Fear Won’t Steal My Voice

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As a young child, I believed several lies about myself.  I felt that I was vastly inferior in certain areas such as physical appearance, social graces, coordination, athletic ability, and the ability to speak with people I didn’t know very well.  I was sure that I would be rejected, so the fear of rejection was my constant companion.  I didn’t know about “the fear of rejection”, this was just my reality.  It was just the way the world worked, and I lived and made decisions to protect myself from rejection.

In Elementary school I always got an “A ”in conduct, because I was well behaved and talked very little.  I didn’t want to do anything that would draw attention to myself. I wanted to hide or at least blend in to avoid any negative reactions.  In new situations with new people, I felt almost paralyzed by the fear.  Faced with a social situation that required small talk, my mind became absolutely blank.  I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

Fear would steal my voice.

This continued until junior high when something amazing happened.  God began to alter my path.  My first boyfriend, Jesse, invited me to his church (Word Fellowship which is now Life Center) for a youth event.  I agreed to go simply because I liked Jesse so much.  I found myself in the church gym, surrounded by the overpowering smell of fresh onions, helping to assemble hundreds of subs for the youth fundraiser.  [Here is a little fun fact: who do you think rode into the gym on a skateboard and was introduced to me as Jesse’s best friend?  None other than Chris Brandenburg!  Of course I was too shy to really talk to him at that point.]

This youth fundraiser was also an overnight event complete with food and fun games.  Jesse was very outgoing and knew everyone at the church.  He also loved the game of bombardment, which is similar to dodge ball.  The thought of participating in anything that would expose my physical awkwardness was terrifying to me.  I was hoping that Jesse would sacrifice his love for the game to stay with me.  But he didn’t.  He left me in the youth room while he returned to the gym.

I found a chair to sit in and felt completely alone.  The fear of rejection had me so paralyzed that I didn’t move from that spot for what seemed like hours.  Other students came and went, some sitting close to me to carry on a conversation.  But not a single person spoke to me.  I didn’t move or even look at them.  I tried to become invisible and wished I had never come.

Yet when Jesse invited me to come to a Wednesday night youth service, I found myself saying, “I’ll be there.”  I showed up that Wednesday night, but I still felt very uncomfortable.  A ray of sunshine by the name of Patty Leach (wife of the youth pastor) shone on me.  She said with a big smile on her lovely face, “So you are Anne?  You are a lot prettier than Jesse’s last guest.” [Disclaimer: Jesse’s last guest was a boy so this was not really an insult to say that he wasn’t pretty.]

Just the fact that someone had spoken to me and called me pretty was very encouraging!  I continued to come for a few months and felt confused by this charismatic church culture.  It was all new and strange.

One wintery Wednesday night changed everything for me – forever!  There was a guest speaker who I had never seen before.  At the end of his sermon, he asked us to come up to the front if we wanted prayer.  I found myself standing in the front with a whole crowd of other teenagers.  I don’t know how I got there, as usually fear would have me rooted to my seat.  He began to pray for the students and they seemed really impacted. A few of them started to cry.

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

Sure enough, he knew.  The youth pastor, John Leach, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and asked if I wanted to be saved.  The truth was, I didn’t know what “saved” meant and had never heard the “sinner’s prayer.”  But I said yes, and repeated the prayer after John.  I hadn’t been looking for God.  I didn’t believe in Him or felt that I needed Him.  Yet He burst into my heart anyway.  I felt Him and I felt His amazing love for me.  The scales fell off of my eyes and the world seemed entirely new to me.

This was the beginning of my freedom from fear!  It didn’t happen overnight.  I came each Wednesday night to youth group which was called Heirborne, but I still hadn’t made many friends.  It seemed that everyone else was a part of the group but me.  I was a silent observer most of the time.  One night I went home feeling the sting of rejection.  No one had been mean to me, but I felt like such an outsider.

“I can’t continue to do this to myself, this is torture.” I reasoned.  I would just have to tell Jesse that this church thing wasn’t really for me.  I was very serious about never returning to Heirborne again.

I never did have that conversation with Jesse. I was probably just too shy.  I found myself at youth group each Wednesday and gradually I made friends.  Slowly I learned that small talk wasn’t brain surgery.  Slowly I began to feel like I belonged there.

Sometime during my high school years, John’s brother Bryan took over as youth pastor.  He had a crazy idea; the youth should help to lead Heirborne.  He chose a group of us and called us the SALT team (Student Action Leadership Team).  Just the fact that Bryan had chosen me sent me an important message.  I had value.  I didn’t have to be like anyone else.  I could be myself, and I could be an important member of the team.  Bryan and his wife Marcey helped me to realize my worth.

We would meet once a week to pray and plan the next youth meeting.  We would take turns being responsible for different parts of the service – offering, announcements, and the teaching.  We would brainstorm wild ideas for skits or fun games that would illustrate the main point of the teaching.  I found myself up front speaking, teaching, or even dressed in crazy costumes doing ridiculous skits.  Talk about being out of my comfort zone!

Just the fact that I was able to get up in front of a group of people and talk was MIRACULOUS!

Once I was chosen to portray a “party girl” in a skit.  It was supposed to be a game show that had many different types of people answering the questions.  I would have never chosen this character for myself, being just the opposite of a “party girl.”  Yet I was determined to do the best job that I could.  I wore the closest thing to a mini skirt that I owned (which really was practically down to my knees).  A friend teased my hair until it was perfect 80s “big hair”.  I got out there with all the other crazy characters and acted as loud and obnoxious as I could, yelling out about wanting a case of “Red Bull.”

