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IMG_1868There are moments that connect me with Africa…moments that transcend time and place…moments that quicken the joy in my heart, and cause me to pause. The sunrise. The majestic faithfulness of it’s pinks and oranges, illuminating the horizon…bringing with it hope for the day, and great joy in the possibilities. IMG_2484The sunrise settling on the horizon, in vivid pinks, purples, oranges and reds…bringing comfort, and a sweet peace that settles on the valley. Dusk brings a warmth and a settling of my soul that wraps my heart and my mind in serenity. It causes me to pause and thank the maker of all things for what He’s given me that day. The brilliance of the moon, the majesty of a star-filled sky. They remind me that though this world is immeasurably too much for me to fathom, it is also small enough that I look upon the same moon as African children…

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” Ephesians 3:20-21 (the Message)

Oh friends! I am so thankful to my husband, who has listened intently and carefully to hours upon hours of stories from South Africa. At 3am, when I cannot sleep, he lays awake next to me, wraps his arms around me and listens. He listens as I call the children by name, as I talk about the days, and reminisce the moments of joy, and celebrate the challenging moments when God saw us through.

IMG_2288 1This trip for me was a restoration of joy. My last trip to South Africa allowed the Lord the opportunity to open a wound, to clear out the infection, to spread His healing balm on the pain, and pour out His spirit of healing. This trip was all about joy…discovering who I am on the mission field, and returning to a place that holds my heart with a deep, spiritual call.

Atop of Prayer Mountain

Atop of Prayer Mountain

I first want to thank the Lord for an amazing group of people to serve with…our team from theHeart, the Emoyeni & Children’s Cup teams, the Wakeman family, the church in Mooiplass. I count it one of the great privileges of my life to pull weeds, carry cinder blocks, pray, serve food, lead songs, and teach children with an amazing team of people…who were called and appointed for a specific time and season.

We are all wearing clean clothes from Janine...so thankful!

We are all wearing clean clothes from Janine…so thankful!

When the airline tried to charge us $400 for luggage, when our first flight was delayed and we thought we’d miss our Johannesburg flight, when our luggage was delayed 3 days and then arrived wet and mildewy…not one complaint. Not one murmur. No one was distracted or distraught. We carried on…we laughed…we thanked God…and we borrowed Janine’s clothes for church on Sunday. 🙂

This trip was the culmination of one prayer…and one revelation. That He would take care of it. It was His. Night after night I would lay in my bed and say, “God, I can’t do this.” And He would say, “You don’t have to. I am the One who is doing this.” Followed by, “Lord, what if no one wants to come?” “I will call them.” “Lord, what if I don’t have what it takes to lead them?” “I will lead them.” “How will we raise the funds?” “I am your Provider.” “Lord, it’s too hard to leave our girls.” “I will take care of them, as I do every day.” “Lord, I’m afraid.” “That’s why I am here.” “Am I really called to do this? Am I supposed to go?” “Yes, my beloved, yes.

IMG_2275He was true to His word. He called, He appointed, He provided, He prepared, He followed through…He went before us, beside us, behind us.

IMG_1785IMG_1742In the mornings our team prepared the land…laid bricks for the stove…and prepared for the foundation of the Care Point in Mooiplaas. The Care Point is on the property next door to the church. It’s perfect. There is an existing building on the property that they are using as a starting point. From there, classrooms are being built…a kitchen is being built. Stairs with access to the bathrooms at the church were built. There was something so substantial to my spirit about preparing the ground and helping with the foundation of this building. Something so significant about building a stove that will serve hundreds of children. Currently the cooks prepare the meals at a home and carry huge pots down the road to the church to serve the children. No more. As we speak, they can use the stove to prepare the meal right there at the Care Point, and the children can eat at the church until the Care Point is finished. If you carried one of their pots, you’d quickly realize why there is so much joy in the stove being completed. They are heavy! Faithfully these women have prepared and carried these pots…and now the Lord has provided.

The stove ready for cookin'

The stove ready for cookin’

IMG_1810IMG_1902In the afternoons smiling children would walk through the gate. Their tummies hungry for food, their hearts ready for love, their spirits ready to receive truth. We spent the week singing, dancing, sharing testimonies and messages, playing soccer, doing art, teaching health and hygiene, laughing at funny skits, busy with crafts…with one main message: He created you. He created you with worth and value. No man can take this away…no matter what they say, no matter what they do to you. He created you, He loves you. He wants to have a friendship with you. He wants to be involved in your life every day. He knows the hairs on your head, He knows every crease in your palm and every print of your finger.

Together we sang, “He knows my name. He knows my every thought. He sees each tear that falls. And hears me when I call.”

IMG_1771There were so many hugs, giggles, bubbles, face painting & candies…lots of cuddling and playing. It was an amazing week.

