Every year, (I mean every year), I say, ‘This year I will not make New Year’s Resolutions.” (Which end up being false promises and short-sighted solutions to issues greater than this plan I am concocting can fix.)

And yet, I can’t resist. I tell friends and family and radio audiences and social media networks about dreams I have to read more, eat less, rest regularly, learn new skills. I can’t help it. The idea of being re-made into a better version of myself calls me every time.

There’s a reason for that. Second Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.” Colossians and Romans both talk about our renewing of our mind and of our image. It’s how He made us, to be in a continual state of growing closer to how He created us. My New Year’s compulsions aren’t bad, just a little misguided if that self-evaluation only comes around once a year.

Shouldn’t there be a little bit of that longing (to be more than I am right now) in me each day? What would it look like if each day I started with a gut check. How today can I be more like Him?

One of my rather unrealistic New Year’s resolutions in 2015 is to learn Hebrew.

Who wants to guess how long that’s going to last? If I focus on the desired outcome (understanding God’s word and how it’s written in context) instead of the expressed goal (learn 3-5 phrases a week), I exponentially increase my chances of success. If I feel I couldn’t master a vocabulary list several weeks in a row, then I am more likely to give up, missing an opportunity for growth. Transformation doesn’t just happen; I don’t just suddenly speak Hebrew; there is a discipline involved, but it’s not about completing a task. It’s about making room, paving the road, putting myself in a posture prone to transformation. Then, I give the Holy Spirit ripe soil to do his work.

This New Year’s season, I am going to start a practice I hope to continue throughout the year. I am going to focus more on who I am being (or better yet, becoming), than what I am doing. I am going to challenge myself to be present for my family, in my faith, in my marriage, instead of overcommitting to events and relationships I won’t remember a year from now. I am going to wake up and ask how I am listening (instead of what I am saying). I am going to pray for wisdom (instead of accumulating knowledge). And so the list goes on. It’s a tall order, but one I hope is a part of a master plan my Master has planned to make me more like who He believes I can be.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Derek Key

More blogs by Beth at Rebel Storytellers


Todd and BibleWe were walking in a Nigerian village and I was fifteen feet behind Todd. I happily was holding the sweaty hands of several village children, when I look up and see him. I later wrote on social media as a caption to this picture, “.” We celebrate twenty years of marriage this fall and with that much shared history come wonderful vacations, terrible fights, seasons of health and seasons of sickness. We have had months on end of what-wonderful-kids-we-are-raising and difficult days in-between when we want to manage them rather than parent them, just to make it all easier.

We’ve had regular date nights, and habits we have formed and broken a dozen times over. On our best days, it’s our common practice to stop wearing any hat other than ‘spouse’ after 9:30 p.m. If the laundry isn’t folded or the email isn’t answered… oh well, we are co-missioning a marriage, which is a priority over all others.

Sharing a mission of any kind, whether it’s a desire to reach our neighbors, or grow up our children, or work for the vulnerable means listening more than speaking, and respecting our sometimes personality differences. It often means not ‘dying on every hill’ with each other and respecting when judging comes more naturally. We find co-missioning means rejoicing over relationships instead of closed deals and as a result have shared thousands of meals with people we aren’t related to.

It’s a constant fight to see the battle is against an unseen enemy and to stand back to back with each other in our daily war for God’s storyline.

So when I find myself in a sweet moment, and the battle stills and we are exactly where we want to be, my heart catches. On an African dirt path behind him, I take advantage of the moment, grab my phone and capture it.


Beth Guckenberger


More blogs by Beth at the Better Mom

We were out of projects, out of supplies, and out of motivation. And now, we were almost out of time.

My husband Todd and I were sponsors for our church’s youth mission trip to Querétaro, Mexico. We’d visited there a few years in a row, and we knew in general what to expect. A little paint and polish, some late-night tacos, a little talking to others about Jesus.

The truth was, no one really seemed to care we were there. As I was unpacking the painting materials, I remember thinking, haven’t we painted this wall before? We were frustrated, the students on the trip were uninspired, and worst of all, the people we had traveled all this way to serve seemed, well … uninterested.

“Do you remember the orphanage we visited in Tirana?” he asked. He had his back to me, bending over as he cleaned some paintbrushes. My mind flew to another country and another time—another mission trip, one to Eastern Europe. I remembered talking to college students about Jesus—it was the first time those young Albanians had ever heard about him! Then one afternoon, someone took us to visit an orphanage …

“Do I remember? Yes, of course I remember. Why?”

“Do you think there are any orphanages in this town?”

