46 blessings…

Spontaneous hugs… chubby smiles looking up at me… little voices calling “Miss Jennifer!”.  These are just a few of the visible blessings that my past week was filled with.  Only 5 1/2 years ago I started teaching a small group of girls in my small town studio.  About three years ago I began teaching classes in Omaha.  Our first recital in the “big city” included 17 dancers, the next year grew to 37, and this year I was privileged to be “Miss Jennifer” to 46 girls ages 4-16.  As my studio (and hopefully knowledge!) continues to expand I am just so amazed that God has brought me to this place of role model and teacher.


Recitals no doubt come with their share of stress and chaos.  If it’s not dealing with a heart-stopping call about facility issues, it means trying to get a costume out of a shut locker, soothing pre-performance tears, or dealing with last minute costume confusion.  And while I only spent about 11 hours in class each week leading up to recital, time on the road driving to classes came to 6 hours a week, and once you add in 57 hours in the studio choreographing dances plus all the preparatory work on those million little details… recital season is definitely a full time investment and demanding project.


Then in one evening, after 5 months of rehearsing and planning and ordering and measuring and calling and driving and printing and choreographing and emailing, it’s all over.  An hour long performance and the year is already over. Will the audience remember it all?  Was it worth it?  If I had a horizontal perspective I would hesitate to pour such energy and work into something that ends so suddenly.  But the exciting part about all this is that though the audience may only see a sparkly costume and just another dance to Tchaikovksy, the dancer sees months of teamwork, challenge, fun, and by God’s grace hopefully spiritual growth as well.


Am I, at nearly 21 years of age, really wise enough and mature enough to be entrusted with 46 pairs of eyes watching me and ears listening to me?  I would venture to say “no”, if it were not for God’s grace and holy spirit working through me. What an honor, what a delight to have so many blessings to call my own!  What a thrill to see my students with heads bowed in the wings before they go on stage, or to lead all 46 of my girls in prayer on their knees before the program.  The actual performance lasts such a short time, but by God’s grace the impact can last for eternity.


Photo credit: Rachel Uleman

The Art of Expression

Election season falls over the worst holiday I know. Not only does snow and cold rain frequent the northern states during November, but dealing with Halloween décor is not my cup of tea at this time of year. In 2007 I took a trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to do some grassroots campaigning. While very few residents welcome political literature dropped at their door, you would think that the majority of America was bent on scaring off any sane person!

I found myself climbing through cobwebs, running underneath giant spiders, hiding my eyes from corpses sitting on porches, and trying not to have a heart attack from the pre-recorded screams. The point, apparently, is not to create a welcoming, warm, and relaxing atmosphere for guests. Unless you are a young teenage boy, you will most likely find such “decorations” annoying, disgusting, and hopefully disturbing as well.

Unfortunately, our society not only has allowed such dark and un-welcoming expressions on our homes, but on our faces as well. I’m not only talking about the uninterested teen, mumbling responses, but also believers who fail to welcome a stranger with a smile, “hello”, or even a direct look in their direction. We often criticize a humanistic culture for things we tend to carry with ourselves in another form, and much of the time unknowingly.

I am often guilty of making wrong judgments of people based on first impressions, as I perceive through their facial and body expressions that they are quiet, reserved, and could not carry on a fun conversation with anyone… least of all me! However, once we manage to bridge the gap, I tend to find a more open personality than I would have expected. But why does there need to be a gap in the first place?

Therefore I have decided that expression, regardless of personality or character, is an art indeed. Some people are naturally very exaggerated and enthusiastic, and others are more reserved and introverted. But how far can we, as followers of Christ in a body of believers, take the excuse… “that’s just not me”? There have been many times I know I have not met other young people, simply because I failed to receive eye contact, a smile, a nod… and also because I failed to give it myself. Are we willing to risk the loss of a friendship, acquaintance, or ministry opportunity to save our own comfort through blandness of expression?

We have less than a second to make a first impression. While we cannot paste a smile on our faces perpetually, we can make a habit of drawing others into our lives as we seek to have cheerful countenances, eye contact, and welcoming gestures. We need to learn to show the opposite of a demonic cultural holiday, celebrating death, darkness and destruction. We ought to instead be emulating the Word through our faces; drawing others to it’s joy, light, and hope.

