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?

Christmas Joy

This season, I’ve been acutely aware of the blessings in life.  Perhaps it’s the season’s Spirit of joy, but oftentimes there is also a lot of stress associated with Christmas – unfortunately.  I don’t want to forget the recent moments that have brought a smile or a laugh to the day, so I decided to write them down and will continue to throughout the month.  Share a smile with me…

* Standing in our front yard with my man as he laughs at my attempt to assemble and inflate the inflatable snowman in our front yard.  I’m not a huge fan of lawn ornamentation, but Frosty found us and so he stays.  Anyway, in an effort to streamline decorating, I put Frost up myself this year.  I guess I couldn’t have done it any more wrong.  Hey, that’s why I married an engineer – because I’m not one!

* Enjoying the show the Salvation Army bell ringers put on in NYC.  Wow!  These people love their jobs!  Singing, dancing, grooving…it was quite a show and made everyone’s day a little brighter.

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* Came home the other day to find the nicest surprise!  My neighbor has a lawn service, but we don’t.  When their lawn guy came this week and did their lawn, he also blew off our leaf-covered driveway.  What a treat!

* Sitting around the dinner table, the meal long since finished, and just listening to our kids tell jokes and recite movie lines.  My man looked at me from across the table and I knew what he said to me with his eyes – and I agree…Yes, this IS what it’s all about, Honey.

* Dressing up our dog in her Mrs. Claus outfit to pick out our Christmas tree at the hardware store.  A red satin dress, velvet ruffled collar and hat with wig.  Oh it’s just too much. 🙂  She loves a car ride, and going to get the tree was a special treat.

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* Wrapping presents with my oldest for precious boys and girls in our community, and laughing with my boy at how he’s always had a hard time with, in his words, crafts.  Hey, it took me years of practice to get curling ribbon down.

* Spontaneously having a family sing-a-long while our baby girl played the Christmas music she’s learned on the piano.

* The smell of pine tree-scented candles.

* Our annual quest to find the perfect egg nog.  Nothing beats the Farm Stores brand I grew up with, but we’ll keep suffering through the samples. 😉

* Serving with my family and friends at Operation Christmas Child.  It is an amazing ministry that we are blessed to be a part of every year.  I love taking people for the first time and watching them be overwhelmed with joy at the work and the generosity of humankind on the behalf of God’s love love for the world.  What a great night!

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* Watching an elderly couple walk in front of me into an office building.  Although they were very old, and walked slowly, they held hands as they went.  What a picture it was.  He was in his twill coat and scarf.  She donned her long coat and knitted hat.  One walked with a cane.  Both were still in love.  They held hands tightly as they entered the building, discussing which elevator button to push.  It was a fleeting moment I am so glad I didn’t miss.  They personified beautiful, committed, tender love.  I think about all they must have seen in their lifetimes: the wars, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, homes, jobs, etc. and yet they still walk together – holding hands.  May all of us be so blessed.

* The silly elf hat my man bought our baby girl at the grocery store.  It’s really cute on her!  When they walked into the house, I said to her (wearing the hat) with a smile, So, what did you talk your dad into buying?  She smiled back, Oh, nothing.  Bruce and I do not have a problem saying no to our kids – they would agree!  It makes me smile to imagine what their conversation must have been somewhere between the produce and milk aisles about this green and red striped hat with sewn-on pointed ears.  He caved.  She’s adorable!  It’s all good.

* Thinking about my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly.  We spent Thanksgiving with her and extended family.  This year, we sat down to give thanks – including her being a new breast cancer survivor.  In the spring, when this news hit the whole family hard, I wondered what the fall would look like.  It surpasses my hopes!  She went with us to NYC and, little did we know, she got to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  She still talks about it, and I am so touched to have been able to be there with her when she saw it in person for the first time. ~ Ephesians 3:20-21

* At church, there was a volunteer pushing a 6-seater buggy filled with some of the cutest toddlers you’ve ever seen.  This kind woman could have just walked them around, but she saw it as a teachable moment.  They stopped at a table with the manger scene on it.  She pointed out all of the people and what their role was in the stable that night.  These little ones can’t even say complete sentences yet, but this woman patiently went through each one.  She wasn’t telling it to them like a bedtime story…she was writing it on their hearts.  What a blessing it was for me to stand back and watch. ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-9

