A Parris Island Graduation

We had just celebrated New Years.  I was excited to say goodbye to 2018, a year of being pregnant and recovering from being pregnant.  I had spent most of the year feeling my worst, but trying my best to be more active.

And here I was, bright and early on the second day of 2019, starting out on a road trip to Parris Island, South Carolina.  Amazing!

img_5960

“This is going to be a great year!” I thought to myself as I watched the scenery go by, as we crossed the border of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and then South Carolina.  I was happy as the temperatures got noticeably warmer.  I remained optimistic even when the southern humidity turned my hair into a frizzy puff ball.

I was with Chris and our oldest daughter, Areli (19 years old) and our youngest daughter Aria (4 months old) driving down to attend the Marine Graduation of our firstborn son, Cole.  We were also traveling with Cole’s girlfriend, Amy and her mom, Valarie.  We were making good time even with nursing Aria every 3-4 hours.  We were close to our rental home, but we had to stop for supper.  We found a local diner with southern comfort food.  No bright and fresh vegetables, but plenty of the fried variety.  It felt almost too stereotypical to be true: the friendly waitress with the charming southern drawl giving directions to the toothless gentleman, “Turn at the big tree, past the single-wide, to the double-wide where my mama lives.”

The next morning we awoke early, but we could hardly sleep anyway.  It was the day that we would see our Marine for the first time in three months.  I had to rise at 4:30 to get myself ready and feed the baby. Even though we got on the base at 6:30, we realized that we were a bit late, and the parking lot was almost full.  We hurried out to try and find a good spot along the street.  At 7:00am the Motivational Run would start, and we wanted to catch a glimpse of Cole as he ran past.

dsc_0018

We could see the famous sign over the Blvd de France that said, “WE MAKE MARINES” and our excitement mounted!  Soon we heard something but couldn’t see anything.  Was it recruits doing PT?  Or was it our Marines getting closer?  First to come marching down the street was a small band that Areli nicknamed, “The Side Band.” A lively and talented group of brass musician and drummers danced and marched and interacted with the crowd.

dsc_0030

I learned later that they were all master musicians who joined the Marines just to be in their band.  Soon we heard a military cadence being called out by hundreds of young Marines.

dsc_0045

We could hardly contain our excitement at this point.  Camera and phones were out.  We watched the guidons carefully.  First the lead platoons would pass…1000…1001…

There was 1002!  Cole’s Platoon.  I strained my eyes.  Then in the middle of all the green and shaved heads…I think….I see…

“There’s Cole!  Cole!!!!  Yeah!!!!  I see him!” I yelled like a crazy person.  I saw Cole’s head perk up ever so slightly and in his eyes was a look of recognition.  He was not allowed to break formation in any way, but he had seen us!

The others couldn’t spot him, so we waited until they all ran past again.  This time everyone could see him, strong and proud, running like it was no big deal.  When “The Side Band” passed us again we realized something.  We didn’t know where to go or what to do next.  By the time we followed the crowds of people who were congregating across the street, we were at the back of the line.  We found out that it was the line to get into the All-Weather Training Facility were the Liberty Ceremony would be held…in two hours!

The security was very strict so it took a long time to get into the building.  We couldn’t all find seats.  Areli, Amy, and I squeezed into the tight bleachers.  Chris just stood in the back with the baby. I had to exit to use the restrooms (which we soon realized, were not one of the top priorities of the Parris Island hospitality committee).  When I returned, the doors were being closed because all the seats were full, still an hour before the ceremony.

I knew that Family Day and was a big deal, but I didn’t realize how BIG it was!

Family and friends had traveled to be here. Whether alone or in groups of up to 30, they came from all over the world to see their beloved receive one of the highest honors; the title of United States Marine.

Time ticked on as we watched Marine promotional videos.  Finally a Marine in charge told Chris he could take Aria and sit in the front row, in a handicap spot that hadn’t been filled.  I joined him.  It was amazing that God worked that out for us!  Next to us was sitting the wife and three young children of one of Cole’s DIs.  Again, I was amazed.  DIs have wives?  They have adorable little children?! I prayed that Aria would be a good little baby and not go into one of her crying fits during the ceremony.

Right on time one of the large doors was opened.  A single Marine sang out a Cadence as the DIs and Platoons marched in perfect formation.  Platoon 1002 stopped right in front of us, but I couldn’t see Cole.

dsc_0072

The talking seemed to last forever.  Finally Liberty was announced and the room erupted into chaos.  It took a while for Cole to find us.  He looked so good, confident and strong.  I hugged him and couldn’t speak for the lump in my throat.

We spent the next 4 hours and 45 minutes walking around the base, talking, asking questions, eating, shopping, and taking in the museum.  There was so much we wanted to know and so little time.  Cole seemed relaxed and happy to answer our questions.

He told us stories that made us laugh and stories that made us wonder in amazement.

He had made it through!  He was still alive and still human, but now more mature, wiser.  He could joke about his suffering and smile and greet other new Marines.

dsc_0154

Marines are always early, so Cole made sure he was back at the Parade Deck well before Liberty was over.  I nursed the baby in the van while the others watched the Graduation Practice.  We spent the rest of our day relaxing at our rental home.  We enjoyed the porch and the beautiful view.  South Carolina really is lovely, if you don’t mind all the frizzy hair.

We decided that we absolutely HAD to get on the base earlier for Graduation Day.  When Aria woke me up at 3:30 am the next morning, there was no point in going back to sleep.  But it was worth it!  We got on the base by 5:30 and Areli and Amy began to wait in line.  The rest of us waited in the van with the sleeping baby.  After a while Valarie and Chris got out to wait in line as well.  At 7:30 they were finally opening the security check points and allowing people into the bleachers.  Still, the ceremony didn’t start until 9, so I thought I would let the baby sleep.  I nursed her in the van around 8 and Chris called me saying, “Get in here as soon as you can.  We are trying to save you a seat but they keep telling us to move closer together to make more room. It is filling up fast.”

I grabbed the diaper bag, my purse, and the baby and walked to the closest metal detector.  By this time the line was very short, and Aria and I got to our seats in no time.  Wow, there were a lot of people!  And packed in so close together, you felt like you were sitting in your neighbor’s lap.  It was a friendly crowd, and I began to talk with the ladies in front of me.  One had come from New York to see her nephew graduate.  Another had come with 20 other family members from Georgia to see her grandson.  We talked about boot camp, our hopes and our fears, and the goodness of God. Tears were coming already and the ceremony hadn’t even started yet! The overflow bleachers were filling up and people who didn’t get a seat were standing.

 I looked out at the crowd and was struck by the amount of love it represented.

I thought about the mother originally from South Africa who traveled with her daughter and grandson.  I remembered the woman in front of me in line explaining how she didn’t sleep a wink during the crucible.  She had stayed up with her candles lit, praying for her great-grandson.  I recalled the sweet young girlfriend from Michigan, alive with giddy excitement at the Liberty Ceremony.  Brothers and sisters holding banners at the Motto Run, women running and embracing their Marines at Liberty, and family members decked out in matching shirts filled my mind.  Now I was surveying the thousands lining the Parade Deck who had taken time off of work and gladly paid the expense to be here.  What love!

I was so glad that I was here!

Part of the thousands,

part of the love,

part of this little piece of Parris Island history,

part of this huge piece of MY SON’S history.

The ceremony was very impressive, full of military marching and orders.  (I don’t have a military background so please forgive my rudimentary and perhaps inaccurate descriptions.) First came the “Main Band” we called it, not to be confused with the “Side Band.”  To watch them march with their instruments was rather like watching close order drills done with slide trombones rather than rifles.  There was the parade master, a woman with an incredible voice that could be heard from one end of the Parade Deck to the other.  There were many commanding officers and two generals.  The mascot of the Marines, a cute bulldog, made an appearance.  When the platoons came marching in, their skill was amazing!  We caught a glimpse of Cole!

dsc_0323dsc_0325 (4)

                There were orders called out, awards given, accolades received, and cannons fired!  I had two favorite moments of the ceremony.

