Sunday, December 16, 2012

unexpected

Recently I was walking from our house to the grocery store.  To do that, I have to cross a bridge over the Hudson River.  I had been to the post office and library and was thinking how nice it was to be able to walk to everything, because it gave me some serious prayer time.  I had been praising God because earlier in the day a friend had called and asked for prayer, and just before my walk had told me that God had met her in that.  It had also been a great week of fund raising, and on top of it all, we heard from a friend that they wanted to give us their van.  In other words, it was a time of great thanksgiving and praise in my talking with God.  I was not depressed or coming to him and pouring my frustrations and anger out (as I have done many times!)  This was simply a time of joy with my Father.  Then, as I was crossing the bridge, it was as if I physically bumped into a wall.  I almost "bounced back" and in that moment - what was probably just a second or two, but felt like a long time - I heard very clearly voice tell me to kill myself.  I actually looked over the side of the bridge.

I was stunned.  In the same amount of time that it came to me, it left.  There was no fear, no wall anymore.  The voice was gone.  Yet I was changed completely in that moment.

I have seen and participated in spiritual warfare in many different areas of life.  I have heard demons before; seen miraculous healing in people when illnesses were rebuked; I have even seen them in front of me.  Yet this incident took me completely off guard.  I have never felt it in such an intense way so suddenly.  I usually have some sort of warning when it is me personally.

A few years ago our then 7 year old son dealt with these same things - even having voices telling him to kill himself by jumping off the bridge.  He suffered from these voices and this torment for several months before finally opening up to Shawn and learning who he was in Jesus.  We had been worried about him, but even though we were helping people to learn to walk in freedom themselves, it hadn't occurred to us that Andrew could be dealing with the same things. When he finally shared with Shawn about an imaginary friend swearing at him and telling him to kill himself, his behavior and lack of emotions made sense.  Teaching him to rebuke these things in the name of Jesus Christ, because he believes that Jesus is his savior was a powerful, emotional time for us as his parents.

And here I was, hearing almost the same thing.  It broke my heart to think that my son had been tormented by this for so long before experiencing freedom.  And it made me realize that all the "senseless acts" that we see in this world are really not senseless at all in the minds of people doing them.  If they are being told and learning to believe something, it will eventually play out in their lives.

Hear me, friends - I am not saying that everything evil in this world is attributed to demons.  There is the fact that we live in a broken world.  There is sin, darkness, brokeness, and the flesh that we fight each day.  Though the events that happened in the last few days are obvious examples of evil in this world, I am not going to get into an argument of gun control, mental illness treatment, spiritual warfare, and the moral state of this world.  (I believe there is some part of all of that - and more.  It is not a simple matter)  But I have to ask from my experience on the bridge, if I didn't have the Holy Spirit living in me; if Andrew hadn't had parents praying with and for him, and people teaching him about who he is in Christ- if these things hadn't been factors in my life up to that point (or in Andrew's life) what would have stopped me from jumping?  The urge was so strong momentarily, if I did not have that hope that only those in Jesus have - then what?  What would have stopped Andrew from killing himself - or being one of those horrific stories that we were reading about this weekend?

My heart aches for this world.  I have been crying all weekend as I think about those families and the children that were victims of such cruelty.  I think about some of the stories of the kids that my friends doing ministry in downtown Troy interact with and the heaviness is so thick that it seems hopeless.  My thoughts go to stories of people all over the world - friends, family, people I don't know.  Refugees, people killed by their own government, unwanted babies, orphanages filled with unloved children, hospitals brimming with sickness and death, hatred, violence, and greed.  And I repeat the words that I have seen on Facebook so often this week and been singing in my head.  "And in despair I bowed my head.  'There is no peace on earth,' I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men,"

But that's not the end of the story.  My story isn't over, and didn't end that day in death.  Andrew's story continues, and I watch him grow and shine and love Jesus and really understand freedom and how to be a warrior.  That song doesn't end with that verse.  The next verse says, "Then rang the bells more loud and deep, 'God is not dead nor does He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, of peace on earth goodwill to men.'"  I don't understand the failings, the sorrow, and the death of this world.  But I do know that this story isn't over.  And I am thankful for that - and for all the lessons that he teaches me in those unexpected moments.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

growing up

Yesterday we took John on a college visit to Nyack.  He is young - only 10th grade.  But he will be in Africa when we should be doing the college visit rounds, so we decided to get him in the loop as we traveled and give him some opportunities to see what is out there.  Since we were visiting family and friends and doing some support raising in the NYC area, we decided to make an appointment at Nyack and let him check it our.  If nothing else, we figured we would get a free lunch! ;)  He was not real receptive to the idea of visiting.  He seemed to be bucking the idea and not at all excited, which I couldn't figure out.  However, as we sat in the admissions office and he met some of the people working there, I watched him grow up before my eyes.  Where was the boy who was shy and introverted?  Here was a young man making eye contact, answering all the questions, laughing and enjoying the whole thing.  Later, as we sat in the cafeteria, he admitted that he thought it would be a bigger and more chaotic, but now that he was there, he liked the atmosphere.  It was funny that he didn't even notice some of the things that Nyack points out as being a strength - the whole multi-cultural, multi-ethnic thing is something that is normal in his life.  And when the admissions guys said he knew that one of our concerns would be for his safety, I suppressed a giggle.  I'm moving him to Africa - I'm not so worried about Nyack.  And there are plenty of family and friends in the area that will check up on him!  Overall it was a good visit, and now John knows what to expect when we go to the next place.  I don't know where John will end up at college - that is totally up to him (and God), but I am glad that he had the chance to see Nyack and think about that opportunity


Saturday, December 1, 2012

lessons from little hearts

I learn so much from my kids.  They are really God's biggest blessings to me.

Anna wanted to go Christmas shopping - for me - today!  (Yay - I like gifts, I admit it!)  And the kids decided to exchange names with each other so they could get a little something for each other without going broke.  They just love to give gifts!  So I headed out the door with Anna, Andrew, and RJ this morning to go looking.  We were planning to go to the dollar store, Walmart, and Big Lots.  My thought was that they would find a few little things at the dollar store and then we could head home and forget the other stores.  They each found some fun stuff at the dollar store - but then wanted to go to Walmart to head to the lego department.  Apparently, they decided that the best idea was to forgo the little pieces of things that break and to get something that the person really wanted.  I hesitated.  See, my kids don't really get an allowance.  And the younger two don't have jobs to make extra money outside of our home like John and Anna do.  They rely on getting money as gifts for the most part.  They had some money from my grandmother as an early Christmas gift and some money that they had found in their treasure hunt over Thanksgiving. And they wanted to buy an exciting gift.

So we went to Walmart and headed directly to the toy aisle.  They zeroed in on the legos, and each found something that made them very excited.  Anna had RJ's name, and immediately picked out the perfect lego set for him.  RJ decided that the nail polish he bought Anna at the dollar store was not the only thing he wanted to give her, because she would "love the dinosaur in this lego set, Mom!"  And Andrew, who thinks John is about the coolest big brother ever, couldn't wait to pick out the hobbit set for him.  (I hope my kids don't read my blog...)

Here's my dilemma.  I was looking at the money that they each had in the envelopes and thinking, "They want to spend all their Christmas money on each other?  Then they won't have anything left for themselves."  I pointed this out - more than once.  Mostly I didn't want meltdowns or buyers remorse later.  But each of them was so excited to give "the perfect gift" to their sibling.  They can hardly wait until Christmas because of it!  And I must admit - they really are the perfect gifts.  They put a lot of thought into it, and gave generously.

I am constantly going back and forth at this time of year.  To give or not to give.  To spend or not to spend.  I think people go crazy, and I do not agree with going in debt and giving in excess for the sake of keeping up with others.  I don't believe the craze of more, more, more  and living in stress because of it is pleasing to Jesus, nor a wise use of what he gives us.  But I LOVE giving my kids gifts and watching their faces light up when it is the thing they have been wanting.  And I think that's ok.  God loves to give us good gifts.  He delights in us and in giving us those good things.  I understand that feeling from watching my kids.

