring and rewarding. The two can’t be separated. I’ve been on a decent amount of mission trips now and this was probably the most physically and emotionally demanding. Yet, at the same time, I have to say it was also the most impactful. I’m really proud of our team for persevering and showing God’s love all throughout the week even though it was not easy.

The first day and a half was spent training and getting ready for the families to come. The first day, we arrived around three in the afternoon and were going nonstop until around 10 at night. Joni & Friends does a good job of getting new people ready for learning how to serve people affected by all sorts of disabilities. They take you through training stations with knowledgeable leaders who have been doing it for a long time. One of the more helpful (and eye-opening) parts of the training was during our first meal together. Everyone is paired with someone and one person in the pair is “given” a disability they have to “live with” for the duration of the meal. The other person then helped their partner get their food and eat all while trying to do the same themselves. Some examples of the disabilities were blindness, autism (high-functioning and low-functioning), cerebral palsy, and down syndrome.

Moving forward, the second morning we were given our assignments for the week. Many of us were paired with a child or adult with a disability, while others were paired with a “typical” sibling of someone with a disability. Some people had other roles as well, but everyone from our team had one of those two. Once given your assignment, the rest of the week you essentially are to stick with that person at all times. Be their friend, be their helper, be whatever they need you to be. The only exceptions were a two hour break time from 4:30-6:30. The rest of the time, meals included, you were with that person. This is designed so each person has someone who is helping them and loving them, but also so the parents can feel safe to go and relax/do activities without having to watch over their children like they have to do most of their lives.

It was beautiful to see our people (and all the others) jump at the chance to serve one individual with all they have for an entire week. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but from what I saw our team didn’t hesitate to love a stranger like Jesus loves them.

Throughout the week, the camp had many activities and things to do both for the campers and for their families. Each STM (short-term-missionary, that’s what we were called) was told to just do whatever their camper wanted- it wasn’t about us. So, some people swam for literally hours every day. Some people, like me, never swam but sat poolside or walked around most of the day. It really just depended on who your camper was, their age and personality, their disability, and what they wanted to do. It wasn’t about us.

For me, I was paired with a twenty year old who has autism and is nonverbal. Since he is what they call a “runner,” I was one of four people with him and we took shifts running (really, speed-walking) around the lodge throughout the week. He had his routes he would do over and over while he made pit stops at places like the stairs, the elevator, a couch in the dining room so he could watch the kitchen staff work, and his favorite- sitting by the pool. Apparently in other years he swam a lot himself, but this year he never wanted to get in. So, we watched people swim. A lot. To be honest, it was hard figuring out how to love and communicate with a person who can’t speak back. I don’t think I was great at it, but I kept trying and developed so much compassion for this individual. Just by being with him for a week and doing what he likes to do, I learned how he communicates (little noises, hitting your hand away, “laughing,” head movements, etc) and what he likes (lots and lots of bacon, sausage is okay, french fries, fruit snacks). There were times where he didn’t like anything for a meal so he literally just didn’t eat. That was hard on his mom and us STM’s with him.

We got to know his mom a lot, too. I won’t share a lot of that, but a big part of the trip is forming relationships with both the people with disabilities and their families. It’s hard to fathom the difficulties they face on a daily basis but it was beautiful to see the courage, vulnerability, and faith they expressed.

One example of an awesome event during the week was the talent show. People signed up throughout the week, and once the event hit it was an instant success. I think the coolest part of it was how transparent and excited the campers were about getting to participate. So often we (or me, at least) put up walls and fronts and can’t let our guards down. These guys and girls did not have that problem, and were just willing to simply enjoy life in the moment. I seriously learned so much from them. Many tears were shed that night.

I think the hardest part of the trip was leaving. Many of the campers had a really difficult time getting in the car because they felt so loved the whole week. Personally, I felt the same way. Even though it was a tiring week, it was seriously sad saying goodbye. As cliche as it sounds, the place was a taste of heaven.

What I learned

I’m not sure enough time has passed to fully comprehend what God was showing me this week. However, below are some things I’ve seen so far and I don’t want to forget them.

God’s love at its core is expressed through people. Sounds simple, sure. But I believe the reason Joni & Friends is so effective at showing God’s love is because each camper is given an STM for the whole week. It is daunting to look out at the whole world and figure out how we can make a difference at all. Shoot, it was even hard just seeing all the families arrive and thinking “how can we possibly love all these people?” BUT, it was not so incomprehensible to imagine loving one person- your one person. Many of us had a hard time doing so, especially with the campers who couldn’t give much back. Yet still, God’s love was shown and it was shown through His people. The body of Christ’s element was huge, too- and that cannot be discounted. But I saw the brunt force of God’s love being poured out through the individual, close relationships we formed.

You don’t have to know everything. I didn’t know much about my camper’s disability. Sure, I learned some beforehand and picked up things along the way, but I definitely didn’t know even a fraction of the things I could have. But I could still love him by being present and willing to be there with him no matter what that looked like.

Decide ahead of time. I think one of the reasons everyone was so willing and able to love their individual camper was because that was the reason we were there. We decided we wanted to be there ahead of time and therefore were willing to do whatever was needed to “be there” for our person. A big part of being effective in loving others is deciding we are going to be present, willing, and engaged ahead of time. God’s love is active, not passive. It is intentional, not just “go with the flow.”

God’s love is shown through families. A huge portion of the STM’s at the camp were families. Some of these servants had been coming to the same camp, year after year, for over 20 years. I was lucky enough to be paired with a man in his 50’s who had been there almost ten times, and the relationships he had formed there blew me away. He knew these people and cared about them. Not only that, but his wife and two kids were there as well. His dad was there, who he helped lead to Christ. His mom, who passed away this past year, also used to come and was beloved by so many. This got me excited about the potential of Elli and I becoming a family who decides ahead of time that we want our family to be about loving others. That one family impacted so many, and there were countless others who did the same.

There is much else I would like to say, but overall God’s love for people is breathtaking. Having the chance to play a role in that is better than anything else in this world.

Matthew 16:24-25, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Ben

Ben’s story is the epitome of the Lord’s eyes searching for people who’s hearts are committed to him. Although he grew up a world away, the Lord brought him to the Unites States and has transformed his life to give him the purpose and meaning he longed for.