This church and the Care Point serve the vulnerable children in the community of Mooiplaas. Children can come to the Care Point for meals, education and tutoring, medical clinics and care, discipleship and love. One of the ways we prepared for this trip was to ask our church family to sponsor children from this specific Care Point. It was such a joy to see how organized and efficient our partner ministries, Emoyeni and Children’s Cup, are in serving these vulnerable children. IMG_2245IMG_1963I was able to meet the child we sponsor, Sanele, and to see firsthand the impact these sponsorships have for these children. On Thursday morning, our team did some home visits to families, to encourage and pray. As we stepped into a Grandmother’s home, she began to list the six grandchildren who live with her. One of them ‘just happened’ to be Sanele. Her grandmother went on to say how she doesn’t have much food or income to provide for the children. She said in the morning she feeds the children pap (similar to cornmeal) and some okra if she has it. She said she tries to give them bread but they don’t always have that. She worries when the children come home from school about what she will feed them. She tries to sell tomatoes, beans, and sweets from her ‘garage’ to provide for the kids. She said she is so full of joy when they come home from the Care Point and tell her that their bellies are full. She doesn’t have to worry. The Lord has provided.

We are trying to spread the word about sponsorship. It is $35 per month for a basic sponsorship, $45 per month to include school fees/expenses. Once 150 children are sponsored the Care Point becomes ‘self-funded’ through sponsorship. This helps to pay the Coordinator of the Care Point and the staff, including the cooks. It employs these precious people and gives the children a ‘home away from home’.

IMG_1802Why are these children vulnerable? Most of them are living with only their mom or grandmother. Sanele lives with her grandmother, one sister, and four cousins. Some are child-headed households. Some are living with relatives who have a hard time providing for their primary family members, let alone additional children. Some carry the burdens of abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Each is so precious. So precious.

IMG_1766It is our church, theHeart’s, vision to maintain a long-term relationship with this community, this church, this Care Point, these children and their families. Sponsored children will receive letters. We’ll continue to take short term teams to this community…each time serving the local church, the Care Point, and the children as our partner ministries, Emoyeni and Children’s Cup, recommend. This is what made me so thrilled about this ministry opportunity. This isn’t a one-time stop in. This is relationship. This is long-term. This is investment. Emoyeni, Children’s Cup, and the local church maintain continual contact and ministry to these kids…from afar and near, we will also. Our hope is that when we return, we’ll continue to invest in the people of this community and that sponsors will be able to meet their sponsored children.

Love.Simple.

IMG_2138 1Even as I reread this, my heart quickens. I am full of passion to see these kids taken care of. When we adopted Amari, I knew that God was calling us to this significant place of adoption. I feel a similar feeling to this work. These kids don’t need to be adopted, but they can be sponsored and helped. Each time they receive care, love, affection…their heart builds resilience. They grow stronger. They are better able to face tomorrow, whatever it may bring. That light in their eyes each time they receive a meal, each time they receive help with homework, or learn about God…it builds a strength in them that helps them get through the day, the night, their youth. This is a way to pour into their lives and their hearts in a very tangible and spiritual way.

IMG_2214IMG_2217One of the projects we completed while we were there was a canvas. We painted a heart, matching our logo for our church, theHeart. Each of the children, the team, and the church members who were with us that week put their fingerprints within this heart. The canvas will be displayed in the Care Point. When Pastor Maxwell came into the church and saw the Canvas I explained what the heart meant, and that the children could remember our church family at theHeart. He said, “Aw, I know what to name the Care Point/Preschool.”

Pastor Maxwell

Pastor Maxwell

Pastor Maxwell continued, “Sinethando (We have love)” from theHeart. It was perfect. Beth, who will oversee the classrooms and the preschool said that she was looking for something to put in every classroom to distinguish it from the others – she has decided to put the heart symbol in different colors in each classroom. (The Care Point will also serve as a daycare and preschool. The Care Point will serve children from daycare to youth.)

Every detail of this trip was perfectly designed and appointed. The morning of our departure to go home, I sat on a rock wall and said my goodbyes to Africa in the midst of a gorgeous sunrise. I asked the Lord when I would be back, and if I could bring my family. I closed my eyes and breathed in His spirit, and the spirit of Africa. Until next time…I will hold you in my heart. I will pray. IMG_2480I will remember. I will fight for you in the spirit. I will walk with you. I will dream of that red dirt that covered my toes. And the children who filled my arms. And I will love you.

Africa. You are always a great gift to me. I never leave your land unchanged. Always closer to Him and more in awe of who He is…and who you are.

Thank you for welcoming me…for welcoming our team. We consider it one of the great privileges of our lives to have walked on your soil, to have been challenged by your love, to have witnessed your great strength.