And now after watching them sacrifice and give to each other - generously and excitedly - I saw another side thing that makes Him happy.  He loves for his children to be generous.  That's why he gives us so much - to glorify him.  My kids weren't worried about not having any extra money left.  They have a pretty good understanding of giving, saving, and spending - we have been teaching them that for years.  And they are so good at each part of those!  They all know that we will get them gifts and that their needs (and even some of their wants) are taken care of because we love them.  In that security they can give and love others.

Thank you, Jesus, for always loving me and giving me so many things.  Thank you, especially, for my children and their hearts for you and others.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

home again, home again...

After a wonderful week of being in Ithaca and seeing family and friends, eating Thanksgiving dinner with my family and with Shawns, hunting (Shawn) and bringing home the bacon...I mean venison, and spending some time with our friends from Hillside CMA, we are home.  For about three days.  Then we are off agin.  I guess that is what life is like for missionaries while we are "home."  Thankfully our kids are flexible.  As we outlined our next few months travels on a map with them during school, they got excited to see where we will be headed.  Now if we could just figure out the vehicle situation...
Thank for your prayers as we continue this support raising blitz to get to South Sudan asap! 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bittersweet

Yesterday we had a good day of eating, walking, zumba-ing, laughing, talking, and hanging out at my Dad's house for Thanksgiving.  It was a a relatively calm day, and we were able to to enjoy each other and catch up.  Cousins played together, there was more than enough food, and we had a good time.  Today the kids are excited because Shawn's parent's have planned a "treasure hunt" for them.  This is something that usually happened at Cousin Camp each summer, but this year Cousin Camp was no more, so the kids had some specific things that they missed.  One of the big ones was the treasure hunt! We are also having another turkey dinner with them, so there is more thanksgiving celebrations happening.

Each of these holidays are wonderful.  I love getting together with people and catching up.  It doesn't have to be some huge event - movie night with friends is something I cherish.  On New Years Eve we are hosting a party for friends in the area (If you are around, you are welcome!)  Then after that we head out on a big two month trip meeting people and catching up with old friends for support raising.  Each one of those visits will be wonderful - and sad.

Because each one of these things has the thought, "Next year in South Sudan..." behind it.  And this statement holds so many different thoughts and emotions:  excitement and joy, curiosity and wonder, sadness and loss, happiness and gain, anxiety and unknown...all bundled up together!  We are so excited and ready to get there, get to know our team and our new home, meet the people we will be ministering with and to, start to figure out our roles and adjust to so many new things.  Yet at the same time that means it will be a long time before any more movie nights with these friends, turkey dinners with grandparents, and zumba with sisters.  Good and bad.  Gain and loss.  Always missing someone - that's the life we choose.

Don't get me wrong...I wouldn't trade my life for any other!  I LOVE my life.  And facing the reality of the blustering all of emotions that seems to be constantly rising up in me is a good and healthy thing.  But as usual, friends, writing is how I process.  So you tend to hear a lot about these things in this blog! Thanks for your continued prayers for me and my family.  You are among the many blessings I continue to be so very thankful for!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Catching up on the thanks...

As we went to the Philly area last week, I left Troy with a heavy heart.  The night before I had a wonderful small group time with my girls (see below post) and was really feeling the weight of the loss that was facing us as we left this area.  The excitement I had previously felt about getting to World Harvest and meeting with a lot of people down there seemed to be drowned in my sadness and weariness.
But God is good.
As we got closer I managed to pass time by taking a little nap (I was not driving, obviously!) and when I woke up it was as if my head was clear and my  heart was ready to look at the here and now and not at what we will be gaining or losing in future.  I am really bad at that - the here and now.  As we were being prayed for by the WHM team at the sending center, someone prayed that specifically for us, and I felt God's presence and his Spirit as he enveloped me and calmed all those fears, nerves, and anxieties.
So, once again, I am reminded of all I have and I am thankful for!

For Debra and Mitch and their warm, open hospitality as they let us crash all over their house and eat their food and watch their tv.  New friends that I anticipate being good, lasting friends as the years pass.

For the Sending Center staff and all those people in the World Harvest family that let us word vomit fears and frustrations, praises and anticipations all over them, and then pray for us.

For the chance to do things like visit the Lego store (though it was a slightly smaller version that we pictured) and Valley Forge with the kids.  The weather was GORGEOUS - almost 70 in the middle of November!  And we took pictures, rolled down hills, ran through the fields, and marveled as we touched walls that George Washington touched.  (RJ was particularly fascinated by this!)  A train even passed by us just a few feet away as we stood there - an extra perk to the day since my boys love them!

For the troops then and now - where freedom for the USA started and where we are today because of brave men and women.

For seeing family that we do not see often enough.  I mentioned before that when we were first married we lived in the Philly area.  I love the area and I love the family that lives there.  Seeing Uncle Fred and Aunt Linda, Nathaniel, Megan and Robin and the kids, Beth, Nicole, and Jordan...it is always a blessing to be around them.  Having the chance to eat tacos and drink tea (yes, it was a strange and wonderful combo) and tell them more about the work we will be doing in South Sudan made it even more fun, as we saw their excitement for us grow!

For holding the newest members of the Boda family.  Yes - that is members - they are beautiful, healthy twin boys!

For visiting and speaking at a church that we attended (cough, cough -slackers!) when we were first married.  Seeing a few familiar faces and so many more new faces.  Many people signed up for our monthly email and took donation forms.  We are trusting God in that.

For hanging out with my sister and her family.  Being welcomed into their home with the smell of yummy pork roast and the warmth of a coal stove.  Late night talks and tears and laughter.

For seeing old friends that we have not had a chance to visit with in many years!  Sharing our mission with them and eating together.  (The eating together thing seems to be a theme!)

For safe travels in our old car.  For the fact that it didn't take too many times of slamming the trunk to get it to stay closed and we didn't have to resort to a bungee cord (or duct tape!)   ;)

For coming home to hear that one of the churches we recently visited us is not only taking us on monthly, but also wants to send care packages quarterly.  Investing in us financially and emotionally - there's a lump in my throat as I think about it.

For a few days of playing catch up in school and having good things happen.  This school year has proven to be a really good one so far, with the frustrations being few.

For the anticipation of seeing college friends tonight and their kiddos!

Speaking of which...I have to clean.  I guess I can be thankful for a warm, big, dry, safe, welcoming house to clean.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My girls...

After an amazing night of openness, authenticity, tears, and prayer small group is over once again.  I am getting down to single digits of the times I will be able to be with these women on a regular basis, and it makes me feel like throwing up.  (I seem to be talking about throwing up a lot in my blogs lately...)  Seriously - it's one of those nights where the loss feels too great, and I could give into it.  But this blog is about thankfulness this month - so I will press on.

I am thankful for these women.  I am thankful for the time that I have had with them.  The conversations.  The tears and laughter (there have been plenty of both!)  The realness.  And the prayers - oh, the calling on God that has happened in that group!  For our families, our friends, our town, our church, our ministries, ourselves!  And the answers that have come in have been in abundance.  We have watched children return to Jesus; healing happen in all aspects - mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual; And seen captives set free.  God is good.

I am thankful that I know these women will be storming the gates for me (and my family and the people that we minister to) when we leave for South Sudan.  And I am thankful that I will welcomed back into the fold with open arms whenever we are home.

