Follow ~ a #OneWord365 October Update

Follow. That’s my 2014 #OneWord365.   Seemed easy enough ~ we had recently decided to rejoin a mission organization that we worked with.   Woohoo! We’ll sell everything. Head back to the overseas Mission Field.

We finally got notice that we were approved (by said Mission Organization) in February and shortly after that were asked to go down to the DR for the summer to help with the busy months with lots of short-term mission teams! God worked that out and we followed Him down there.

Not all went as planned while we were there, but regardless, we returned to the States ready to make preparations to get back ASAP. While we were gone the house sold. Our cars sold. Other than paying off some previous debt and raising support we were ready to go. Ready to follow Him anywhere He would lead.

And then the pause button was hit. When we got back to Ohio in early August, we had about 30-35% of promised support raised. Two months later, we have about 41%. Yes, praise the Lord for that ~ but we really thought we’d be further along by now. See, we planned on attending Language School in January for about 2 tri-mesters and then be ready to head back to the DR late 2015.

And here we are. Anything can happen between now and December, but if we keep rolling at this pace, we’re not going anywhere in January.   And the question becomes:

Are we wiling to FOLLOW, even if it doesn’t mean going (for now)?

Am I willing? Are we willing? Are our kids? We’ve made some drastic life changes to accommodate leaving ~ moved out of the school district, the kids started online school (to provide schooling continuity for the anticipated upcoming location changes), they have pulled out of sports/activities they enjoyed, we didn’t rent a new house, still selling e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g., I’m working full-time to get ahead financially, Kevin’s working (almost full-time) AND having support meetings… and on and on. We’re doing what needs to be done on our end according to the plan.

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Prov. 16:9 Yes – yes He does.

Are we willing to trust that “As heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts”? (Isaiah 55:8)

James packs a punch at the end chapter 4: “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.“ So if we say/”boast” that we’re heading to Costa Rica in January for Language School and then the Dominican after that…we are boasting in our arrogance? Yikes! The truth is we don’t know what’s up. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. And so we’re left with if the Lord wills…   Which, of course, is a fabulous place to start.

We will follow.  In the word of Chris Tomlin:

Where you go, I’ll go

Where you stay, I’ll stay

When you move, I’ll move

I will follow…

Follow seemed like a great word. Totally doable. Follow Christ’s lead to the ends of the earth. Yes! Here we are, send US! But what about when follow means stay.  When follow doesn’t go according to ‘plan’. When follow takes longer than you thought. When follow isn’t clear… It is not so cut and dry. Not so black and white. Not so easy.

Jen Hatmaker knew this struggle well when God had her and her husband leave the church they were serving in without a plan of what was next. In her book, “Interrupted”, when faced with questions of who, what, where, when, WHY ~ she says, “Why does it matter? It is not your responsibility to explain what God is doing with your life. He has not provided enough information to figure it out. Instead, you are asked to turn loose and LET GOD BE GOD. Therein lies the secret to the ‘peace that transcends understanding.’”

Right now follow means trust. Trust today. Follow today. He determines our steps. His ways are higher than ours. His timing, sovereign. And as the Lord wills, we will follow Him through it all.

Joey’s “Belt” Prayer

beltWhen our cute, little, 4-year-old-preschooler needed a belt, he mentioned it to us a few times over the course of a few days. He did need a belt. His pants were falling down his skinny little frame. However, being the stellar parents that we are ~ we pretty much never remembered it while we were at the store. Until one night he prayed. He prayed with the sweetest intensity, taking his ‘need of a new belt’ to the Father in heaven who lovingly hears our prayers. My ears perked and I knew in my heart what I needed to do. 9pm Walmart run.

The next morning, as Joey foggily woke up, rubbing his eyes, he noticed something on his bed. Not a toy he had left out or yesterday’s clothes, something different. Something new.   A belt. The belt he had prayed for.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Matt. 7:11

“Mom! Did you see this?!?” he asked excitedly! “GOD ANSWERED MY PRAYER! He gave me a BELT!”

I didn’t disagree with him. God had provided the belt for him. Our girlies, being a little bit older (and a bit more skeptical) asked quietly away from their brother, “Mom, did you get the belt?!? How did this belt get here? You got this for him, didn’t you?” I simply replied that God had provided the belt for him.

It was true. God provided the belt for Joey that night, but He used his people to do it. No, God doesn’t answer every request in a Santa Claus like response, but He does often use His children to meet those needs, answer those requests.