First was when I watched my son’s platoon all take a stance in perfect unison, bringing their heels together with one thunderous clap.  Second was when a commanding officer said, “Good Morning!” and over 600 Marines answered him with one voice that seemed to shake the earth.

Finally each platoon was given the order to go on leave and Cole was free!  Free for 10 days!  We gave hugs and congratulations.  We took pictures.  We were bursting with pride!

dsc_0395dsc_0378dsc_0375

We met some of Cole’s friends.  We picked up the last of his bags and saw his squad bay. Cole was anxious to get off of the base and start his leave.  We all had so much to talk about, so many things to do with him, and so many favorite foods to prepare!  But for the moment, we seemed a bit dazed.  It felt like a dream; the culmination of over a year of praying, preparing, and training.

Our son had truly earned the title:

United States Marine!

God Encounters ~ Part Two: The Sky and the Ocean

It has been a difficult season for me, being sandwiched between the needs of my children and my mom.  I feel so busy, so responsible, and so drained that it is almost suffocating.

Yet, all this is pushing me deeper into God.  I am asking for strength and for wisdom.  I am asking for His love to flow through me when I am empty.  I am listening for His voice.  He has answered me with the most beautiful string of encounters with His presence.

                One – The Wind

DSC_0083

One February night I was having a quiet time in my room.  I turned on some “Bethel Without Words” and just sat in the music.  I felt God’s presence.  It was like a wind blowing through me and around me.  I was reminded of my childhood, when I used to climb the maple tree in my front yard.  I loved to climb as high as I could, until the branches got thin enough to sway gently in the wind.  I felt a breathless exhilaration.  I felt peace and joy.  I felt the wind.

                “That was me,” I heard God whisper.  “The wind was my presence.  I have always been with you, even before you knew me.”

The presence of God was so sweet.  It blew away my fears and left me feeling refreshed and new and loved.  I practiced trying to find this “Wind of His Presence” during the course of my day; when I was stressed about all I had to do, when I was worried that I wasn’t enough, when I felt my frustration rise and my sanity shaken.  I would close my eyes and feel the wind softly rock me back and forth, like a mother rocking her baby.  I was safe and loved, and this reality was where I wanted to live every hour of every day.

                Two – The Heartbeat of Love

About two weeks later I was enjoying worship at my church on a Sunday morning.  It is so easy to connect with the presence of God in that place.  I felt the wind again.  Then it began to pulse through me like a heartbeat.  I began to awaken to the truth that this love was also pulsing through everything everywhere…All THE TIME!  The universe was founded and built by His love.  It is operating and expanding by His love still.  This love is alive and active like the wind blowing, like a river flowing, like blood being pumped through every cell.

This was challenging my current world view.  I had seen the world as a very cold and hard place much of the time, full of dangers and toxins that I had to protect my children from.  Many scenes that flashed through my mind were not pretty; broken down cities full of corruption, once beautiful wilds polluted and dying, great mountains of decaying garbage inhabited by sick and hopeless humanity.   Yet God was telling me that His love was pulsing through all of this.  Scenes of great evil, people experiencing unspeakable horrors at the hands of other people, also flashed through my mind.

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still…”

I knew that Corrie ten Boom had said this after living through a concentration camp, but now God was telling me that it was really true.  HIS LOVE IS EVERYWHERE!  Of course there is a lot in this world that IS NOT love, that IS NOT part of God’s original plan.

But His love is still there, bigger and stronger.  If only we could be aware of it.  If others have found His love in the depths of darkness, certainly I could find it in every circumstance of my life.  If His love can bring redemption from the worst of the worst, certainly He can do the same in my slightly messed up life!  When I began to look at the trials as potential miracles, my burdens began to turn to wonder.

              Three – The Eagles and the Wind

Eagle silhouette in Kachemac Bay where many birds can be seen

In the following weeks, I practiced feeling God’s heartbeat of love pulsing all around me and in me.  I imagined it flowing thought everything I looked at.  I imagined it touching everything I thought about.  Many times I would feel the wind of His presence, so full of love.

At the same time, I found myself searching the sky for eagles.  I know that there probably aren’t many eagles around here, but I was eager to see any bird of prey.  God speaks to me so often through nature, and right then I had an obsession with eagles.  It started when I wrote the article,  A Cure for the Negativity that is All Around , in which I told about a vision I had about 12 years ago.  I saw a nest full of baby eagles on the side of a rocky cliff.

God said, “You are eagles and you are to raise your children like eagles.”

Eagles play a huge part in the visions that Rick Joyner tells about in the Final Quest Series.  The eagles seemed to represent the prophets, flying high enough to see clearly what others cannot see.  They instruct, encourage, and warn the other believers.  They bring refreshing winds of healing when they flap their great wings.  They set believers free when they devour the snakes of shame. They carried many scars from the battles they had fought with courage. The Final Quest books have impacted me deeply.  I have read them many times and felt challenged and uplifted each time.  A small, timid voice inside my heart would say, “Perhaps I am meant to be an eagle.”  My mind would quickly dismiss the silly thought…until I remembered that vision.

I still didn’t understand how I could be an eagle in the spirit, but I wanted to find out.  So I began to search the skies for a sign.  Perhaps if I caught sight of the noble creatures (even a hawk would do!), they could teach me something.  As I drove through the country to the farm I frequent once a week, I would see large birds high the sky.  I would marvel at their freedom and wonder what they were seeing.

“How I wish I could fly up there like an eagle!  How I wish I could feel the wind as they do and see as they see!”  I thought to myself.

As I watched, I realized that they usually didn’t work hard or even flap their wings.  They simply allowed the wind to carry them.

                “The Wind of my Presence will lift you up so you can see like an eagle.  Being in my presence is the key to the vision you desire,” I heard the Spirit of God say to me.

In a split second He married my two obsessions, the wind and the eagle. I wasn’t crazy!  God was taking me on a journey that I didn’t understand, but it seemed as though He wanted me to be an eagle as much as I wanted to be one!

The scripture I received at the Women’s Encounter brought all of these encounters into focus for me.

Psalm 27:4-5 “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life (His presence – YES!  That is what I want more than anything!), to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (That’s where my baby eagles and I live!  That is where He is positioning me!)

Four – The Sky and the Ocean

DSC_0105

One Evening in April I was attending Women’s Prayer at my church.  The worship that night was simply a play list on a cell phone plugged into the sound system, yet I felt the Presence of the Lord so deeply.  I felt His love pulsing through me!  I felt His wind!  I imagined stretching my wings.  The beautiful wind lifted me high above the earth, above my circumstances, above the doubt and fear and anger of this world.  I could see that all was love, all was victory, all was good.

Right at that moment a song came on that I didn’t know, but the vocalist was singing about the wind of God.

“I can feel your wind blow through me.  All of me cries out for all of you!”

The words perfectly captured what was going on in my spirit. (Later the leader told me that she hadn’t picked that song and didn’t know why it had come on…but I did!)  I was soaring on the inside and feeling incredible freedom and peace.  Then I encountered the clouds in the sky.  I became the rain, falling to the earth.  I became part of the great waterfall that Hannah Hurnard talked about in Hinds’ Feet on High Places.  I was one of those happy drops of water, throwing themselves down from the High Places with thrilling abandon to be broken on the rocks below.  We continued to flow to the lowest place, down to the Valley of Humiliation to bring life and love to suffering humanity.  The water persisted in its journey until it reached the ocean.  And there I was, water in the depths of the ocean.  I could lay my life down to bring His love in the lowest place.

