Our Love Story is My Favorite!

love story 4

The first time I met my husband, I was in a church gym surrounded by cheap lunch meat and the overpowering smell of raw onions.  My “boyfriend” Jesse had invited me to a sub-making fundraiser for the youth group of his church.  I must qualify the term “boyfriend” by saying that we were in junior high, and our “serious boyfriend/ girlfriend” relationship meant that we had each acknowledged that we liked each other, and on rare occasions our parents would drive us to see a movie together.  This time, my parents had driven me to Jesse’s church.

It was there that Jesse introduced me to his best friend who had just coasted into the gym on a skateboard.

“Anne, this is my friend, Chris.”

And that was the first time I met him, the man of my dreams.  Of course, at the time he was still an awkward teenager who simply said, “Hi,” and then skated off again.

I became very involved in Jesse’s church until it became my church as well.  I went to every Wednesday night, every Sunday morning, and every special event.  Chris and his brother and mother stopped going to church, so I never saw him.  Jesse and I broke up, but stayed really good friends.

About two years later Chris showed up for the annual youth group retreat. During that retreat, I realized that Chris had been an integral part of my circle of church friends before they had become my circle of friends.  He easily became part of the gang again. We all had a lot of fun.

love story

We were all together again at Jesse’s birthday party when Jesse blurted out, “Chris, you should take Anne to your prom!”

This seemed like a totally bizarre outburst on Jesse’s part, but Chris answered as though he had been already thinking about it.

“Yeah, do you wanna go?”

love story 2

“I guess so,” I replied.  I never thought it would happen.  He was a senior, I was a junior.  We went to different schools.  We didn’t know each other that well.  The prom was three months away.  He would most certainly have a girlfriend by then.

Chris started calling my house a few nights a week.  Then he asked me to accompany him to pick out a tux.  It was on that little date that he asked if I was his girlfriend.

I sat in stunned silence for what seemed like five full minutes.  I thought that in order to be his girlfriend, he had to ask me to be his girlfriend.  Perhaps I had missed something very important during our interactions the past few months.

“I don’t think I am,” I replied.

“Well, do you want to be?”

Again, silence.  I hadn’t thought about it.  I just didn’t know what to say.

“Could I think about it and let you know?”

We got together the following weekend to discuss our relationship.  I told him that I wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship, and when I did get into one, I wanted to be sure that it was what God wanted.  Chris agreed and didn’t seem too discouraged.

Our friendship grew and deepened, and we did go to the prom together.

love story 3

We spent my entire senior year just “being friends”, although everyone else knew that we were more that just friends.  We would go on marathon dates that would consist of wandering around the city for 10 hours or more. We became youth leaders and had fun and wild times at church functions.

love story 5

We would pray, teach, preach, and put on crazy skits.  I played a party animal and heavy drinker in one skit, though in real life I had never had a drop of beer.  Chris dressed up as a nerdy scientist for another drama.  His entrance into the youth room was supposed to be especially dramatic as flash pots exploded behind him.  Unfortunately the flash pots were poorly timed and went off right in Chris’ face.  His eyes were sprayed with part of the explosion, and they were watering profusely for the entire skit.  Chris didn’t miss a beat and continued to act his part perfectly.

Once, the youth group went white water rafting.  It was great, except there was no white water.  We were floating lazily down the river.  This was ideal for Jesse and me, but Chris required more excitement.  He proposed taking the bailing buckets that our raft was equipped with and using them to douse a nearby raft with water.  Jesse and I insisted that such behavior would be rude and uncalled for and would ruin the peaceful boat trip we were enjoying.  Chris proceeded to fill up the bucket and dump the entire load of water on my head.  As I was dripping and gasping in utter disbelief of the horrendous treatment I had just endured, Chris leaned in to my soggy ear and whispered, “I love you!”

When time came for me to graduate, I had decided to spend a year doing missions with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) rather than go straight to college.

For the next year I was training in Texas and then went on outreaches to Belize, Central America and many places in the US.  I would write Chris long, chatty letters almost everyday.  Chris would write maybe once a month.  There were no cell phones and no land lines in the girls’ dorm where I was staying.  Chris and I would plan via letter weeks in advance to talk on the phone on a specific day and time.  I would take my quarters and go to the pay phone in the cafeteria, praying that there was not a line.

Both of us had to answer the question our hearts kept asking, “Is this the person I will marry?”