* I was at urgent care yesterday and am touched by seeing family and friends willing to risk catching all of the yuck going around in order to take, and sit with, their sick loved one.  Every seat was filled and every other person had a box of tissue on their laps.  Still, those healthy stayed by the side of those too sick to care for themselves.  ~ Matthew 25:34-40

* I don’t eat many desserts like cakes, pies – you know, the big hitters (chocolate notwithstanding).  For a special treat this weekend, I baked a Razzleberry pie (bought, not made!) for a kickoff to the Christmas season in our house.  To know my man is to know he LOVES pie!  His affection for pie is a joke, actually, in our family.  Razzleberry is his favorite tied with apple.  For 22 years, I have always saved the last slice for him, because it’s a way to show him I love him because I know how much he loves his pie.  Well, I was alone in the house, and one piece remained in the fridge.  Twenty-two years I left that last slice alone, but licking my wounds from being sick, I did it.  I ate the last slice!  I even sprayed whipped cream on top.  Not only that, I lost myself in a quiet moment on my sofa with the Christmas tree in the corner and stockings hung over the fireplace, and I…well, I…I sort of…licked the plate!  Not since I was a mere child have a licked any plate.  I even giggled as I did it as if I was breaking some adult rule.  I was good.  So very good.

* Listening to Barbara Streisand’s rendition of Jingle Bells!  Streisand was one of my mom’s all-time favorite singers, and hearing this song makes me feel close to Mom again.

* The P.A. who helped me at a clinic yesterday was so incredibly nice!  After leaving an urgent care filled with very sick people and the stench of Lysol in the air, I didn’t know what to do.  Finding a clinic, this woman was friendly, kind and attentive.  She went above and beyond her duties and showed that she genuinely cared.  I wasn’t a number or a bother.  I was a person she wanted to help.  And with that, she gave me meds for a severe sinus infection…finally I’ll get some relief.  God bless her!

* Reading “The Smells of Christmas” with my youngest.  It’s a scratch & sniff picture book exactly like the one I had growing up.  Although we are both a bit old for picture books, if you can’t enjoy a child’s classic at Christmas, then when can you? 🙂

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* Running into a store the other night, a Salvation Army bell ringer was outside.  I simply cannot pass by one without putting something in the pot.  However, I don’t carry cash ever since my car was stolen – with my purse inside which was stolen by a 2nd set of thieves who found it thrown away by the joy riders who totaled my car (long story).  I literally didn’t have a dime on me and felt terrible.  Upon exiting, I looked at him and said, I’m so sorry I don’t have anything to give tonight.  Instead of making me feel worse, he said with a smile, That’s alright Ma’am, you have yourself a good night.  Grace!  I love it. 🙂  It’s better to give than receive, yes, but that night I loved receiving his grace!

* Hanging mistletoe and getting caught under it.

* Hearing my very favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night.  To me , it is Christmas worship and reminds me every time in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 when the priests could not enter the temple, and all the Israelites “knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground” and worshiped, when the train of the LORD filled the temple.  All they could do, instead of their tasks, was worship.  May our Christmas be the same.  May we be overtaken by the presence and holiness of God that we stop our tasks, fall on our knees…and worship.  Some of the most spontaneous moments for worship for me have been doing the dishes, driving in the car, and doing the mundane things of the day.  Worship can happen anytime a heart draws near the Lord, and O Holy Night helps me do just that.

* Anticipating decorating our gingerbread house, and the fact that my kids are looking forward to it as much as I am.  I buy one early every season, when they are on sale, and it patiently waits until they are out of school for Christmas break.  Decorating the gingerbread house is just good ol’ fashioned fun, and makes all of us feel like little kids again!

* Trimming the tree.  Out of the whole Christmas tree process, I most enjoy reminiscing over the ornaments with my family.

*It all goes!  I’ve been on a purging binge for days now.  Before another Christmas goes by, we are purging everything we don’t need (thanks to the invasion I wrote about in Christmas Shocker).  It feels really good to know that items we no longer need will help another family have a wonderful holiday.  Toys and coats that are in great shape will make good presents.  It is indeed better to give than receive.

* Designing our Christmas card.  Even though I grumble about the to-do’s on the list, I love looking back at the year and the many ways God has moved, worked, healed and blessed our family.  It’s not all been rosy, but it’s all passed through the hands of our sovereign God who loves and works on our behalf.

