I prayed the wrong prayer

I’ve had missions on my mind heart and mind so much lately as sign-up deadlines approach.  In the post, An honest look at missions, I divulged some of the fears I’ve felt this year about returning to the global mission field.  In, The day I touched fear, I explored more deeply what those fears look like from the inside out.

Today, it’s a totally different story.  Just when I thought things were beginning to settle down in my mind, God had something unexpected prepared for last Thursday.

It began on Wednesday night.  We were at church for dinner before nightly activities began.  Serving the salad bar was a man I highly respect and admire (though I am not sure he knows it).  His and his wife have dedicated their retirement years to taking their grandchildren, one by one, on mission.  It is their gift to them.  I had never heard of this, but now, Lord willing, Bruce and I would love to do the same thing one day.  So my dear friend, Kermit, said Hello – always with a smile – when he saw me approach.  Hi Kermit!  I replied cheerfully, always happy to see him.

When I see him I think of one thing…Kenya.  He and his wife were part of our team in 2011 that went on mission to Kenya.  Let me just tell you that this man was incredible throughout the entire journey.  He never uttered a complaint, never said No, never looked tired, nothing!  He trucked on every day with whatever the agenda was.  Our team leaders, Don and Pat, also grandparents, as well as Kermit’s wife, Kay, were exactly the same way.  They have no idea how much I watched them work through every unexpected trial and celebrate every great moment.  Kenya was my first global mission trip as well as the first time I had ever left the States.  I was wide-eyed at the whole thing and loved every surreal moment.

Kermit was a mentor to me on that trip whether he realized it or not.  Whether it was sawing wood at an orphanage, washing feet at a children’s school on the side of the mountain, digging trenches for a foundation, or harvesting corn for an orphanage, his attitude was always an enthusiastic Yes.  At any given time you could find him quietly working – never for accolades, never bringing attention to himself.  He simply did what he came to do – serve.  And serve with a joyful heart he did.

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 194

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 195

He and his wife brought one of their grandsons with them who was graduating high school and wants to go into medicine.  He was able to observe surgeries at the only hospital in the entire area servicing 850,000 people.  So in addition to tireless efforts of physical work and long van rides across unbelievable bumpy roads, Kermit and Kay spent quality time with their grandson in the evenings encouraging him in his passion for medicine.

You can see why I am so taken back with them.  Role models.  Inspirational.

A few Sundays ago, when I was really struggling with feelings of fear of going on global mission, I stood with the congregation at church while everyone sang – but me.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I could not utter a word.  I was overwhlemed with emotion because in the choir stood men (including Kermit) and women who have been on mission all over the world, and yet they were able to stand and smile while singing Chris Tomlin’s song Whom Shall I Fear…

You hear me when I call, You are my morning song, Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light…

Whom shall I fear?

You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet, You are my Sword and Shield, Though trouble lingers still…

Whom shall I fear?

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side.  The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

My strength is in Your name, For You alone can save, You will deliver me, Yours is the victory

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side.  The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

Whom shall I fear?  Whom shall I fear?

And nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in your hands, I’m holding onto Your promises, You are faithful, You are faithful, You are faithful

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

The God of angel armies is always by my side.

(Read more: CHRIS TOMLIN – WHOM SHALL I FEAR (GOD OF ANGEL ARMIES) LYRICS)

 It has been people I know who have inspired me the most to take our family on mission.  Celebrities make headlines and win humanitarian awards, but far and away it is people who quietly go about the Lord’s business, sacrificing their hard-earned money and vacation time, who I look at and think, Maybe I can do it, too.

With that thought, an unexpected conversation came up between my husband and me.  I was sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot with the bright morning sun beaming into the van last Thursday.  I called him to briefly chat about missions.  We’ve been so upside down and inside out about it that we seem to talk in circles.  Frustrating.

I told him that I felt a new passion to go back to Ukraine.  As for Kenya, that is still undecided.  I heard myself say to him with confidence and certainty, I’m going to Ukraine.  He basically said, Okay, but I’m not sure what I’m doing.

After the phone call, I sat silent in the van.  Something didn’t seem right.  Why wasn’t I excited that half of my decision for this year’s missions had been finally – at long last – decided?  I should’ve felt relieved, joyful and sure.  Instead, I felt very anti-climatic about the whole thing.

God spoke to me in the van and said, Why is this only about you?  Are you not half of a whole?

Immediately, my heart understood.

To know me is to know I’ve struggled my entire adult life trying to live a life of biblical submission to my husband.  It’s not how I was raised, as my biological father and step father both left my life at early ages.  I grew to be a headstrong, independent and self-reliant woman.  Partially out of mistrust of men, and partially because I never wanted to be hurt again and believed people will only let you down – especially those who are supposed to have your back.

I have such a stubborn, independent streak in me it is nearly impossible to ever ask for help of any kind from anyone.  It’s not a control thing.  It’s an I’m going to end up having to do it anyway so why go through the grueling process of involving others because they are only going to let me down thing.

So, without me even realizing it, missions had become yet another area where I took the ball and ran.  Rather than looking at these opportunities with my heart toward my husband, I was peering through the glasses of practicality and reasonability.

I had been praying the wrong prayer of God, where do You want to send me?  Instead of, God where do you want to send us?

I didn’t even realize I had morphed my independent nature into missions!  Bruce and I are different people with different passions.  But, we are two halves of a whole.  When we made a covenant oath at the altar almost 23 years ago, we were joined into one flesh.

Leaving consideration for him out of my prayer was selfish.  And it was the feeling of, I got my way, that I felt in the van that left me celebrating alone.

Despite my good intentions of doing God’s kingdom work here on earth, my carnal nature creeped into my thoughts.  Here’s why…the first two mission trips were very scary for me.  I am not a seasoned world traveler.  I am not bilingual.  I am not proficient in cultural differences around the world compared to my own – other than the obvious ones.

It was all of these I’m nots that kept me from feeling qualified or invited to go on mission for my entire life until now.  Fast forward – jumped those hurdles, but it still took more courage than I could muster up to commit, particularly because these mission trips involved taking our children which I take very seriously.  I needed Bruce to make the final call.  As the leader of our home, I needed him to say yes or no.  So for both trips, I passed the baton to him to decide.

This year, however, it felt very different for me.  I’ve been to both places, so there aren’t near as many unknowns.  I also understand more what is expected from me from the team.  I simply feel more prepared than before – as much as it is possible to feel.

Enter my stubborn independence.

I was ready to possibly take an entirely different mission trip from my husband, without ever hearing his final point-of-view…and God let me feel every last ounce of that loneliness.

There is a time and season for everything, and I am sure there will come a time when we do participate in different mission trips, but neither one of believe that time has come yet.  It was out of sheer self-reliance that I went ahead and told him what I was going to do.  Hmm.  Then God brought to mind our crazy life.  Between work, kids, and all of our commitments, we have to scratch and claw for anytime together.  It could always be worse, but it’s not ideal.  We know this is a season of life, and all too soon our house will be deafeningly quiet and I will mourn for the wonderful chaos that greets me in the morning and tucks me in at night.

Given that, why would I not bat an eye at the possibility of spending weeks apart?  I believed my own lie of being too independent.  God brought to mind my biological father and his wife.  You’ve never seen a closer couple.  They were best friends.  Inseparable.  Loving.  Considerate.  Two halves that made a beautiful whole.

I want that.