So thank you, Jesus.  For "my girls."  My friends.  My sisters.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

overflowing

Despite counting the thanks the last few days, it has been a season of a lot of anxiety for me recently.  Things that we are working through in our hearts and minds have given a heavy burden.  I have been overwhelmed with sadness and distress for a few friends who are going through really low spots right now.  And support raising - well, let's just say that this is one thing that is testing my not-so-patient personality more than anything I have experienced!  With the combination of these things, we recently called to God to show himself in an obvious and tangible way.  I don't feel bad doing this - I'm in good company if you read through the Bible.
Let me just say that God knows how to answer that prayer - even in excess.  Situations have not necessarily changed (that I know of), yet His love for me and his answers to prayers overflowed today.  Support came in from places not expected, prayers for friends started pouring out of my heart and mouth with hope and anticipation instead of dread and worry, and I felt like a burden of several tons has been lifted.  And it just kept happening all day!
The funny thing is how I reacted to it at first. When the first event happened I got nervous, waiting for the "but" to be thrown in.  When the next thing happened, I literally felt like I was going to throw up, wondering if it was a carrot being dangled in front of me.  (I have such a warped view of our Father!) Then God called out to me.  He reminded me of what I asked of him.  He gently pulled me into a hug and peace and joy filled my soul.  That was the best part.  Living with anxiety, worry, depression - it eats away at you, and slowly makes you feel hopeless.
Tonight as we sat in a room with several other ministry families around us that we have been friends with for the past 4 years and heard them pray over us, I choked up from the loss again.  But it was a different sort of emotion.  One that was filled with my own sadness of leaving and losing - yet still peaceful because I know He is in it.  One that had joy for the friendships that I have with these people.  One that made me think that if they are praying for us like this at other times, what do I have to worry about?  From that confidence and assurance I was able to empathize and pray for my friends in a way that they cannot do right now in their own raw emotions and losses.
God, you are Holy, mighty, awesome, peace-giving, powerful, merciful, Abba.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

keeping it going...

I am thankful for friends who come over and eat cheesecake, listen to silly songs, and just laugh together.

I am thankful for this computer that allows me to stay in contact with people all over the world easily and quickly!

I am thankful for Al and Ru, who put a lot of time, effort, and creativity into our friendship and into helping us raise support!  They are amazing people, and I love them!

I am thankful for the chance to home school my kids - even though some days I am exhausted from it and feel so much less than adequate.  I see good things in them that I know are partly because of this choice for our family.  They will have other things that are become challenges because of this choice, but I am thankful for those things, too, because I believe it is all a part of God's plan for them.

I am thankful that our church blessed us with a gift card and I could buy Anna pants and shoes that actually fit!  (These kids never stop growing!)

I am thankful for the pumpkin scented candle next to me - because it brings light and a yummy smell and makes me very happy!  (Sometimes I overlook these simple, little things that God gives me!)

(I would love to hear what you are thankful for!)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

more thanks

I am thankful for heat, as I sit here shivering in the cold air this morning!  (I am also praying for all those going without electricity right now!)

I am thankful for the summer I had with Christina and her little Logan (Or not-so-little Logan!)  I miss them terribly, but am grateful for a summer of laughs, tears, games, memories, late night talks, funny videos, and growing together as moms!  I love them both!

I am thankful that my daughter is at a birthday party today of a good friend and that John had two of his friends over last night.  It is a good thing to see your kids develop friendships and learn in them.

I am thankful for the library being just three blocks down the street, and that we can go there as much as we want and get books to read and videos and watch for free!  And it's a good sized one, so there are many options!

I am thankful for a few minutes of quiet time this morning as I sit writing this and "the crew" is mostly still sleeping!  I feel peaceful listening to the clock ticking, the cars going by outside, and praying.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

thanks overflowing

It's November already!  (I am not sure how that happened!)  So I am doing my usual thankfulness count this month.  The difference is that thanks to a friend recommending "One Thousand Gifts"by Ann Voskamp  I have been doing this all year - and it has really affected me.  But since I always need to process and think through writing, I am going to make those things more public through this blog.  Would you count along with me this month?

Today I am so, so thankful for my husband.  Shawn is my best friend.  He was my hero when I was a  confused and angry little 18 year old girl, and he held my hand and has walked with me through some of the hardest moments in my life.  I am so thankful for this man that is my best friend and an amazing father.

I am also thankful for my kids as they are growing and becoming their own people.  What a gift I was given in these 4 people!   I love to see their personalities grow and shape.  They love Jesus, us, and each other.  They make me laugh until my sides hurt sometimes, and cry as if my heart would burst at others because I love them so much.  I am so excited to watch and see the things that God has planned for them.

For my friends.  God has blessed me some women in my life that have known me like no one else.  I can be real, honest, and raw with them.  Some have been only for a time in life, and I am thankful for that time.  Others - fewer, but so precious - are people that will be lifelong sisters - kindred spirits, if you will.  I know I can always count on them for love, encouragement, prayer - and a hard word when needed.  (This is just one of those amazing women!)

For my real sisters.  What would I do without them?  We frustrate each other in ways that only sisters can do, but will always love each other.  They have known me longer than anyone else on this earth that really knows me.  We have shared good and bad times together, and it has made us stronger.  They are women that I text or call several times a week, and I can;t imagine not having them.

For my church family.  I can's say enough about Compelled.  I am in awe of what these people will do for Jesus.  They challenge me and make me stronger and more confident because it is done in love.  It is a family that has allowed authenticity and healing in the ugly, dark places.  I will miss them so, so much when we leave.  I am only comforted knowing that this church is one of those places to which we can always come home.


There are so many more!  I can't wait to share them with you! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

loss

As I sit here the first full day after Sandy made her way through the Northeast, I am stunned at the amount of damage she left behind.   Pictures of NYC and the Jersey shore made me hurt for people that live there and have lost everything - even to the extent of their lives.  It is reminiscent of so many disasters all over the world.  This blog is basically me processing, so sorry for my rambling!

I have been thinking about loss a lot today.  There are so many different ways to experience this - and none of them are easy.  Losing my mom at such a young age was - and still is - a big hit.  Having to leave Malawi - a place where I felt at home for the first time - left a hole.  Letting go of things that I think "should have been" in my life and actually allowing myself to heal when sometimes I would rather wallow.  Moving around so much in our lives has meant loss of those daily friendships with people that I have loved.  Yes, we have been blessed to have friends that will remain as close as family - but that makes it even harder to not have time with them more often than once a year.  It feels as though we are in a perpetual state of getting ready to say goodbye to someone or something - whether it be a person, a hope or an idea.  I know this is true of missionary life - but it is true for all people.

Watching the people in the news today look at what used to be their houses broke my heart.  I have never had to deal with loss of physical things to such an extent.  We have never owned a home, and the houses that we have lived in were never really ours.

But then, I guess nothing really is, is it?

James 1:17 says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows."  It is given to us, for a time, for his glory.  But if or when he chooses to take it away, blessed be his name.  This means everything.  For me right now it means my kids, my plans, my desires, my time.  I am working through a few things right now in my life that I continually have to remember to hold lightly - and it really stinks, if I am being honest.  Yet he continues to refine me and grow me.

That doesn't take away the pain of loss.  I can't wait until heaven.  Come, Lord Jesus! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

good things

We are settled into our new house in Waterford, and enjoying the goodness of all the things God has given us recently.  This church (Grace Episcopal Church) has been more than generous to us as they bring us food, meals, and encouragement - along with a free house!  We enjoyed worshiping with them this week.

Other things that we are thankful for in the past few weeks:

*It's missions conference at Compelled and we are having the International worker stay with us.  He is from Mali, Africa, and listening to his stories of life there for the past 34 years is fun, encouraging, and heart-breaking (as they are retiring after so long there!)

*A few days away at Silver Bay where pastors and their families can stay for free.  Though it was chilly, the kids played in Lake George, we played tennis (in jeans and winter jackets!), and rested and enjoyed each other for a few nights.  The best thing about this place is that I don't have to cook or clean up!  Whoo hoo!

*Celebrating Anna's birthday a week early with her cousins.  Anytime they can be together is fun and memory making.  We realize these times are precious.