We wait in anticipation for the next time we will behold you, His beloved, in person.

IMG_1773“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.” 1 John 3:18-24 (the Message)

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The first time I went to Africa I was 20 years old. It was in 2001 with Book of Hope. I have so many memories from that trip to South Africa that are etched in my mind and heart.

Looking out the window of our airplane on our descent, I had this feeling of ‘home’, of familiarity. I couldn’t explain it but I just knew that I would love this country, that it would be meaningful to me.

It was my first time to breathe African air. My first time to see the ocean from an African coast. My first time to see an Acacia tree.

I remember sharing a devotional about God’s adoption of us as His children, that years later, when we were adopting Amari, Ryan would share was the first time he imagined himself adopting someday.

SMI01 SA0230I remember the stories of the children, and the heartache and brokenness. This was the first time I met a little girl who had lost her mother to AIDS. It was the first time I saw the aftermath of school violence firsthand. It was the first time I met young girls with horrific stories of losing their innocence. It was my first time to hold an African baby in my arms, the first time to wrap my arms around an African child in my lap.

I remember staring at the sky on our last night, a sky filled with thousands of stars, feeling God in an almost tangible way. Heavy, like His Spirit was right there, hovering.

I wanted to stay so badly. I prayed and considered staying to work with the missionaries we worked with. They were an amazing inspiration to me. But it wasn’t His time for me to stay.

SMI05 SA0591In 2004, Ryan and I traveled back to South Africa with Book of Hope. This time we were documenting the stories of young people who had received God’s Word, and how their lives had been changed. It was a wonderful trip.

IMG_0659When our family moved to Boone in 2008 I thought it would be years and years before I went back to the mission field…when our babies had grown. But then, the Lord called me very clearly to go back to South Africa. In 2012 I joined a team from our church, theHeart, and went back to South Africa. This trip would be a life-changing, healing, God appointed trip. A trip where he would bring restoration to my heart and a renewed love for the mission field. I was so grateful for this opportunity to minister on African soil again…and so thankful for the many family and friends who partnered with us in prayer and finances to make that trip a reality for me. So thankful for my husband who took such great care of our girls, when they were struggling at home with sickness, and held down ‘the fort’ while I was gone.

It happens so often. You go on a trip dreaming of how God will use you, not realizing that one of the greatest works He will do is in your own heart.

During that South Africa trip, we met Emoyeni. A ministry that serves vulnerable children in South Africa. They build and organize Care Points in different communities where children can have a safe place to receive care. Each Care Point provides vulnerable children in the community with two meals per day, education (tutoring/day care/preschool), medical clinics and care, and spiritual discipleship. The Care Points are overseen by local pastors/believers and child sponsorships for the children are under the umbrella of Children’s Cup. As we learned more about this ministry, God began to speak so clearly about how theHeart could partner with Emoyeni in a relational, longterm way, to make an eternal impact.
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Our church, theHeart, has committed to be in relationship with a new Care Point in the community of Mooiplaas. And I’m so excited to share that I’ll be taking a team back to South Africa May 15-28th to minister at this Care Point. This spring construction will begin on the Care Point and we get to be part of this. Our team will spend our mornings using our hands to physically build this Care Point. theHeart has committed to financially support this Care Point for the first year. Once all the children at the Care Point have been sponsored, this will cover the ongoing cost of the Care Point’s care of vulnerable children. We’ll be giving theHeart, as well as family, friends, and our community the opportunity to sponsor the children who will be served by this Care Point. In the afternoons, we’ll be working with the vulnerable children of Mooiplaas. We have lots of plans in the works which include soccer, art, teaching on hygiene and first aid, music and dancing…but most of all, sharing the message and hope of Jesus….and loving on these kids in a tangible way!IMG_0663

Our hope is to build relationship with this community and this Care Point. Relationship that will continue through prayer, sponsorship, and future ministry. There are seven people traveling together and we’ll be meeting 3 or 4 friends on the ground who will minister with us that week.

This has definitely been a journey in trust for me. Trusting that God would call the people who are supposed to go. Trusting that He would provide the courage for each person to say yes. Trusting that He has gone before us in preparing the details and work of this trip. Trusting that He will provide the finances and donations needed. Trusting that He will take care of our children and families, who will be at home, praying and missing us. Trusting that He will prepare the way spiritually.

I want to ask you, friends, to please keep us in your prayers as we continue to prepare for this trip. Please pray for unity within our team, for ordained moments of ministry. Please pray that God will give us the stories and messages we need to share with the children each afternoon, and that we will be an encouragement and strength to the community and the people who work with these precious children on a daily basis. Please pray for our faith and our courage to be strong. Please pray for God’s provision of finances.