Forget the black cats, mocking jack-o-lanterns, and screaming witches. Give me Christ, and may we walk in and share His welcoming light!

Letter from India

My family supports several ministries, but one we especially appreciate is “Compassion International”, a ministry which supports impoverished children overseas. The program will provide schooling, clothes and food, and medical treatment through the monthly contributions of the “adoptive” family. The sponsored child also writes updates on what he/she is doing as often as the delayed overseas mailing service allows. Our precious sponsored child is Lidiya, a thirteen year-old girl living in India. We attempt to communicate and share what’s going on in our lives as time goes by, but the delay in the mailing service is about two months making communication more difficult. However, we recently received an update from Lidiya, which was so cute I had to share it with you (she now writes English well enough that she doesn’t need a translator);

Most loving Gary Duff uncle and Sheri aunt. Loving greetings in the name of Jesus. I received your loving letter, photographs, and Jonny’s short notes. Jenni and Emily are looking very beautiful in that photographs (smiley face). Their dress also looking nice. Whose hair is long, Jenni’s or Emily’s (picture of girl with long hair)? How old is Caleb? Where is Josh? I wish to know more about Josh. Happy “B” day to Emily and Jeremy. Nobody should not say Emily is 21 years old. Happy wedding anniversary to uncle and aunt. My family and me are doing well. But my father is taking medicine now also. My mother is working a nursery school near our house. I have promoted to 8th grade. I have more subject to learn. My height is increasing day by day. So, all dress are short to me. I participated in sports meet that was held on 26th January at K—. I got 1st prize in Badminton. We celebrate my mother, brother and myself “B” day together. Our project manager call the children who are celebrating “B” day and pray to them each day. Then he gave sweets, other children wishing “B” day greetings. I have got color dress from compassion. I wore it on my birthday. We presented a school magazine in our school. I was the chief editor. Let me conclude here with lots of love and prayers- Lidiya (lots of flower drawings)

Come to Me, all you who are…

It’s all too easy for individuals, especially Americans, to become wrapped up in our own daily lives, and forget to look beyond our circles. Very few times in my life have I been confronted with pain, deprivation, insecurity or loneliness; so few that I almost forget entirely it’s strong presence in the world. (Truly; who goes searching for darkness and discomfort, when surrounded by the light?)

Just the other night we didn’t have to go searching for something outside of our daily world; it came to us. In fact, you could say it basically stepped in our path and flagged us down. We were driving home as a family from an evening reunion when a young man stepped into the road and waved. Thinking all they needed was a tire change, or the use of a cell phone, we stopped and rolled down the window.

What we thought would be an innocent, 5 minute encounter turned out to be a two hour adventure with 3 rough young men. As we left the two men at the car and drove one of them to the nearest town, we learned about his distant family, felony history, and gang-member friends. What would have been a simple phone call for help, was in reality a wild chase towards help that would never come: these young men had no money, licenses, food… or friends.

I can understand running out of money and gas. I can understand struggling to hold down a job, and making less than wise choices as a young person. What completely boggled my naïve mind was the complete and utter lack of friends, or even acquaintances the young man had. They knew no one; aside from a few “friends” in low places completely unable to help.

As I began to ponder the people I’ve met in my short lifetime, and friends I’ve made, it’s hard to fathom going through life… alone. It seems to me that simply striking up a conversation with a waitress, chatting with a coworker, or stopping to help the elderly lady reach something off the shelf can be the start to a friendship, or a chain of acquaintances. And yet so many around us go through life knowing only their loneliness and shame.

Some people may choose to live a life of anonymity; others simply don’t bother to try. However, it may be more in our power to draw people into the light than we know, if we have the strength of vision to look into the shadows and recognize a need. Are you exercising your eyesight when you step out into the day? When we walk out the front door to our jobs, and go about our daily routines, how often do we really look a coworker, client, or passerby in the face and invest in their lives?

Those young men probably ended up spending the night on the street. While it may not be in our power to physically shelter others from poverty, or wrong life choices, we can offer what Jesus extended to all broken men in His life. Without Christ we are those friendless, hopeless people living in darkness, but by His grace we live in a light we can share.