In July, we arrived in Tampa, FL after being in the Dominican Republic for 6/8 weeks. After we landed, we had to print our closing papers, sign them, get them notarized and overnighted by 5pm. That was a little crazy, but we got ‘er done!   Then, the next morning we got an email with instructions on how to wire the money due at closing. Wait, what? We weren’t supposed to owe anything at closing, but with how the timing of insurance/tax/escrows worked out, we ended up owing at closing. And we just finished up 2 months of mission work, NOT working, no income outside of the support to get us to the DR. So we gathered as a family and we prayed. And God used one of His kiddos to help us with that need at the time.

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:19

Once we got back to Ohio and had to pack up our house in two days after being gone for two months, we had a last minute change to our living arrangements… and we were to move out the next day. So we gathered as a family to pray. And God used one of His kiddos to meet that need.

I called to the Lord in my distress, and I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears. Psalm 18:6

After a few weeks in our new place, I had some really bad Chikungunya days (ongoing joint pain). I cried out to the Lord, “I don’t know if I can do this.” And by cried out I mean crying… real tears. Although very thankful for the Lord providing this place for us to stay, we were living in a basement and everything else in the house was upstairs (bathroom, kitchen…), and stairs can be a challenge when your joints (knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, fingers) hurt :(.  A few days later we got a phone call. One of God’s kiddos had been praying and the Lord impressed on her heart to offer their house for us to use until we go to Language School. Wait, what? We had prayed, and He used His children to answer that prayer.

Even before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear. Isaiah 65:24

These examples are all of prayers we’ve prayed and how God used His children to meet a need in our lives, and that is amazing. But it is also incredible when God impresses something on our hearts and used us to meet a need/provide encouragement/answer a prayer in someone else’s life.

As a missionary, it is humbling and an honor when people “show faithfulness” to the Lord by letting Him use them to be a blessing. The housing, the “loan”, the missionary vehicle, the prayers, the support… John summed it up best:

Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers. They have testified to your love in front of the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, since they set out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from pagans. Therefore, we ought to support such men so that we can be coworkers with the truth. 3 John 5-8

Broken Surrender

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal. 2:19-20

Have you ever faced any resistance when taking a step to do something in obedience to the Lord? Maybe when you committed to be baptized, to join a Bible study group to grow in your relationship with Christ, or even to begin tithing? Ever experience any opposition when you are preparing to take a mission trip/planning an outreach event/or committing to disciple someone?

Any time we step out in faith to do what God has called us to, there is sacrifice. There is inconvenience. There is opposition. There is heartache, pain, blood/sweat/tears. Anytime you invest in the kingdom, there is a juxtaposition (one comes with the other) of Gal. 2:19-20 in our lives. Anything we surrender comes at a cost ~ just like Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption came at a cost. He was crucified so we could live, so we could have a bridge to the Father, so we could be saved. So we would have hope.

And it is worth it.

Something beautiful is born because of something being broken.

In Jen Hatmaker’s book, “Interrupted,” she put it this way: “Mercy has a cost: someone must be broken for someone else to be fed. The sermon that changed your life? That messenger was poured out so you could hear it. The friends who stood in the gap during your crisis? They embraced some sacrifice of brokenness for your healing. Anytime you say, “That fed me, that nourished me,” someone was the broken bread for your fulfillment.”

Funny, the same day our fam read/studied Galatians 2, I read this section from Jen’s book… and this quote from my YouVersion devotional plan, “My Utmost For His Highest” based on Gal. 2:19-20: “If you are faced with the question of whether or not to surrender, make a determination to go on through the crisis, surrendering all that you have and all that you are to Him. And God will then equip you to do all that He requires of you.

Surrender. Be broken. See Christ alive and working (in you, in others, for His kingdom, for His glory).

I can honestly tell you that over the 13 years of full-time ministry, I have repeatedly cried out to the Lord and asked if it was worth it.   And every time, in His precious mercy, He faithfully showed me how He was working ~ through the brokenness, through the heartache, through the difficulties, through the inconveniences, through the impossibilities.  That somehow through surrender and brokenness, Christ’s mission is accomplished. Someone comes to know Him. Someone is encouraged and strengthened by His word. Someone moves from darkness into the light. Someone is physically helped or blessed. Someone surrenders his or her life to Him.  Someone has hope. 

And that’s what it’s all about. And that’s what keeps us going.   And that’s what makes it worth it.

Crucified with Christ, so that I no longer live, but Christ lives in/through me. Christ’s sacrifice/brokenness for my redemption. My surrender for Christ’s purpose/mission.   God will equip. He gives the strength. He will bless.

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal. 2:19-20

Home…

photoMonday ventured back ‘home’.   Well, we returned to what was our home for the past 8.5 years, but when we got here it actually was not our home as we closed on the sale of it on the 31st. We caught 2 sleeps there and then were off to our next ‘temporary home.’ Technically, we slept in a stranger’s home those 2 nights… CREEPY 🙂. Just kidding.