In my training classes, there was a teaching about laying everything important in our lives on the altar before God.  Being a Christian didn’t just mean believing in God.  It also meant giving Him everything!  I spent a good prayer time with God giving Him my dreams, ambitions, and Chris.  I wasn’t sure that God would give him back.

I knew that I loved Chris.  I loved his sense of humor, his incredible work ethic, and his high morals.  I loved that he always respected his mom.  I loved that he loved God.  I loved his dark brown eyes and his single dimple that would show itself when he smiled.  I truly felt that he was the most handsome man I had ever met.    But perhaps he wasn’t THE ONE. Maybe God’s perfect plan for my life didn’t include marrying Chris.  I was willing to do anything He told me to do.

love story 7

I was talking a walk around the lake in the beautiful countryside of the rural mission base when I felt God speak to me so clearly.

Do you think I blessed your relationship with Chris just to take it from you now?”

From that moment on, I never doubted that he would be my husband.  It took Chris a little longer.  He was talking classes at a community college, renting a room from a gentleman at church, working as a waiter, taking impromptu road trips with his crazy guy friends, driving fast in his sporty CRX, using his limited spending money on CDs instead of food, sporting a new bleached blond hairdo, and turning down offers from interested pretty young women.  I was a bit worried about him.

love story 6

He decided to fly out to Texas to visit me in May, even though he was basically a starving student.  He must have gotten his answer during that trip.  As soon as he returned home, he drove straight from the airport to the jewelry store to pick out an engagement ring.  I had no clue.  In my slow-moving fashion, I thought marriage would be years away, perhaps after college.  I did have a small scholarship to Eastern College that I was planning on using to study Elementary Education.  Yet I thought God might have other plans.

When my training school with YWAM was coming to an end, all the students were encouraged to ask God for our next step.  I was determined to hear His voice.  There were so many opportunities to be a missionary in any country in the world with YWAM.  I really thought that God would tell me to take everything I owned in a backpack and go to some exotic place.  His answer surprised me.

Go Home.”

I was home only a month when I decided to plan a special picnic dinner for Chris’ birthday.  I wanted it to be a special surprise.  My best friend, Autumn, was over, and she helped me prepare four courses and pack them carefully into a picnic basket.  When my mom heard of my plans, she offered the good china and a special table-cloth.

As I laid out the feast for Chris at our favorite date place (Negley Park), he seemed distracted and hardly ate anything.  After the meal, we sat together on the swings that overlooked the Harrisburg skyline as the sun set and the lights made the city sparkle.

Chris got up and then went down on one knee.

“I had a long talk with your parents….”

He took out a tiny box and I knew what he was going to say!  I gave him a huge hug and again, I was speechless!  I was overjoyed to become his wife, yet I was so surprised, I could not respond.

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

I nodded.

love story 8

love story 9Eleven months later, we became Mr. and Mrs. Brandenburg!  That was 18 years ago today.  So many volumes I could fill with all the adventures we have had, all the mountain tops and all the valleys, all the joys and all the sorrows, all the faith and all the doubt…but mostly all the love!  Perhaps that story is being written here on this blog, one precious chapter at a time.  It is my favorite story!

 

I Love My Tribe

 

554028_10151743184084334_1588782753_n

 

The music washes over me.  It is not just melody and rhythm…it is the very atmosphere of heaven.  The lights are bright, the stage is full of musicians, and I am surrounded by my tribe.  Almost every Sunday morning I find myself here, in the sanctuary of Life Center and saturated with the swirling presence of God and humanity.  There are so many worship leaders that share the stage, so many musicians that rotate from week to week.  They are full of talent and resurrection life, and I love them all!  They have birthed an abundance of CDs out of the overflow of their lives of praise.

I watch the senior pastors in the front row, boppin’ to the rockin’ music.  They are in their sixties, but they enjoy the youthful expression and energy as much as anyone.  They actually lead the rest of us in radical, “out of the box” thinking! They have served this church for over twenty years, and I love them! I see one of the younger worship leaders, passionately singing a song that he wrote; and I think about how I used to babysit him when he was a boy.  I look over and see his parents in the front row, beloved pastors who raised me in the youth group; still loving, still serving, still standing for all that is true.