Within ten minutes of his question, we left the students with the other adult sponsors and jumped into a taxi, feeling like God was leading us to find an orphanage.

Looking back now, it seems so foolish. Silly, even. Right? We didn’t really speak Spanish, we didn’t have that much money with us if we came into trouble, and we were in a city we could have easily gotten lost in. We should have just stayed with our group, stayed safe.

But an hour later, we landed in front of a children’s home on a dusty road and knocked at the door, waving good-bye to our taxi driver. When we engaged with the children, I was instantly enchanted. The adults had a few questions for us. What were we doing there?

“We have $200, twenty-five students, and one day left on our trip. What could you do with those resources?” Todd asked. (I have since learned all missions’ opportunities, all outreaches start this way. You offer what you have in your hands to those you want to reach and then give all the credit to Jesus.)

The man shifted his eyes back and forth and then said softly, “The children haven’t had meat in a year, and that window up there is broken.” He waved in the direction of a window above us.

And as simple as that, our first mission began.

That was 1996 and today we are the Executive Directors of Back2Back Ministries, which has sites ministering to orphans in India, Nigeria, and three cities in Mexico, where I lived until very recently. It started with some hamburgers (which we later found kids hiding under their mattresses) and has grown now to education, outreach, general care, foster care, preemptive care, etc. But I will never forget how we started, just two people whose hands were in the air.

When Todd and I arrived in Mexico in 1997, we didn’t know anything, didn’t have any big plan, didn’t speak Spanish—we were just moving in the direction of what felt like a big call. By the end of the first week we had run out of cash. We had brought the rest of our money over the border, enough for what we hoped was one year, in traveler’s checks. We found a bank on that day and waited patiently in line until it was our turn in front of the thick glass window. I slid some checks under the glass and smiled.

Surely she understands without my talking that I want the equivalent in pesos, right?

The lady slid them back to me and said loudly, “Tienesquefirmar- tunombreaqui …” I had no idea what she’d said, let alone meant. I smiled and pushed them back to her, rubbing my thumb and fingers together—the universal sign for money, right?

She looked annoyed (no language required there) and slid them back to me, this time speaking loudly into her microphone, “Firme- tunombre!”

I shrugged, looking sheepish. I got nothing. “TU. NOMBRE. FIRME. TU. NOMBRE.” This time, with the emphatic pauses, I could tell it was several words strung together, and I excitedly said to Todd, “I heard ‘nombre.’ I know that word!” I proceeded to take out a piece of paper and, to confirm I had heard correctly, I printed out the word NOMBRE. Then, looking at her questioningly, I showed her my paper through the glass.

Rolling her eyes and motioning to the long line forming behind me, she nodded, “Si, nombre.” And she pointed to a line at the bottom of the check, pushing them back to me.

I eagerly and neatly printed out “N-O-M-B-R-E” on the line (signing the word ‘name’ on the signature line, instead of actually signing my name).

One of my favorite verses still to this day is Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” I know the Lord was looking at me that day and could see all that was coming ahead, the millions we would transfer fifteen years later around the world in a half dozen currencies. He isn’t stuck in any day, or a particular circumstance, he is over all of it, writing with a master hand the story we get the opportunity to live. To imagine is to lift our eyes and see where we are now is just one step on a long journey, one chapter in the best story He could ever write for us … and the story isn’t over yet.

Imagining for me wasn’t just imagining a ministry plan, or imagining myself in a foreign country. Imagining is a sense of dreaming, a feet-not-ever-on-the-ground despite how firmly others try to plant them. It’s a belief the whisper-calling you hear is real, and to be trusted (despite evidence otherwise).

I am a different woman because of the imagining I got swept up into; I love how God uses us (to touch the orphan, the single mom, the mission trip participant), but the bigger story is how God changed us. How he rescued us. How he himself equipped us, because he could see what was up ahead and he wanted us to fully experience the glory he has written for each of us. We have two choices every day, no matter how nicely or spiritual we make it sound: we can either say ‘yes’ to Jesus or ‘no.’ No can sound like ‘I-am-praying-about-it,’ but it’s still a no.

Say yes to all Jesus has for you. Say yes to being in over your head, to not knowing answers, to not feeling safe. Then say yes to the blessings that follow, the lessons you’ll learn, the relationships you’ll experience, say yes to the joy you have ahead.

