The End and the Beginning.

On our flight from Beijing to Dallas, we were exclaiming over all the leg room that we had, saying this plane was the one of the best we’d been on, and definitely the best for a long haul flight.  A little bit into the flight, I got up to use the restroom and noticed that not everyone had the leg room that we had.  Weird.  When I got back to my seat, I observed that the label on the overhead bin said Economy Plus.  Y’all.  All five of us were in upgraded seats at no cost to us!  It was the easiest 13 hour flight we have ever been on.

orange.pngArriving home always invokes all the warm fuzzy feelings.  Seeing the people you love for the first time in months and getting to hug them is indescribable.  The best feeling!  I wish I could bottle it up and experience it every time I need a pick me up.  This return home, although we’d only been gone for 6 months, was no different.  There was anticipation and excitement and a feeling of relief that we wouldn’t have to say long goodbyes anymore.

Then jet lag set in.   Suddenly I had the wee hours of the morning, before the world awakened, to quietly process all the changes that had taken place in our life.  My heart felt so much joy in these first moments.  There was an underlying terror in my soul, that would rear its nasty head later, but I mostly felt glee.  The kind that makes you want to dance.

The first full day we were back, we went house shopping.  Our realtor happens to be the mama of our sister-in-law (Cameron’s brother’s wife) and has been a part of our family longer than we have been a family, so she had been showing houses to my mom for us for a couple of weeks before we arrived.  We were prepared to hit the ground running!  As we walked in and out of houses that needed so much updating and work, my heart started to drop.  The joy was leaking out like a balloon with a pinprick hole and the fear was started to bubble up in a slow boil.  We only had so much money we could spend and it didn’t feel like enough.  Satan was doing a real good job of stealing our joy.

A good friend of mine reminded me before we left China that Satan would try to do this.  That he wouldn’t want us to experience the joy of walking with Jesus; that he would try to infiltrate our minds with all the negative things he could find.  How wise her words were!  After a few days of weepiness and house hunting and arguing at home, I realized that I had let my worry overtake what should be a sweet, fun time in our lives.  As I let the worry go and chose instead to sit right next to Jesus and let Him direct us, peace flooded my mind once again.  It’s amazing to me how quickly I forget how good it feels to let God carry my burdens.  He is capable and willing to take all the things I worry about, stress about, and get upset about and figure them all out for me.  I just have to let Him.  Sometimes I have to just stop and roll my eyes at myself.

After what felt like walking through every. single. house. for sale in our city over the next two weeks, we walked into one that caused me to lose all objectivity.  I wanted it from the moment we pulled up.  It is in the neighborhood I was hoping for.  It is red brick, which is my favorite.  It has a big, white kitchen with so much space to bake.  Split bedrooms.  A master bathroom with two closets and a bathtub.  Let me just pause and soak that in.  For a bath-loving girl, this is huge!  I have lived for the past 5 years in homes with no bathtubs.  When we were fortunate enough to stay in a hotel with a surprise bathtub, I would take two baths a day.  I know.  Hotel bathtubs give me the creepy crawlies too, but y’all.  I was desperate for a good, long soak.  I was also desperate for this house.

With fingers crossed, we submitted an offer that afternoon.  It was kicked back with a counter offer.  Neither of us were willing to pay closing costs.  Remember that time about 24 hours before this, that I figured out Satan was stealing my joy?  I let him do it again.  Stupid.  I know.  <insert yet another eye roll here>

I went into this attitude of, “Whatever.  Just pick a house.  I don’t even care.”  I did care, obviously, but I was acting like a two year old.  I was also feeling numb.  We had barely been back in America for two weeks at this point.  I was in a place that I get where I can’t make choices well and I cry a lot.  I was also starting to really doubt if we heard God correctly, and it wouldn’t be the last time I was filled with doubt.  Things just didn’t seem as smooth as I expected.  We still hadn’t found vehicles.  Or a house.  We were both starting work in about two weeks.  The girls were still sleeping on air mattresses.  We sat down and looked at financial numbers (bad idea).  I just felt…scared.  And I had, at some point, taken the burden of my life off Father’s shoulders and decided to carry it myself.  Again.  So I gave it all back to Him and asked Him to just figure it all out.

And of course, in His faithfulness, He did.