We’ll be presenting the child sponsorships at theHeart the morning of April 13th. We’d love for our community (& our greater community of family and friends) to sponsor all the kids in this center so they can begin to benefit from this Care Point right away. If you are interested in sponsoring a child or children, please message me and I’ll be in touch with you.

Financial donations for our trip can be sent to theHeart (please include a note designating the gift rather than writing it on the memo line of the check).

theHeart
PO Box
Boone, NC 28607

We are also asking for donations that we can take with us to use during ministry time, and then leave at the Care Point for the children to enjoy. We’ll be working with 187 children. Donations include:

• Soccer Balls
• First Aid Kits (2 boxes of supplies) – we’ll be taking bandages, medicines, etc. to compile into first aid kits for the Care Point.
• Wash Cloths
• Bars of soap
• Toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss
• Baggies for the hygiene donations
• Drawing Paper (for art/expression ministry)
• Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
• Colored Yarn
• Bubbles

Friends, I’m so thankful for your time to read this. I know time is precious. I’m so grateful for your prayers, encouragement and support over the years as our family has answered the call to both long-term and short-term missions. So many of you have been there every step of the way and I am so, so grateful. Thank you for taking this journey with us!

With Love,
Jen

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In The Swampland

One of my favorite writers, Brené Brown, writes in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ about the swampland of the soul…”an important place to visit, but you would not want to live there. What I’m proposing is that we learn how to wade through it. We need to see that standing on the shore and catastrophisizing about what could happen if we talked honestly about our fears is actually more painful than grabbing the hand of a trusted companion and crossing the swamp. And, most important, we need to learn why constantly trying to maintain our footing on the shifting shore as we gaze across to the other side of the swamp – where our worthiness waits for us – is much harder work than trudging across.” Wow. This is where I’ve been. In the swampland. It wasn’t a planned thing. I found myself there on the bank, so fearful to take that first step.

You know the story of the Israelites, wandering in the desert…so many times I read that and just didn’t get it. Why would they choose to do that? Why didn’t they remember what God had done for them? Why would they say that they would rather return to slavery than continue on to the Promised Land? It didn’t make sense. But then, I came to this place. This swampland. Where I felt in-between. This place where my brokenness and my need was so great, I couldn’t see past it. I thought the swampland was going to last forever. I couldn’t see the other side of the shore. It wasn’t like a bad week. This was more like, a bad quarter. Three months, which doesn’t seem like a long time in retrospect, but in the midst of it, felt like I would never see the other side.

One Sunday after our teaching pastor taught I wrote on my arm in pen, “You have brought us this far.” Just trying to remind myself of His faithfulness. That He has brought us THIS far. That He isn’t finished yet. He didn’t bring us here to leave us. He brought us here as part of completion, as part of fulfillment.

There were moments. Moments where I thought anxiety might crush me. Crush my spirit and my hope. Moments when I tried to run to Him. Moments when I tried to run away from Him. Moments when I questioned, moments when I collapsed in Him. Moments of hope. Moments of hopelessness.

Another book that I read had this bit of hope: every struggle that we go through has a beginning, a middle and an end. I couldn’t see the other side of the swampland. But I knew I was past the beginning and I would find myself saying out loud, “Lord, have we passed the middle? Are we on our way out? Where is the end?” No end in sight yet.

One evening I had the courage to reach out to the women in our small group. And then, I was honest with my mom. Then, I read this book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” and I found myself in the Preface, with my head in my hands, in tears with one simple question. Do I love myself? Not an arrogant, entitled, self-bloated love. Rather, a love that is self-compassionate and kind. Brené Brown writes in her book about wholehearted living, and friends, it has been a life-changer for me. I started dog-earring every page that I wanted to go back to and found myself folding the corner of nearly every page. Soaking it in. Basking in the revelation and truth of wholehearted living.

One of the things she says in this book is that if you have one person who you can be completely vulnerable and authentic with, that’s really good. If you have two or three people, that’s amazing. I’ve always had Ryan. I’m so thankful that I can be completely authentic with him. I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to hold back. I don’t have to live in my perfectionism. Then, last night I had a conversation with a friend that I wasn’t expecting. One of the most vulnerable, authentic, transparent conversations I’ve ever had. It was hard. I had to push back fear. I had to let go of my perfectionism. I had to jump and believe that He would catch me. And she did the same. What we found was freedom, hope, joy. Things I had been longing for, craving, desperately reaching for…

I’m not at the end of this struggle. I know I’m still in the swampland. I don’t even know if I can see the end. But I have hope. I am not alone in this. I am not gasping for air. I am courageously making my way through the swamp. I feel stronger than yesterday. Yesterday I felt like I was doggy-paddling, just trying to maintain where I was. I was tired and exhausted. Today, I feel like my arms are pushing me, my legs are stronger, walking me to the other side of this swamp. One step at a time. Courage, compassion and connection are my traveling companions. He has brought me this far…

Friends, just because we struggle doesn’t mean He didn’t heal us. It doesn’t mean we are hopeless. It doesn’t mean He has left us. He’s right here beside us, nudging ever so gently…longing to give us that courage, compassion, and connection we long for.