Many of these Christmas blessings are very unassuming.  They would be easily missed if not intentionally sought.  Christmas isn’t necessarily made up of peak moments, rather it is weaved together with blessings that almost camouflage with life.  And, these blessings are often taken for granted.

The first Christmas, in Bethlehem, was much the same.  Unassuming.  Unnoticed by most.  Never a thought of looking for our Savior – much less have any room for His presence.  Christmas began in the Old Testament with hundreds of prophecies regarding Christ’s coming.  It continued into the New Testament with the birth of John the Baptist and Mary’s virgin conception and a never-before census which took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem – just like the prophecies said.  A long journey, probably filled with many silent moments interrupted only by the hooves of the donkey carrying Mary.

We may have come a long way with our modern Christmas festivities, but I can’t help but notice all of the very personal ways God’s love is still reaching.  Drawing.  Loving.

This season, for every beautiful moment that brings a smile to your heart, thank God for the gift that it is.  Seek Him in the large and small moments of the season (Deuteronomy 4:29).  He is in them all.  The best gifts need no bows or colorful wrapping paper.  After all, the very best gift was wrapped in cloth and laid in a feeding trough – for you and for me.

Favorite Thanksgiving Moment

After a week full of Thanksgiving festivities, I am feeling quite bloated with great memories and good times.  Nuked leftovers cannot compare.  However, there is one moment that stands out as my all-time favorite.

I could tell you it was…

* Holding hands with my man while strolling through Rockefeller Center

* Playing games with the entire family clan

* The first snowflakes of the season dancing on our windshield

* Everyone gathering around to watch Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving

* Our trek to NYC and walking for hours upon hours despite foot surgery just 7 weeks ago

* Lots of laughs, smiles and hugs

* Enjoying my favorite pizza in the entire world – Lombardi’s!

* Going to church together

* Taking the traditional after-dinner walk with my kiddos and nephew

* Black Friday shopping with my sister-in-law who is one of my closest friends

* Cold turkey sandwich using only bread, turkey, mayo and pepper – don’t mess with a classic!

* Watching the kids ice skate

* Tucking in sleepy kids after a good day of playing

* Endless jokes!

* Going to a matinee with the whole crew – on a work/school day!

*  Traveling with my family of 5 plus the dog and a hedgehog.  Just being in the same place at the same time even if it’s stuck in a van from sun up to sundown.

* Watching how excited our dog gets to see that famous red chicken outline or those golden arches while traveling on the highway.  She gets grilled nuggets or a hamburger patty and loves to help with the drive-up window ordering.

* Saying grace before the Thanksgiving feast with everyone holding hands

* Admiring beautiful blue rocks the kids found in a nearby creek

* Having friends come over for Thanksgiving dessert to catch up

* Showing some family folks Pinterest for the first time!

* Long talks with everyone

* Football

* Macy’s Parade

* Not setting an alarm clock for an entire week

As much as all of these (and more) meant to me, there is one moment that will stay with me forever.  It was Thanksgiving morning and I had slept in a bit.  Sounds around the house told me I was one of the last to wake up.  I hustled through a shower and all that jazz – feeling like I needed to join everyone.  After all, the parade had already begun!

I knew my brother-in-law was preparing the turkey, bed-headed kids were sprawled on the floor playing games and adults were bustling about getting everything ready for a great day.

Feeling hurried to join in and help, I abruptly stopped.  One important step in my morning routine had been overlooked.  I had not said Good Morning to God.  Every morning I pray to God and tell Him I love Him.

I had packed my devotion, but honestly, with a house full of people and a calendar of fun to be had, it is difficult to squirrel away and have quiet time.  Nonetheless, I stopped and prayed and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19).

The clock was ticking, and because I overslept I felt like I needed to get moving.  But, I wanted to spend time with my Abba Father who gave me every reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving.  Torn between God, family and what I felt was my contribution to help out around the house, I literally stood frozen in the middle of the bedroom and didn’t know which way to turn.

In a quick moment, I turned, left the room and headed for the stairs.

As I walked toward the stairs, I felt a strong pull on my heart.  It was odd.  I took more steps toward the stairs, but with every one, I felt like I was pushing into a force that was stronger than me.  A hesitancy.  Lagging.  Drawing.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I was torn between being a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt…and child of the King.  I thought perhaps it was the guilt I felt for not spending longer with my God who deserves more.

Just as I stepped onto the top step, the morning sun brightly shining into my eyes, God spoke ever-so clearly.