The wind and the rain

The Sky and the Ocean

             “This is what I am offering you.  This is the necklace from your dream.” The Father whispered.

Then I remembered necklace and my dream (God Encounters ~ Part One)!  The beautiful silver necklace with light blue jewels each inlaid with smaller dark blue gems.

DSC_0055

The light blue was the wind.

The dark blue was the rain.

The light blue was the Sky.

The light blue was the Ocean.

The Sky was limitless freedom and potential and vision.

DSC_0076

The Ocean was His Love and Peace in darkness and suffering, humility and servant-hood.

DSC_0106

My Father was offering me the vast expanse of the Sky and the deepest depths of the Ocean.

How could I, an imperfect mortal be worthy of such a gift?  How could I even understand such a gift?  How could I ever accept it and live in its reality?  Then the answer came.

                “You can’t work for this.  You are my daughter.  This is your inheritance.  Just accept it.”

So in my spirit that night, I accepted the gift that I could barely comprehend.  My Father, the King, placed the necklace around my neck and clasped it in the back.  It felt light.  This was no burden!  This was no heavy yoke!  This was the Sky and the Ocean…and it was mine.

 

 

 

 

The Wonder of a Little Girl

DSC_0017 (2)

My Annalise is quite a special little girl.  She has bright blue eyes that sparkle with life.  She has cute little dimples in the corners of her mouth when she smiles and one on her right cheek as well.

DSC_0035 (2)

She loves to run around the house in bouncy, toddler circles.  She loves to run on the sidewalk outside our home, her small arms pumping with the joy of childhood.

I am certain that she must be one of the most beautiful creatures in the universe.  There is no sound more beautiful than her high-pitched voice exclaiming, “Mama!”  when she sees me.  There is no feeling more wonderful than when she puts her chubby, little arms around my neck and rubs her soft cheek against my cheek, slowly and lovingly.  I can feel her long, dark eyelashes brush my skin.  She snuggles in and expresses her joy by sighing, “Ohhhh, ohhhh,” like we do when we hug her.

Throughout the day, I will call out to her for fun, “Lisie, Lisie!” which is her nickname.  She responds, “Mommy, Ahmmy!”  I can’t hide my absolute delight in her.  I smile wide and my eyes tell her that she is the light of my life.  She smiles back with those dimples and a look that says, “I really am something, aren’t I?”

DSC_0032 (3)

Recently I gathered some pictures to decorate my mother’s new room.  She just moved to an assisted living home in March.  Now when I visit my mom, my attention is always drawn to a particular picture on her bookshelf.  It is an old photo of me.  I look to be about three, just a little older than Annalise.  I have noticed that I have the same bright blue eyes.  I have those cute mouth dimples.  And there it is, the smile that says, “I really am something, aren’t I?”

DSC_0059

My mom had told me many times that Annalise looks very much like I did at her age.  Mom also says that she acts a lot like me, sweet and kind but also feisty.  I wanted to believe it, but it wasn’t until I saw that picture did I begin to think, “I was just as precious and marvelous as Annalise.  I was loved and cherished just as Annalise is.”

I don’t know why I had forgotten that.  Somehow the years and my life experiences had told me a different story; that I wasn’t that special, that I had to work really hard to get people to like me, and that I had to worry about losing that approval.

God is taking me back to that little girl.  The one who was the most beautiful creature in the universe.  The one who captured her Father’s heart with one glance of her eyes.

DSC_0027 (4)

The one who already had the perfect love that could never be earned, the love that could never be diminished, the love that could never be lost.  That little girl is me… and I really AM something, aren’t I?

A Really Bad Hair Day

photo

“Why did I even start this?  Why? Why? Why?”

I was reprimanding my reflection in the mirror.  One third of my hair was curled and the rest was straight.  I looked at the curling iron in dismay.  I never did know how to use that thing!  That is why I rarely attempt to curl my hair.  Why did I think I should do it today, when I was already running late for the Women’s Encounter at church, the one time during the year that I can leave my busy household behind and seek God with hundreds of kindred spirits?

I had gotten my hair cut a few days ago…six inches of dry, damaged ends gone!  I felt like a new woman!  The hair dresser curled my hair and said, “This is the way they are styling it these days.”  I looked at myself in the mirror and thought the curls looked a little haphazard and choppy.

“I’ll go home and fix it the way I like it, and it will be fine,” I thought to myself.

But when I arrived home I got quite a reaction from my children.

“I like it!” my teenage daughter said, and she made me think that I certainly must look trendy!

“You look pretty, mommy,” my boys said, and they almost never comment on my appearance!

My husband also gave my compliments that night, so I felt that the curls must really be something special.

Before the Women’s Encounter I had washed my hair and dried it with a circular brush as usual.  It looked really nice that way, straight and shiny.  But was it as cute as the curls that had earned so much praise from my family?  Probably not!

So I began to try and recreate what the hairdresser had done.

Bad idea!

                I was doing a horrible job on my hair!  I was supposed to be at the church early to greet the women coming in the doors, and here I was, still at home with part of my hair in awful curls.  I had no time to wet it down and blow dry it out again.  I had to just finish the curling.

“Why, oh why did I start this mess?  My hair looked just fine before!”

I couldn’t stop, so I proceeded to curl and spray, curl and burn myself, curl and mutter and groan, curl and get mad at myself (and anyone else who entered the bathroom)…and curl some more.

Finally I had a head full of funky, crispy curls.  This was not “me” at all!  They looked weird, but I didn’t dare run my hand through them for fear of disrupting the delicate hold of the hairspray and make it worse.

I rushed to gather my things.  My family could tell I was grumpy and tried to encourage me, but I wasn’t having it!  I rushed into the van and drove the five minutes to church.  I didn’t get to participate in the preservice prayer that would have most certainly centered my thoughts on Jesus.  I should have been praying for all the women attending!  I should have been there early to greet some of them.  But I had been too vain and concerned about my appearance to listen to the voice of reason that said;

“Put the curling iron down!”

Because I arrived at the church so late, I couldn’t find a parking spot.  I had to park all the way in the overflow lot which was quite a hike from the church.  I slammed the van door and started trudging up the hill, mad at myself.  It was unseasonably cold that April night, but I had stubbornly worn my new flip-flops because I wanted to feel “comfortable.”  Now I was freezing my little pink toenails off!

I got halfway up the hill when I realized that I had left my phone in the van!  I had to walk all the way down and all the way back up again, madder than before.

Finally I got into the sanctuary. Worship had been going on for a half an hour already.  The room was darkened and the colored lights around the stage were flashing with the music. It was packed full of women from front to back.  Where was I going to sit?  Thankfully someone had saved me a seat up front.  I set all my stuff down and turned my heart to the Lord.

“I am so sorry that I am so imperfect!” I said to God.  My faults flashed in my mind, and I was getting ready to repent of them one by one when…

Whoose

I felt Jesus rush in and give me a hug!  I couldn’t even begin to list what I had done wrong before He said to me, “I am so glad that you are here!  I love you!  All that you are worried about doesn’t matter.”

What an amazing feeling to be so loved by the Creator of the universe!  I tried my best to quiet my thoughts and just soak in His embrace.  The worship team was singing about supernatural love, over and over again.  This was a supernatural love!  I marveled at this love that could allow a perfectly holy God to come down and embrace imperfect humanity.

How was He able to draw so close to me?  Then my thoughts turned towards something the pastor had said the Sunday before.  He was referring to a burial shroud traditionally thought to be the actual one that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body when He was laid in the tomb.  It showed that He had been covered with blood from head to toe; that precious blood that allowed God to come and dwell with and around and INSIDE of us!  If we believe in that blood and accept it, He no longer has to withhold Himself!