This book. It’s a life-changer for me. Thank you God.

Absent. I know. I’ve been so absent from this wonderful place where I have learned so much about the Lord, myself, my family, my friends…

I have three excuses.

1. Life has been a little unmanageably busy. That’s my fault. And I’m working on that. We had a stay-vacation these past two weeks and a lot of down time for me to evaluate and think. 1484139_10152463028604045_1395855729_nOne late evening, I laid between the girls on the floor (they’ve been having sister sleepover after sleepover this Christmas break on their bedroom floor), and I thought about the past year. What am I most thankful for? And what do I regret the most? It’s the same. I’m most thankful for my family. These people who I’m so connected to and so physically close to…and yet sometimes not present with. Laying on this floor, I’m thankful for how God has used me in the life and heart of my husband this year. I’m thankful for how He has used me in the precious, sensitive hearts of my girls. I’m thankful for how He has used them immeasurably in my heart. I’m not wishing there were more meetings, and places to hurry to…no. Time is going too quickly. And every year my time with them is less. My regret: I must be present when I am present. Stress cannot come between these relationships. Worry and discouragement. Disheartened moments cannot invade the peace I feel when I am with them. This year, I don’t want to hurry so much. I want to relish in them more. They make me more me…more whole. God gifted me with my people because I need them.

2. I’m going through a rough patch. Last February I felt like God was taking us through a deep, deep work. And although I was so thankful for what He was doing, at the same time, I couldn’t wait to be through it. To be on the other side. Here we are on the other side, and I feel like we’ve gone back in. We came up for air, and it was so good, but we’ve gone deep again. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. It’s making me more like Him. It’s making me rely less on myself. It’s making me more intentional and aware of who He is and what He’s doing. But to be honest, friends, even that knowledge doesn’t make it less difficult. It’s hard when you’re working through mess. Trying to come out strong, trying to come out trusting, yet feeling broken and at times so weak.

IMG_87133. Our treadmill. I don’t want to say that it’s replaced my blog…but it has become my place. It’s the place where I think. Where I feel. Where I process. Where I pray. Where I hope. Where I cry out in hope, and sometimes in despair. Sometimes I run longer because I’m feeling strong. And other times, I run longer because I am desperate to hear Him. I know I’m running in place (I’ve not gone crazy ;)), but I run harder and faster trying to catch Him. Trying to ask Him questions. Trying to see His face. Trying to hear His voice. Trying to know what He’s doing.

And let me also assure you, that in the midst of this great absence and this work, there has also been great joy. I’ve already seen God answer my prayers that I wrote on this blog for Brooklyn as she started kindergarten. He knows our most secret and important desires…and He has gone above and beyond. He has treasured and protected our girls in so many ways. He has been our covering. This year has been full of a lot of laughter and love…for which I am so thankful for.

Am I ready for 2014? I know I certainly have not wrapped 2013 up in a bow. I’m still in the midst of what I’m going through. But I can guarantee you that wherever He takes us, takes me, I’ll be there. I’ll be present. I’ll feel it. I’ll embrace it (I hope). Even the hard stuff. Amidst great challenge, 2013 was full of laughter, love and thankfulness. It was full of relationships, family, friends. It was full of transparency and growth. It was full of hope and joy.

I won’t give up. I’m still running. Running to catch Him. Running to find Him. & resting to find Him. Breathing in life. Breathing in Him.

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Courage…

IMG_7164I started a blog post the day Brooklyn went to kindergarten. I didn’t finish it. But here’s the start…for me to finish today.

Letting go. Little by little I’m letting you go. Trusting you more in His hands. Trusting that He is the best keeper of your heart. When I found out we were pregnant, I wanted nothing more than to hang onto you with all of my strength, protect you from every hardship, raise you above fear, keep you safe. Over the years, my prayers have changed…but so have I. I have learned that it’s not always best to be safe. But rather to have courage and strength in the midst of uncertainty (Thanks Uncle Clark). It’s not always best to be protected from hardship when that hardship teaches you perseverance, grace, and mercy.

I’m a mom of a new kindergartener. When I drop you off at the front door of your school, I watch the clock all day. I miss you like crazy. But each time you come to mind, I don’t worry. I don’t fret. I pray. Lord, help her today to see the people around her. Help her to see them where they are at. Help her to be sensitive to your spirit and where you are leading her. Help her to know the right decision in her heart and to have the courage to make that decision. Grace her with kindness. Uplift her with hope. Clothe her with joy. May she be a blessing.