Who will you share Christ with today?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Volunteer Ministry (no crooks allowed)

Ever since I was little I have always had an interest in nursing, and as I grew older military support became a passion as well. So I decided to combine the two interests by volunteering at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Omaha this year. I started out doing odd jobs at dialysis, before recently switching over to the radiology department. In any medical work there is always plenty of liability paperwork, but the VA seems to take particular interest in killing trees.

Needless to say, as a volunteer, I was given a 34 page “VA Cyber Security Awareness Course” to read. While I was skimming through it I came upon a rather humorous quiz that I proudly passed, with flying colors, without hardly reading a section of the course. I think you will too;


If you believe someone is breaking a computer crime law, you should:

  1. Not do anything about it

  2. Inform your ISO (Information Security Officer)

  3. Contact the news media

  4. All of the above

If you are working with medical data and you find interesting medical information about a neighbor, you should:

  1. Obey VA’s confidentiality principles and not share the information with anyone except on a need to know basis for work related purposes

  2. Tell your other neighbors, but make sure that they promise not to tell anyone

  3. Print it out and take it home, as long as you don’t share it with anyone

  4. Download the information to your personal USB flash drive

I really have no interest in stealing anyone’s medical information, but I do value the experience, relationships, and chance to share the gospel in volunteering opportunities. Don’t know what to do this summer? Try giving the gift of your time without being repaid. It won’t be wasted in eternity!

Find a VA hospital near you

Foul Ball: Keeping a Hold on Humility

I’m not usually a big fan of football. Actually, there are very few sports I can sit and watch for hours, let alone jump and scream enthusiastically like some emphatic addicts. However, when I have a better understanding of and connection to the players’ lives, I am much more apt to pay attention. Needless to say, Thursday found me watching parts (but not all) of the Gator Bowl; cheering at the right moments, grimacing at the collisions and injuries, and peering for a second glance at the writing on Tim Tebow’s face.

As a homeschooler and Christian, what qualities I have seen from Tebow have piqued my interest and gained my respect. While I wouldn’t pick a life of grunting, slamming and sweating as my ministry, it’s exciting to see culture changers from my generation enter all different areas of life with the cross as their goal. We can’t all be preachers or missionaries. We need to be sending arrows out into the political, medical, legal, entertainment and educational arenas. Every year I look forward to seeing what the Lord has in store for homeschoolers, and not because of a general vision we might have, but a unique and personal plan He has for each person.

So what’s the problem? Where are the misleading trails and hidden nets? Invariably with the fight and progress come the setbacks, and even for the most grounded Christians there will a struggle against more than just quarterbacks and linemen. What I’m talking about is the big P-word that no human can escape; pride. As we endeavor to live in purity and holiness, and experience victory over sin in our lives and ministries, God will send encouragers as well as challengers into our lives.

Pride is such a hard sin to conquer. Often it creeps in without our noticing; sometimes at one simple praise, other times by wounded feelings or bitterness. It’s possible to feel both broken and insignificant, and proud at the same time. In any case, whether we feel high or low, pride is never lurking very far to take down it’s young and eager victims. It’s one of the major hindrances to young leaders and culture-changers who are not prepared against it.

So. I’m excited for myself, Tim Tebow, and other young rebelutionaries who have a vision to impact society through the gifts God has given us. We can do so much through Christ who strengthens us, as long as we are not deceived into taking our eyes off of the cross and place them on our pride. It’s when we listen too long to the praises and smile too much for the camera that our goal no longer has meaning, and our mission is not blessed. Meekness is the goal; not weakness, and indeed we crumble when we replace His praise with our pride.

So let’s put on our helmets, line up together, and prepare to run towards the goal; not forgetting the game plan for our own pursuits, but working as a team with God’s blessing.

Cry To The Christian

Recently I read George Whitefield’s sermon “The Method Of Grace” and was struck by his passion and urgency of style in writing it. I could almost imagine him at the pulpit earnestly delivering the words to his congregation and was as gripped by it as much as if I had been there.

Jeremiah 6:14 – “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

The words, then, refer primarily unto outward things, but I verily believe have also a further reference to the soul, and are to be referred to those false teachers, who, when people were under conviction of sin, when people were beginning to look towards heaven, were for stifling their convictions and telling them they were good enough before. And, indeed, people generally love to have it so; our hearts are exceedingly deceitful, and desperately wicked; none but the eternal God knows how treacherous they are.