Watching her care for him in his last days, the intimacy they shared – the eye contact, touch, whispers, – was the result of many years of building a marriage that was committed.  Resolute.  I used to think it was a little over the top that they always had to sit together, go places together, etc.  Now that he is gone, I see that they were intentional about making the most of their time together.  There were their own persons, yes, but they never forgot they were two halves of a whole.

After pondering all of this, still sitting in the parking lot, I texted Bruce.  This is what I wrote, Hi Honey, I wanted to tell you that after giving it a lot of thought, I would rather go with you on mission to wherever than without you on mission to wherever.  I often think about Ray and Gail and their relationship.  They were inseparable.  They were best friends and did everything together.  I would like to see that for us in missions, so I concede to wherever it is you want to go just as long as we can be together or unless God says differently.  We are one flesh, one team, and I don’t want to break up the team.  Think about it and let me know.  I love you.

That text was surprisingly freeing for me!  I felt like my heart was finally in a place of peace.  Funny, the first two years I needed him to make the decision as to where to go. This year, I asked him to.  I may have felt my inner wild horse buck and kick, but my heart knew that missions isn’t one more thing I want to lead us on different paths.

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine (who went to Ukraine with us last year) asked me if we were going to sign-up for it this year.  With a calm, peaceful smile I was able to genuinely reply, I’m waiting on Bruce to make that call…and if so, I’m leaving it up to him to sign up us.

That, friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit because the independent woman writing this would normally take matters into her own hands.

She smiled at me and said, Oh, you’re working on the “s” word, huh?  I laughed because I knew what word she meant – submission.   Indeed I am.  Waiting for Bruce to write our names down is very important to me for whatever reason.  I suppose it shows his iniative after much prayer and discussion, though I haven’t told him this is my wish.

Last night, before we left to watch the Superbowl with some friends, Bruce casually told me as we gathered coats and a chocolate cake,  Oh by the way, earlier today I put our names down for Ukraine.

His words stopped me in my tracks in the middle of the kitchen.  Later, I circled back with him and inquired.  He agreed that this is the only option for our family to go on mission all together.  He feels a peace about it and we are all excited.  God knew my secret wish for Bruce to write our names down on any of the trips we take this year, and He directed Bruce to do so out of loving consideration for me.  God is the good God and knows our secret thoughts.  Incredible.

So, one decision down and one to go – Kenya.  God has given us much peace that this decision will come in His timing, not ours.  So be it.  For now, I look forward to going back to people we fell in love with in Eastern Europe; to work with a team we greatly admire; we get to take all of our kids; and…most of all…Bruce and I have the blessing of going on mission together.

God is good.  Actually, He is amazing!  Every year, the decisions we have made about missions have been completely unique to the trip.  This year is no different.  God’s ways are not our ways, and His timing certainly doesn’t hold itself to our society’s demand for instant information, but His ways are best.  Had He given us the answer early on, I would have missed a teachable moment to see that in this process, Bruce and I walked dangerously close to the line of separating our longitude and latitude, once again, for the good of the cause.  We do enough of that in our daily lives.

When the time comes to travel separately for missions, God will give us a peace about that and we will perfectly okay with it.  For now, I write to testify that Philippians 4:6-7 really works in and through all things – even with a strong-willed, autonomous person like myself. 😉

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Today, and on mission, I won’t forget I am half of a whole.  Colossians 3:15 reminds us – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Thankful, indeed.

The day I touched fear

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 193It was a hot, sunny day on the west coast of Florida.  I was with my husband and his family visiting his younger brother in college.  Beach-dwellers that we are, we embarked on a day of sun, sand and water.

I stood at the tide line and gazed out at the watery horizon.  We were planning to snorkel, not something I’m crazy about doing.  There just seems something really unnatural about breathing through a tube underwater.  I usually wind up semi-hyperventilating because I am unable to regulate my breathing.  I imagine all kinds of what-if scenarios:  a drop of water spilling into the snorkel causing my airway to close, a wave engulfing my snorkel with the same result, etc.  Let’s just say it, I don’t like to snorkel, but was willing to be a good sport and go along with the family plan.

A long, thick, dark line rippled in the water.  Squinting, I saw it was a large band of seaweed that stretched across the water in both directions as far as I could see.  To make matters worse, the seaweed began The Deep.  You know, where the tidal shelf drops into oblivion and  creatures of the sea play in their playground.

I love, love, love the sea and all that is in it.  From sharks to angler fish to sea urchins, I will never stop getting a kick out of God’s creativity, imagination and ingenuity that is so proudly displayed in the creatures of the sea.  But, I also know humans weren’t meant to live in it, and thus we enter their territory. I fully respect that it is their home and not mine.

Splashing around in shallow water is one thing.  Venturing into the deep, dark unknown is another.  I swallowed hard and felt my stomach turn.  I reasoned that as long as I didn’t touch the seaweed, I would be in the safer, shallow water.

Got it.  The seaweed is my marker.  It was the beginning of The Deep.  I will tolerate snorkeling as long as I don’t touch a thread of the nasty stuff.

Bruce, his brother and I waded out into waist-high water, fighting against the crashing waves and stubborn under toe.  They both dipped headfirst into the water with only the tips of their snorkels spouting up in the air and an occasional flipper kicking behind them.

My turn.

I took a deep breath then practiced a few normal breaths through the snorkel.  My chest was already heaving.

Just go already, I said to myself, not wanting to fall behind.

I leaned forward and fell face-first into the murky water.  Phase 1 complete.

I began to kick my flippers, swimming parallel to the beach as the current tried to pull me toward the shore.

Don’t touch the seaweed, Kristi.  Whatever you do, don’t touch the seaweed! I reminded myself over and over.  I didn’t want to be anywhere near the abyss that housed mysterious creatures lurking who knows how closely by.  Florida, after all, is home to some of the largest shark populations in the world.  Love them!!!!  But, I don’t need a close encounter with them unless its through a cage.

I tried to follow the shadowy figures of my husband and brother-in-law.  It was really hard to see in the water thick as pea soup.

All of a sudden, you guessed it, I felt the seaweed.  It brushed up against my left arm, then my left leg.  It tickled my stomach, and longer strands grazed my hair.

Before I knew it, I was completely tangled up in the mess of it!  It was all over me as if I were a small fly caught in an enormous spider web.  The more I struggled to break free, the worse it got.

Couple this moment with the fact that I’m definitely hyperventilating through the dumb snorkel and I can only imagine the show I must have given the sun worshipers on the sandy beach.  I probably looked like I was wrestling an alligator (which have been known to make an appearance!).

My body was flailing horizontally on the water’s surface as I struggled to remain clam.  Nope.  I was too far gone for that.  My lungs grew hot as I held my breath, not wanting any water to fill my snorkel, and my arms and legs were utterly caught in the disgusting seaweed.  I could no longer see my husband or brother-in-law and knew I had been separated from them.  I was in big trouble.  I had been pulled into the seaweed by the current and was in The Deep – alone.

Just don’t try to stand up, Kristi.  Then you’ll know how really deep you are and that will make matters worse, I counciled myself.

No such luck.  The will of self-preservation kicked in and I shot out of the water like a rocket, breathing a huge, obnoxious gulp of air with eyes bulging and body shaking.

To my surprise, and embarrassment, I nearly tackled my poor brother-in-law!  He was only about a foot in front of me, and I landed right in his face.  He had turned toward me in the same moment I sailed through the air like a swordfish with a sheer look of horror on my face.

When I landed, my feet plunged into the sand much sooner than I expected to in The Deep.