That’s what I wrote just over a week ago. Now, here we are on our second day of our second week of school. I take Brooklyn to school like normal. She’s letting go of my hand easier now. Not looking back as long. She’s more confident about where she should be, and that she’s safe here. I’m finishing up at the grocery store when a friend calls my phone. “How sweet,” I think to myself. She’s probably calling me for my birthday. And then I receive news that makes a mama’s heart drop, tears well up as she tells me that there has been a bomb threat to the schools in our county and all the kids are being evacuated. The kids at Brooklyn’s school are taking the bus to a nearby church. I finish loading my groceries. I’m only 3 or 4 minutes away from the church. And I cry. Not because I feel any imminent danger. It reminds me that we are not the exception. It reminds me that we are fragile. It reminds me that tomorrow is not promised, that even the next moment is not promised. It reminds me that every moment matters. And that even as much as I want to protect her, I can’t always do that. As I’m telling myself to get a handle on my tears before I reach the church, my heart is grateful. I’m grateful that there was some kind of warning. I’m grateful that my little girl is safe. I’m grateful for the hand she had to hold down the hallway. I’m grateful that as we navigate this big world, we have Him. He is always there. Even when I cannot be.

I have struggled my whole life with fear. I just so badly wanted that promise for tomorrow. I wanted confirmation. So, I’m growing friends. I’m learning not only to trust Him for safety, but rather to trust Him for courage. Courage that no matter what happens, no matter that we are not the exception, He is enough. I am learning to be grateful in the fear, that He is I AM. He never falls short. He’s never surprised.

There is nothing He hasn’t faced. For He has faced death and won.

And so, my baby girl, I love you so. I love the way you say my name. I love to hear your laughter fill our house. I love your sweetness. I love you. And because of that, I’m going to keep trusting Him with your life. With Amari’s. With Daddy’s. He is so much more capable than me. He can bear the burden with strength. He is not overwhelmed. I’ll ask Him for courage every day. That every day I’ll be able to hug you, love you, and let you go. To be you. To be strong. To be courageous. To fulfill dreams.

I can’t say that there wasn’t any fear in my heart when I took you back to school this afternoon. But baby girl we faced it with courage.

xoxo

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IMG_1967So, wow! Let me begin by saying that I don’t know where to start or how to share what God has been doing in our lives the last few months. Friends, it has been radical, miserable, amazing, and heart-wrenching all at the same time. I’m not even sure what I have the courage to share…yet.

While I was in South Africa last November, God did some pretty fantastic gut-deep healing in my life. The team would tease me that I cried every day. I did. Whether it was because I missed the girls, God was going deep into my wounds, speaking truth into my heart or others, speaking forgotten promises over me & my family, and renewing my love and my dreams.

When I came home, I felt a fullness that had been lacking. A fullness of healing, of hope, of joy, of strength of His Spirit. A fullness in knowing God’s faithfulness.

Little did I know that was the beginning of a snowball that would tumble and tumble, faster and faster with no end in sight (which has been overwhelming at times, but so worth it & good).

The week after I arrived home we found out a need that a friend had for housing. I wanted so badly to open our home, but we had no room in the inn. Ryan said, “Well, maybe they can stay in our room and we can stay in the basement.” I knew that wouldn’t be an ideal situation but I was so thankful for Ryan’s willingness to sacrifice when the Lord was asking us to do something. The next day I thought I would jump on the local classifieds and see what I could find. For three years I had been looking through the classifieds. Always coming up dead-end. Most of the time, we couldn’t afford the price range. Other times, it was the condition of the house…it wouldn’t be worth the move. I had been frustrated. There were two or three houses that we seriously considered but none of them worked out. One evening, long before our friend needed housing, as I was ‘complaining’ to God, I felt like He whispered in my heart to TRUST Him. He would bring us to the right house but I had to trust Him and stop complaining. It had been several months since that conversation with the Lord. So, that Tuesday afternoon when I looked in the classifieds, I didn’t expect to find anything. But…there it was. A listing for a 4/2. It didn’t have many details or even a price. Let me just sum up this part of the story by saying it is an amazing home. Completely renovated and beautiful. In the school district we were hoping for. And in our price range. I was ecstatic. When I looked at the house I couldn’t believe that it could possibly be our home. Ryan didn’t see it until the day we moved in (2 weeks later) because he was helping some friends move the day I looked at it. As we brought the first box in, I was a little nervous, hoping he’d love it as much as I did. After we had taken him on a tour he turned to me and said, “It’s beautiful. I would have made the exact same decision. It’s perfect.” We prayed over our new home and then started bringing in the boxes. Should I also mention that Brooklyn found a lucky penny in the driveway that evening.