The realtor called and the sellers decided to pay closing costs after all.  Some distant friends/church members who own a car dealership were going to auction to find us vehicles.  They were able to find exactly what we asked for within our budget.  It was immediate.  When you let go and allow God to work things out, He does a far better job than you can even imagine doing on your own.  For some reason, even though I know this truth, I can’t seem to remember not to be controlling.

Early the next Saturday morning, I was spending some quiet time with Jesus and asked Him to provide a bed for Ellie’s room.  We had decided to build bunkbeds for the big girls (I decided this, and I hope Cam, when he reads this, remembers that I asked/told him he was building them built-in bunkbeds.  Yay!), but I wanted to find Ellie a wooden bed with a  trundle pull out.  About the time I finished praying, Cam walked in and asked if I wanted to go check out the garage sales around town.  I love garage sales.  Cheap things that you can transform and breathe life back into are some of my favorite things.  And guess what we found?  Yep.  A wooden bed with a trundle for Ellie.  For $25.  As I told the older gentleman who was selling it that I had prayed for this just that morning, I was really struck again at how Father cares for me and the little things that matter to me.

Amazing, y’all.  We love an amazing God!

 

 

 

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The Middle of the Story

As we began to process and pray over this new opportunity, God began to open doors.  I don’t mean crack them, I mean He threw them wide open and put flashing arrows above them to let us know He wanted us to walk through them.

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In an effort to make sure all our i’s were dotted and t’s crossed, we reached out to our immediate supervisor.  He and his wife are kind and full of Jesus, and we knew we could trust them to help guide us.  He encouraged us to get away separately for a time of prayer and fasting and to also reach out to someone whom we trusted that would be unaffected by our decision (not family or IMB personnel).

So, we both reached out to trusted friends and asked them to pray with us and share their wisdom.  Both gave encouraging words and asked hard questions and ultimately led both of us closer to the decision to return.

Then, we planned overnight getaways at a local hotel for each of us.  We decided not to talk about what the Lord was telling us until we both were finished with our time.  When we came together to share what the Lord had spoken to us individually, we learned that Father had used the same scriptures to speak to both of us.  We had both meditated on the book of Philippians and then over to Ephesians.  For me, these are the scriptures Father used to bring peace to my heart about the decision to return to America:

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:10

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.  Ephesians 3: 20-21

Our family had memorized Phil. 1:6, so it was already on our hearts.  I am positive that was no accident.  He is faithful to direct our paths way before we know they need to be directed, as we would soon see in numerous ways.  As I reflected back on my life, He began to remind me of my prayer to someday live near my family.  Then, as I read Ephesians 3:20, about Him doing far more than we ask or think, I was struck that He was answering my 10 year prayer.  He wasn’t just sending us back.  He was sending us back to the church all my family attends.  Where my Dad is on staff.  Doing a job that Cameron is uniquely gifted for.  He had worked it out so much better than I could have even imagined it.  And He wasn’t finished yet, as we would soon find out.

I really had to wrestle with what felt like failure.  For so many people, the calling to move overseas is a lifelong calling.  We have never held tightly to the calling, never claiming that it was forever, but we were prepared for it to be.  The Bible (James 4: 13-17) tells us that we don’t know what tomorrow holds and we are arrogant if we say tomorrow this, or tomorrow that.  We should say “If the Lord wills”.  We have tried very hard to live by this standard, re-evaluating with Christ the things we are doing and making sure we are continuing to walk down the path He desires.  We were ready and willing to live in China forever.  Frankly, we expected to. But we never wanted to live there forever if Christ didn’t want us to, regardless of how easy it would have been to do so.