*Rocking out at compelled with the amazing worship team I play with - and watching John grow and thrive in that setting.  Yes, I am a proud mama!

*Game and movie night at our house with the compelled family - laughing together and eating chocolate.  Enough said!

*Worshiping at a few different churches that we had not had a chance to be a part of before :  St. Thomas in Tupper Lake (what a welcoming family!), Clearview CMA Church in Schodack (We were loved on immensely), and Grace Church (as mentioned above!)  This weekend we will be heading to the CMA church in Hoosick Falls!  Looking forward to it!

*Chatting with friends from all over the world.  I love cell phones and facebook and skype and all that "technology!"

*Seeing new names on our weekly reports for fun raising!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

*Eating Turkey Dinner at compelled - yummmmmmy

*We have had some really good school days this year so far.  Thank you, Lord.  I needed it after last year!  haha! Apparently Geometry is easier for John than Algebra - just like me!

*Getting to know Andy and Beverly more as they prepare to take over at Compelled.  What a wonderful couple.  I am excited for what God is going to do in and through them.

*A bonfire at a friend's house!  And God held off the rain for the most part!  :)

*Visiting the RPI Observatory and catching a glimpse of a satellite.  The second time, Andrew even got to see Jupiter and 4 of it's moons!

Thank you, Jesus.  You are good.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Home Sweet Home

I'm not quite sure what that phrase even means, sometimes!  In the 16+ years we have been married, we have moved 17 times.  And we stayed in one house in Kinsman for 4.5 years!  I guess not owning a home means that rent prices go up and all that good stuff.  When we were in Malawi we moved three times before being able to settle in the mission housing of some Southern Baptist friends, because the Malawian landlords thought they could get a good price from the Americans!  But that's neither here nor there....

Welcome to our new place!
 The Grace Episcopal Church of Waterford, NY has graciously let us live in their empty rectory free of charge while we are raising support to go to South Sudan!  And I have to say - it's good to be back in the Troy, NY area!  It takes only 10 minutes to get to Compelled, and we are actually able to do school at home, eat all our meals, and still go to church Wednesday night instead of packing up and spending the day there!  And we can hang out with some of the friends that we have not been able to spend much time with, while still being close enough to our Schenectady friends that we can get together.  It's all good.

It has also freed us up to be able to do some all-out support raising! We talked with Michael and Karen Masso today (our team leaders in SS) and it was good.  We are all ready to have us there, and feeling a bit impatient with God's timing of things, but it was nice to talk with them and get their perspective on things.  They will be leaving at the end of the summer 2013 for a few month for home assignment, so we are now really praying that we can get there at the beginning of the year to have a few months with them there before they leave! Would you pray that with us?

The call made the kids antsy to go as well, as they heard the voices of Gaby and Liana, and started imagining what it would be like there to do school and hang out with them!  Even John said, "Every time we talk to them I get excited again!"

Thanks for your prayers, support, and encouragement!  Please pray that we would be patient with God's timing!  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's not about us...

Yesterday afternoon we headed to Skaneatles, NY to celebrate 5 years of the Duk Lost Boy's Clinic in South Sudan.  It was a fundraiser for the clinic, and we figured, "Why not?"  Not only is it for an immensely good cause, but it's for South Sudan - and we may meet some people that have a heart for S. Sudan and big purses (just being real, here...)

Well, it turns out that Shawn and I are a lot better at hanging out at that table with the Lost Boys and their families and talking about the life in South Sudan as opposed to here than we are at schmoozing with the donors.  In fact, I have not felt more out of place in a LONG time!  ;)  But it was a good time, and it did do something very important for both of us - it reminded us of why we were called to all this to begin with.


Support raising is a crazy time, let me tell you.  If you have never had to do it - be thankful! It is constantly on our hearts and in our faces as we have meetings with our support coach (whom I adore) and  see people that know what we are doing and always get asked the questions of "What percent are you at?" and "How much longer?"  (If you know the answer to the last one, I would love it if you would clue me in!) We also are in the middle of preparing in other ways - like the training that I went to last week.  So I spend a week talking all day about what my life will be like (as if I have a clue) and yet it seems like it is all so far away, and so contingent on money.  Sigh...Yet in it all, God shows just enough to let us know we are on the right path and it is about his timing.  (More on the free house, our move, and a few other things in the next blog!)

And we really hate asking people for money!  I have gone through this each and every time I have to call, email, or have a face to face with someone about supporting us:  "Lord, give me strength and favor," sweat up a storm, feel sick to my stomach, find a reason to put it off, think about it all day, finally just do it to get it over with, relax for a few moments - until I realize there's always the next phone call, conversation, or email.  It has not been a process that either Shawn or I have found thoroughly enjoyable!

Yet this weekend, last night especially, I was reminded of WHY we are doing this.  I have been nervous about asking people to give money, because in my head I have been thinking that I am asking them to give US money.  And yes, to a point that is true.  We need you to give money specifically to us so we can do this work that He has asked us to do.  Yet it is so much much more than that.  We need you to give money for the people of South Sudan - a country where they are finally starting to rebuild after decades of war.  In talking to some of the guys last night, and re-watching the documentary "God Grew Tired of Us" this morning, I cried as I saw boys as young as RJ and Andrew walking thousands of miles to escape being killed (like their families were) or being made into soldiers.  They were in charge of each other.  They lived together in refugee camps on the border of their home country, yet never able to go back because of the war.  They didn't know if anyone else they had loved and lived with was alive or not.  They had watched rape, killings, beatings, and torture.  And they were not the only ones.  This was how the majority of this country lived.

As I talked with them last night, I asked if they had been back since it was an independent country.  Most had not - and admitted that they would not even know their own country now, but they were working hard here to help those that were still there.  They were making money to help build medical clinics, buy mosquito nets, get schools built and teachers trained, to help with the infrastructure of the country.  They are desiring to see it built up and healed - both physically and spiritually.

And so are we.
That is why we are going.  Not the adventure of living in another place - though there will always be a part of that.  Not the "easy living," that's for sure!  Not because we are insane (though we may be slightly) and can't seem to settle in one spot.  But because the Spirit whispered in our ears and our hearts about this place and these people that He loves and wants us to love, too. And we are now asking you to listen as He whispers to you about this love.

So, while I may still get nervous to ask about money, I will do it.  Because I am not asking you to fund a crazy dream of mine, I'm asking you to join this adventure of God's that we are all a part of.  And I will be unapologetic about asking you.  Because really, almost all of us can give a little each month to help those who can't help themselves yet in South Sudan.  So be prepared - and start praying about your part in this! Thanks!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hello from NC

I am sitting here in my room in Marion, NC on my new friend (and roomie for the week) Audrey's computer.  I intended to get on and blog about all that I have been learning at this training, but honestly, most of it is still a jumble in my mind and I am processing so much info.  So I will let you know a few basics about what I am learning here...
CHE (Community Health Development) is something that I new very little about before coming here.  I understood that it was a preventative training - one to help educate people in healthy living things and ways to improve their lives.  The official definition in our handbooks actually says, "broad based first-tier community health balanced with spiritual teaching." For those who still don't quite understand that definition - let me give you a very basic example:  Lack of clean drinking water in a community causes many illnesses and deaths.  One thing a CHE would do is to help people identify the issue, help them determine ways to fix it and help them find local resources and come up with a plan.  The whole idea is to get a place to own the solution themselves and then to take that and pass it on to others.  Oh - and the most important part - with each physical lesson comes a spiritual one.  Holistic, mind/body/soul healing and health.  I just realized today that this is what has been happening down at Oak's cafe in many ways.  
I am actually being trained to train others...though at this point it feels very vague.  That means that my role would eventually be to train myself out of a job as people locally take over and gain confidence and own the community's spiritual and physical health and development.  Again, that is simplified (and probably not even totally correct since we are still learning!) but the basics.
And as I have sat with people all week who have the same missions heart and understanding of this world as I do in many ways - and actually "Get me" when it comes to an intense desire to be back in Africa - it has been good.  I have made new friends, am learning new things, and wondering each day what our life will look like as it plays out in South Sudan.  Will I actually be able to implement any of this eventually?  Will I be able to do anything at all?  When we use examples of the communities that we are going into, it feels overwhelming and (sometimes) hopeless as I look up info on S Sudan, talk about my limited knowledge of it and even more limited time there, and focus on a few of the issues there that a CHE  could look at.  There are times of doubt and fear - yet even more times of excitement of wonder.  Ahh...this crazy life. 
So, for all of you praying for me this week - thank you.  I appreciate it!  And keep it up!  