Our friend came to live with us for what we thought would be 3 or so months. But again, the Lord surprised us by opening up their housing within 3 days. I admit, we were disappointed. We were hoping for more time with them. But at the same time, so thankful that they had their own place and that God had opened that door so miraculously.

Throughout this move, I have continually remembered when we felt God was asking us to open up our home for a small group, I remember when we felt Him asking us to open our home to our friend…even though we felt like our ‘space’ was inadequate, we obeyed. And God literally opened up the floodgates of His blessing. Now, every Thursday we have the perfect space to host our small group. And we have room for guests. I’m thankful every day for God’s generosity, and so overwhelmed by His goodness. So thankful for this home where we have the opportunity to love Him and serve Him through being an open door. I believe, it has become a refuge, not only for our family, but for friends, and even strangers who have become friends. A safe place where healing can be found, where laughter is abundant, where peace is at home, where hope rises. We moved in on our 11th Anniversary, and it has been so fitting to begin a new chapter here.

This new chapter also started with a cleaning schedule. Yep, I know, a cleaning schedule. How is that life-changing? As silly as that may sound, at our previous house I would get so cranky about the house cleaning. It seemed to always pile up and then take a full day of cleaning. I would feel guilty all day that I couldn’t give the girls attention, and bitter that I had to spend a whole day cleaning. I had seen some cleaning schedules on Pinterest so I decided to make one of my own. Who knew something so simple could be so freeing. I made a schedule with two things on it every day, and a list of things that needed to be done once a month. I’ve been on this schedule for over 4 months and it has been a dream. Every day I put my 20-30 minutes in and I don’t have to worry about it the rest of the week. Our house is clean. And not just, I can’t see the dirt clean, but really clean. I never spend a full day cleaning, or even a half day. Don’t have to feel guilty about it. It’s done.

Once that was tackled, we ended up being part of an amazing study in our small group, Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace study. We’ve had other friends go through the study and tell us how life-changing it was. And it truly was. God taught us the importance of giving early on in our marriage and throughout our time as missionaries. But this was His time to teach us about having discernment in our spending and wisdom in our finances. It was exactly what we needed to get that part of our life in the line with Biblical truth. It really transformed how we think about the resources God has entrusted us with and how to do more with it. Stuff doesn’t equal happiness. Knowing that we are spending according to His direction has kept us grounded and at peace in this area…it’s been a gift.

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Next, we tackled a big one for us. This is the one that’s hard to admit. The one I have to have courage to write about. Eating. Early on in our marriage, when we were on the mission field, when I was struggling or when we were arguing, or I was missing home, or feeling inadequate, I started to comfort myself with food…particularly sweets. This has been a part of me for over 10 years now. Finally I recognized it for what it was, a vice. I realized that I would always have a reason to splurge – whether it was to celebrate, or drown out my frustrations, or hide my sadness…I recognized that I had given food a place in my life that was unhealthy. Instead of finding my comfort in God, instead of going to Him with frustrations, I was looking for comfort in food. And then, feeling guilty and bad about myself for eating too much. I think one of my ah-ha moments came when I realized I was teaching our girls to do the same thing – to find comfort and happiness in food. I wasn’t telling them this, but through my actions I was speaking loud and clear. And I knew that this wasn’t what I wanted them to hear. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey to get healthy in this area, I needed the help and support of my family. I shared my truth with Ryan. I shared it with the girls. I shared it with our small group. They became part of my journey towards health and wholeness. Instead of making brownies to celebrate, I would put worship music on and the girls and I would spin, and dance, and sing until we were exhausted. Other times, instead of grabbing handfuls of chocolate on a bad day, I’d ask the girls to pray and we’d take a walk. I started tracking my calories and being very intentional about exercise again. I started meeting with a friend of mine for accountability. She didn’t struggle with food, but her friendship, support, and encouragement has been a big part of my victory and we continue to meet every week. February 15th was when I started this part of my journey. 23 pounds less, I am so thankful. I realize that this is going to be an every day journey for me. I am going to have to choose every day to make the right choices. In fact, just last night, after meeting with my friend, I was struggling with a situation that happened during the day. My old pattern would have been to open the brownie pan. But we don’t have pans of brownies anymore. So I weighed a few chocolate covered peanuts on my food scale, entered them into my calorie log, and then went and read Scripture. Should I have skipped the chocolate all-together? Probably. But I didn’t have the remorse or guilt I used to have – because I knew I hadn’t binged or eaten to drown out my frustrations. I found my peace in the right place. In Him.