Well, that is because I wasn’t actually in The Deep.  I stood up and realized the water was barely to my waist.  There I stood, with seaweed draped on me like a swamp monster, heaving, snorkel floating nearby in the water, trembling with mouth agape at the whole escapade.

He looked with shock and bewilderment at the scene I had created.

I quickly gathered my composure (on the outside), gave a sheepish smile and apologized for my weird behavior and told him I was fine.

He gave me an Okay, but I don’t really believe you, you crazy woman glance, then turned around and continued snorkeling.

I, however, could only stand there and process what had happened.  I looked again at the band of seaweed, and from where I was standing in the water, it wasn’t drifting as far out to sea as it looked like from the shore.  Nor could I judge how deep the water was with sand in between my toes.

We were, in fact, a safe distance from The Deep.  Everything changed when I saw it from a different longitude and latitude.  Boy did I feel ridiculous!

That experience has never left me – nor the lesson it taught me.

I learned that fear is powerful.  Very powerful.  It can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically.  Fear of the unknown allows much room for us to fill in the blanks with worst-case scenarios.

What began as a fun day at the beach with my extended family turned into, in my mind, a life-or-death situation where I was being pulled out to sea and straight into the mouth of something much larger and stronger than me.

There were multiple layers of fear that day.  Fear of being separated from my family.  Fear of being alone.  Fear of not being able to control the situation.  Fear of what may have its eye on me.  Fear of just how deep the trouble I was in – way over my head.  Fear of not being able to breathe.  Fear of being helpless and being beyond help.  And fear that this horrible moment will never, ever end!

Were any of those fears real?  Well, some – to a point.

If I had been separated from my family, I guess I believed I would have been lost forever.  This stems from abandonment issues – 20 years later I am still working on courtesy of childhood scars.  The truth is, my family wouldn’t have left the beach without me.  They would have, at some point, noticed I was gone, and felt like I was worthy enough to come find me.

I don’t know many people who like being alone lonely.  Let me clarify that.  I love being alone, but have a very hard time handling loneliness   I had that in spades growing up, and if I never feel lonely again it would be too soon.  I thoroughly enjoy time by myself, but that’s not the same as being lonely.  Being lost in the ocean would have been the bad kind of being alone, but again, I didn’t believe at the time that I was worth searching for.  Enter lonely and afraid.

Fear of a lack of control.  Please raise your hand if you struggle with this, too!  Don’t we all want to be the captain of our ship in some way?  It’s our carnal nature to turn our compass in the direction we want to go.  And, if we could control the weather, the water, the sun and the moon so as to plan our trip, well, that would be even better.  In the moment of sheer panic in the ocean that day, trusting God for my safety was the last thing on my mind.  Was He not watching?  Seeing?  Still sovereign on His throne? (Psalm 121)  Does He not care for us all of the time? (Matthew 6:25-34)

And yes, anytime we venture into a world where we are the minority, the foreigner, there is risk.  Listen to survivors tell their stories of being lost in the Amazon, on the African plains, in ice caverns, etc.  When we are in these places – we play by the rules of nature there.  Sure, there could have been something in the water, but again, I had total amnesia as to God’s hand of protection or His plans for my life.  Even if I had been attacked by a shark, could God still not find a way to use it for my good and His glory?  He can…with our cooperation.

Sometimes we get into trouble over our head either by choice or by default.  I had lost sight of God as Rescuer either by the hand of a loved one or stranger, or any other creative means He may choose to save me.  I believed the situation was bigger than me and God.  That is wrong.  Lots of things are bigger than me, but nothing is bigger than God.  I never asked Him to save me.  That makes me sad.  He is my Good Father and I forgot to call on Him when I needed help.

Life feels suffocating sometimes.  We feel helpless.  This is a recipe for panic and anxiety.  God is God of peace and order.  He controls all, all the time.  Nothing happens to us that hasn’t passed through His hands first.  He can never be surprised, shocked or unprepared for what life may bring. We can be blindsided.  He never closes His eyes.  When we are at our worst, weakest and most helpless, He is our superhero, our Savior.

Ah.  The last fear – that the moment will never end.  That was a low blow from the enemy.  Nothing on this earth will last forever.  No, I take that back.  There are two things – God’s Word and our decision as to where to spend eternity.  Everything else will fade away (Matthew 24:35).  Everything.  When we are caught in a moment that feels like a downward spiral pulling us further from the oxygen we need so badly to get through a tough situation, it is easy to merely see the darkness enveloping around us.  But, broaden our lens and we see that even darkness is as light to God.  Nothing is hidden from Him (Psalm 139:12).

I’ve been thinking about this experience lately in regards to missions.  I’ve let fear take me hostage on a runaway train of imagination and exaggeration and have felt every fear that I did at the beach that day.  There are risks to missions, but there is risk walking to our mailbox, driving to work, and anything we do.  Anything.  When deciding what to do about missions this year, it would behoove us to deliberately, intentionally, boot fear to the curb.  It has no place in God’s calling.

What are you fearful about?  Have any big decisions weighing on you?

I think God understands we feel fear because He remembers we are made of dust (Psalm 103:13-14).  We aren’t superhuman like He is.  But, when we choose to see things from His longitude and latitude (a heavenly perspective, I might add), we are reminded of just how much He loves us and never takes His eyes off of us (Psalm 17:8).  And, the more we turn from our natural instinct to fear and choose to think like Him, the more we can see His divine plan at work in our lives.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2

Whether heading out for a fun day at the beach, or stepping out in faith on mission, there is one Truth that remains – and it is enough for all who call on Christ as Savior…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9

Dear Lord, lead on.  Amen.

An honest look at missions

I’m wrestling against an enemy I cannot see.  Right now, our family is making some difficult decisions regarding missions for this year.  As I sat at the dinner table last night, a raw thought spilled out of my mouth.

This used to be fun, I said resting my fork on the table and blankly staring out the window.

You know, the mission decision.  It was exciting.  Adventurous.  A radical move of following God where He leads.  Now, I am so twisted up in knots I can’t think straight.

My children looked at me in bewilderment.  This wasn’t their fearless mother who encourages, instructs and motivates her children to say YES! to God before we know the question.

I hesitate to write any further in the event I come off sounding like a whiny, spoiled American.  The fact is, I have nothing to complain about on a global spectrum of needs.  I feel guilty for even writing this post because I have no room to complain compared to the billions of other people who share this planet.

But, I am also human.  Finite.  Flawed.  I have weaknesses I cannot deny, and it’s those weaknesses that want to keep me from leaving my nest.  I have feelings.  I have emotions.  Sometimes when thinking about missions I wonder how much my heart can take when I see the most basic of needs or witness the power-hungry, cruelty of humanity.

I am a woman who has been on 2 different mission trips to very different parts of the world – Africa and eastern Europe.  On each trip, I’ve never felt so alive.  So…New Testament, if you will.  I’ve never in my life cast everything aside to follow God and trust Him for every step.  It was blind faith like I’ve never had before.  It was perfect peace that is ridiculous to the world’s ears.  So, why aren’t I dragging out our bags and grabbing our passports this year?

I will be completely honest and tell you it is fear.

You see, when I went on those trips, I had no idea what to expect.  The trips were going to be what they were, and I was perfectly fine with that because I didn’t know any differently.  I lived moment-to-moment in each continent and abandoned all of my plans, agenda, requirements, everything.  I fully immersed myself in the culture and in God’s leadership.

However, when we returned from Kenya two summers ago, a tsunami-sized wave of what if scenarios hit me hard and brought me to my knees.