Friday, August 31, 2012

ch-ch-ch-changes

August has been crazy busy.  Yep, that's my excuse for not being on here as much as usual.  But God has been at work in us and with us.  I am almost feeling overwhelmed about what to write here because there are so many things I would like to share, but I don't want to scare anyone off with the length of this blog! It has been a month of change, beginning of transitions, and a time of starting to let go.  To take the steps out of the boat and try to focus on Him and what he asks instead of the waves around us.  We have often failed at that, and after a few moments of panic have had to cry, "Lord, save me!"  And he does.  He was all along.  lovingly, patiently, and perfectly.

So what has been happening?


The beginning of the month was when we candidated a family to come in as the assistant pastor at Troy and the eventually take over Shawn's role as Senior Pastor.  We are so excited about hiring Andy and Beverly.  Yet in reality there were a lot of emotions and "self" that popped up in that whole process. Pride, jealousy, fear, anger, worry, joy  - all flashing together one after another in a matter of moments, then starting all over again.  The hiring of them means that we have taken those steps in Troy to remind people that we are leaving - that Africa is real and our calling there is real.  And that is a mixed bag, honestly.  I LOVE this church family.  They are my close friends and family.  There are relationships there that I know I will carry with me for the rest of my life (I have moved enough to know how to do this) yet I also know that it is not the same as seeing each other several times a week to pray, laugh, hug, and work through life together.  So there is mourning and sadness that way.  Yet excitement because it means we are heading to another season of that in South Sudan, with another team of people.  (Which also brings the junior high worry of ,"Will they like and accept me?"  But that's another blog!)

Right after that happened we came to the decision through a variety of things happening that our time in Schenectady was done even sooner.  Shawn put in his resignation, and at the end of September he will only have the part time job in Troy and fund raising to focus on.  We will also be without a house and half our salary.  Needless to say that has been one of those things that Satan has whispered over and over again in our ears.  Yet through it all I have felt mostly peace - and relief that we can really start to focus on getting to South Sudan.  And, as usual, God is providing.  We have options of housing.  And through those options we have the ability to not have to take another part time job, but to be able to focus on the things we are doing.  Why am I always surprised when this happens?  He is only showing the next step - one at a time, not the whole picture - but he is showing us what we need when we need it.

Then we went on vacation.  And that was pure bliss.  5 days in a row of sleeping in, swimming, reading, playing games with cousins, swimming some more, tubing, fishing, and hanging out with God in stillness and quiet beauty.  (Side note...anyone in this district who is a pastor that is reading this -if you DON'T take the AWM up on staying at the missionary cottage for free, you are nuts!) One of our dear friends (sister, really) came the first night and vacation mode started almost immediately as we kayaked, swam and ate together!  I wasn't ready to come home.



In between all these major steps towards transition there have been those moments that have changed us, also.  Christina and Logan, who have been living with us all summer, moved out and on to Alabama.  Our house has been to quiet and void of baby squeals and Christina jokes.  Going to Walmart is not nearly as fun.  And all our late night talks are deeply missed.  God blessed us with that season of months together with this young woman that is more family than anything else.  It was another goodbye that hurt.

We had a late night prayer walk at the cafe, missed our dear friend who was in Uganda for a few weeks, I had a birthday and got my nose pierced! (Something I have wanted to do since college when I saw one of the coolest people I had ever met at that point had one!)  harvested garden goodies, babysat for a friend, and just did life.


We called on you all to pray for us this week, and have been humbled by the numbers of you that are!  I will write more about that after the week is over and let you know how God is using your prayers!

Tonight we have our welcome back picnic at the Troy church.  There will be music, food, games, fun, laughter - and hopefully more than a few new faces!  It is my last big "hurrah" as far as planning things in Troy.  It will be a long day, but a fun one. And I will keep packing up the house into piles of "keep", "save", "Africa??", and "What-in-the-world-do-we-do-with-this?"  Thanks, God.  It's an amazing ride.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

the kiddos

In our journey to South Sudan we have had a lot of people ask us questions of all sorts - and we love to answer them.  Even those questions that we have answered a thousand times are fun to answer because it means we get to keep talking about the love that we have for the country and the people, and the excitement we feel about going there.  However there has been one question (or comment) people ask that we find ourselves answering in different ways depending on how we are feeling that day.  That has to do with our kids and the implication that we are may not be doing the best thing for them.  This is hard for any of us that are parents, as we question and re-question our actions each day.  I believe God has called us a family and did not give our kids to us by accident.   However, the added factors of going to a third world country still recovering from war, a place in the world that continues to teeter in instability - this "ups the ante".
I have avoided writing this blog because I have not wanted to offend anyone or have to answer other questions it may bring up.  However, I recently decided it was time to write it -with fear and trembling, since we are still working through these things.

I'm not going to lie - I think about it.  They are my kids, for goodness sake.  I would do anything in my power to keep them safe and healthy and loved on.  So how does one reconcile taking them away from home and family, going to a place that has basically only known war and famine, and continuing on in our life that does not include white picket fences and a childhood home where there are decades of memories?  I know God has called us.  I know he has called us at this time, which means he has also called our kids.  But putting my mother's heart to rest about these things is easier said than done.  

I feel like as I have worked through some of these things and prayed about them, God has been formulating answers in my mind and heart.  Yet trying to put those answers in words were about as easy as trying to give a tangible expression about who He is!  The answers he was giving me were more about expressions of peace and feelings of assurance of his love for all of us.  There were thoughts and phrases going around in my mind, but none that I could put into words that made any sense. I read books and blogs about missionary kids and spoke to friends who are missionaries and their kids.  But the truth of it is that God's plan for me and his plan for our family (which includes all four kids right now) is unique and perfect and he is carrying it out.  Within the family structure, he also has a plan for each of us as individuals.  Watching that unfold in my kids life is amazing and terrifying and awesome all in the same breath.

So I started asking myself another question.  What is it that I want for my kids?  Of course I want the things I mentioned above - health, happiness, contentment, love, safety.  But more than that - more than anything - I want them to know God.  REALLY know him.  In this "line of work" I see too many people who settle for less because God is simply a part of their life, and not their whole life.  I want my kids to eat, sleep, and breath the Holy Spirit and his love.  I want passion and intimacy in their relationships with him that makes me jealous for a deeper relationship too.  I want them to truly experience him in fullness.  But that usually does not happen in a "perfect" world.  If I am trying too hard to protect and shelter, I could actually be making it harder for them to see and know God.  Of course I would not do anything overtly stupid or allow them to be hurt intentionally.  But how can they know the real meaning of in our weakness He is made perfect if they don't experience their weaknesses?  How can they experience the closeness of God in that comes in brokenness if they are never broken themselves?  I've been through some brokenness...I know the sweetness of coming through that with Him.  I desire that for them.

And I want my kids to know and understand that they are so, so, so important to me.  They are my priority. I adore them.  But they are not the only people in this world.  I want their eyes open to the fact that if they did not get the birthday gift they wanted, the world does not end and it does not mean they are less loved.  When we were in Africa last time I watched as my kids went from protecting the few toys they had with them (a natural reaction we all have) to giving away the very shoes on their feet (or earrings from her ears!)  They realized that we may be sick of Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but it is nutritious and filling while others are living on rice alone.  Simple, easy things to see that are not so easy to live out.

