20 Sep

Reflection: Sometimes It Takes a Mountain

By Michelle Velbis — Have you ever had a song make you gasp because the lyrics just seemed to be speaking right to you? Recently, I heard the song “Sometimes It Takes a Mountain” by the Gaither Vocal Band. The chorus says, “Your love is so much stronger than whatever troubles me. Sometimes it takes a mountain to trust you and believe.”

Do I need mountains in my life to be closer to Him? Do I believe God through the mountains of trials? Honestly, I feel like I have figuratively climbed Mt. Everest more than once. When someone recently asked me how my faith was being affected by the seemingly constant challenges, it gave me pause. What would my transparent answer be?

When I was younger, I asked God a lot of whys. I still do, and I believe He isn’t fazed by those questions, but now I find that I am asking myself, “What can I learn?”

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10, NLT.

One thing I think God continues to help me see is that I am not patient. As a teacher, I preach on a growth mindset, and yet I find myself struggling to grow in this area. From a father’s love, I think He patiently shows me that He wants me to live in the present and stop living at break-neck speed. As a doer, this is really difficult, but I am slowly learning that if I live life too fast, I miss so much of Him and the ways He wants to speak to me. I don’t know about you, but I have to climb the mountains in Colorado’s thin air very slowly. So maybe the mountains are to help me slow down.

“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9, NLT.

When I don’t get the answers that I want, do I still trust him? Well, I know that I usually throw an inward hissy fit first and try to use my persuasive skills on God about why my way is better. When I stop yelling and sit still (there is that being still part again), He calmly reassures me that His ways are better for me, even if it is uncomfortable. Creator of the Universe and Heavenly Father – his curriculum vitae alone should be enough to quiet my fears.

“I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” Isaiah 46:4, NLT.

Another component to spiritual mountain climbing is to use a Sherpa. It’s a lot easier if you use one. Did you know that Sherpas can sometimes carry double their weight? Of course, our Creator can carry much more than that. And even when I mentally know that why is it so hard to let him carry my loads? In my case, it is often just pure stubbornness. I have this insane need to do things myself. Some psychoanalysis might reveal that I just don’t trust anyone else to do what needs to be done. Naturally, this is cause for exhaustion and burnout. This leads me back to being still and trusting Him. Lord, thank you for being patient with your headstrong child.

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT.

When I am struggling for every breath and my muscles are burning, the last thing I want to do while climbing a mountain is to thank the person who suggested the tortuous activity, that is until I get to the top. When I see the stunning and jaw-dropping views, I look at my friend and say, “Thank you.”  I look back at the trail I just came up and know that, although it wasn’t easy, I am a much stronger and better person for the experience.

I think it is like my experience with God, and maybe I can even get to the point like Paul, where I praise Him during the trials. Because I know, without a doubt, the view from the top will be worth it.

–Michelle Velbis is principal at Springs Adventist Academy; photo by Rajmund Dabrowski

24 Aug

FAMILY FUN COMMUNITY GATHERING PLANNED BY SPRINGS ADVENTIST ACADEMY

RMCNews with Michelle Velbis – Colorado Springs, Colorado … Springs Adventist Academy (SAA) will host their first SAA Alumni and Friends Fest on August 29, an event they hope will be an annual tradition.

Michelle Velbis, principal of SAA, recalls how the idea to hold a community-wide gathering was initiated. “We discussed how we could help our school and reach our community at the same time–and that is how the SAA Alumni and Friends Fest was born.

“After many brainstorming meetings with our staff and volunteers, the event has taken off, and we are excited about the family-friendly evening we can extend to our community and school families,” Velbis added.

The event will take place in the gorgeous Cave of the Winds setting. The school has procured several local artists and vendors, including food trucks, CaveSim, an educational cave in a truck, local artist Casey Marie Kleeman, items for raffle, and family-friendly activities such as face painting, corn hole, and ax throwing. There will even be a massage therapist on-site for anyone needing a great chair massage.

Velbis, who is starting her third year at SAA, also stated, “Our main focus is making local connections with our community and letting them know that Springs Adventist Academy is here to partner with them in providing exceptional educational opportunities. We also want to support our local families spiritually, physically, and mentally. One demonstration of this is the prayer booth available during the event where people can ask or write down their prayer requests. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to pray with people and direct them to needed local services for any specific mental or physical needs they might have. Our local church has a strong community services center that services almost 2,000 families a year.”