These are words of sin and wickedness not often preached in Churches today!

First, then, before you can speak peace to your hearts, you must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God. According to the covenant of works, `The soul that sinneth it shall die;’ cursed is that man, be he what he may, that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.

Here he speaks of the need to be in grief over sin. Yes we rejoice in the salvation of the Lord, but how often do we lose ourselves in the monotony of day to day life, and forget our great need for our savior amidst our riches and our comforts?

Did you ever see that God’s wrath might justly fall upon you, on account of your actual transgressions against God? Were you ever in all your life sorry for your sins? Could you ever say, My sins are gone over my head as a burden too heavy for me to bear? Did you ever experience any such thing as this? Did ever any such thing as this pass between God and your soul? If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians; you may speak peace to your hearts, but there is no peace. May the Lord awaken you, may the Lord convert you, may the Lord give you peace, if it be his will, before you go home!

America desperately needs to be awakened from our pride. In the middle of our blessings and prosperity we become stiff necked and forget how to cry out to God in agony of our sin and need for Christ.

We can do no good thing by nature: `They that are in the flesh cannot please God.’ You may do many things materially good, but you cannot do a thing formally and rightly good; because nature cannot act above itself. It is impossible that a man who is unconverted can act for the glory of God; he cannot do anything in faith, and `whatsoever is not of faith is sin.’

Yes! No more should lies by told in our Churches and our schools that goodness can be found apart from Christ. No longer should those unbelieving be flattered by our attempts to escape rebuke when we do not speak the Word.

I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of us do. He believes the divinity of Jesus Christ; that is more than many who call themselves Christians do; nay, he believes and trembles, and that is more than thousands amongst us do.

Our hearts are so cursedly wicked, that if you take not care, if you do not keep up a constant watch, your wicked hearts will deceive you, and draw you aside. Let me, therefore, exhort you that have got peace to keep a close walk with Christ. That time has been when you had something to say for your dear Lord; but now you can go into company and hear others speaking about the world bold enough, and you are afraid of being laughed at if you speak for Jesus Christ. Take care, then, not to be conformed to the world. What have Christians to do with the world? Christians should be singularly good, bold for their Lord, that all who are with you may take notice that you have been with Jesus. I would exhort you to come to a settlement in Jesus Christ, so as to have a continual abiding of God in your heart.

How easy it is to be conformed to the styles, ideas and expectations of the world around us! It is a very hard thing to be different and stand out for the truth in a world of sin. But we need to be bold for the Lord, that others may notice. How else can we expect to spread the good news but to surrender our pride to the Lord and trust Him to guide through those difficult things?

Most of you, if you examine your hearts, must confess that God never yet spoke peace to you; you are children of the devil, if Christ is not in you, if God has not spoken peace to your heart. Poor soul! What a cursed condition are you in. I would not be in your case for ten thousand, thousand worlds.

Awake, then, you that are sleeping in a false peace, awake, ye carnal professors, ye hypocrites that go to church, receive the sacrament, read your Bibles, and never felt the power of God upon your hearts; you that are formal professors, you that are baptized heathens; awake, awake, and do not rest on a false bottom.

While we are quaking and shaking in fear of what man will do to us should we speak the gospel, souls are lost and men led astray by the devil. We need to be those who awake the false professors, the hypocrites in our congregations. We need to be the ones to go to our neighbor and boldly proclaim the saving Word of God. May God forgive us for holding our peace at the sight of so much sin and complacency around us!

Come away, my dear brethren _ fly, fly, fly for your lives to Jesus Christ, fly to a bleeding God, fly to a throne of grace; and beg of God to break your hearts, beg of God to convince you of your actual sins, beg of God to convince you of your original sin, beg of God to convince you of your self-righteousness _ beg of God to give you faith, and to enable you to close with Jesus Christ.

Come away with me brothers and sisters! Is the walk you are walking a close one with God? Do you seek earnestly for truth in His word, to know Him and trust Him? Are you courageously proclaiming the word by His grace?

May we have a passion for sharing and knowing the power of God as George Whitefield had in his address to his congregation.


Read the entire sermon here