The blood of Jesus that had covered Him from head to foot now covers me from head to foot!  He has made me holy!  There is nothing I can do that His blood can’t cover if I will let it.

In the midst of a grumpy, “bad hair” day…or in the midst of a no-good, awful “from the pit of hell” day…the moment we do one little thing right and turn our hearts to worship God…

God rushes in to embrace us and fill us to overflowing with His beautiful presence.

I still don’t understand this.

It is simply supernatural love!    

Areli’s Adventure in Australia

DSC_0229

Areli says that she is not a writer, so I will try to tell her story as best I can.  The real beauty of this article will be all the wonderful photos that Areli was able to capture on her Australian Adventure.

This adventure began back in September of 2015.  This was when the youth leaders, Ben and Dylan called a meeting for anyone interested in going on the summer missions trip.  I took Areli, who was so excited to finally get the opportunity to try missions.  I was thrilled as well, having done 5 trips as a young woman.  I understood how impactful and life changing they are.  We learned at the meeting that the destination of the trip had not yet been determined, but it would probably be somewhere in Africa, Asia, or Europe.  Oh my…that is most of the world…and so very far from home.

Areli jumped into the unknown with two feet; praying, seeking God, and participating in fund-raising events.

Sometime around February, the exact location had been chosen…rather revealed by God, and it wasn’t Africa, Asia, or Europe.

It was Australia!

                Someone had been praying for Dylan and prophesied to him that he would lead a team to Australia.  Then one of the girls on the team had a dream that they were all on a beach in Australia helping a man in a red shirt.  When the leaders shared this dream with their contact in Australia, Nick from Kenmore Baptist church, Nick said that they had a group in their church that wore red shirts!  They were called “The Red Frogs” and they ministered to young adults.  So Australia it was!

It turned out that the only time that the team could travel to the “land down under” was the perfect time to be there.  It was during their winter break when the Kenmore Baptist Church ran the Kids Holiday Club.  This ministered to 380 children, many of whom were unchurched children whose parents needed a safe place for them to be while they were at work.  Also, Georgian and Winnie Banov just happened to be at Glory City Church in Brisbane during this time as well!  I love how God works out the perfect place at the perfect time.

The team (which consisted of two guy leaders, two women leaders, 16 high school girls, and three high school boys) dove into training almost every weekend starting in April.  They had homework each week, to read a chapter of Translating God by Shawn Bolz and complete the workbook.  This included many practical applications such as giving encouraging words to three people during the week.  I highly recommend this book.  I have only read three chapters of it so far and I have encountered revelations from God’s heart that have opened my heart and mind with each chapter!

They practiced listening to God, praying and prophesying over each other, and praying and prophesying over strangers.  They practiced treasure hunting at Lancaster’s First Friday.  Areli and a group of girls prayed for God to give them clues that would lead them to His special treasure (a person who He wanted them to share His love with).  One of the girls got an impression in her mind of the name Angelica.  Areli decided to purchase a bunch of flowers and they started giving flowers away while they searched for Angelica.  It was time to return and they hadn’t found her, so Jessica yelled out, “Angelica!”

A girl close to them turned around and said in shock and amazement, “How did you know my name?”

“God loves you and he knows your name,” Andrea said.  They gave her their very last rose and Angelica walked away still marveling at the fact that God had called her out of the crowd!

Chris and I were a bit concerned about the $3,000 Areli needed for her trip.  “Where God guides, He always provides,” we used to say in YWAM, and Areli didn’t seem worried as she enjoyed preparing for her trip.  Almost immediately Areli received generous donations that covered her entire trip!

My mother’s heart was overwhelmed and undone, and I felt God say, “None of Areli’s faithfulness has gone unnoticed by me.”

You see, Areli works in the home day after day cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and taking care of her special needs sister and her younger siblings.  She almost always has a good attitude.  If she worked out of the home doing the same things, she would have quite a nest egg by now!  She pours herself out every day for her family, and now her trip was covered!

She still needed spending money, some new clothes, and her dream was to get a new, better camera to satisfy her passion for photography.  Now we felt confident that God would provide all of those needs as well…and He did!

Quickly the time for the most anticipated trip had arrived.  The team was traveling on Air Canada, and I downloaded the App so I could follow their progress across the world and pray for them.  Throughout the day on Wednesday, June 29th, I saw that their first flight out of Baltimore was being delayed again and again.  They finally took off, but their connecting flight in Toronto was supposed to be leaving as they were descending into the Toronto airport.  Air Canada held the airplane as the missions team RAN through the airport and security as fast as they could.  They made it!

After a 5 hour flight to Vancouver and a 14 hour flight to Brisbane, they were there…and they had lost Thursday.  It was now Friday morning even though their bodies were ready for bed.  They decided that the best way to beat the jet lag was to stay awake all day and spend it at the beach, the Gold Coast Beach.  It was a little cooler there (sixties) being the dead of winter, but it was a lovely day!  They even found some strangers to pray for and encourage.

DSC_0010 DSC_0027 DSC_0043 DSC_0047

On Saturday the team visited the Byron Bay Light House and explored and treasure hunted.  Areli’s group got the clue, “Bumble Bee” but they weren’t sure what that meant.  Later in the day, they saw a girl dressed in yellow and black and talked with her and prayed for her.

DSC_0141

DSC_0131

DSC_0139

DSC_0153

DSC_0168

DSC_0123

DSC_0224

DSC_0251

DSC_0177

DSC_0254

DSC_0260

Sunday morning the team had to pack up because they were leaving the basic motel where they had been staying.  The leaders were preparing the students for the worse, hinting that they would probably be roughing it in conditions far inferior to the motel.  Areli said they were all bracing themselves for what was coming next…when they arrived at a beautiful 10 bedroom, 6 bathroom mansion!  This was a “God thing” as the tennis team who had rented this house for the week had just pulled out before one of the leaders had called to inquire.  And it was less expensive than the hotels in the area.  It was right in the city and prefect for the youth training meeting that they would be hosting for Kenmore Baptist Church.

DSC_0347 DSC_0350

DSC_0558

The team threw a surprise party for Gillian

DSC_0525

Sunday the team went to encourage racers in the Gold Coast Marathon.  Dylan and Leah actually ran the half marathon while the other team members ran part of it or cheered and encouraged people from the sidelines.  Areli ended up speed walking for 6 miles and she was exhausted! The team still had energy to try some surfing.

DSC_0316

That evening they attended the service at Kenmore Baptist Church and met a lot of the members of the church that they would be working with.

Sunday night while they were all sleeping, it was just Sunday afternoon here in PA.  Chris and I decided to invite the amazing families of the missions team to our home for a cookout.  Many of the parents and their other children were able to come.  We had a wonderful time getting to know each other better and sharing the sketchy details that had been trickling in from our children.  Some of the parents had purchased international packages for their child’s cell phones and were able to talk or Skype, but not very much.  We hadn’t purchased one, but had hoped that Areli would be able to connect to Wi-Fi to message us.  It turns out that in Australia Wi-Fi is not such a big deal and hard to find.  Still, I had received an email and a text from one of the leaders, Amelia, who was able to send me a Picture of Areli smiling on the beach.  That warmed my heart and put my mind at ease.

Areli on Gold Coast

I thought about what faith my mom had to allow me to travel to Mexico for two weeks without hearing a word from us until we returned.  I missed Areli so badly and wanted to hear from her about all that she was doing.  Well, talking to the other parents was the next best thing.