A book I am reading called, "Parenting Beyond Your Capacity" says this in it:  "The mission of your family is not to ultimately protect your kids but to mobilize them to demonstrate God's love to a broken world."  I desire this more than anything for my kids. For them to know God's love and intimacy and power in their own brokenness and then overflow that into a world that is hurting and needing more than it understands.

So, am I scared?  You bet!  God is not a tame God!  My favorite quote from the Narnia series is by Mr. Beaver, "'Safe?' said Mr. Beaver; 'don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.'"  I want my kids to know just how good he is and that they can rest and live in that.   I am also sure of this  - that He who began a good work in John, Anna, Andrew, and RJ will continue it in them until it is complete.  That he has plans for each and every one of them and they are good plans with a purpose and hope.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

love, true love

This weekend we were at a wedding of some wonderful friends that Shawn had the honor of marrying.  Shawn takes marrying people very seriously and has turned down more couples than he has actually married. Yet the 13 couples that he has married are all still together, and this makes us both very happy.  To know that we both invested time and love into another family and then watching as they grow in love with Christ and each other is so amazing.  We take no credit for it - but we do feel a special love for those couples that we got to bond with this way.


At a wedding, one of my favorite things to do is to watch the groom. While others are watching the bride and oohing and ahhing over her dress and her beauty, I am watching the groom watch his bride.  There are many ways a groom can react - if he is nervous he may look very serious.  Or sometimes I have seen a groom look like he is about to sign his life away (thankfully not at any weddings that Shawn has done!) Usually, though, I see a man that is starting to lose control of his emotions because his wedding day is finally here and his bride is coming towards him and she is beautiful - and she belongs to him!  


JP was that way.  I am tearing up as I think about his reaction to his beautiful Jenna.  He was emotional as I hugged him before the ceremony, but he couldn't stop crying and smiling as she walked (danced...lol)  toward him.  They were both full of joy, but his joy was overflowing.  






That is how Jesus feels about me.  


I am his bride.  He is looking at me and smiling and loving me and tears of joy are flowing freely.  He thinks I am beautiful.  Yes, the church as a whole is his bride, but I am part of that - I am special to him and he loves me.


I often don't think of God as singing over me; as dancing with joy for me; as someone smiling a smile so big and full you wonder if his cheeks are hurting.  Yet as I watched JP look at Jenna that day, I got a very physical picture of His love for me.  


So thanks for letting us be a part of your day, Mr. and Mrs. Stoffel!  And Thank you, Jesus, for your love for me.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

surgery fun

Thanks to all of you who prayed for Shawn this week when he had surgery.  He downplayed it a bit, so people were shocked when they saw the amount of stitches he had, but he is healing and doing well.  He had surgery Tuesday to remove a tumor from a salivary gland.  It required a bigger cut than I realized.  And since the tumor was surrounding several nerves, he is still numb - like he had Novocaine.  Also, it is starting to heal inside so it is itchy, but the outside is still numb so he can't even feel when he tries to itch it!  So frustrating for him, I am sure!


The bandages make it look like he had major brain surgery - but it was just a hard place to cover! lol

Swollen from the stitches

We are headed off today to do a wedding of two amazing young people - an honor that comes in with the title of pastor!  Thanks! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Crossing Cultures

Yesterday began our journey into things unfamiliar.  Shawn and I headed up to Ausable Forks, NY (Right outside of Plattsburg, for most of you who will ask me later) and met with Deacon Patti from the St. James Episcopal Church there.  What a wonderful time we had with this amazing group of people!


Having grown up in the CMA, we are not familiar with the liturgy and form that accompanies this church.  The first time I attended a service at Oaks with Hannah and Christina I almost laughed at my lack of knowing what to do - stand, sit, repeat, answer, etc.  I felt like a little kid instead of a pastor's wife - it opened my eyes to how "real people" feel coming into church! When we were in South Sudan it was the same way.  Yes, the service was in Moru and Juba Arabic, and every once in a while translated into a few English phrases.  But the big thing was that I couldn't even guess what was being said or what was occurring because I was as unfamiliar with the Anglican church as I was the S. Sudanese languages!

A couple of years ago I blogged about our friend who is a Methodist Pastor and going to his service during the Lent season.  I wrote, "I was deeply moved yet strangely uncomfortable....and realized I do not have the whole concept of praise and worship 'down'."  As we have began attending services with our Episcopal friends, I am reminded of this once again.  Yes, I LOVE our worship teams and the music and service at Compelled on Wednesday night, but it is not the only way to worship God.  As the word of God is read and the person reading ends with, "The word of the Lord," and the congregation responds with, "Thanks be to God," my heart leaps a little.  Yes!  This is the Word of God - alive and active and real and being recognized as so.


Yesterday was a wonderful experience in this church as we were warmly welcomed, hugged, kissed, and prayed for.  We sang formal hymns and then one of the congregants from Jamaica broke out the tambourine and fell into dancing and singing - and the whole congregation with him! Then we took communion together and focused on what Christ has done for us - which ended with more tambourines and dancing!  Shawn preached for the first time in the Episcopal church, and he got "amen-ed"  more than any other church we have been at.  While I had been prepared for a more formal service, I left feeling like I had been in the spontaneous presence of God in so many ways.  

One of the perks of raising funds is the chance to speak in churches and worship with people we haven't had the chance to be with recently - or ever.  I am very much looking forward to worshiping with you all! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I think we are insane...lol

It's been a while since I blogged, and I am not sure if I should apologize about that or not?  haha - sometimes my ramblings even get on my own nerves!  Anyway...





We spent last week at Delta Lake with a camp full of people who love Jesus and were (mostly) excited to hear about our heart for South Sudan.  The thing that makes that ironic is how much I struggled with the realities of what life will be like when we get there during camp this last week.  As much as I enjoyed the community of people being around constantly, there was also the reminder that, despite the fact I think I am mostly an extrovert, I still have introvert qualities - like the need for time alone to rejuvenate and recharge.  Every where I went there were people - in the cabin was the whole family plus Christina and Logan, outside was the youth tab and people walking by, at the dock were lifeguards and kids, at the main tab was people that I loved seeing and having the chance to hang out with-but still made it so no matter where I was, I was not alone.  Honestly, I don't know much about team living.  While we were visiting SS I soaked it up and kept thinking how much our whole family would love not being on our own this time.  But to have people around all the time?  Well - I guess that's where communication comes in.

And then there's the practical out-workings of things.  I was sick in the middle of the week - fever and achiness and tiredness.  I just wanted to sleep, but it was almost 100 outside, so the inside of the cabin was intense and suffocating.  I started to feel panicky as I though about the heat in SS and living in that for months at a time.  The bathroom was a little walk away, and getting the kids to and from with everything we needed was tricky.  In SS we will not have a toilet inside our house (believe me, we wouldn't want it that close!) The bugs were everywhere and in everything.  Bug spray and sunblock were our perfumes.  There was no stove and fridge, and trying to cook healthy for my family on a limited budget with supplies that I had to think about ahead of time was not easy.

And perhaps the worst part was the constant layer of dust.  Dust on dust.  And then more dust.  Even when you showered, by the time you got back to the cabin you were covered in sweat and dust again.  Sigh.  I hate getting into bed with dirty feet, but by the end of the stay my sheets were covered with a thin grey color that was on all our clothes.

What are we thinking?

Can I really do this?  My teammates, who are people I admire so much, do this each day.  They get up and walk, face the heat and dust, spend time with each other and work through those days that you just don't feel like loving those around you, forgive and move on, face languages that still don't (may never?) feel or sound familiar, improvise when the power is out or the fuel is gone, get creative when the only fresh thing left in the market are the mangoes that you have been eating for weeks...well, you get the picture.  Life is not a picnic there.