My eyes were no longer blind to what could happen on a mission trip, or simply traveling overseas by myself or with our children.  I know it was the enemy that tried hard to steal my joy of all that God did on that mission trip, and I felt powerless to stop him because what could I say?  God never promised safe passage, only that we’d never be alone in it.

There were times when we were completely relying on God to help us – like when we arrived in Nairobi and customs took far longer than we thought.  The driver who was to pick us up at the airport, when the clock finally struck midnight and the airport was closing, wasn’t there.

I thought, That’s okay.  Our leaders have this under control.  I’ll just wait with the kids and our luggage until something works out.

On a warm summer afternoon, as we drove back from visiting a school totally off the grid, rain began to fall.  The water mixed with the powdery dust and made the roads as slippery as ice.  Our van slid and skid and we hung on tight as I looked out the window to see deep trenches on either side of our van.  I simply hung on, smiling, knowing everything would be alright.

When our oldest son fell at an orphanage and suffered a severe, and I mean severe, concussion, we did all we could for him without the availability of any proper means for exam or treatment.  In fact, the next day we had to travel hours to another school, which proved to be the worst roads I’ve ever been on.  We were literally thrown out of our seats for the hours-long ride.  Not at all what a concussion patient needs to rest and mend.  However, choices were limited and we trusted God with our son’s health – in addition to pain relievers and waking him up every two hours and doing all we cold to keep him comfortable.

Even on the safari we had the privilege to take after our mission work was done proved to make the hair stand up on my neck.  At one point, our Land Rover got lodged on a large boulder on an incline up a mountain.  If that wasn’t nerve-racking enough, there happened to be two Cape Buffalo on either side of our vehicle, so close we cold touch them.  Our driver was out of cell phone reach and we were stuck.  That was one moment when I truly felt like I was going to have a panic attack as our vehicle had no windows or roof.  We wound up having to back off the boulder, going straight down the mountain backwards.  Oh my soul.

Upon our arrival back in the States, something in the water the ONE TIME my husband and I consumed it via ice on the plane made us so sick we wanted to die.  We broke our family’s 8-year streak of not throwing up.  Friends had to come take our kids to their homes so Bruce and I could just lie there and not talk or move or anything for days.  It was wicked.

I could go on and tell of the times that I felt vulnerable and completely out of my element…but it was awesome.  When I was at my weakest, God was at His strongest. Never have I needed to rely on Him more.

I could tell you how much I learned from the loving Kenyan people that contentment is a state of mind, not a tangible luxury.  They blew me away with how happy they were in the midst of suffering, gentle in the face of hardship, at peace in the midst of crisis.

I could tell you about a little girl, 5 or 6 years old, who lost her leg in a fire and dragged her little body on her stomach every week from her house to church – by herself.  The church, using scrap lumber from a donation to build a small, plywood structure, constructed a crutch for her, and how team members with us made some phone calls and lo and behold a pediatric prosthetic surgeon was going to be making her first-ever visit to this region and with donations from our church this precious little girl now has a prosthetic leg and runs and plays with the rest of her friends for the first time.  Her mom, a former prostitute, was so overwhelmed by the love of the church that she gave her life to Christ and has begun an honorable career to provide for them both.

I could tell you about the wonderful man who runs a dearly loved orphanage with children that we fell in love with so much our hearts nearly burst.  He has dedicated his life to providing for these children, when he himself lost his oldest son in a piki piki (motorcycle) accident last summer.  Yet, he continues to serve these precious little ones who are so full of promise if only they would be given a chance.

I met a boy at this orphanage who is so brilliantly smart, will he ever have an opportunity to change the world?

Our daughter fell head over heals in love with a little girl at this orphanage and the two became inseparable.  A photo of the two of them hangs on the wall of her bedroom still today.

The worship, the joy and the trust these Kenyans have in God is breathtaking.

In Ukraine this past summer, we met some of the most inspiring young people I’ve ever seen.  They are a new generation whose hope is in God of the possible.  They welcomed us as family from the first greeting, and clung to us in sorrowful tears when we left.  They are unlike any group of teens I know.  They have committed themselves to the leadership of their church.

Working with them was such an honor!  They don’t know the word impossible, and have a pure faith in Jesus that is hard to find in the States.  A few boys and girls befriended me and I carry them in my heart still today.

One young boys’ dream is to come to the States so he can be healed of his crippling disease and deaf ears.  His heart is so tender and smile so big, he captivated me with his gentle spirit and quiet determination to be involved in what everyone was doing with us.

However, the remnants of Soviet control are everywhere – and it was daunting.  The search light towers, barbed wire, and antiquated barracks of military and political oppression were merely feet from us and proved to be an ominous presence for a woman like myself who has never been more grateful for her freedom in the United States.

I also had one of the worst sinus infections I’ve ever experienced the day we were to return home.  Flying with a 101.5 fever and climbing, a head so stopped up I could hardly hear and definitely couldn’t breathe well, it took everything in me to step on the plane. The first leg of the flight was 10 hours, then an overnight stay and connecting flight.  I tried to count the hours until I could get to a doctor, as well as muster the courage to get on the second flight.

But for the time being, I had to succumb to the fact that I would be airborne for 10 hours with this horribly severe sinus infection. I wanted to just let the luggage fall off my shoulders and let my body fall into a heap in the middle of the airport.  I wanted to cry. But, I had to keep moving.

On both missions, the good outweighed the bad for sure.  But here I sit with some big decisions to make with my husband.  Dynamics are different this year.  We are confused. I can’t hear clearly because of the what-ifs taunting me.

It would be so easy, so comfortable, to just say no this year.  We have a full life right here, and most days we feel we are hanging on by our fingernails.  We wonder if it’s too much to ask of our children again.  Perhaps some will stay home?  Perhaps not.  Bruce’s work is a demanding job, and he enjoys it very much.  But, it consumes a lot of his time and as a wife I worry about balance in his life.  Can he handle missions this summer, or will it be too taxing on him mentally, physically or emotionally?  I get concerned about my own health, as since traveling overseas I’ve realized my ankles blow up like balloons and am not sure how bad or not this is for me.  I wear compression hose, but still…  Also, our typhoid shots expire soon and we may need new ones.  Will this be the time one of us has a reaction to the vaccine?  Will the fundraising come in as I honor my husband’s (and children’s) requests (which is also my heart’s desire) to stay home for this season of life as wife and mother and we live on one income?  Will international travel go okay this go round?  Will more injuries occur?  Will more illness break out?

So many questions burden my heart.

The first time around, we were giddy knowing that God simply said Go.  Ignorance truly was bliss.

Now, we’re not so naive, and the knowledge I’ve gleaned about serving on short-term mission trips scares me.  There is so much that could go wrong that I never ever imagined. Now my eyes are open and I kind of wish they weren’t.

I have a whole new appreciation for Christ’s words to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.

To go or not to go isn’t about leaving my comfort zone, although I shocked myself with how uncomfortable I was feeling dirty the entire time in Africa.  I hid these feelings and they turned into shame and guilt – which discouraged my desire for missions.

I was overwhelmed the entire time we were in Ukraine regarding the language barrier.  I remember riding in a bus on the highway trying to make any sense of the billboards.  It was almost a panicky feeling that swept over me in an enormous need to simply read or hear English in the community.  Again, I was so ashamed of these negative feelings I hid them.  Stuffed them.  And the enemy is using them against me.