558158_10151536490454334_2112485730_n

Some folks are out of their seats, dancing.  Some are swaying to the music.  Others are sitting with their eyes closed.  Others are kneeling on the floor.  My teenage daughter is up front, worshipping with her friends.  I observe many gray heads in the crowd, faces lined with wisdom and love.  I see parents holding their little ones.  I see children twirling scarves and prancing on bare feet.  Life is always bursting forth at Life Center.  There are more pregnant women than I can keep track of, and I love them all! I long to be able to tell each one of them how gorgeous they are and how precious they are to God, carrying His little children of promise!

I notice women running to each other in joyful reunions, laughing and hugging.  I see people spontaneously begin to pray for the person next to them, passion and concern on their faces.  I see others exchanging gifts or notes.

It is time for the offering and one of the “newer” pastors takes the microphone.  He and his family have become so precious to me.  Every time I see him take the stage, I am alert with anticipation.  I know that some stunning revelation will spill from his lips that will rock the way I see the world.

The music subsides and there are announcements of births and deaths; family business that herald joy and tears all at the same time.  How we each know that thrill and that pain, and how we each long to share those with our brothers and sisters.  I walk to the back of the sanctuary during the meet and greet time, and I am enveloped in a warm and healing hug by a beautiful black mama.

“Look at you!   You’re beautiful!  Just beautiful!” she always says to me with her eyes shining and her amazing, white smile blazing.  She is the beauty! I wish I could describe the indescribable, how dark and lovely she is…but her beauty is so deep and so true, I am at a loss for words.

It is time for the message and another pastor comes up.  He and his wife are treasures to me, having led countless youth events, missions trips and prayer times that I was apart of.  We have even lived with them a couple of times.  Some folks in the crowd are a little confused because he talks too fast, as though he has 4 hours worth of revelation to impart in 45 minutes.  Chris and I are fluent in “speed talk” since we grew up under his tutelage, and we just chuckle to ourselves.  In his message, he talks about a mission trip that he led 20 years ago.  I was part of that trip, and how I cherish those memories!

After the service, I hug my dear and longtime friends.  I greet friends I grew up with and friends who were in my wedding.  I talk with my children’s pastor, who I went to school with.  I see more recent friends, who have quickly taken residence in my heart.  I identify new acquaintances as well.  I notice many fresh faces and hope to call them my friends someday too.  So many personalities, so many gifts, so many stories, so many ways that God reveals Himself to me; represented by these precious people.

“I love my tribe!” I always think to myself on a Sunday morning.  The love wells up within me, along with pride.  I love my tribe!  There are children of God all over this earth, in different denominations, different countries, varying cultures and traditions.  But I am so glad that my boundary lines have fallen here, at Life Center.  I started coming to this church in 1989, when it was meeting in the old casket factory.  My husband Chris started coming earlier than that, in 1985.  We left for a time and moved to Colorado Springs.  In the eight years we were there, we couldn’t put our roots down, no matter how hard we tried.  Now we are back in our promised land, surrounded by family.  How good it feels to watch our family tree grow tall and strong with a wide trunk and thick bark, an oak of righteousness, a planting for the display of His splendor.

september 2013 108

How glorious it feels to let our roots descend into the rich and fertile soil of Central Pennsylvania! How refreshing to drink the deep, deep waters.  How thirsty we had been for those waters!

april 2012 205

There are wonderful people of God all over the world, but this family is mine…my clan…my tribe.  I am so glad!  How I love my tribe!

Are You in Over Your Head?

beach

Are you overwhelmed?  Does your life feel impossible?  Do you feel completely inadequate and incompetent for the task before you?  Good!  You may be in just the right place…to see God do the impossible!

I am very familiar with the feeling that my life is out of control, being a mother of many children!  I don’t often get to attend special conferences at my church, but I love to listen to the CDs of them at home.  I was listening to a CD of Lesley-Anne Leighton talk about her amazing adventures as a missionary.  God would regularly do miracles for her as she stepped out in faith.  For example, she was taken into custody by Chinese authorities (China is very hostile to the Gospel of Jesus).  She was miraculously released after she started speaking to the men in Chinese…and she didn’t know how to speak Chinese!  She would do training schools all around the world to teach people to live a supernatural life like hers.  As I listened to her teaching on this CD, she said she would share with us her strategy for living such a life.  That caught my attention and I listened carefully; so much so that I remember what she said 9 years later.  Her strategy was simple; she would follow Jesus wherever he led!  This meant that she would get in over her head and watch God do the miracles on her behalf.