Yet if you read their blogs (you can see them on the side of this page), meet them in person, talk with them, and get to know their hearts, you see people may be tolerating the circumstances that are not always the best because they have an intense love for Jesus and the work that he is doing in their hearts and lives and the lives of the South Sudanese people. Do I have that?  Do I really have the ability to do this?

Simply put - no.

Not in and of myself.  If left on my own I will love ME most and all the time.  My needs will be met despite what happens to others; my comforts will be more important than anyone else's; I will take the easiest way for me.  That is not just talking about the heat, bugs, and dust - but in those interpersonal relationships also.  I will forge my way into my own world and ignore those around me so I don't have to face the pain, discomfort, and ugliness that comes from living daily in this broken, yucky world.

So what to do?  On our recent prayer letter I quoted from Rose Marie Miller, "Here, then is my theme:  the only hope of liberation for a helpless, resisting caterpillar in a ring of fire is deliverance from above.  Someone must reach down into the ring and take us out.  This rescue is what brings us from the orphan state into that of son or daughter.  This is not mere supporting grace, but a transforming grace."

As I think about the things that we will face on the field - those practical, daily obstacles - I simply hold my hands up and ask my God to pull me out.  Pull me out of the fire of fear, insecurity, uncertainty, hopelessness, and worry.  And as he is lifting me out, I ask for him to give me his love, peace, compassion, passion, strength, and boldness.  Yes, there will be days when I am overwhelmed and tired and ready to pack it in (there are now, even in the comforts of this clean, air conditioned, comfortable home!) But He is in control of my life, my heart, my very self.  He loves me with an unconditional, unfathomable love - and I will rest in his arms.

So pray for us as we continue to prepare to go - for His joy and patience.  Pray that we specifically start to really know how much he loves us so we can have that overflow from us into whomever we are around.  And pray for our team that is already there and making their way there even as we speak. Thanks!  

Friday, June 15, 2012

focus, young padawan!

"The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees."  Brother Lawrence


Recently I have been so ready to come back to some form of simplicity in my life.  This life is a busy, noisy place for most people, and my life is no different.  With 8 people living in our house right now (including a sweet and happy newborn-not mine!), there is not a lot of time when it is completely silent or calm.  With two churches moving along and good things happening - one of them being 20 miles away - we are often on the road and visiting with people.  And with the continued raising support to head to South Sudan, there is a lot of planning and talking and visiting and educating happening there!  I love this - sitting still has never been a strong point for me!  But it also causes me to focus more on the constant buzz and action around me than on the still, small voice calling out within me.  I don't need help with chaos - I have a good handle on how to make that happen!  I need to learn how to tune it all out and to be able to hear that voice amid all of it.  


Brother Lawrence tells of washing dishes and being in a constant state of communion with God;  a tranquility that comes in the middle of menial tasks and noise all around that is as real to him as when he is alone and on his knees.  


Now here is the problem for me...even when I am alone and on my knees I have trouble focusing!  The quietness might last a good 30 seconds - then I hear something downstairs, or a shopping list comes to mind, or a remembrance of a recent event, or a blog post (yikes!)...and my ability to hear Him is gone that fast!  After a few moments of daydreaming, I realize what I'm doing and, again, I focus my thoughts on Him and Him alone.  Maybe through a song or through a repeated phrase.  I'm drawn into His presence and know a moment or two of complete peace and joy and a holy silence.  And then, BOOM, as quickly as it comes-it's gone again.  Sigh...if I have this much trouble alone and in a completely perfect setting-how can I do this in the middle of dishes, driving, teaching, disciplining, paying bills, writing notes, planning the calendar?  


It's a discipline.  There is something about that word and it's connotations that we hate.  Right now I am counting calories - I HATE that discipline.  I much prefer to eat what I want when I want without thinking about it.  But that has lead to a life (and a body) that is not in the best shape it can be.  Before it gets more out of control I am choosing to learn some real discipline.  Exercising and losing weight will not only make me look better, but also make me actually be healthier and live a life that is able to do all He asks without the hindrance of the extra weight.  


It's the same way with spiritual disciplines.  It's HARD!  I am realizing that nothing about the the spiritual life and a walk with God is really easy or natural.  That's not to say it isn't worth it, or I would change it - but we definitely do not sell the "whole package" to the non-believer!  Yet in that hardness there is rest and joy and peace and a wholeness that cannot be experienced any other way.  It means a chance to do all that He asks without the hindrance of the extra weight in so many other ways! 


So I am learning new habits - both in the physical sense and the spiritual sense.  They are so tied together, really.  Do I belong to this world or to Him?  It's really quite simple. Join me in this adventure?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The joy of Joy

This week Shawn's Aunt Joy turned 75, and her kids put on a big bash for the celebration!  I love going to Shawn's family parties-this is a HUGE family, and they are a lot of fun.  And once you are in, you are IN!  Hanging out, laughing, eating, playing games, and more laughing is always involved in these get togethers.

This party was not only fun and celebratory for an amazing woman that we love - but Aunt Joy took it one step further and asked people to donate to our World Harvest Account in place of traditional gifts.  What a blessing.  Not only did we receive a good chunk of money towards our ministry there, but we had several more opportunities to talk about getting to the place that our hearts and going more and more each day.

Aunt Joy has always been a great gift to our family, but this day was a special blessing to us.  It encouraged us in ways that she may not even realize.  Because, yes - we DO need monthly donors to help us get to the field and stay there for our 5 year term.  But we also need those people are are excited and on board with us in every step of the journey.  Thank you, Aunt Joy, for being one of those people!  We love you! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Love in the gaps

"If we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them, and this will lead us to prayer: Intercession is a way of loving others."  Richard Foster


I have had some thing become very clear to me recently.  I have started to love recklessly.  Not selflessly - not by any means.  In fact, most of my love for others comes with some sort of expectation, if I am being completely honest.  I wish it didn't, but it is always there in the back of my mind trying to poke it's ugly, selfish head out.  Regardless, when I love you - really love you, I love with abandonment.  


As a woman who has been in ministry my whole adult life, I have had to learn to love difficult people.  (I am sure people would say the same of me!)  But there has usually been a holding back in that love; a self protection mechanism where I feel like if I do not love completely, and give completely, then when it is time to leave, or when I am disappointed by someone, it will not be as bad.  And in my experience, those two things always happen.  We disappoint and are disappointed because we are human.  And sooner or later, we leave - for another place to live, or from this earth altogether.  


In the last four years, since coming back wounded and limping from Malawi, there has been a lot of work in this area of my life by God.  At first there was no opening to people.  I was friendly and could smile and offer prayers and advice, but that was as far as it was going to go.  However over time those things started to break down and be stripped away.  I started to meet people that I was drawn to, and people who loved me.  We went through counseling and had some in depth healing done through the Holy spirit in ways that I had never experienced.  And despite the fact that we knew we were headed to Africa again, I started to soften my heart and fall in love with this place, this church, these people.  


One of the problems with being a church with so many college students is that you are constantly saying good bye and letting go.  Ouch.  We have had that experience again this month as all the colleges have finished and students came to their last Compelled for the summer - or for forever.  My guitar player,  a young man my whole family adores, said goodbye - perhaps for long term.  He is studying in Singapore next semester, and will not be back to Compelled until late January - about the time we are hoping to be on a place to South Sudan! My heart was heavy.  


Even harder than the goodbyes, though, is the deep, intense, overwhelming desire for wholeness, love, passion, healing, and completeness for those that you love.  When you start to open your heart and really love people, and when you ask God to give you his love for people, you do not just meet those who are stable, disciplined, healthy people.  In fact, more often than not your eyes are opened to the fact that we all -every last one of us- are so fallen and broken without the Holy Spirit.  And so when you love someone, and walk alongside them, you have to take the good with the bad- the ugly with the beautiful.  That means you have to take the hurt, disappointment, and slaps in the face as well.  