Sometimes the word ‘home’ confounds us a little. A lot of people experience this disassociation from the word ‘home:’

Missionaries who leave the country they serve in (home) to return to their homeland (home)

Military families who are not in one place for any long stretch of time

Marathon families (right, Findlay, OH?) or other families that move a lot for work

Many others who lose a house to a natural disaster, fire or even foreclosure

Life has redefined ‘home’ to me over the years. Having grown up in a very traditional family where we went to the same school, same church, same house etc., my life and that of my kiddos looks very different. They have been in five homes so far, plus our home of the past two months ~ six. And are about to be in #7 here shortly which is a temporary hop until we get back to the mission field (to find #8) (with a stint at language school so technically that will be #8, HA!). We have traveled many miles, stayed in people’s homes and hotels along the way and even with all of that get up and go, home is wherever we are.

The five of us. Our family. The roof looks different. The walls have distinctive colors. The climate varies… but (cliché) home is where the heart is. Take a look at our Nala girl. Since our move didn’t take us very far from our previous house, she followed us back and forth. She really didn’t care which house we stayed at, as long as she was with us. Home is where we are together.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but since I’m just now getting around to posting it, I’ll add the insight that our missionary partner/friend, Erica Jude, posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago… Home is where Jesus sends me. This is so true. Please don’t be offended that we feel a little “eh” being here ~ because it’s not that we don’t love our family/friends here ~ it’s because we want to go where God is sending us. And we’re ready (just waiting on that support thangggg 🙂 ).

Finally, THIS WORLD is not our home. We have a home awaiting us in heaven one day as we have trusted CHRIST as our Savior. In the meantime, may we be faithful on these temporary home-stops along the way.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.  And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.”  Hebrews 13:14-16

Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

Knees and Toes.  And ankles and wrists and fingers and back!  Wait… That’s not how the song goes?  Well, that’s how my song goes this week as the Caribbean’s latest victim of the notorious Chikungunya.

Oh. My. Land.  Thursday night as I went to bed, I mentioned to Kevin that my middle finger hurt (no middle finger jokes… 🙂 ).  Then, I woke up about 2am and my ankles and knees were a little achy.  I was trying to talk myself out of the fact that I may have the Chik, thinking I worked with a group this week, was on the go a lot, my old body is probably just tired from the long week.  But no, as the night went on it started to become clear that I did, in fact, have the beginnings of Chikungunya.  Blerg.

So, Friday I began the ritual of alternating Tylonel and Ibuprofen throughout the day.  I was achy and had a mild fever, but it was manageable.  I thought, “Hmmmm, I don’t seem to have it as bad as some of the others that have had it.”  Then Saturday came.  Saturday I couldn’t get my fever below 101, even with the alternating pain-killers/fever-reducers.  And the pain… YIKES.  My knees felt like they were going to buckle and my ankles ~ oooo-eeeee.  You never realize how much you use different body parts until they are unusable.  Like the middle finger.  Try opening a water bottle without touching the middle finger or any of its tendons etc.  Who knew I took “tall man” (middle finger) for granted?

anklepain2And it got me thinking.  The Bible actually talks about this.  Like we may think the middle finger is just another one of the fingers, or the ankles, they’re a nice bodily feature to connect the feet to the legs.  Check out this passage from 1 Cor. 12:12-31.  “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.”  One body part can’t say to the other, “I don’t need you”.  God places us in “bodies”, whether in our churches, communities, ministries and maybe even businesses. And each person in the “body” plays a role.  And that role is a vital part of the operation of the whole body.  Whether you take out the garbage or make a multi-million business deal ~ your role is important.  In ministry, maybe you’re not the “one out front” but the stuff you do in the background helps the body function as a whole.  The body is not one person, but a group of people that God brings together, with different gifts and abilities, different interests and desires, different ways to add value and productivity to the body.  If the middle finger is out of commission it affects the hand and the arm and the whole body.  If the ankle is stricken with pain, the body walks with a limp, is slower, less effective.

Two things we can pull from this:

1) Do not think what you do or can contribute doesn’t matter to the body.  “God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.” “…those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary.”  You matter.  God has gifted you in a very specific way for you to serve at your church/ministry, in your community and maybe even at your job. You are valued and needed.

2) Do not think that you don’t need the rest of the body. “And if they were all the same part, where would the body be?” If we were a bunch of elbows walking around, all that would get accomplished is a bunch of rib nudging. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?”  Work together, with all the parts of the body, to function (in the case of ministry) for God’s glory.