The event is open to the public, and there is no admission fee. It will be held on August 29, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Cave of the Winds. For more information, call 719-597-0155.

RMCNews with Michelle Velbis

19 Apr

OPINION: BY BEHOLDING WE BECOME CHANGED

By Michelle Velbis … As I stand at the door helping my students get out of their cars, before they grab their lunch boxes and backpacks, I take inventory that at least 75% of them have to put away their digital device before they can snatch their things and say goodbye to their parents. When they enter in the door and sit down to wait for school to start, they get their devices out again. Looking down the school hallway, it seems to be a long row of swans with craned necks and intense downward stares.

This isn’t a high school, but a K-8 school, and at the end of the day, the scene is repeated–students not talking to each other, but are focused on that small rectangular device. For those who have forgotten to bring their device I hear the lament, “I am bored.”

As an educator and mother of six children, I have become increasingly alarmed at the behaviors and patterns I have been seeing in my school and in my own family, so I started to do some research. In fact, I became a Certified Digital Health and Wellness Level 1 Professional by The National Institute for Digital Health & Wellness. Unfortunately, the research has opened my eyes to more than I bargained for, and thus I feel a burden to share some of what I have discovered.

Throughout the course and in my research, I was struck with the realization that this boiled down to a spiritual battle and the enemy had found a very effective tool to distract and divide us from our Savior and each other.

The Message version sums it up very well in 1 John 2:15-17, “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him.”

Isolation. Isn’t that what Satan wanted for Adam and Eve in the Garden, to isolate and tear them away from their heavenly Father? I think that is still his goal and he has come up with some persuasive and intrusive ways to do just that. What better way than to come up with a device that separates families into their own bedrooms to stare at a little screen and keep them scrolling for hours. A device that keeps us from going outdoors for the fresh air and exercise that we so vitally need to stay physically and emotionally healthy–not to mention the communion that it brings with our Creator. A device that keeps us tethered to what the world thinks instead of our wonderful Counselor.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’ main demon says to a younger demon, “But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy (God). It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.”

Satan, the great deceiver, tries to come up with alternative and unfulfilling decoys for all of God’s perfect plans. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, one of the world’s foremost addiction experts, says in his book Glow Kids that, “Perhaps even more worrisome than the addictive nature of our new digital way of connecting is the idea that electronic connection does not seem to satisfy our deep-seated need for true human contact.” One of the largest groups affected by interactive and immersive technology are our teenagers, who naturally crave those connections.

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, recognized as the world’s leading nonprofit organization helping those addicted to alcohol and other drugs states, “The extreme use of technology can disrupt normal patterns of mood and socialization in teens. Dependency upon social media, gaming, or other platforms to function can become the new and unhealthy ‘normal.’” In fact, they go as far as to say that, “Researchers have found evidence that people who overuse technology may develop similar brain chemistry and neural patterning to those who are addicted to substances.”

When was the last time you saw young people outside playing together? How about even just congregating without a device? How about going to a restaurant and seeing a family without someone looking down at a device? Even in our worship services, there are usually more heads looking down at their devices than up at the speaker.

I don’t say all of these things in condemnation, because I am just as guilty as anyone. But I do feel compelled to ask myself, my family, and my community to have more conversations about this topic and to do some heartfelt inventory on my/our personal relationships and the one with my/our Savior.

In fact, I am challenging myself, my school, and you to a Screen Free Week. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is leading out in a national screen-free week, from May 3-9.* It was very interesting when I told my middle school students I would be giving them this challenge. One of the reactions I got was, “That’s like asking us to go a week without food!” That passionate response confirmed that we need to take a closer look at how addictive, especially for our young people, these little pocket computers, and other screens, have become.

As I go to the Bible for answers and solutions, I find verses that remind me of the intimate relationship that the Lord wants to have with me. I am also reminded that by beholding Him, I will be changed into being more and more like Him. (2 Corinthians 3:18). My question then is, “What am I beholding?”