That last statement may make you scratch your heads a bit, wondering how I can say that when just yesterday I said that living in China was hard.  The hard part about living in China for me was the distance between myself and my family.  There were smaller “hard things” in each city we lived in, but the biggest was always the longing to be near my family.  The rest of living overseas was such an adventure!  Growing up, I always told my dad that I wanted to live in a big city.  I wanted hotels and airplanes and what, then, I felt, was the rich life.  After living in a city with 14 million people, flying on airplanes more times than I can count, and staying in hotels more often than I want to remember, I was ready for the empty mountains of Colorado where all I could hear was the roaring of the gushing river.  I wanted to feel the brisk coldness of mountain air on my face as I unzipped a tent to walk to the fire where I could smell the percolating coffee.  All the things I hated as a child, I longed for when I was in the midst of the life I thought I wanted as a child.  BUT.  I wouldn’t trade the adventures.  We played with baby tigers, zip lined through the mountains of Thailand, vacationed in Taiwan, and saw more beautiful beaches that I ever thought possible.  We rode scooters as our main transportation, had heart conversations in Chinese with friends the Lord gave us, held hands and prayed with friends as they made the biggest decision of their lives, to follow Jesus.  All those longings in my heart as a child were fulfilled in spades.  I loved it. It also made me realize that I love the simple things too.  I don’t need fancy hotels and airplanes.  Powdered donuts and tents, crammed into overflowing trucks, and family are more than enough.  More than that, being in the midst of what God wants for me, is exactly what fulfills my heart.  I never would have learned that He is all I need if He wouldn’t have taken me out of a world that I could control.  I am so thankful.  Living in China will always be one of the greatest blessings in my life.  He gave me friends that will forever will be my friends. He gave me an eternal perspective that changed my life.  Staying there, friends, would have been okay with me.

As Cameron and I shared with each other what the Lord spoke to us during our time away, we made the decision to move back.  Phone calls and emails ensued, and after what felt like years, but was, in fact, only days, we were able to share with our families and friends.  There was shock.  There were tears.  There was uncertainty and there was excitement.  There still is.

But there was more to come.

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When prayer doesn’t seem to work

All prayer is to change the human will into submission to the divine will “as thou wilt.”. . . Practically then, I say, Pray as He did, until prayer makes you cease praying. Pray until prayer makes you forget your own wish, and leave it or merge it in God’s will. The divine wisdom has given us prayer, not as a means whereby we escape evil, but as a means whereby we become strong to meet it. “There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him” [Luke 22:43]. That was the true reply to His prayer.’

Frederick W. Robertson

There are times in my life when I wonder if praying really matters.  If it can change anything.  If it really makes a difference.  Last week I read this quote and my prayer world was rocked.  I had always prayed with the mindset of asking Father to change things.  To make the bumps in my life fit a little easier and feel a little smoother.

I have held onto to the doubt for fifteen years that when I really needed Him, when I prayed the prayer that if given the right answer would make my world right again, He failed me.  He didn’t want to give me what I really wanted, what would have made my life better and whole.  I have struggled so many times with my prayer life because of these doubts, never pausing to truly realize that while I was praying for a miracle, He was working one in my heart.  It was a different miracle, but it was one that passed all understanding.  I remember someone asking me one time how I was doing it.  How are you still smiling when your baby is in a casket in the next room?  I remember telling her that He gives us what we need when we need it, and He was giving me abundant peace.  That was His answer to my heart’s plea.  While I was asking Him to breathe life back into Chloe, He was breathing life into me.  He was filling me with His Holy Spirit power and making my heart beat in tune with His.  He was giving me strength and making my wish become the same as His.

I didn’t clearly recognize any of this until last week, but now I can see His hand, His love, His faithfulness, and his oh so powerful strength carrying me through every moment.  I am quick to fall prey to the enemy stealing my peace even now, fifteen years later, and have to constantly capture every thought and doubt and make it obedient to Christ, but this has changed me.  As I have prayed this week for myself, my family, my friends, I have prayed from a different angle.  It has made such a difference in my heart to know and feel that when I pray, I am inviting His strength to make whatever comes okay.  He has my world under control, and all I have to do is sit back and be obedient to whatever He tells me to do.  He is going to work all the details out perfectly and if I will just allow Him, He will turn all my wishes into the same wishes He has already designed for me.

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Movin’ on Up to the NORTHside

moving

Life decisions rarely come easy or quick, am I right?!  A few months ago we were given a choice to move the the north side of the island we currently live on in order to be near our teammates.  It would be a lot easier to be encouraging team leaders if we actually lived nearby.

However.

Our girls have friends in this city.  Not just any old friends, but friends that are perfectly matched to their ages, whom they adore.  These friends are answers to so many prayers that we lifted to the King, and He wouldn’t be asking us to move away from them, from HIS blessings to us, to a city where the foreign kiddo population is far younger than our girls.  Right?

We lifted it up, talked it over and over, from every direction, and decided that, no, He was not asking us to move.  The best thing for our family is to stay planted and grow some roots.