Photo (Flickr CC) by paraflyer

More blogs by Beth at Rebel Storytellers


Web-Banner-for-CAFO-SiteOn Orphan Sunday, November 2, 2014, we have the chance to celebrate all the ways God is reaching His children! Circumstances of relational brokenness, financial poverty, natural disasters and widespread illnesses have brought them to this point, but God doesn’t leave them there. He is coming for them, lifting them up, defending their cause, making them a home, inclining his ear, and executing the dozens of promises He has written for them.

Here are ten ways you can celebrate Orphan Sunday in your home this year:

  • Pray. Pray for children in a specific country, age group, or gender group. Pray for their health, their friendships, and their futures.
  • Sponsor a child. Consider our child sponsorship program and bring a child into your extended family. As Andy Stanley says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.”
  • Reach out to a missionary and encourage them on this day. Send an email, a message over social media or a care package. They would love to know you are thinking of them!
  • Take fifteen minutes and look up God’s promises to orphans. As you read God’s Word, ask Him to share with you how you participate with Him in this mission.
  • Post, tweet, and activate your social networks. Let them know how you are using this day to pray and sacrifice for the fatherless. View sample tweets and Facebook posts designed to help you spread the word.
  • Build awareness in your local church. Ask your church if you could put something in thebulletin or church website, raising awareness of the plight of the orphan.
  • Look up an adoption agency online. Most agencies have a waiting child photo listing. Scroll past the pictures and pray for the waiting children. Is there anyone you might be able to forward the link?
  • Take a meal to an adoptive or foster family. There are 400,000 kids currently in foster care. You might not be able to care for their child, but you can always bring them a meal.
  • Explore Safe Families. There is an all-volunteer alternative to the foster system. Volunteers can provide temporary homes, support these host families, and also aid birth families.  Learn more about Safe Families.

However you spend this day, please know we are grateful that you are joining in this work!

Beth Guckenberger is the mother of a bunch of biological, adopted and foster children.  She and her husband, Todd, direct Back2Back Ministries.  Beth is the author of several books on the journey of their life abroad.

B2Bblog_SilentNight1Bear with me for a minute while we do some Christmas chronology. Zechariah and Elizabeth are parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah is in the priestly division of Abijah (their priestly duty was in June). Elizabeth is pregnant “shortly after”, presumably late June. (Luke 1)

Six months later, during Hanukkah, the baby leaps in her womb at the newly conceived Jesus. Jesus, the Light of the World, was conceived during the Festival of Lights. He was born nine months later, in September, when Jews celebrate Sukkoth, the Feast of the Tabernacles. It makes all the sense in the world now why, when Luke writes about the baby’s arrival, he literally writes, Jesus ‘tabernacled’ among us. To tabernacle means ‘to dwell among’ and of all the places Jesus could have chosen to dwell, he picked the stinky animal shack. All that darkness makes the light shine even brighter, and He has been seeking out the darkest corners and dwelling there ever since.

In these tabernacle moments when we feel Him near, we can sense His dwelling among us. To borrow a phrase from the fifth century Christians, we are in a thin place, where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin, and we can sense the divine more readily.

Last Christmas, I had one of those moments at a children’s home in Monterrey, Mexico. We were in the hillside chapel at Casa Hogar Douglas, singing Christmas carols and watching children in animal costumes and girls with bells perform a few numbers they had rehearsed. We culminated the evening with a candlelight service (yes, we temporarily lost our sanity and handed fire to 75 children), and sang Silent Night together in two languages. At the last moment, I decided to FaceTime my dear friend, Judy Morand. She had sang with children many times in that chapel, but on this particular night was receiving chemotherapy in the U.S. for a disease that has since taken her life. Once the connection came through and she ‘joined’ us in that chapel, I walked over to her sponsor child and together they sang Silent Night, in the dark, with a candle, praising a God who connected these two lives in friendship, who shouldn’t even know each other, let alone, love one another. But that is what happens when Jesus tabernacles among us – He makes space between relationships where love fills in.

I could hardly speak as I watched a young orphan boy get his ‘cup filled’, as his heart was touched by Judy’s life and love for him. I watched Judy’s eyes lift above her circumstances to a place where love and relationships count more than anything else. In reaching out, and loving each other, they honored the Christ child who tabernacled among us. “Noche de paz, holy night…” We sang together, finding ourselves that evening in the thinnest of places.

This advent season, when shopping and noise, parties and feasting threaten to crowd out the thin places, just stop. Remember He has come to tabernacle among us. He wants to shine His light in our darkest of corners and fill the space with love.

Beth Guckenberger is the mother of a bunch of biological, adopted and foster children.  She and her husband, Todd, direct Back2Back Ministries. Beth is the author of several books on the journey of their life abroad, including Reckless Faith (Zondervan).