He said, I love you, too.

My breath caught as I gripped the handrail.  In four words, He changed me.  In four words, He told me He understood.

Yes, God always deserves our best, our most.  We often fail to give that to Him.  I am guilty of putting others before Him, people-pleaser that I am.  Ug.  I get caught up in projects and deadlines and busyness.  Double ug.  But, this morning, it was my heart – not my head that was torn.

I wasn’t avoiding Him, hiding from Him, angry at Him or anything else that would keep me from staying with Him longer.  I just didn’t know how to be all to all and caved in thinking pleasing people was momentarily more pressing.

You know what God did?  He cut me some slack.  Gave me grace.  Met me where I was. He simply loved me.

An action we could apply to all of our relationships.

He read my mind and heard my heart.  He, God of the universe, time and space, turned His face toward me and spoke to me.  That was the draw.  His presence was almost tangible. That is what I sensed.  It was as though He stood on the step in front of me, gently placed His hand on my anxious heart, and made me stop to hear Him.  All that was missing was eye contact, and that I felt through the blazing sun shooting through the window.

It was a miraculous moment.  A private moment between the Almighty God and me. I was undeserving.  Lavished on.  Humbled.  Loved.

I love you, too played over and over in my heart for the rest of the day.  He knew I felt straddled between two worlds and instead of judging me – He joined me on the journey.

I will never forget the magnetism that drew me to Him on that stair.  The electricity of His presence.  How incredibly and deeply loved I felt.

This was my favorite moment of the whole week – and it will be one I carry with me for the rest of my life.

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

Sand and Water #3 Perspective

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Sitting on the beach, I was quite content to people watch for a while.  My youngest son and I had finished playing a fun game of frisbee and other beach games, so he set off to try to make a home made kite from a plastic bag, 2 boogie boards and red plastic string.

A family nearby had also enjoyed a full day playing in the sun – mom, dad, toddler and grandparents.  Nearing late afternoon, the mom, grandmother and daughter ventured into the surf together – hand in hand.  I watched them with curiosity.  Then, it happened.

My heart sank, and I instantly knew why I felt like my heart weighed a 1,000 pounds.  There were 3 generations enjoying the beach together.  Something I will never have with my mom and children.  Once again, reality has a way of sneaking its way into a dreamy moment.  One moment, the grandmother and mother were swinging the toddler above the waves with me blissfully watching on the sidelines, then, in the next breath the stark reality of what I will never feel, hear, see or experience hit me like a roaring wave of sadness.

However, what happened next totally caught me by surprise.  As fast as my heart sank, it was as though a life preserver had been thrown my way.  With fresh eyes, ones given to me by believing God in all things and living by faith, what I watched through a grieving filter of a hollow past was now something I could look forward to enjoying in the future.

I may not be able to have this kind of beach moment with my mom and daughter, but hopefully I can have it with my daughter, or daughter-in-laws, and grandchildren.

Ah ha!  Everything looked different.

It is our choice to walk backwards on the path of life on which God has allowed us to journey.  It is also our choice to walk forward.  I was caught up in a moment of walking backwards over things that have already taken place, and in doing so I temporarily forfeited the opportunity to get excited about what I hope is to come.

Is there a guarantee that I will ever get that moment?  No.  But, without hopes and dreams, the reality of life can mercilessly pound us like relentless, crashing waves.  For today, I look forward to the many moments God will prayerfully give me with my family – but I will also treasure the ones He’s given me right now.

Yesterday, we had an awesome day together.  In the sand, sun and water, we made the most of the day and went to bed delightfully exhausted and a little sunburned.

I snapped a photo (above) of the family, our sandy neighbors, whom I had the pleasure of watching. Instead of bringing despair, they offered me hope.   Instead of walking backwards, I will walk forward to whatever awaits on my path.  And, I will soak in every laugh, every hug, every tender moment with my family that God gives me right now.  They are balm to my heart and water to my soul.  I have a smile on my face this morning, over precious memories made thus far on this trip and with hope for more special moments to come.