A new thought began to dawn in my mind.  This was a great strategy for a missionary, traveling to hostile and dangerous parts of the world.  But I knew that motherhood was a dangerous and perilous journey as well.  Mothers needed miracles just as much as missionaries did!  I knew that I needed some!  And Lesley-Anne had just told me that it was actually a good thing that I was in over my head…because that is the place where God moves!  My courage began to rise.

I had felt in over my head since my second baby showed up and didn’t get the memo from his big sister on how to sleep.  He would cry louder than I had ever heard anyone cry, and deprive me of my sleep and almost my sanity! He continued these nighttime disturbances even after I became pregnant with number three.

I had felt overwhelmed since I had three little children and a special needs baby who required many doctors’ appointments and special care.  I had no one close by to help and my husband, Chris often traveled for work, being gone for days or weeks at a time.

I  had felt overwhelmed when I had three little children, a special needs two-year old and a five-week old baby boy AND Chris and I had to pack up our home, drive cross-country (praying the whole way that I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel and kill us all!), and set up a new home in Pennsylvania.

I had felt overwhelmed since I had seven children, home schooled, and enrolled my special needs daughter in a therapy program that I was supposed to accomplish by myself, at home.  The man in charge told me that Ashlyn’s therapy program would be fairly easy, only requiring 6 hours a day.  I thought to myself, “How can I ever do that?”  Yet I wanted to try, because I wanted her to be better so badly.  I also felt that God had led me to this program for Ashlyn AND had led me to home school all the other children.

I would wake up at 5 am each morning, immediately feeling nervous about the coming day.  My mind would instantly begin to churn with all I had to accomplish and the fact that it was nearly impossible to do so.  Life felt like a test, and I would pass the test only if I could accomplish everything I my to-do list.  But almost every night I would go to bed with tasks left undone and the feeling of failure.  There were a few rare days that I finished everything and thought briefly that I had succeeded…only to look back over my day and realize that I had plowed over everything and everyone who stood in my way.  My victory was meaningless, because I did it without love, and my children suffered.

Thinking on these past failures, I would go from being nervous to panicking!!!  Lying in bed in the morning, trying to work up the courage to face my impossible day, I would pray.

“Oh, God!  I want to love my children today!  I want to do therapy with Ashlyn so she can be well!  I want to do home school with my children so they will be smart!  But I have so many other things I need to do!  I should have been up hours ago!  There is no way I can do this.  This is IMPOSSIBLE!  I am in WAY OVER MY HEAD!”

Then one day I was quiet enough to hear the Spirit’s still small voice.

This day is not a test, it is a gift!  I want you to open your eyes and see all the treasures I have hidden for you in this day.  Let me bless you in the midst of your business.  You are right, my child.  Your life is impossible.  I designed it that way.  I never intended for you to live a safe, easy, comfortable life.  I didn’t design you to merely do the possible.  I am the God of the impossible, remember!  I designed you to do the impossible through me!  I can’t fully show my glory unless the situation is Impossible.  All that I do through your life is changing eternity.  So be at rest.  Be at peace. I AM in control.

That voice changes everything for me!  It immediately tears the veil between my crazy, earthy life and the Holy of Holies.  I can step out of the temporary and step into the eternal.  I can step out of my failures and step into the finished work of Christ.  My life takes on a while new significance when I realize that the Most Holy God wants to dwell with me and do miracles through me! And what could be more miraculous than living with so many children and having perfect peace!

Now we have eight children and a ninth baby that takes a lot of time and resources – a new business!  I have so many things to do at home, and Chris has so many things to do at our sign shop.  I try to help him at the shop and he tries to help me at home, all the while being mindful of our precious children.  We are busy almost all of the time.  What little “free” time we have is not really free.  We are so selective about how we spend our time, trying fiercely to follow Jesus and no one else.  There isn’t time and energy and devotion to waste on anything less!  It is going to take a miracle to raise our children the way we should AND make our business successful. Both Chris and I are sure that we are in WAY OVER OUR HEADS!  Yet we know that Jesus led us here and through him we are doing miracles.

I am so encouraged by Mark Batterson and what he wrote in The Circle Maker.“If you’ve never been overwhelmed by the impossibility of your plans, then your God is too small.”

So are you in over your head?  If you got into this situation by following someone other than Jesus, start following him now and just see what he will do!  If it was Jesus who got you into the crazy mess called your life, let your heart take courage!  This is his specialty, doing miracles through little you!  So relax, let go, and enjoy riding on his waves of grace…and expect signs and wonders to follow you.