My new daily prayer is that I will focus on my relationship with my God, who sees me and loves me and calls me to intimacy, and the relationships with those closest to me. I also pray for strength to not concentrate on what others say through likes and dislikes, YouTube, and other forms of media. I claim this promise and encourage you to do the same, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you” (James 4:8 NLT).

–Michelle Velbis is Springs Adventist Academy Principal; photo by iStock

*For more information and resources, go to <commercialfreechildhood.org/screen-free-week>

30 Mar

SPRINGS ACADEMY STUDENTS HAVE FUN TALKING ABOUT GOD

RMCNews with Michelle Velbis – Colorado Springs, Colorado … With active songs, fun activities, and bottom lines that taught about the love of God, Springs Adventist Academy (SAA) students enjoyed a special week of prayer.

Students participated in presentations about becoming “Fully Alive through Jesus” from Kiefer and Jessyka Dooley, RMC youth leaders, and speaker John Redmond, youth leader for Colorado Springs Central church.

“It was amazing and fun. We did some fun activities and we got to talk about God,” said third grader Mayson Tucker.

Jessyka Dooley commented about the fun the youth department had spending time with the students. “It was incredible to connect with Springs Adventist Academy. The students have a joy and energy that is contagious. We had so much fun going through the story of Zaccheus, learning new dance moves, playing games, trying new experiments and, most importantly, learning how we can live Fully Alive through Jesus!”

Michelle Velbis, SAA principal, reflecting on the week-long event, was grateful for RMC youth department spending time at the school. “Our staff at SAA is so thankful for people who want to partner with us to share God’s love and passion with young people. Kiefer, Jessyka, and John were so generous with their time and talents. They had a lot of energy and sincerity about how God sees us and cares.”

“I learned more about God and how He sees us,” said Darrick Grant, sixth grader. “We had lots of fun and it made everyone happy.”

Velbis added that “the students could talk about God all day. They are hungry to know Him more.”

–RMCNews with Michelle Velbis, principal of Springs Adventist Academy; photos supplied

 

River is showing Kiefer his “Tony Hawk” sweatshirt because one of the stories talked about famous people and used Tony Hawk as an illustration.
13 Oct

WHEN “ALL OF IT” IS FAVORITE IN OUTDOOR EDUCATION AT SPRINGS ACADEMY

By Michelle Velbis – Colorado Springs, Colorado … Building forts, bird watching, hiking, playing in a stream, building windmills, and learning about renewable resources…sound like a day at school?

For six students at Springs Adventist Academy (SAA), this was part of their outdoor education field trip to the Catamount Institute in Colorado Springs.

What was their favorite part? “All of it,” said fifth grader, Andrew Parris.

Michelle Velbis, principal and middle school teacher at SAA commented on outdoor school: “I have a classroom of six young men, so getting them outside learning about their environment and interacting with it and each other was about as educational and fun as you can get.”

Some of the boys had never built forts outside before and were enjoying themselves while learning. “Building the shelter and learning some survival skills was my favorite part of the field trip,” commented Elonzo Lujan, seventh grader.

“Watching the young people work together to build forts was really nice to see,” said Sylvia Jaramillo, grandmother to students at SAA.

“Being out in nature and reinforcing our science and Bible lessons was such a blessing. During this time of COVID-19 and other stressful events, it felt right to let the young people find some reprieve from all of that and soak up God’s creation,” said Velbis.

Michelle Velbis is principal and middle school teacher at Springs Adventist Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; photos supplied

26 Sep

When Kids Take Over a Church Service

By Michelle Velbis — Colorado Springs, Colorado…”It felt great to lead the worship,” said Elijah Lujan, 7th grader at Springs Adventist Academy. “I appreciate that they (the church) know that the children are a key factor. We are the next generation that will step up to do God’s work.”

The Springs Adventist Academy students led the worship experience at the South Seventh-day Adventist Church in Colorado Springs on September 21. The youth led out in all of the songs, prayer, scripture reading, children’s story, and worship in giving.

“Inviting and encouraging our young people to be a part or even lead in worship gives them an opportunity to be actively involved in their church. When they are an integral part of the worship service, and they have a purpose to belong, they will want to come to church,” said principal and 5thto 8th-grade teacher, Michelle Velbis.

Michelle Velbis; text and photos