10 Things I Love About Summer

I absolutely refuse to realize the new school year is around the corner.  It’s lurking, stalking, hoovering, looming – but I purposefully turn a blind a eye and choose to enjoy the beautiful state of ignorant bliss of summertime.  Therefore, although we’ve shopped for new clothes, pencils and backpacks, all of which are intentionally hidden from our every day view, I remain in a honeymoon state of summer.  Ahh…

10 things I love about summer:

1. Nuzzling my nose into my children’s hair and breathing in the smell of pool chlorine.

2. Thunderstorms – any time of day, preferably at night (we are praying for rain for neighboring dry states!)

3. Flexible plans or no plans – it’s so refreshing to fall off the grid for awhile!

4. I have more of myself to give my husband.  His work cranks right through summer, and I so appreciate his efforts so I can be home with our kids.  During the summer, I have more of myself to give wthen he comes home by way of flexible dinner hours, evening walks and long talks.  I get way too rigid during the school year with schedules, so it’s really nice to toss it all in the wind and enjoy him.

5. Time with my kids.  I make intentional efforts to connect and reconnect with my kids whether we are doing something big or just hanging around the house.

6. Doing things we don’t always take time to do during spring, fall and winter.  Bowling, matinees, breakfast for dinner, long bike rides, and house cleaning projects that have waited the entire school year (or longer!) like gutting our garage and tackling the dreaded our “project room” a.k.a. office.  Okay, so maybe my husband and I are the only ones who enjoys this in our family, but we can live with that. 😉

7. Opportunities.  Summer brings opportunities for misison trips, escaping with the family to our favorite respite, exploring our state and sometimes a new part of the country, taking up a new hobby, rekindling a love for old hobbies, sef-introspection, ministry and personal growth.

8. Time with my girlfriends.  I LOVE it when I receive a text or phone call and it’s a dear friend asking me to go for a walk, have lunch or go for coffee.  The school year is so busy, and it’s great to steal some downtime with my friends to recharge our batteries and stay connected.

9. Dreaming.  Summer allows time and energy to dream.  Making lunches, signing permission slips, volunteering at school, etc. are a distant memory, if just for a season (all of which I love to do and am thankful to do it).  I can use that mental energy to dream and follow my dreams.  It’s like catch-up for the part of me that lays dormant in other seasons of life.

10. Nothingness.  I don’t know about you, but I need time alone.  Time to be and not do.  Time to absorb and not expend.  Time to listen and not speak.  Time to reflect and not project. Time to be still and not move. Time to Hear from God what He is saying and not me always the one doing the talking. Time to sleep.  Time to laugh.  Time to cry.  Time to breathe.  Time to do absolutely nothing.  No other season gives me that time.  So thankful for summer.

I Have to Tell You What Happened!

Okay, remember my post Really? written before taking our mission trip to Ukraine?  I read back through it today, and feel compelled to tell you the sequel to the saga.  If you haven’t read that post, I encourage you to or today’s post may not make much sense.

It’s been a month, and here we are teetering on the cliffhanger…what happened when I spoke to the ladies?  This is absolutely not about me, rather it’s about what God did.  This was a ladies-only event, but He bucked the system and showed up!   I am so glad He did.

It was time to face my Goliath in the privacy of just God, me and the issue at hand only hours before the event.  In an arm-wrestling battle with this giant that I’ve never won against, this time God grabbed my hand and slammed that monster’s knuckles to the table.  I was the winner, hands-down (pardon the pun).

What was different about this time, versus the thousands of other times I walked away from the table in defeat?  It’s so simple it’s complicated.  It’s so complicated it’s simple.  Ready?  I listened.

That’s it!  That’s all I did.

Listened to who?  God.

Who was I listening to before?  The world, the enemy and myself.

We are creatures of habit.  Habits produce patterns.  Patterns affect our way of thinking.  The way we think affects our beliefs – positively or negatively.  For 25 years, everything about me was negative in this area.  Reading back over the post Really?, I see a person so sick and tired of being defeated in an area of her life, that she would rather admit final defeat and taboo it from her life than allow herself to be vulnerable to what God had to say about it.

I had beat myself up so badly with negative thoughts and behavior, and allowed the enemy to do the same, that I became hypersensitive to the touch of my heart and couldn’t even fathom letting the hand of God heal me.   Self-hate set in.  A longtime battle that left me utterly exhausted.  This is not the same as self pity.  With self-hate comes a level of despising that is hard to describe into words.  However, the enemy found lots of words to speak in my ear to keep the hate spinning like a top in my head.

Because of God’s perfect will and timing, He chose this year to be the final, epic battle over me.  Why?  I don’t know.

He knows us best and knew it was time. I have been so humiliated for so long about this pattern of self-hate in my life, that my own embarrassment was easy harassment for the enemy.