Soon all the parents retired into the sitting room while the children went to shoot hoops at the park.  We had peace and quiet to share amazing stories and pray for the team.  There was such a sense of joyous expectation for what God was going to do.  I was sad that I wasn’t able to go to Australia myself, to participate in this wonderful trip.  Then I realized that I was sending my very heart and soul and DNA; all that I had taught Areli and invested into her was now being released to bless the people of Australia!  One Dad mentioned how a teenager grows and comes into their own on a trip like this in a way they never could do with their parents with them. Another Dad said he saw springs of living water welling up in the floor in the middle of our prayer circle and going out to all the world.  I was so encouraged by all of these things.

Monday the team spent the morning helping with the Kids Holiday Club and made some great friends.

DSC_0486

DSC_0480

Areli and her new friend Alexia

DSC_0475

DSC_0462

DSC_0408

DSC_0386

DSC_0378

The afternoon was spent training the youth and young adults of the church in prophecy.  The Kenmore Baptist Church was just beginning to discover the gifts of the Spirit, and most of them had not prophesied before.  Prophecy is simply sharing with other people God’s heart of love for them, sometimes tapping into God’s knowledge of things that we would never know on our own. This was a key ministry and transforming for the young people of the church.  Some of them heard God’s voice for the first time!  Areli prayed for an Australian, Alexia who would become one of her best friends on the trip.  Areli had received the word “Hope” by one of the leaders.  Areli saw that Alexia was like a hope dispenser, giving hope to everyone she met.  Alexia was quite moved by this revelation.  (Sometime later in the trip it was clear that Alexia’s prophetic gift of bringing hope and encouragement had indeed been activated!  She went from person to person on the bus, praying for all who were present.  Then she continued praying for every shop with in sight.  She was catching God’s vision for people and the city and she just couldn’t stop!) Following the prophetic training, they all went out treasure hunting and then returned to the house for an American style Fourth of July barbeque.

Tuesday was more Kids Holiday Club, Prophetic Training, treasure hunting and a bonfire with the church youth.  Wednesday’s schedule was very similar with the treasure hunting taking place at Southbank.  Areli’s group received the clue “orange” so they walked towards the orange Brisbane sign and then towards an orange bridge behind it.  Once they got there, they saw a boy in an orange shirt.  They tried to talk to him but he spoke no English, only Italian.  This was discouraging because they had been walking for a long time and seemed to have hit a dead-end.

After walking a bit longer, Emma and Gillian both began signing the same song about a consuming fire, so “fire” was the next clue.  They encountered Ben who encouraged them that the Italian guys were probably a clue that was pointing to the Italian restaurant across the street.  As they walked towards the Italian restaurant, one the Australian guys said he got the clue, “woman” and “broken foot.” They saw another restaurant setting food on fire so they continued towards the fire.  Then they kept going towards orange traffic cones (from the original clue) until they got to the street corner.  Around the street corner they saw…a woman with a broken foot!  The entire group was taken aback by this very obvious fulfillment of the clue and how many clues it had taken to get them there!  They prayed for the woman and she was very blessed!

Another team was running along the streets because the time was running out.  One of the Australian guys stopped running and Andrea asked him why.  He said that he had an old ankle injury that prevented him from running.  He had been big into riding his mountain bike in competitions.  Andrea prayed for him and his ankle was miraculously healed.  (Later in the trip his wrist was also healed.  Another healing happened, but I am not sure exactly when so I will include it here.  Emma was praying for a teen who hadn’t been able to touch his toes since a childhood skiing accident.  He was healed and Emma got a video of him happily touching his toes about a thousand times!)

Thursday morning the team visited the Kai Coffee house, owned by a friend of Ben.  They prayed for and encouraged this friend and his family.

DSC_0621 DSC_0616 DSC_0608 DSC_0592

After that, the team went hiking on the sunshine coast.

DSC_0803 DSC_0725 DSC_0716 DSC_0710

DSC_0682

They attended a revival meeting in the evening.

Friday they got to attend a leadership workshop given by Banning Liebscher of Jesus Culture.  That evening they went to Glory City Church for Georgian and Winnie Banov’s service.  They all prayed for people at the end.  Areli and a few other girls were praying for a woman and Jessica got the word “child” for that woman.  She said that she and her husband had been trying to conceive a child, so the girls prayed for God to send her that very special blessing!

On Saturday the team helped Kenmore Baptist Church with a service project.  They built a fence around the yard of a single mother who had two daughters.  One of her daughters had special needs like our daughter Ashlyn.  However, this girl couldn’t talk or walk at all.  Apparently she was very good at getting around despite her disability, because there had been an incident when the neighbors noticed the girl crawling down the street while her mother was unaware in the house…hence the need for a fence!  When I saw pictures of the white picket fence and the raised flower beds that they created around the yard, I was struck by how beautiful it was!

Saturday evening was spent helping Georgian and Winnie again.

Sunday morning the team went to street markets and did some shopping.  They visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

DSC_0908

DSC_0901

DSC_0870

After that they had fun on at a local watering hole.

DSC_0997

DSC_0987

They attended the evening service at Kenmore Baptist Church.  Ben and Dylan preached and the team prayed for the people.  Many of the Australians went out to eat with them, and they said their tearful goodbyes.  The team had gained such wonderful friends, and they all want to go back and visit.

Monday morning began their 28 hour return trip home.  I was so excited the entire day and watched my phone to track their progress.  Cadin was counting the hours until Areli walked through the door because he was tired of cleaning the kitchen, he said.

Areli came home at midnight, tired but happy.  Over the next few weeks she has been telling us the marvelous stories.  She said that the biggest thing she learned on the trip was that praying for strangers and making new friends was not as hard as she thought!  The team’s love and wiliness to work impacted everyone they met.  What is more, the gifts that they helped to discover and activate in the youth of the Kenmore Baptist Church will continue to transform the Brisbane area and beyond with the love of a Good Father who knows each of His children by name!

I Want My Life to Mean Something

photo toilet

I just had to go to the bathroom!  However, on my way there I needed to yell out the window at a boy chasing a ball into the street.

“Calvin, I told you that you are not allowed in the street.  You have to play inside now!”

Then I had to stop to referee a fight between two other children.

“If this is Courage’s toy, you have to ask him before you take it!  And Courage, do not scream and cry.  Just say, ‘This is my toy.  Give it back to me please.’  You don’t get anything you want when you scream and cry.”

I feel like I have given this little lesson about five hundred and sixty-four times.  Why don’t they remember! I still need to use the restroom (it is getting quite urgent!) yet I cannot stop myself from picking the kitchen towel off the floor which I had already done twice that morning.

“We dry our dishes with this towel, people!” I think to myself.  I notice peanut butter on the otherwise white cabinet door.  I encounter shoes and the grungiest socks known to man thrown about the living room floor.

“Cooper!  Put these in the laundry room!” I call out in desperation, knowing that I will probably have to hunt him down and ask him again later.

I pass Ashlyn’s walking track.  She is supposed to be doing her walking exercises right now; building her muscles, organizing her brain, and increasing her balance.  She is laying on the sofa, nursing some sores on her feet.  I wonder to myself if all the therapy that I have done with her was in vain.  She can’t wear her braces if the skin on her feet break down.  And she can’t walk if she doesn’t wear her braces.

I get into the bathroom and shut and lock the door.  A moment of peace.  A quiet space.  Ahhhhhh…I can sit down for a moment.  WHAT IS THIS!!!!! PEE ON THE TOILET AGAIN!! I just wiped this toilet one hour ago, and the hour before that!

In the relative quiet of my stinky, dirty bathroom I am close to tears.

“Is this my life?  Working hard to clean a house that never stays that way?  Toiling to teach my children lessons that they never seem to learn.  Worried about not doing enough therapy with Ashlyn while simultaneously worrying about doing TOO MUCH therapy with Ashlyn.  I want my life to mean something,” I pray to God. “How can I know if my life is making a difference when I see so little good fruit?”