Perhaps some of it is a loss of control of my life on mission.  I am a team member and follow the leaders.  Here in my daily life, although Bruce is surely the head of our house, I am the site manager who oversees the house, kids, volunteering, everything that is in the scope of my job while he is as his job.

Empty hands feel odd.

I’m so okay with following an agenda bigger than myself, the loss of sleep, the different foods, etc. so what’s my problem?

I don’t like flying at all.  I must leave some creature comforts at home – and with my back that’s easier said than done.  And I’m afraid of the known and unknown.  Okay.  I said it.

I hate admitting fear because it’s admitting a lack of trust in God, and I want to trust God with everything in me.  Mark 9:22-24 sums up my heart the best.  In the words of a worried and scared father over his possessed child…

“…But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.

If you can? said Jesus.  Everything is possible for him who believes.

Immediately the boys’ father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Yes, God, I do believe…help me overcome my unbelief.

I’ve been yearning for direction and confirmation about what to do for missions this year. We feel the squeeze of time to make decisions.  I’m so tangled up in this I can’t think straight.

Oh how I wish I could just say, Yes, now what’s the question?

However, yesterday we received a letter from our Compassion daughter in Africa.  She has had such a hard life – losing her mom and dad – yet she has accomplished a nursing degree and is now working and supporting herself and her little brother.  We are so proud of her.  She’s come a long way since she became a part of our family when she was only 7 years old, living with her grandmother and brother.

In her recent letter, she told us her grandmother died and she is working in a different town than where she grew up.  She has had family and location changes.  Totally out-of-the-blue, in her letter to us she wrote, I encourage you don’t worry, for God is with you everywhere you are and He has good plans.

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I have been struggling inside over what to do about missions.  I have been beside myself and lay awake at night and mull it over and over in my head. I continue to ask God, but my thoughts drown out His voice. Our Compassion daughter’s words jumped off the page and into my heart.  Of all the letters over the last 14 years from her, it was this letter and her words at this time.  It is no coincidence.

Our Compassion daughter, who we’ve supported by paying for her food, clothing, education, etc. throughout the years in hopes that she will come to have a fulfilling life, saved by grace, provided me the wisdom I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it.  All these years I’ve been trying to bless her, and, as a fully grown woman she blessed me with Truth that I know, but cannot hear above the fear.

I was her mission ground, and her words all the way from Africa penetrated my heart and helped me believe again.

It’s with a broken heart, having seen the needs of this world God so dearly loves, and a mind submitted to God’s sovereignty, that I cannot resist Him anymore.  His love is contagious. His mercy divine.  His call undisputed.  His promise to never leave me is enough.

I will go.  Where?  I don’t know.  But I do know that my answer is Yes.

So Lord, she asks with a trusting heart and trembling hands, what is the question?

The Bake Sale Lesson

2012 8th annual samaritan's purse bake sale

Eight years ago, a gift catalog appeared in our stack of December mail.  This one was unlike any I’d ever seen.  It was from Samaritan’s Purse.  In it, gifts could be purchased for people all over the world.  However, the gifts surprised us.  No jewelry, trendy clothes or home decor items.  The catalog offered basic needs that much of the world goes without every day.  Water, dairy animals, blankets, mosquito nets, medical supplies…you name it.  Our family was instantly captivated.

Sitting at the kitchen table after school, I showed our children (then ages 4, 6, and 8) the catalog and told them they could each pick out an item.  Their three items equaled $39.  Just then, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, Make this a teachable moment.  

How? I replied.

He sort of just spilled the words out of my mouth when I asked the kids, How are you going to pay for this?

All three of them pointed their fingers at me and said, You?

Ah!  Now I understood the teachable lesson part.

If I pay for these things, then the gifts are from me.  Giving a gift has to cost you something – time, energy, or money.  So, how are you going to pay for these?

They decided on a lemonade stand.  Great!  So we mixed 2 pitchers of lemonade and a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies, set up a cardboard table and sat on the corner of our yard and waited for passers by. By the end of the afternoon, our goal of $39 was blown away with a grand total of $370!

Fast forward 7 years.

Each year the bake sale has grown as more people want to be involved.  Every year is filled with heartfelt stories, and how I wish I could write forever and tell them all. However, this year was different than any other.

We love hosting this bake sale.  And, we are extremely grateful for the whopping 29 bakers that contributed to it this year.  We are thankful for Starbucks and Great Harvest Bread Co. who generously donated to the cause.

In the early planning stages, people who visit the sale every year began to show their excitement, asking when it would be and if we needed any help.  I was home recovering from foot surgery, so I had much free time to spare while stuck on the couch so plans kept rolling on.

This sale has become such a beautiful event.  People bring their children, their dogs, and their donations, and we love serving them with a smile as 100% of their money goes to purchase items from the Samaritan’s Purse gift catalog.  Even Samaritan’s Purse calls us each year, once they receive the grand total, and chat about how the bake sale went.  God’s blessing on this sale is apparent.  But, this year there was a problem…

The problem was me.

Here at RealDeepStuff, everything written is real whether it’s deep or just stuff.  My problem was real and it is deep.

It is the main sin I struggle with on a daily basis.  Everyone has them.  Sin that seems nearly impossible to separate from who we are.  They are our weaknesses.  Chinks in the armor.  Achilles’ heel.  For me, this major player is the sin of self sufficiency.

It is a daily struggle in my prayer life, personal life, marriage, parenting, relationships with friends, work, etc.  This two-headed dragon seems to creep up everywhere.  I know the Scriptures about God must be more and we must be less and how we should rely on Him, but honestly the familiar Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, somehow became I can do all things through Christ – period!  

This year, I felt pressure to get my foot healed up (which it still isn’t) so I hit the ground running twice as fast.  After all, it’s a good event for a good cause to expand the kingdom, help others, glorify God, and teach our children it is better to give than receive.  So when the Holy Spirit reminded me that we needed to pray about the bake sale, and seek God’s will for it, I remember the moment as if it were yesterday.

I stood in my kitchen at the sink when His words came to me.  My sinful response?  Eh, it’s not really necessary, and I continued my work.

Whoa.  Why did I say that?  Easy – because I’ve put this sale together for 7 years.  It’s practically on auto-pilot.  We tweak it every year with what we learn, but planning it in general is second nature.

I actually found myself wondering what there could be to prayer about other than wanting His desired items being ordered from the catalog.

I had fallen hook, line and sinker for the enemy’s trap of self-reliance.  It’s as though I said to God, It’s okay, I got this.

How dare I leave His voice out.  It’s like throwing a birthday party and not inviting the guest of honor.  I broke His heart in that moment, and He began a teachable lesson for me this time.

Plans continued, but it seemed so flat.  Buy the correct permit – check.  Arrange for parking signs – check.  Notify a friend who is a police officer of the sale – check.  Make sure all bakers have what they need – check.  Borrow tables, cabanas, and buy cabanas – check.  Run a ton of electrical – check.  And so on and so on.  However, no one else knew this, but preparations were dry to me.  Numb.  Same ‘ol same ‘ol.  And, the bread company didn’t return my 4 calls, 2 personal visits or the 1 flyer we left with them.  I just couldn’t understand it.  They’ve partnered with us for 3 years.  What changed?  I found the planning to be frustrating and unfulfilling.

God had not left the bake sale.  This is His baby!  He was definitely in it, but He was silent.  When I ignored praying to Him because I had the audacity to think we could do this on our own, but for His glory, He said, So be it.  And let me be.

His silence was deafening.