It’s as though God stepped down from heaven, met me right where I was – in a dorm room in Ukraine – alone with only my Bible, and said to me, Just give me a chance.  You’ve been dooped for so long by so many people, including yourself, you’ve forgotten who you really are; who I made you to be; and most importantly, you’ve forgotten how I see you.  You see yourself as hopeless. I see you as helpless.  You see yourself as defeated.  I see you as wounded.  You see yourself as beyond the point of help.  I see you on the brink of a new beginning.  One thing we can both agree on is that you cannot do this alone.  But, can you trust Me that we can do this together?

That was the moment.  If a soundtrack had been running in tandem to the movie of my life, a simple heartbeat on the drum would have pounded.  It was a physical moment of spiritual decision.  I sat on the edge of the bed next to my closed Bible, and felt God literally wait on me for a  response.

I looked around the quiet room, fidgeted with my hands and shuffled my feet.  On the outside I was silent.  On the inside, I watched a flashback of all my years from the time my issue began.  I heard all of the hurtful words people have said to me about this over the years.  I saw their faces and felt the sting of pain as if it were the first time all over again.  I heard everything the enemy every told me about myself and I felt myself beginning to fold.

My chest was heavy and it was heard to breathe.  Palms sweating, the back of my neck prickly, and my heart beating fast, I was in a war over who to side with.  This was God’s work, but He required one thing from me.  An answer.

How did I get to that answer?  The ONLY thing that persuaded me to side with Him that day was this question God prompted within my heart…Who has God been to you, Kristi?  Over all of these years, who has He proven Himself to be to you?

When I began to recall His sovereignty, His power, His grace, His mercy, His love, His faithfulness, His tenderness, His discipline, His consistency, and His miraculous presence in every moment of my life, the tall, thick walls around my heart (which stay heavily guarded by the way), began to fracture.  A 25-year old wound is very sensitive.  It’s never stopped bleeding the pain of my issue.  I had built such heavy defenses around it that I didn’t even realize I had shut God out until that day I told my friend I didn’t want His redemption in this area of my life.  My plan was just to privately, secretly nurse this wound until I died.

I sat on the edge of the bed in a quandary.  Do I trust God, who has been completely faithful and loving my entire life, even through the darkest of times, or do I continue in a self-destructive pattern that I know is harming me inside and out?

Could I take that first step and say to God, Alright.  You can have a go at my heart.  I trust You.  Or, do I tell my mission teammates I cannot speak to the ladies and retreat further into myself than I ever had before – this time with the strong possibility of never following my bread crumb trail back to the surface.

Sometimes, when we are at our weakest, our darkest, and in our deepest pain, all God is asking of us is to trust Him.  We get tangled up thinking we have to do something courageous or smart or skillful.  We live in a world that tells us we are only what we can produce.  Well, when we cannot produce anything beneficial, then who are we?  Nothing.  And I had felt like that for 25 years.

God knows this.  In Psalm 103:13-14, David understood.  He said, As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Even if our pit is one we dug ourselves, God will still search for us and reach down His hand to pull us out.  Will we take it?

Part of the difficulty I faced in that moment was realizing that a new pattern would be established.  Great, but I didn’t know how to do that.  I didn’t have the strength to push back this giant.  Again, trust.  Perhaps God will help me? I thought to myself.  After all, He promised to help Moses lead the exodus out of Egypt.  He promised to fight for the Israelites time and again from Joshua at Jericho to Nehemiah rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem to Mary & Joseph, Paul & Silas, Peter and so on.

Why would God help?  Isn’t He as frustrated about this as I am?  Hasn’t His patience run out?

2 Chronicles 16:9 – For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him… 

So God is actually searching for His children who lost their way be it in one area or many.  He searched for me and found me in a room alone in Ukraine.  He traversed the world and caught up to me.  I can almost see it.  Just as I am deciding whether or not to cancel the ladies event, a knock on the door.  I’m not expecting anyone.  Who could it be? I wonder to myself.  I stand up and slowly walk to the door.

Who is it? I ask.

It’s Me, comes a reply from the other side.  I gasp!  There is only One who sounds like that.  He is my Groom.  My Savior.  I turn the key and pull down on the handle.

What are you doing here? I ask in wonder.  Jesus’ face lights up when He sees me.  I just stand there, jaw agape in awe that He is actually here, on my doorstep in Ukraine.