I just love it when I have a really productive day; wrote a blog article, organized an entire room, cleaned out the attic, or created a delicious meal with an abundance of bright colors and fresh ingredients.  But what happens when day after day goes by with no real progress of any kind.  Moms deal with this phenomena all the time.  We pour ourselves out, go to bed late, get up early, work hard; and when we stop to look around…it appears as though we have gotten absolutely nothing accomplished whatsoever!

I have been feeling the frustration and discontent that thousands of women have experienced.  We feel unnoticed, unimportant, and meaningless.  This has pushed many women to abandon their high calling as a wife and mother to pour themselves into other pursuits…just to feel worthy and fulfilled.

I KNOW that I have the most important career in the world.  I KNOW that my life is making a difference in this life and in the next.

It just doesn’t FEEL that way most of the time.

“God, help me to see things the way you do.  I need some encouragement here!”  I have prayed.

God is answering as He always does.  It may take a lifetime to understand all that He is saying and to unravel my own thoughts and ideas.  But I think I am making some progress.

I have been listening to the Bible on CD.  Listening to a cast of characters reading the Bible as though it were actually happening has helped me to see the stories in a different light.  It seems more real and more relevant.  Plus it is a different version than what I have read before, and it brings a new dimension to many verses.

As I look at the Bible as a whole; the story of God’s relationship with mankind, there is a common thread that I hadn’t noticed before.  God always had a plan.  He was always confident that this plan would work.  Very few humans actually understood His plan or knowingly helped God work out His plan.  The major events in the Bible were orchestrated and accomplished by God, not man.  Many times God worked through people and with people but most of the time He moved DESPITE people.

All the amazing events in Acts happened because of God.  The disciples didn’t get together after the resurrection and have an intensive strategic planning meeting to figure out how they would acquire the Holy Spirit or how they would add 3,000 people to their number in one day.  They didn’t go to college to learn the cutting edge strategies for converting the Jews and then the Gentiles to the Way.  (They didn’t even know that the Gentiles COULD be saved until God showed them.)

All the disciples did was wait on God and obey whatever He told them to do.  Many times they saw miracles, but more often they encountered opposition and persecution.  Often it appeared as though they were accomplishing nothing at all as the churches they planted fell into deceptions and wrong teachings.  Yet look at how their lives have affected the entire world!

When I look across all of human history, the person who had the most powerful participation in bringing God’s salvation to the earth was Mary.  This is just my opinion but you have to admit, she played a pretty big role.

But what did she actually do?

She BELIEVED what the Angel told her was true.

She SUBMITTED to God’s wonderful plan.

She MOTHERED Jesus.

Could I be as powerful in the course of human history as Mary if I just believe, submit, and mother?

If I could just BELIEVE every word God tells me.

If I could just joyfully SUBMIT, YEILD, and SURRENDER to God’s best for me.

If I could just MOTHER – love, nourish, carry, teach, serve, and protect each child God gives to me.

DSC_0080

Even Mary lost her most influential place of mothering for a while.  Maybe she didn’t agree with what Jesus was doing because it seemed too controversial or too dangerous.  Perhaps she was too weighed down with the concerns of her other children and life in general.  When she and her other sons went to see Jesus while He was teaching a large group, He didn’t go out to them.

He said, “Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?”  He pointed to His disciples and said, “These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever hears the words of God and does them is my mother and brothers.”

If I had been Mary, I would have been devastated by His words.  Then I would have gotten really mad!  “Listen mister, I said yes to carrying you in my womb even though it sullied my reputation and messed up my life.  I gave birth to you and nursed you and took care of you during all the hard times!  None of these guys here know what the angel said to me.  They don’t know what Anna or Simeon said about you.  They didn’t see you take your first steps or nurse you through sickness.  How could you say that they are your mother!”

Yet she must have realized that Jesus was never wrong.  He was never disrespectful or vengeful or mean for meanness sake.  All His words were true…every time. Mary must have repented before God for not hearing His words and obeying them during this crucial time in Jesus’ ministry, because she was there with disciples in the upper room.

What this story tells me is that anyone, anywhere at anytime can have Mary’s impact if they simply hear God’s voice and obey.  To hear God’s voice we must love Him, wait on Him, spend time with Him, read His words over and over.  To obey Him is always to love because He is love.

In essence – to BELIEVE

TO SUBMIT

TO MOTHER

To live this kind of life takes faith to believe without seeing.

To live this kind of life is so much harder than just checking items off a to-do list.

To live this kind of life is something I am sure that I can’t do on my own.

To live this kind of life is the POWER and GLORY of my motherhood; to watch God take my little, seemingly insignificant acts of love and obedience and turn them into something

EARTH SHAKING

ETERNITY CHANGING

BEYOND MY IMAGINATION IMPORTANT

Explosion!

We love because he first loved us. 1 John:19

july 2013 093

                This is the beginning of a new year, a new and fresh start for all of us.  I thought I would share the story of how I became new.  It started around this time of year, 26 years ago.

I was in Junior High and had been attending a new church with my “boyfriend”.  I had no interest in God, yet I really liked this guy.  I felt very shy and totally out of my comfort zone.  I was trying to sing the loud and crazy worship songs that I had never heard before.  I didn’t understand anything that was happening in this contemporary, charismatic youth group.

A guest speaker was there one night, and I can’t even remember what he talked about.  He invited us to come up to receive prayer.  I didn’t consider getting prayer, yet I found myself up front.  I had no memory of standing up, no memory of moving my legs to walk towards him.  Yet somehow I was there, waiting for prayer.  When the speaker prayed for the guy beside me, he started crying like something was touching his very soul.

“I wonder if this preacher will know that I don’t believe in this stuff,” I thought to myself as he approached me.

“You are having doubts about all this stuff.” He said, as though he was reading my mind.  Suddenly the youth pastor was right next to me and asked, “Do you want to receive Jesus into your heart?”

I had never thought about asking Jesus into my heart.  I didn’t even know what that meant.  Before my mind could tell me “yes” or “no”, I heard myself saying, “Yes!”

I repeated the prayer that the pastor prayed for me.  It went something like this;

“I believe in you Jesus, that you are the son of God.  That you died and rose again to take away my sins.  I ask you to forgive my sins and come into my heart.”

Immediately I felt something explode in my heart, and my eyes were opened to a wondrous and completely new reality.

july 2013 067

I never expected this to happen!  I didn’t even know what being “saved” or “born again” was, yet here I was experiencing it.

I spent the next week in a glorious daze!  Everything was lovely and fresh.  I never realized how beautiful a tree was!  How amazing a doorknob could be!  Or how much I loved my parents!  The world was different because now I knew that God loved me.  Since then I have learned that long before I ever thought about God, he was pursuing me.  Even when I wasn’t seeking him, he was seeking me.  I am so glad he found me.

I have also learned that new life isn’t something that just happened to me once, 26 years ago.  It is something that happens with each new day because his mercies are new every morning.  Jesus promised that we would have streams of living water coming from our inner most beings.  The adventure of this life is accepting and allowing and enjoying that pure, fresh spring every single day!

july 2013 079

Happy New Year!!!  I hope you have fireworks of his love exploding in your heart.

May you enjoy a Happy New Year… every day of the year 2016!

She was Bald, Toothless, Covered with Scabs…and She was Indescribably Beautiful.

DSCF9893

I had developed quite an affection for my neighbor across the street, Sandy.  I had met her eight years ago when we moved into our house.  She was small and looked older than her years.  We invited her to neighborhood get-togethers, but she never came.  In her own words, she was “backwards, shy, and didn’t go out of her house much.”