One day, while running errands, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  The guilt   The shame.  The sin.  Tears welled in my eyes as He let me experience His broken heart.  My heart nearly burst from the overwhelming sadness He allowed me to feel.

Oh God, I am so sorry.  I left You out of the plans because I thought I can handle it.  But You want to be a part of this.  This event thrills Your heart, and I’ve denied Your voice, opinions and direction out of relying on myself.  I am so sorry.  I can see now what it’s like to serve You without You, and I don’t want to do it this way anymore.  Will You forgive me, God?  Will You be the focus of this bake sale in guiding, directing and planning every part of it?  I need You and can feel how much You want to be in this.  God…I’m really sorry.

In an instant He forgave me, faithful to Himself and His covenant to us, even when we are unfaithful to Him.  It’s like He rolled up his sleeves with a wide grin and said, Alright then.  Let’s get to work!  

From that moment on, this bake sale was unlike any we’ve ever had.  He breathed life into the sale and into me.  He was all over it, and the joy He ignited in my heart was uncontainable.  Such enthusiasm I have not felt in a long time.  He blessed this day with so much love, compassion and excitement it was all I could do to stand and soak it in.  I can still barely talk about it without emotion.  Perhaps in my flesh I could have prepared a bake sale.  But, by God’s power, people’s lives were changed.  His Spirit was so present, I could barely find words to speak throughout the entire 8 hour sale.

In my next post, I will share some of the stories of the people who were a part of the sale.  I invite you back here to read them, and know you, too, will be changed.

For now, I will once again offer the prayer that I’ve said a thousand times, but at first neglected to do this year – and my sin nearly made me miss the blessing of this bake sale.  Whatever ministry you are a part of, whether it be personal toward family and friends, in your job or in volunteering, don’t make the mistake I made thinking I could do it on my own.  It is a sin that America has believed for far too long.

May we never be found guilty of refusing God’s help because of self-reliance, pride, ignorance, callousness or indifference to what He wants.  May what He wants be what we pursue.

In the words of Moses, we pray… Then Moses said to (the LORD), “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”  And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:15-17

Would you like to know how He made these verses real to me?  Tangibly real?  Two days before the bake sale, in a last-ditch effort, I called the bread company again – just to see.  The manager ever-so-casually told me that they indeed had been preparing for our sale and I could come pick everything up.  I was shocked!  But not really.  I believe with all my heart that God intentionally let me sweat it out.  A good parent appropriately disciplines his child, and God is a good Father.  I think He allowed the silence to draw me to Him, but in the moment I was too tangled up in the details and missed His cue.

However, I was totally unprepared for what met me at the store when I went to pick up their donations.  There they were…bags and bags and bags and bags of delicious treats.  My breathe caught in my chest as I stood utterly speechless, fighting a tear trickling down my cheek.  It took 2 trips to the store to collect it all.  They had, all along, been in communication with the other store location, and had agreed to combine their efforts and gave us a massive amount of beautiful baked goods.

I…I don’t know what to say, I stuttered to the owner.

It’s just so much more than I ever thought, I said, staring at the counters full of bags.

The owner simply smiled and gave me a hug and wished our bake sale well.

I got in the van and rested my hands on the steering wheel.  Pausing before I turned on the ignition, I said to God with a tearful smile, You did this. You had this planned all along.  I was so worried.  So stressed out.  So anxious.  And here You are.  You delivered and You delivered big.  Thank You, Lord.  And God, I get Your point.

Ephesians 3:20-21 immediately came to mind, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

It was a great day that God just blew the doors off of.  I can’t wait to share with you in my next post the fingerprints He left on this bake sale and on the hearts who were touched by His vision…

Legacy of a Letter

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. ~ Deuteronomy 10:17-20

I received a letter in the mail a couple of months ago.  A letter that hasn’t left my mind ever since its words lifted from the page and inscribed themselves on my heart.  We have a sponsored daughter through Compassion International.  The letter we received from them announced her impending graduation from the program.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t want to think about it.  For her, this is incredible news!  This means she made it! She has survived severely impoverished, third-world conditions and is now skilled in a job that will serve her for the rest of her life.

For me, however, it means letting her go.  As I’ve written before, I have a hard time with change, and this year has seen a lot of it.  My father died nine months ago.  Our senior pastor, who is my mentor and friend and someone I highly admire and respect, retired after twenty-one years of faithful service to our congregation.  My husband’s aunt died suddenly, and her memorial service marked a new chapter in our family’s history.  I closed a three-year chapter of homeschooling two of our children, and find myself missing my lunch buddies, their jokes, camaraderie and company in my days now.  We finally sold my husband’s car – a 1997 Honda Odyssey.  It was good to us, crossing 300,000 miles on the odometer, but it was time to acquire something that meets our current needs.  Our eBay car purchase served us well for six years. Silly, I know.  It’s just a car – especially for people who don’t place an unhealthy value on “things.”  But, it was familiar.

Perhaps that’s what’s hard about change for me…losing the familiar.

Compassion’s letter to our family was a request to write our Compassion daughter one…last…time. Ug.  My heart sank.  I kept that request on my desk for four months.  I simply couldn’t bring myself to write it.  This is the last communication I will have with her this side of heaven.  What do I say?

Compassion suggested we write words of wisdom, encouragement and Scripture.  These are the last words our beautiful daughter will carry from us for the rest of her life.  No pressure.  She who can’t ever stop talking sat speechless at my computer with our daughter’s picture smiling at me while the curser impatiently blinked on the blank page.

Dear God, I don’t know what to say.  Where do I begin?  How do I end?  Please help me give her the words You want her to hear.

As I began the letter, my mind flashed back over the 14 years she has been with us.  I remember the night we found her.  My husband and I were at a Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant Christmas concert in 1998.  During intermission, we strolled through the arena, curious as to what this Compassion thing that Amy Grant spoke of on stage was all about.  We came to a table and spread out on it were many children’s profiles.  My eyes scanned their sweet faces; many of them revealing a deep hopelessness in their expressions and thin bodies clothed in rags.

My eyes wandered to a beautiful girl.  Seven years old.  Across the sea from us in a land filled with conflict – dangerous for any female.  I picked up her card and read her story.  Her mother dead, her father removed, she lives with her grandmother and brother.  My breath caught in my chest and eyes stung with salty tears.  This was my story – this side of the ocean.  Replace the brother with a sister and she is me.  Captivated, I held her card close to my chest and knew she was meant to be a part of our family.  I wanted to offer her a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that God gave me in my darkest hours of trauma and loss as a child.

Through Compassion, we could pay for her medical needs, clothes, food and education.  Christian education.  If she couldn’t live with us, this was the next best thing.  We signed up immediately, knowing that we were committed to this for the long haul.

Over the years, we loved receiving her letters.  We learned about her culture and landscape, farming and weather seasons.  We learned about her life.  We prayed her through the dry seasons and rainy seasons.  We prayed every time her brother became ill and when she had trouble in math.  She wrote her favorite Scriptures to us and told us about her friends.

Each Christmas and birthday, we were given the opportunity to send her a monetary gift.  By American standards it wasn’t much at all, but it is reasonable for their economic geography.  Every time we sent a gift, she wrote us and enthusiastically told us what she bought with it.  It was always the same.  She bought: a new dress for herself, a goat for the family and sweets for her friends.

Her purchases sparked great conversation in our family throughout the years about giving and receiving, thankfulness and kindness.  The fact that she always shared her gifts with her family and friends touched our hearts in inexpressible ways.  She was thankful.  Can we say the same?