In the midst of the learning curve above, God began to put our focus on relationships. We began a study on relationships in our small group. We were reading books about relationships. An unexpected conversation about relationships came up with friend that I meet with occasionally about adoption. It kept coming up and I realized there were some important relationships in my life that I needed to pray about, take courage in, ask forgiveness, speak in love, and trust God. These conversations have been amazing. And they too, have brought a new level of freedom to my heart because they have enabled me to let go of bitterness, of pride, of wrong-thinking.

In the midst of this transformation in my life, Ryan has gone through his own radical, miserable, amazing, and heart-wrenching transformation & healing. I’m not going to tell his story because, well, because it’s his. But what I will say is that our marriage has definitely been renewed through us seeking God together, encouraging each other in healing, having courage to talk about the hard things, to confront the uncomfortable things, to admit the sin, to ask forgiveness, to sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron, to let go of the things that don’t matter…to pray for one another like we never have before. We’ve been on a journey. I remember praying in South Africa last November, and instead of asking the Lord for change, I began to speak truth and hope over Ryan and I. I feel like it was part of the breakthrough that would come over the next months. These last six months have been the hardest and the best all at the same time. Had I known what we would face to become the people God has dreamed for us to be, would I have prayed the same prayers? Would I have wanted this? Yes. A resounding YES. It is worth every tear, every sleepless night, every struggle, every step…to be made whole in Him.

This journey has been so difficult, my friends. So very, very difficult and so very, very fulfilling. Over the past few months I’ve been meeting with different people, some for accountability, mentorship…just walking through life with people. We’ve felt God lead us to open our home to be a safe place for people to be real and to find hope. And the one thing I have learned through it all is that we all have a story of our own. I believe whole-heartedly that we have an enemy who attacks relationships, who tries to kill our hope, and destroy our futures. We need to stand together, in our sin and in our truth, let light shine in the depths of our hearts, and look to Him. The one who is the giver of life. A few months ago our teaching pastor shared this Scripture from Hosea 6:

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
3 Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”

I have hung on to this Scripture over the past three months. Belieiving with all of my heart, that He wouldn’t injure us and tear us to pieces if He didn’t intend to heal us and bind up our wounds. There was a waiting period before He revived us, before He restored us. There have been many, MANY prayer times when I have quoted this Scripture over and over, and as I did, asking Him to heal us, bind up our wounds, revive us, restore us, that we may live in Your presence. Send the rains! It’s important to remember in this journey what He’s asking of us: “Come, let us return to the Lord…Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him.” This is not for the faint of heart, friends. And at the same time, He is our strength in times of weakness. Press on. Press on.

This last week has been a tough one. Which might be why I am awake at 3am finally finishing this blog.

Next weekend, June 9th, Ryan and I are going to be renewing our vows. And although the purpose of course is to renew our vows and our love to each other, the first purpose is to renew our vows to Him. To thank Him for what He has done in us the last seven months. To publicly put our marriage in His care. To dedicate ourselves to Him. To proclaim His goodness. We have started a new chapter. One we pray we will never turn right or left from. May we always turn our face towards Him and press on. May we continue to live in His presence. I remember a worship song from when I was in high school that I loved to sing, “Your face is all I see.” It’s all I see.

Thank you Lord.

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This Easter I am most thankful that He has OVERCOME, BEATEN, and OVERTHROWN death, addiction, abuse, neglect, abandonment, separation, sickness, insecurities, depression, anxiety, misunderstanding, grief, anger, hopelessness, suffering. These things have no power over us. Whatever you may be going through, even though it may sound impossible, praise Him. He is the giver of healing, peace, strength, grace, joy. In HIM you will find all that you need to OVERCOME, BEAT, and OVERTHROW the enemy. Don’t put your hope in yourself, or others, put ALL of it in Him. You can trust in His goodness, in His faithfulness, in His love…for He OVERCAME. He didn’t leave His son in death. He brought life, fullness, healing. He rose for you, for me…so that we can live in fullness and healing.

Lord, today, I pray especially for my own family. Please seal the work that you have done in our hearts. Take us to the rock that is higher than us. Plant our feet. Please don’t let us slip and fall. Uphold us. Only in You do we put our hope. We cling to You. We put aside our agendas, and any ability to do good, and we look to You to make us whole. We look to Your love to make us complete. We call to You for wholeness and healing. Lord, You overcome all things. Please overcome in our lives. We are desperate to live in You. We are desperate for Your intimacy. Let us rest in the shadow of Your wing so that we may soar on wings of eagles. Let us run and not grow weary. Let us walk and not be faint.

You have overcome. And on this Easter Sunday, and everyday, I put my hope in You. My redeemer. My friend. My first love. My all in all. My beginning and my end. My keeper. My strength…I trust in You.