May I come in? He asks with a broad smile, slightly out of breath from running up the 3 flights of stairs.

Oh, I’m sorry.  Yes!  Come in!  

Thanks, He replies.  I’m glad I caught up to you.

Why?

Because you are about to make a really big decision, and I want to be part of it if you’ll let Me.

But, why is this so important to You?

You are important to Me.

Why?

Because I love you.

But, I keep failing in this area.  How is that lovable?

You are lovable.  God the Father made you, and He made you lovely.

But, I’ve failed so many times before.  I have no confidence in myself with this anymore.

That’s okay.  Put your confidence in Me.

But, I am tired, Jesus.  I don’t want to, can’t, fight this anymore.

He takes my hands in His and sits down with me.  He looks at me with eyes that make time stop, heartbeats still, and breath shallow.  His love permeates the room.  I cannot hear anything else, see anything else, feel anything else, but his warm, tender, and gentle hands holding mine.

I love you with an everlasting love.  Don’t you see, it’s not about what you can or cannot do.  It’s not about who anyone, including yourself, has told you who you are.  Isn’t not about your track record.  It’s about who you are in Me.  I complete you.  When you asked me into your heart, I made you whole.  I make you strong.  I heal your hurts.  I am your breath.  I am life living in you.  You have, for so long, lived in defeat.  But, like every other time in your life when you leaned on Me, will you do it this time?  I’ve got your best interest at heart.  Our Father is always working for the good of those who love Him.  You are tired of listening to everyone else, including yourself, tell you who you are not.  Will you listen to Me tell you who you are?

A lump swells in my throat.  Tears stream down my face and my nose begins to run.  Eyes sting from salty tears, my bottom lip quivers at the thought of perhaps listening to my Savior, my best friend, my groom.

I furrow my brow in deep decision.  This is not easy.  Every ounce of self-hate has risen to the surface.  Every hurtful word is screaming at me.  The enemy is beside himself that Jesus has locked him out of the room.  I hear him furiously pounding on the door.

Christ leans and whispers so close I feel His breath.  His hands holding mine.  Will you listen to Me tell you who you are?

My head drops, and through stinging tears and a runny nose, I ever-so-slightly nod and utter beneath my sobbing, Yes.

He leans toward me even more, resting His forehead on mine, noses almost touching, and through tears of His own, He smiles and says, You are…My beloved.

I fall into His arms.  It is enough.  It is more than enough.  I breathed in those two words and they entered my body.  They shot straight to my heart, my spirit, and began their healing work.  Like a physician’s hands performing delicate surgery, those two words healed my heart from the inside out.

Did that encounter physically happen?  Yes and no.  No, Jesus did not come in tangible human form, but He did come by way of the Bible.  As I sat on the edge of the bed, I came to an answer.

Yes.  I would listen.  Yes.  I would open myself up, become vulnerable, and listen to what He had to say.  He led me to Scripture after Scripture telling me who I am to Him and in Him.  It was one of the most precious hours of my entire life.  With every verse, scars disappeared from my heart.  The voice of Truth eradicated the lies that have plagued me for over two decades.

No other god would, or could, do this.

I stood that night, before beautiful women and shared.  I shared from the depth of my soul words He had for them…and for me.  Their tears were my tears.  Their Truth was my Truth.

I returned from Ukraine a different person.  God asked me to leave all the hurt and pain with Him, and I did.  I left the self-hate, too.  I physically felt the weight of this lift from me.  Physically.  Crazy, huh?  I feel a peace from the inside out.  Peace that is not of this world.  My good moments before were only that – moments.  This is 24/7.  He healed me.  I am at peace with Him and with myself.  His words of who I am are the only sound I hear in this issue that no longer has a hold on me. I am free.

I am whole.  I am at rest.  I am victorious.  Because of Christ’s victory over death, we who follow Him are invited to have victory in our lives.  Our entire lives – every area.

I am eternally grateful He didn’t leave me in the pit in which I was trapped.  I am so humbled He sought me and deemed my problem worthy of His time and effort.  He did a mighty work in me and all He asked of me was to let Him do it.  I didn’t have to prove anything, be of eloquent speech or show my own strength.  I simply chose to trust Him.

God is on our side.  He is a good God.  He is faithful.  God is love.  Jesus, indeed You are the Prince of Peace.  Thank You.  I love You.

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