We told her about where we live, too.  We shared favorite school subjects, hobbies, pets and what we do in a regular day.  We shared our prayer requests with her, too.  Having a pen pal across the world was priceless to my children.

One day, when she was about 15 years old, she wrote and told us that a preacher was visiting their village to evangelize in their community.  She was asked to go along with him to preach the Gospel.  I will never forget how I felt reading her words.  Choking back happy tears, I said to myself, She’s got it.  She has her own faith and is now able to share it with others.  She’s going to be okay.

This news gave me so much joy and peace!  Despite her bleak circumstances, she accepted Christ as her Savior and knows there is an eternal home waiting for her.

When Compassion expanded its ministry to include online writing, versus handwriting, I was so excited!  Handwritten letters are always best, but not as practical as writing something online that could be sent immediately for translation.  I remember writing to her telling her this news of online writing.  I will never, ever forget her response.  I was excited that this would be quick and easy, no need to hunt for a stamp and was technologically up with the times.  Her response?

I thank our God that He has provided you a job so you can have the money to buy a computer to write me.

Talk about perspective!!!  Think about her response for a moment.  Deeply ponder it.  Without knowing it, she continually taught us so much about life, love, thankfulness, contentment and commitment.

When my husband lost his job in 2001, a week before 9/11 and in the middle of the .com crash (of which his job was directly affected), we had no idea how we were going to feed our babies 1, 3, and 5 years old.  We had no health insurance, no gas money, no savings.  We had nothing but our vehicles and our house – that we feared we could lose in a heartbeat.  We never once considered stopping our sponsorship of our Compassion daughter.  This is no kudos to us.  Through sponsoring her, we learned even more what commitment looked like and what trust in God felt like.  We could no more stop feeding and clothing her than we could our own children, because like our own children, if we didn’t meet her basic needs – who would?  We totally relied on God to provide for us, and for her, and He did.  She never knew any of this.  Her life is one of great struggle and hardship, and even in our most dire straight, we were still wealthy beyond measure simply because of the longitude and latitude in which we live.

In her last years with us, she wrote about graduating high school.  This was quite an accomplishment!  The letter came announcing she was accepted into nursing school.  Nursing school!  I remember jumping up and down and cheering with my children.

This meant, not only will she have a job she can be proud of, but she will be able to financially support herself and her family, AND it saves her from a dangerous and demoralizing future so many young women face trying to earn money to survive.  Wow!  Her future has never looked brighter.

She is truly a part of our family, and this final letter literally pained my heart to write.  How do I tell her words of wisdom as a mother, when my own mother never had a chance to speak them over me?  I feel like the blind leading the blind.  I don’t know where to go with this.

As I struggled with my letter, my heart brought to mind a very special book* by Susan Polis Schultz. This book has priceless value to me.  It is a book written by a mother to her daughter.  It is full of letters, encouragement, love and advice.  This is the last gift given to me by my mother.  She gave it to me on Valentine’s Day, 1987, three months before she died of breast cancer when I was sixteen.

She wrote on the inside cover that she had a hard time putting into her own words what she wanted me to know, so she used this book to say it for her.  In it, she starred, underlined – double underlined – words and phrases.  These are what matter most to me.  These are her words to me.  However, I have only read this book a few times in 26 years.

I am unable to express my hesitation in words.  It hurts to go back to the most painful time of my life.  It hurts to hear her speak to me through writing, because once I finish reading it, I am again left with an emptiness that she is no longer here.  The process of reading her words is emotionally draining, yet healing at the same time.  That’s the best I can do to explain my feelings.

While writing to my Compassion daughter, my mind drifted to this precious book and with my mom’s inspiration I began to write.  Space online is limited.  It took me three letters to get it all in.  Oh, I could have written more, but knew at some point, the end of the letter was inevitable – as hard as it was to admit.

I wrote how beautiful she is, and to never neglect herself as she cares for her patients.  To love deeply, laugh a lot, and stay close to God.  I quoted my favorite Scriptures and spoke blessings over her.  I gave her practical advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom.  I promised that, just as we have done for 14 years, we will continue to pray for her every day for the rest of our lives.

Wrapping up the third letter in the series, I told her:

I don’t like goodbyes.  I won’t say it to you.  Although we may never see each other on this earth, we are both Christians and will have eternity to spend with each other.  Life on this earth is very short.  So, instead of goodbye, I will say I’ll see you soon.  Whoever makes it to heaven first, wait for the other at the gate. 

I paused writing and broke down and cried.  I cried happy tears for all she has accomplished and overcome, and sad tears because the season of her life entwining with ours has come to a close.  However, Christians have a unique relationship.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, because we are related by blood not of this world.  Christ’s sacrificial blood pumps through our spirit, and this bond is something no one can take away.  We are family indeed, and no amount of time or circumstance can separate us from one another – even if we are physically apart.

My children are still in my nest.  She is the first one to launch into the world and follow her dreams and the destiny that God has prepared for her.  I’m new at this launching thing.  I have no idea what to say.  I told her how much we love her and how incredibly proud we are of her.

It seemed that telling her how proud I am of her was a repetitive theme.  Perhaps it’s something I long to hear myself.  Both of my parents are gone and my biological father was only in my life for the past 8 short years.  Maybe I spoke to her some of the words I have been starving to hear.

Upon finishing her letter, my heart was nudged to pull my mom’s book off of the shelf.  I sat down and gazed at the simple artwork on the cover.  I gently turned the yellowed pages and read every word she marked for me.

I have felt a little lost with my writing lately.  Perhaps recovering from surgery has dimmed my creative juices, and I am physically more tired as I heal.  Ironically, my eyes fixed on one particular passage she underlined…

“Write your feelings down.  Create something based on your feelings, but do not keep them inside.”*

I soaked in her encouragement and let it penetrate my soul.  Her words were perfect timing for my life.

Through committing to child sponsorship, I thought we were rescuing a child and offering her opportunities to realize her dreams.  I hope we did just that, but I can tell you that this journey has rescued me and sparked hope for my dreams.  Even down to the last letter, when I was drawn to the words my mom left for me so many years ago for a time today when I really needed to hear her voice.

My mom left a legacy of a letter in the book she gave me.  We left a legacy to our Compassion daughter through the letters we wrote to her.  She left a legacy to us in her letters.  Her perseverance and hard work inspired us to continue with Compassion.

In her honor, we now have two more sponsored children each in a different part of the world.  They are young, sweet children who have their whole lives ahead of them.  I close my eyes and imagine the years of letters we will, Lord-willing, have to share with each other.  I look forward to expanding our family across the seas and investing spiritually, financially and emotionally into these two lives.  I smile with anticipation of all we will share.

It is easy to be discouraged from sponsoring a child because the financial commitment seems scary in this economy or we believe one person can’t make a lasting difference.  However, I know firsthand that our family can’t afford not to.  I am hopeful we made a difference in her life – but I am absolutely certain she made the world of difference in ours.  We are changed by her selflessness, love and tender spirit.  We are challenged by her resolve, strength, optimism and determination.  We will champion these same qualities in our new Compassion son and daughter.

If our paths do not cross in this lifetime and I reach heaven first, I will eagerly wait at the gate for my Compassion daughter.  I have a big hug I’ve been saving up a lifetime to give her.

When I grow up…

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life… ~ Philippians 2:14-15

As our family, along with thousands of other families, adapts to the newness of the start of another school year, my mind drifts back to Kenya – to a special young lady who lives there.