Pretty soon her habit of being a hermit became a necessity.  Her heart started to fail because of years of smoking.   She had to get a pacemaker and could hardly walk across the street without becoming winded.  On those rare occasions that we saw each other outside, I was struck by the beauty and sweetness of her heart, buried beneath a wrinkled and toothless exterior.

I was amazed by how she was able to quit smoking cold turkey after 30 years of the habit.  I was touched when she called me on the phone because she had seen a rainbow outside that she thought my children would love to see.

Once I visited her in her cute little home that had been in her family for 100 years.  She showed me every Christmas card we had ever sent out, and I got the impression that she treasured them and considered us more than acquaintances.  We were good friends.  She could observe our comings and goings through her front window.   She noticed when the boys were playing outside and how much they were growing.  I realized that I should make the effort to visit her more often.

I really did try to reach out to her, but my visits were few and far between.  Every time I looked out my front window, I would imagine her alone in her home except for her faithful dog. I would pray for her.  Pray for her to not be lonely but to feel God’s presence.  Pray for her to feel his love for her.  As I prayed, day after day, my love for her grew.  She became my mission field.  I could not go out and do things with the freedom that I wanted to, having to be with my children and nurse the baby frequently, but I could pray for Sandy.

One night I felt the urgency to call her.  I had almost never called her.  In fact, I don’t call other people very often because I am afraid of bothering them and being a pest.  Maybe that is how Sandy feels, I thought.  Despite the fact that I had offered to help her time and again, she had never called me for help.  Perhaps she was afraid.

October 2015 046

It was late at night, but I knew her health was failing.  What if I missed an opportunity?  What if she was at home but in trouble?  The urge was so strong, that I just had to call.

She answered and was just fine.  But I got the chance to tell her that I had been praying for her and that God loved her so much.

A few months later, in the sticky heat of summer, I finally got over to visit her.  Her home was messy and so dustly, it was hard for me to breath.  I felt a bit sick as I sat there and chatted cheerfully.  How must she feel, with her bad heart and a chronic respiratory infection?  She had no energy to clean!  Plus she was connected to a bulky oxygen tank by a long tube in her nose.  I asked if there was anything I could do to help.  At first she said no.  Finally she told me that she had groceries in her truck that she had been unable to carry in from the morning.

I was appalled!  It had been 90 degrees that day.  Surely her groceries were ruined.  But I kept a smile on my face and said, “Sure, the boys and I would love to carry them in.”

We got all the groceries in. Thankfully the perishable items had been put into the fridge earlier.  I dumped the huge bag of dog food into the dog food dispenser and tried to help with anything else I could.  All the while Sandy was muttering, “I hate to ask people for help.”

I pleaded with her to call me the next time she went shopping.  I did not receive a call, but sometime later, Sandy’s best friend knocked on my door.  She looked terribly agitated and asked if she could sit.  I offered her a chair, but she never sat.  She stood and paced and rubbed her hands on her legs as she explained the reason for her visit.

“Did you hear the sirens last night?  Well, Sandy was back in her room using the large oxygen tank.  I don’t know why she did this, but she lit a lighter and the oxygen caught on fire.  She was burned all over her face, and her bed was burned.  She was able to call 911, but she was unresponsive when they came.  She is in the burn unit, and I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Her friend was so distressed, and now I was too!   Sandy’s health was so bad, could she possible live through this?  Had I lost my opportunity to tell her about Jesus?

I really prayed for Sandy over the next few days.  Had I shown her God’s love the way he had asked me too?  God gave me this verse.

Ezekiel 33:7-9 “I have appointed you as a watchman for the people of Israel; therefore listen to what I say and warn them for me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will die!’ and you don’t tell him what I say, so that he does not repent –that wicked person will die in his sins, but I will hold you responsible for his death.  But if you warn him to repent and he doesn’t, he will die in his sin, and you will not be responsible.”

I had always hesitated to lay out the gospel message when I thought that others couldn’t or wouldn’t receive it.  But here God was telling me that the outcome was not my responsibility.  I was simply responsible to do what he was asking me to do.

Amazingly, Sandy was back home within a few weeks.  I resolved to obey Jesus the best that I could.  I felt that he loved Sandy and just wanted me to introduce her to him.  I didn’t know if she knew him, if she believed in him at all.

I visited and called a few times a week, bringing her food and handmade cards and encouragement.  I wanted to make sure that I was there to help even if she couldn’t ask me for it.  I had some lovely times sitting in her cozy home (which was now bright and clean thanks to her very energetic best friend).  Sandy’s face was black with scabs.  Her head had been shaved.  Her body couldn’t get rid of all the fluids that they had pumped into her at the hospital, and she had blown up like a very uncomfortable balloon.  Her heart had gone from working at 25% to only 10%.  I wished that there was something I could do for her!  I asked her if I could pray for her and she let me.  Maybe Jesus would heal her to show her how much he loved her.  I tried to have faith that we could see a miracle!

“Jesus loves you so much, Sandy!” I told her.  “Do you know how much he loves you?”  I asked.  Here was my chance to introduce my friend Jesus to my friend Sandy.  I could tell her about how I met Jesus and ask if she had ever met him in that way.

“I don’t know if he loves me.  Things keep going wrong for me.  I am so sick.  I just want to be able to get out of the house and drive to the store or something.”

I felt the weight of her suffering.  I felt the power of her pain.  I had been going through a season of suffering as well, carrying many unanswered prayers and unanswered questions.  I wasn’t sure how to answer her because I wasn’t sure how to appease the sorrow of my own heart.  I knew that Jesus loved us, but I didn’t know how to explain how I knew.

October 2015 002

“That’s what I am praying for.  I pray you will feel better and better.”  That was all that I could think of to say.  Perhaps Jesus would heal her through the night and she would begin to see his goodness.  I would check back with her in a few days and try again to introduce her to Jesus.

Sadly, I never got the chance.  Some days later we saw an ambulance sitting in the street between our houses.  There were police all around.  My heart was heavy.  If she was truly having an emergency, the ambulance wouldn’t be sitting there like that.  The police wouldn’t talk to us about what was going on, but later that night we found out.

Sandy had simply collapsed and died.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had no more time to develop a friendship.  No more time to pray for her.  No more time to tell her my testimony and find out if she had one of her own.  I did not know the condition of her soul, if she trusted in Jesus and he carried her to heaven, or if she never knew him and she was separated from him forever.

All I knew was that I had not done what Jesus had asked me to.  I hadn’t introduced her to him.  I was distraught.  I felt like the most horrible evangelist there had ever been.  My mission field had been one person and I had failed.  I had failed Sandy and I had failed Jesus.

I talked to God about it.  How could I go through life knowing that there was something more that I could have done to save her?  How could I enjoy eternity if Sandy was not there?  How I longed to see her again.  How I longed to see her restored and renewed and healed.  I wanted to see her in all the glory and beauty that I KNEW was in her but could never be seen in this life.  I felt the value of her soul and grieved because the precious jewel that she was might be lost forever.

“Is she with you God?”

He hasn’t given me a clear answer yet.  I needed to feel the weight of my mistake and repent.  I needed it to push me closer to Jesus and closer to his heart.

I NEED to become a better evangelist!  I NEED to practice and be uncomfortable and try and try again.

What he did remind me of was this.  He knew that evangelism hasn’t been one of my gifts, normally being very shy myself.  He knew that this was my first big assignment (that I was aware of). He had factored in my weaknesses and failure into his plan.  He wanted me to learn from this and move on with more understanding and more confidence.  He did not want me to give up in guilt and despair.  He wanted me to move forward, being open to talk to anyone and everyone about him.

He reminded me of how far I had come.  Many places I have lived, I never gotten to know my neighbors at all!  Slowly I began to become more outgoing (with help from my husband).  In this neighborhood, I have a good friendship with most everyone on my block.