I felt absolutely ridiculous, yet there was no fear!  I wasn’t worried about being rejected by the other teens at youth that night.  I was just having fun and hoping that I could help the other teens have fun, feel a part of the group, and learn about God.  I stopped thinking about myself and began to want to be a blessing to others.  Fear became less and less a part of my life as I graduated High School and did missions with Youth With A Mission.  Preaching in front of others and meeting new people from all over the world became exhilarating.

I came back from YWAM and married that kid on the skateboard, Chris Brandenburg.  After a year of working and being youth leaders, we moved to Colorado Springs. We became part of a small church, but after 7 years I experienced the biggest rejection of my life.

I had always dealt with the FEAR of rejection but now what I had dreaded had come upon me.  The church (which was comprised of our leaders, closest friends, and spiritual family – almost our ENTIRE support network there in Colorado), kicked us out.  The main leader, Mary, told Chris that we could no longer be part of the church because of MY iniquities.  She said that I was interfering with their prayers.  She said I was holding Chris back from his destiny and that I was not the woman that God had wanted him to marry.  She said that I would one day leave him.  Once that happened, Chris could return to the church. Imagine hearing these words from someone you honored and respected as your leader.  I honored and respected Mary, but I also feared her. Mary had spoken harsh words to me before.  I had tried my best to follow God, yet she was always able to find something about me to criticize.  I remember thinking, “I will never be free until Mary dies.”  Isn’t that horrible?

Thankfully Mary didn’t have to die for me to be free from fear.  She just had to reject me, and God began to set me free!

I sought God like never before and do you know what I realized?

All of His words to me were good!

He loved me, more that I could take in or comprehend!

He delighted in me and actually liked me!

He gave me so much joy, more than I had ever had before!

He began to show me that the church that had rejected me did not have His heart.  Rather, they were working for the Accuser of the Brethren.  I am sure that the enemy of my soul, that dirty rotten liar of an accuser had a plan that he thought was fool proof.  He would link my heart and my identity to this little church and then turn them against me.  I would finally suffer the dreaded REJECTION and receive a mortal wound that would fester until the bitterness had consumed me.

BUT GOD…

GOD came down and saved me and filled me with His acceptance.  He loved me no matter what I had done right or wrong.  He loved me whether I had accomplished anything important or not.  Because of Him, I had a value that nothing could ever take away.

I had come face to face with my greatest fear.

I had met REJECTION and stared into its ugly, contorted face and you know what…it wasn’t so bad.

In fact, I actually felt honored that a church that had fallen so far from the Amazing Grace of God had rejected me. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the type of person that they would have accepted – one that feared men more than God.  It was a compliment that The Accuser had felt that I was enough of a threat to come after me like that.

Now I look back at that rejection and feel that it was one of the biggest blessings in my life!  I learned so much about God and about myself, and I was set free from that cult.  Of course I had a lot of healing to do, a lot of wrong teachings to unlearn.

Again, Life Center played a big role in my freedom from fear.  A year after that big rejection, Life Center offered Chris a job and helped to move us back to PA.  The atmosphere of love and acceptance at that wonderful church was just what we needed to heal.

I would love to say that now I never feel fear, that I boldly go speaking the Words of God wherever I go.  That is not the case.  Fear, specifically fear of rejection, is still my biggest hurdle to overcome before doing anything out of my normal routine.  Something as simple as making a phone call, walking across the street to talk to a neighbor, initiating a conversation with a stranger, or speaking in front of a group can bring on a flurry of anxious thoughts.  I would rather stay in my safe zone and never have to risk rejection again.  But now, it is usually very easy to silence those thoughts.  I simply stop thinking about myself and ask God to make me a blessing to whoever I am going to encounter.

Speaking at the Propel meeting was just an example of this.  I have enjoyed attending the monthly Propel meetings over the last year.  I have sat in the audience and looked up on stage at the many beautiful women and have been touched by their amazing stories.  Yet, I would think to myself, “I would never want to sit up there with them where everyone could see me and realize that I am not as pretty as the others.”

When Patty called me last week to ask if I would share at the February meeting, immediately that fearful thought flashed through my mind.  I heard myself saying, “Yes, I can be there,” because there was a much more dominating thought.  That thought was, “I know that God has put something inside of me that could be a blessing to the other women…

 and I don’t want fear to steal my voice again!”

Fear tried to silence my voice.  But in God I have found my voice.  Many times when I talk to a group or one on one – I can feel God speaking through me.  I feel lies being broken.  I feel atmospheres shifting.  I feel hope rising.  I feel peace coming down and settling.  When I am in tune with Christ, THERE IS POWER in my voice!  Yet many times I must chose to overcome fear before I am able to open my mouth.

Fear feels to me like Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  In 2 Cor 12:8-10 he says, “Three times I pleaded with the LORD to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

There is also power in my written words.  Power to crack open strongholds.  Power to impart wisdom.  Power to lead others to God.  I have loved exploring the power of my written words with this blog.  There is a certain amount of fear involved with telling your inner most thoughts to the world.  But I am not trying to make myself look perfect to avoid rejection.  In fact, most of my articles are about my weaknesses, my insecurities, my mistakes, and my failures. That is where I find His Grace.  That is where my real power lies – in my imperfection.  For when I am weak…

Then God shows Himself Strong!

Areli’s Adventure in Australia

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The team threw a surprise party for Gillian

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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.

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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.

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Areli and her new friend Alexia

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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!

Explosion!

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

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                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.

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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!

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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!

Our Love Story is My Favorite!

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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.

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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?”

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!