Driving in the DR

IMG_3313Many of you have been to the DR so you know what I’m talking about when I say the driving down here is a bit “loco” (crazy!!). I must admit, things have greatly improved since we were here last in that (most) people now actually follow the traffic lights (actually stopping if the light is red), yield to other traffic and drive in the correct direction. Like I said, most. The unwritten rule of thumb is “the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the right of way.”  Especially in the capital, There are traffic jams like nobody’s business and if you want out of it, you have to be bold and maneuver your way through it around semi trucks, buses and the motorcycle! Oh, the motorcycles!
I actually prefer to drive in the DR than be a passenger. When I’m driving I feel some semblance of control. I can scan the crossroads for motos, navigate around trucks and buses and wiggle my way into parking spaces… like a boss :). Ha!
Maybe part of liking to drive in the DR has more to do with just being “in control” while driving. Maybe I would like to be in control over a LOT of things in my life right now that are not in control…
Like our house.  It has sold (well it is under contract), but there are a few things the buyers want done before we close. Those things were supposed to be done by the appraisal (today) but weren’t. We lined up someone to do it, but that fell through.  In that moment there is absolutely nothing we could do to “control” the situation. The work wasn’t done.  The appraisal was today.
And, with the house being sold(ish), we need to secure housing for when we return to Findlay (two weeks from MONDAY!). As of today, we have no idea where we will be living.  We will not be homeless as we have friends who have offered us to stay, but for the long term, we don’t know of we’ll rent a house/apartment, buy a camper :))), or stay at the city mission. (Hey, it’s a nice place!).
And schooling ~ this fall and when we get to the DR. And where we’ll live when we get here. And when we’ll get here. And when we’ll have our support. And when we’ll have our debt paid off. And what exactly will be be doing when we DO get here.  And what that all looks like. And…
Completely out of our control in this moment.
But, like a passenger in a Dominican guagua (bus), we are not in control. The Driver sees in front and behind. He scans the next corner before we can even see it. He knows the bumps and potholes of the road and navigates them perfectly. He rides out the traffic jams and the narrow stretches of road in the remotest of places. We just have to trust. Go along for the ride in anticipation of each next destination and the view of the journey.  Just like we have to trust our loving and sovereign God ~ who is already around whatever corners/potholes/traffic jams are in our near (and distant) future.
Well known verses, but full of powerful truths that I am holding on today.  Maybe they will be an encouragement to you also!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭3‬:‭5-6‬ HCSB)
“For I know the plans I have for you” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29‬:‭11‬ HCSB)
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭33‬ HCSB)
Do you feel like some things are out of your control in your life?
Trust. Believe. Seek.  God is in control. 

Backyard

So much of what we do in the Dominican is take groups out.  We go to Pasitos de Jesus, Emanuel House, Lily House, Josiah’s House, Tercer Cielo, villages and towns etc. to work, share the gospel, give food, teach, play with kids etc.  But what about in our own backyard, here in Juan Dolio?  One of the long-term DR missionaries, Erica Jude, shared with us about different things we/groups can do to have more of a long-term effect.  One of those things is to teach about keeping your house/neighborhood clean.  What that will do is lessen the amount of mosquitos (and rats) and thus lessen the possibility of getting Chikungunya or other diseases, keep you healthier and avoid expensive trips to the doctor or hospital.

With that information, Joey sprung into action.  He took the initiative to organize a group to go out in the neighborhood behind where we live, clean up the basketball court and share the gospel.

Here are a few pictures from our walk to the area that we were going to work in that day.  I had no idea there was a greenhouse back there…. Beautiful! But, check out the garbage along the way…

Once we got to the basketball court, we set our stuff down (gloves, garbage bags, rakes, shovels) and started inviting people to our brief “program.”  After visiting several houses with several verbal commitments, we had one boy show up.  “Well, God, if this is who You gave us to share to today, this is who we will share with.”  But, while we were waiting, another boy showed up with a soccer ball which immediately became a basketball.  The kiddos started playing (including JJ, Joey and Emma) and next thing you know, we have a group of about TEN!  Praise the LORD.    JJ, a SCORE intern, shared in Spanish about keeping this area clean to cut down on the mosquitos/rats etc and then proceeded to share the gospel IN SPANISH ~WAY TO GO, JJ~! One boy said he prayed to receive Christ.  All were invited to Youth Group this Friday and church on Sunday.  THEN… almost every one of them helped us pick up garbage from that area.  We filled 10+ garbage bags!  Erica even noted that later that afternoon, there were still some people cleaning up garbage at 5:15!  We pray this is the start of building relationships with the Juan Dolio neighborhood.

Here are some more photos of Wednesday morning.  Can I just tell you what a blessing it is to hear your 12 year old son say, “Mom.  I think God is doing something in my life!”  The excitement he had preparing this outreach, executing the outreach and now planning what’s next is a true testament to the grace of God in his life.  I pray this is just the beginning….