Over the years I had prayed and prayed and prayed again for Sandy’s salvation, for her comfort, for her healing.  The Great God, who loves Sandy infinitely more than I do, wouldn’t let those prayers go unanswered, would he?

All it would have taken from Sandy would have been one cry!

“Jesus!”

A cry in her heart or with her mouth and he would have been there, rushing in with his glorious presence, wrapping her with his love and immortality!  I am sure of it.

Whether she ever cried out to him, I do not know.  I do know that I miss my friend.  Instead of her white car with the American flag flying from the window; there is an ugly, rusted dumpster in front of her house, gathering the discarded pieces of a life. Instead of seeing the candles in her windows, all I see is darkness. I don’t know if I will ever see her again.

October 2015 065

What I do know is that our obedience matters.  It has eternal consequences that are too heavy for me to even understand.  Yet our obedience has the potential to bring more joy and glory and reward than we can even imagine!  And we can only be obedient if we are listening and watching what our Father is doing.

Do you know Jesus?  He is my friend and he has been the best friend I have ever known.  He has never left me and he never will.  He is with you right now and will be with you forever if you want him to.  Can I introduce you to him?

How Does God Define Success?

grey truck

One day I was driving home from church and passed a big, shiny, brand new pick-up truck.  It was a beauty…and it was grey.  Oh, did I mention that it was really shiny with lots of chrome and cool lights. Did I tell you that it was impressive like the trucks on the commercials that are driving haphazardly through large mud puddles and hauling tons of important, manly looking items?  That is about all of the technical details I can recall about this truck.  If my husband had seen it, he could tell you the make, the model, the year and several important facts about it.  Then he would say with a frustrated but wistful longing, “I would love to have a truck like that!”

I would love for my husband to be able to have a truck like that!  He has owned at least 4 different pick-up trucks, all of them used.  All of them needed a lot of repairs and were more trouble than what they were worth, in my opinion.  But Chris does do a lot of hauling and hard work, and loves pick-up trucks.  As I passed this particular grey truck, I wondered to myself, “What would it feel like to be able to own a truck like that? What would it feel like to be successful enough to turn Chris’ dream into a reality?”

God used that grey truck to shine a light on the inner workings of my heart.  I realized that my definition of success was this: having enough money to buy an expensive new truck.  Then I thought about my vision for our future, a future where Chris and I had been successful.  I saw our family living in our dream house we had found on the internet.  The one that has seven bedrooms, six bathrooms and ten acres.  We were able to pay all our bills on time.  We were able to buy a new camper.  We were able to take time off from work to use that great new camper on vacations with all the children.  We had enough space and time and money to open our home to missionaries needing some R &R, and maybe we even developed a ministry to special needs children on our lovely property.

In my vision, our future was so beautiful and we were so prosperous…and comfortable.  My idea of success is the American dream: to work hard to earn a good life and then be able to enjoy that good life.  Dictionary.reference.com defines the American dream as: a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S.

Exactly!  That is what I wanted!  Isn’t that what we all want?

But is that what God wants for us?  Is that His best for us?  What is God’s definition of success?

Jesus said that we should seek his kingdom first.  Isn’t his kingdom all about…well, HIM??  Isn’t it all about knowing Jesus and having relationship with him and becoming like him? Anything that distracts us from knowing him is no success at all.

I realized that my definition of success was infinitely too small.  A shiny grey truck could make me happy when the most beautiful, powerful, captivating treasure was waiting in the wings…waiting to be sought out, to be discovered, to be experienced, and to be loved.  And that treasure was waiting to show me his love, to blow apart my mindsets and wreck my American dream if necessary to bring me to himself.

“You will not measure true spiritual fruit rightly while you are in the earth.  You can only measure your true success by how much more clearly you are able to behold the LORD, by how much better you know His Voice, and by how much more you love the brethren.

“You must not try to judge by the fruit that you see on earth, but do what you must because it is right.

Even so, more that bearing fruit, your call must be to know the LORD. If you seek Him you will always find Him.  He is always near to those who draw near. ..There is no higher purpose.  Your victory will be measured by your seeking.  You will always be as close to Him as you want to be. Your victory in life will be according to your desire for him” – The Call

A new idea of success was forming in my mind.  To know Jesus more each day.  To look into his eyes every moment and see his great love for me.  To live in that love.  To be able to see the face of God clearly enough to make out when he is smiling.  To desire to make him smile with my every thought and word and deed.  What joy and peace that would bring to any circumstance of life that I might find myself in.

That, my friends, is true success!

Breaking Through to Prosperity

september 2015 and fort hunter 134

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

I had always found great comfort in this verse during times of trial, knowing that no matter how hard my life got, God would not let the troubles overwhelm me.  Most of these trials have had to do with finances.  How many times can you drive around the same block of “not enough in my bank account” before you realize that you are in the wrong neighborhood and hightail it out of there?  Seemed to me that we had tried a million different paths to a million different locations and always ended up in the same place – that run down, ugly part of town called “Lack”

blog 016

otherwise known as “Hope Deferred”

blog 006

or “Too many Big Dreams and Not Enough Money.”

blog 004

I was praying again for some insight on how to conduct our lives in a way that would lead us to that abundant peace and prosperity that the Bible is always talking about.  Again God gave me Isaiah 43.  But this time I understood it in a very different way.

Perhaps the most dangerous and powerful rivers in this life were not hardships as I had supposed.  Perhaps success, wealth, and the praises of man were far more perilous.  Perhaps the fiercest flames were not that of failure and rejection but that of acceptance and comfort.

My husband, Chris, loves music and had gotten in the habit of watching the TV show “Behind the Music.”  I don’t know very many popular bands, but I could predict the basic story line of almost every show.  A few guys had some talent and big dreams to become rich and famous.  They achieved their dream after varying degrees of time and effort.  They were worshiped by fans. They had enough money to make every desire and whim become a reality.  They had everything they ever wanted…and it just wasn’t enough. They would spiral out of control with excess; drinking, women, and drugs.  Many of them ruined their families and careers.  Some even lost their lives.  The blessed few humbled themselves and got their lives back on track.

What I learned is that quick and easy success is no blessing!  The adoration of fans is no blessing!  Abundant wealth is no blessing…if you do not have the character to handle it…it will destroy you.

If all our dreams came true tomorrow, I wouldn’t become a drug addict.  Chris wouldn’t become a womanizer.  Yet we could become prideful without even realizing it.  We could rejoice in our own wisdom and power.  We might be tempted to lead others to our most excellent way rather than point them to THE WAY.  We might become too comfortable to seek His kingdom first.

I began to read Isiah 43 in a new light.  Chris and I had learned so much through our 19 years of marriage.  How to better budget our money.  How to work as a team.  How to pray and trust God more.  How to leave behind generational curses.  We had made so much progress, yet we still did not see the prosperity that God had promised us.

september 2015 and fort hunter 129

Then I heard His still, small voice.

“What is left is for you to do is to seek me and know me more.  Every moment of everyday, take the opportunity to sink your roots deeper into the soil of my love and truth.  I am withholding the mighty river of overwhelming blessing simply because you are not yet ready to handle it. Until your roots are firmly anchored in me, it could sweep you away.”

september 2015 and fort hunter 114

I am so thankful that God is keeping me safe from myself.  I am so thankful that his promises mean that someday I will be like Jesus; able to steward great power and responsibility without letting it control me.  Being able to humbly accept both abundance and lack and be content.  I will be able to follow the advice of Rudyard Kipling.

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same.”

Triumph and Disaster and are powerful forces that could consume all that is good in our lives.  Yet if we are already completely consumed by the Lover of Our Souls, those two impostors have no chance at moving us… except deeper into his embrace.

september 2015 and fort hunter 144