Anyone who is a parent already knows this feeling.  You will do anything for your kids - you desire so much more for them.  As a Christian parent we want our kids to not only be successful, healthy, happy people in this world - but we want them to know intimacy with Jesus, have a passion for his heart, and be walking in step with him.  It can become an obsession in the way we live and act to try to develop the perfect atmosphere for our kids to become these things.  

Shawn and I, in our love for people, have taken on more responsibility that we actually have.  We have counseled, advised, worked alongside, expected, disciplined...yet it is not enough.  We cannot change people's hearts or minds.  We cannot be the ones to do the healing and completing.  We have gotten tired and overwhelmed and discouraged.  It makes one wonder if it is all worth it -this love, this work.    

When we come to the end of our patience with a person, or our hope for restoration is depleted, we finally then come to God.  And he smiles and folds us in his arms and reminds us of not only his intense love for us , but his unending, un-understandable love for those we are hurting for.  And we remember the only thing that we can really, truly do completely for that person - pray.  Intercede.  Stand in the Gap.  Fight for them.  Relinquish them.  Plead for them.  Pray.  And the burden of feeling responsible for the whole world, and failing miserably, starts to drop off.  And that reckless love no longer seems like a curse, but a privilege.  

I realize that many of you are those gap-standers for us and our family.  You are forever in my debt.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

this crazy, amazing life

God is such a crazy, amazing, wild God, isn't he?  Yet in the midst of all of it, he is a calm refuge.  I don't understand how those two things work, but I am so glad that it does!

A few things that I have been so thankful for in the past couple of weeks:

A GREAT time in the Buffalo area with friends from a decade ago.  Laughing, sharing, praying together, laughing some more...it was wonderful!  And watching my kids hit it off with the kids there was great, too.

Watching Anna go to Junior high Youth group at Kenmore...where were got our official start!  (All I could think was, "I hope this Jr high youth is not a crazy as ours was!"  HA!)

Laughing at RJ for trying to eat without his two front teeth - which are FINALLY starting to come in.  Poor kid - he's a mess-maker as it is, but now there are constant food stains on his cheek where he tries to eat from the side of his mouth!

A visit to the magnificent Niagara Falls.  When we lived close and went all the time, I forgot how beautiful it is.  Seeing it through my kid's eyes was pretty cool.

Friends that fill in the gaps when you are gone...and then love you enough when you get back to make you talk, and pray with you.  (Such a gift)  And then invite you to the movies to watch the Avengers! ;)

Time with two of my sisters a few weeks ago - swimming in cold water, eating all day long, and sharing together.  These are times that do not come often enough (and will be even less when we go to Africa) so I treasure them greatly!

Funds starting to come in for South Sudan...from places I didn't expect.  And doors opening up to share with churches what we will be doing!

Spending 13 hours in two days at the pool with my kids in the hotel...and reading my Nook when I wasn't swimming.  Loved the down time and watching them enjoy it!

There are so many ways that I am blessed...these are just a few!




Friday, May 4, 2012

a quote

I saw this on a friend's wall today on Facebook, and have thought about it all day:

  "Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong." Tim Keller

The worry part I knew and understood - it is something I think about often as I get anxious and fret.  However,  I have never thought of bitterness that way before. It makes me really dig deeper into my reaction to some things.  I have a deep desire to trust God in all circumstances - past, present, and future.  Honestly, it gives me much relief and freedom to really live that way - realizing I don't have to "remind" God, nag him, reprimand him, or worry that he has "ulterior" motives.  Who am I to say he is not doing things right or that God got it wrong in the past? Isn't it more freeing to just believe he is who he says he is, he loves as he says he does, and he has a perfect plan that he is carrying out to completion in our lives?

This quote came at exactly the right time to remind me of this.  Don't you love when he works that way?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Life and death

This week has been a full week - a wonderful, fun, and amazing week in many ways- but FULL! I spent the earlier part of the week at Silver Bay on Lake George with my family and some great friends. Then we had Compelled. Then I was off to the Ladies retreat this weekend. I went early so I could spend some extra time with my sisters, who were coming to hang out with me! The retreat was great, the speakers amazing, and I made a few new friends - that is always a good thing. In the middle of my chaos-as-usual life, I watched as life and death played out in the lives of people I care about. A family that I have known for a long time and adore lost a husband/father suddenly on Sunday. It was very unexpected, and even as they came to the retreat this weekend (they needed to be with people that loved them and hear God's word) I was amazed at how God's love played out for them through his people. As I sang "You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, blessed be the name of the Lord" I could only think of them sitting a few tables behind me singing it in a way that was raw and very real. At Compelled last week we watched a young man get baptized and publicly begin his walk with Jesus. He had come from the past few years of living in his own ways and came to realize that God's love for him was no gamble. It is always an emotional things for me to see these steps of faith in people's lives. Then last Monday another friend welcomed a little boy into their family. We rejoice with them in his healthy birth and new life! Then on Thursday I got the news that a man we went to Nyack with (and whose sisters are friends of ours - one of whom was supposed to speak at the retreat) had a massive heart attack and died suddenly. No warning - a seemingly healthy 40 year old man in the service. In Japan. God's ways are not mine and I don't understand them...but I do believe He is good all the time. On Friday we got news that another friend had baby boy to add their family of girls! There was much rejoicing, and seeing daddy's proud face holding his new son was priceless. That same day, we found out another friend's grandmother died. We had met her a few times and had been praying for her to understand the salvation message as it was presented to her quite a few times recently. Life. And death. And life again. It's that never-ending circle. It makes me glad that I can say I can trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all ways I will acknowledge him and he will make the path straight. I am thankful for this in a week of emotional ups and downs.

Monday, April 16, 2012

laughing at myself

If you knew me in high school and even college, but have not seen me much since then, you may not recognize me. I'm not just talking the extra weight gain (though that is true, also!) but rather the fact that I was quite shy and quiet around most people during that time of life. My closest friends would laugh at that statement- they saw me when I was comfortable and able to be myself more. As an adult I feel like I have become more comfortable in my own skin in many ways. I know my roles for the most part, and have worked on becoming the best I can be in those roles whether that is as a wife, mom, pastor's wife, friend, daughter, etc.

In that, though, I realize what a perfectionist I can be when it comes to what I expect from myself. And when I have a longer period of time of "learning" and not "excelling" than I think I should, I get really impatient, self conscious, and insecure again. This phlebotomy thing is a good example of that. I was so nervous going last week to take blood, and my hands were shaking (not something you want to see on a person coming at you with a needle!) When I couldn't find a vein on the first guy, and then had another guy faint on me I got a little scared that I would never get the hang of it. I want to be that person that everyone leaves and says, "Wow, I didn't feel a thing!" Yet I am in the beginning of my training, and I know that last statement is not true! :)

After talking with my patient and encouraging trainer, and venting to Shawn who reminded me that I am ridiculous with my expectations sometimes, I went back this morning with more confidence. My prayer on the way was, "Help me not hurt people any more than necessary!" A little different from last week! hahaha And this was a great morning with an easier time finding veins, more confidence in the sticking, and an ability to laugh at myself.




I am constantly having to remind myself of that last part - the ability to laugh at myself. Not just in phlebotomy, but in life. I remember as a teenager feeling like having people laugh at me was the worst thing ever. I am quite certain in the next couple of years as we adjust to a new culture, learn a new language, and enter another phase of life I will need to be able to shake things off a little more, or life will be so overwhelming!

This training reminded me of my training in thankfulness (yes, that is what I am doing...training my mind and heart to see God in all things and therefor be thankful!) Learning to laugh at oneself seems like it goes along with living a life of gratefulness. Funny how that works!