Travel with me today, up a rocky mountain on a small bus with no air conditioning.  All but a few seats are taken by our teammates who are going to hold a soccer clinic with hundreds of Kenyan children who live on this mountain.  Many of them have never seen a Caucasian person before and almost all do not speak English.  This is surely a first for my family and we are excited!

The scenery is breathtaking.  Such beauty envelops us on every side.  After quite a long, slow drive up, we stop.  There, some local children are waiting.  Clustered together, they giggle as they look at us. We smile real big and wave.  That makes them giggle more.  They are shy. Meek. Kind.

We are just about to continue our journey to the top of the mountain, when a young lady, probably 13 or 14, spontaneously steps onto the bus and sits down next to me.  I am delighted to have her company, but am perplexed as to why she got on.

I asked her if she spoke English.  She replied, A little.  I was thrilled!  That was more than I spoke of her native tongue.

She sat quietly, holding onto the seat in front of her as our bus rocked side-to-side up the stony incline.

Curious, I asked her why she hopped on the bus.  She replied, I want to know what it feels like to ride one.

I was completely taken back by her words.  She’s never ridden a bus before – or any transportation.  The 2,400 families that live on this mountain never leave it.  They farthest they go is a very long hike down to reach extremely contaminated streams at the bottom to fetch water.  A trek they make every single day up and down the entire mountain.  That is one reason we are there – in addition to presenting the Gospel and running soccer clinics – to help dedicate two rainwater catchers past teams of ours helped build with the locals at the very top of the mountain so no one ever has to die from water-borne illnesses again.

Wanting to let her enjoy the ride, I didn’t speak much, though I had a thousand questions about her, their way of life, their thoughts on things.  I am always full of questions, and sometimes it drives my family crazy! 🙂

However, I had a question burning the tip of my tongue.  If I didn’t ask it, I thought my tongue would catch on fire or I would burst.  So I asked it.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

She did not hesitate with her answer.  A doctor or a teacher.

You can be anything you want to be.  Go for your dreams, I replied with a smile.

She sheepishly smiled back.

As we continued up the mountain together, I couldn’t help but stare at her out the corner of my eye.  She is beautiful.  She has dreams.  Aspirations.  And, they begin with wanting to know what it feels like to ride man-made transportation.

Her inquisitiveness is colorful.  Her courage to get on the bus with a bunch of foreigners is inspiring.  She’s already unafraid to chase her dreams and go for it.

A doctor or a teacher.  Why?  On this mountain, it really is all about daily survival in the most primitive of estates.  They have one school and there are many cultural superstitions involved in treating their medical ailments that oppress the one government-ran clinic staffed by two nurses that service this clinic twice a week.

I believe it is because she sees firsthand, the difference one person can make.  She is surrounded by her village of family and neighbors.  Not too many doctors and teachers.  But, oh what an impression a nurse here, or a teacher there, has already made on her.

Someone has made such an impact on this young lady’s life that she believes her life is bigger than the mountain she lives on.  For instance, I met one woman who is incredibly talented.  She is a Kenyan college graduate who has devoted her life to giving these kids an education.  She is jaw-dropping impressive, because despite her tireless efforts and huge impact on the community, she one of the most humble, soft-spoken and unassuming people I’ve ever met.

My young friend has already realized that her purpose is more than daily survival.  She owns nothing of value to this world, yet she possesses a spirit rich in hope and determination.

All because someone, a doctor or teacher or both, has touched her life in a unique way, sparking a love for life that God placed inside her when He breathed life into her.

As a new school year begins in places all over the world, my first thought is of this young lady. If she can have such amazing aspirations, so can other children who live in a longitude and latitude with ample resources available.  It literally pains me to see kids nowadays sluff off school and whine and complain about it like they were being asked to donate a kidney just by showing up.  It is a cliche to complain about waking up early, school bus rides, school rules, cafeteria food and homework.  What privileges these are!  And, this is not being said by a middle-aged adult who has forgotten how much homework can consume an evening, or the obnoxious pitch of the alarm clock screaming in my ear way before I’m ready to here it.

No.  I say this because there are countless children all over the world who would give anything to have the resources other kids have – like my bus-buddy.  They would give anything for someone to take a chance on them and let them learn.  To give them the resources they need to chase their dreams.

How many poverty-stricken children in this world are being born, living and dying without one day of their life being given a chance to make a contribution to this world? How many of them have already died (26,000 children die every single day from preventable diseases), or are living now in a life shackled to grim, unforgiving circumstances, have the ability to learn and grow and accomplish miracles like curing cancer, finding new energy solutions, becoming agricultural geniuses, outstanding political leaders, pastors, ambassadors, surgeons, pediatricians for the 26,000 children dying in mothers’ arms every 24 hours, and teachers who train up another group of kids to chase their dreams and show them they are priceless, they count, they matter?  It is well worth investing time and energy into these kids so they can understand the world around them and have a better quality of life right there in their own communities and beyond.

It saddens me to see slothful, whining kids portrayed in movies, in books, on tv and in person take such an incredible gift of education for granted.  Would they want to trade places with the young lady I met on the bus?  Not for one day could they handle her life.  She is a survivor. Strong.  Driven.

Will she have the opportunities needed to fulfill her dream?  Only God knows.  How I hope so. And how I hope other kids will mature to a point where they see their education as a gift and are thankful for it.

May this new school year be a turning point for children every to embrace their potential.  And, may teachers be refreshed in knowing that they do make a difference.  It’s not about numbers. It’s about lives.  And making a lifelong difference in one child has the potential to change our world.  Run your race strong.  These children are the future of our world, our countries, our states, our communities, our neighborhoods, and our families.  You, in fact, hold the future in your hands.  What impact will you determine to have this year?

Here are some of my photographs from the mountain.  May the images be etched in our hearts to never forget this young lady, or the many other children in this world she represents, who dare to look beyond their circumstances and chase their dreams.

Our greeters! 🙂

A typical home

Of one my children meeting new friends!

School uniforms are required, regardless…

We brought oranges as a gift of friendship

Harvesting tea leaves

A Must See!

Last night, one of my best friends sent me an email with a link to a time sensitive premier of a movie coming out.  She told me I HAD to stop and watch it as it was going off-air within the night.  What began as a typical evening in our home was totally derailed and we were completely captivated by this movie!

It had us totally speechless the entire time – past midnight.  I went to bed thinking about it and woke up thinking about it.  It’s a documentary.  It’s real, raw and utterly astounding.  At one point, my entire family shouted out in shock.  I won’t give ANY spoilers, but trust me, you have to watch this.  It will change your life forever.

Okay, the the title is “Father of Lights” by Darren Wilson.  They held the premier in CA – which is what we watched.  It comes out October 16th.  We are absolutely going to buy this.

I still get chills when I think about several parts in it.  Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it.

I hope my teaser has peeked your interest.  We had so much trouble getting it to play last night (Bruce thinks their server was hammered by heavy traffic due to the free premier) as we tried it on our laptop , iPad, tv, you name it.  At one point, I was so frustrated I said, “Why did I ever look at my email?  This was going to be an early night!”  Oh am so glad her email came to me.  I am so glad we dropped everything and watched it in its entirety.

October seems like a long ways off.  When it comes out, watch it, then post here what your thoughts are.  I can’t WAIT to talk about this movie because life is indeed stranger than fiction.  Oh my.  Still thinking about it today…

Have I driven you crazy yet? 🙂  You just have to see it!

Click here for the link!

Kristi