Maybe that was the problem.  The whole roots thing.  Our roots should be in HIM, not in a location.  He continued to whisper to our hearts, never letting the final decision we made feel final.  Then, little by little, the work we are doing here seemed to be wrapping up.  Not in a “we don’t need to do that work anymore” kind of way, but in a way that meant our involvement will start to be less and less as they become more able to move to a healthy place on their own.  Some other opportunities presented themselves and the more we talked through what a move would look like for our family, the more we began to really hear what He was telling us to do.

  1.  We would be able to host teams more easily, and having American brothers and sisters come to partner and work alongside us is priceless!
  2. Our girls were given built-in best friends when they became a group of three sisters so us feeling they are entitled to different friends is exactly that.  Entitlement.  He will bless them and care for them far more than we are able to.
  3. Our girls aren’t involved much in what we do over here (neither am I for that matter!) and that could really change with new opportunities.
  4. Being able to encourage and bless our teammates in tangible ways will help us to truly embrace the role He has placed us in.
  5. We can be much more strategic about where we choose to live, enabling us to be surrounded by more locals.
  6. Being able to run to the beach and run the trails (it didn’t rank high on the list, but come on!  It made the list for sure.)  The prospect of paddle boarding in the deep, blue sea doesn’t hurt either!

These are just a few of the things on our pros list, and we aren’t naive enough to not recognize that almost every one of these things can be done where we are, but we are wise enough (through and by Him alone) to recognize that He has prepared our hearts for this.  As we shared with our girls in family devo time last week that moving was a possibility and talked that through with them, we have been more than surprised as they have come to us at different times expressing that they would be sad to leave their friends, but are excited about the possibility of life in Haikou.

Y’all.

Our Father doesn’t just love us.  He adores us and wants the very best for us.

Shout it.

Go on and scream it from the mountains

Go on and tell it to the masses

that HE IS GOD!

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The truth about DISCIPLINE

I used to always think of discipline as punishment or the consequences of poor choices.  You know, that thing you do to your kids when they fail to put their laundry away after you’ve told them fifteen times.   As I grow older, however, I am realizing that that is such a small facet of what discipline really is.

There are a few areas in my life that I feel are a daily practice of discipline.  Teaching me, stretching me, making me more than I was the day before.

Exercise.

I almost don’t even have to say more about it, am I right?!

exercise

I have these grand ideas of eating healthy and exercising daily while my body morphs into supermodel qualities and I lightly glisten from my efforts.  Reality hits me in the face when the sun peeks through my curtains at 6:15, waking me up and reminding me of my lofty goals.  I roll out of bed and pull back the curtains, hoping with all that is in me that it is pouring down rain so that my excuse for not running is logistical in nature and not emotional.  9.5 times out of 10, it is sunny with no rain, so I grab my workout clothes, ruthlessly wake Cam to join in my torture, then get ready.  I drink some water, eat a quick bite of something, grab my iPod that is loaded with fabulous music from every era, and walk into the stairwell, where I am hit in the face with breath-taking humidity, effectively moving me past the glistening stage of sweat into the full out, dripping down my back stage, down 4 flights, to the beautiful scenery in which I am lucky to live.  Our complex has a circle road, lined with towering palm trees and tropical blooms, that is exactly 1.1km around.  Perfect for measuring how far you hope to run.  The goal:  6.6km.  About 0.3km in, my body tells me it is no longer fun and that I should quit running.  It takes so much discipline to press on.  Over and over I ask myself, “Does anything hurt?”  If my answer is no then I know my desire to quit is purely mental and I have no true reason to walk.  This goes on over and over for 5 laps.  I tell Cam, while gasping for life-giving breath, that I just don’t have another lap in me.  It’s his turn for ruthlessness, so he tells me, at the finish line of our 6th lap (for those of you not familiar with km, that is a little more than 4 miles) to sprint.  Give it all I have to the end of the building.  I shoot daggers, lift my head, and sprint, knowing I can give 20 more seconds.

Discipline.  We can do hard things without quitting if we set our hearts on the prize and cry out to Jesus with every single step.  And if we do quit, we can start again tomorrow.   Grace.

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Quiet Time.  It’s always been a practice of discipline.  Always.

Why is this one so hard?  I mean, I know why.  The enemy is prowling and what an easy win for him!  We are armed with this knowledge yet continue to allow the devil to take this time from us.  I made a rule for myself that I cannot get on my computer until I have spent time reading the Word and talking to Father.  I made the same rule for my girls.  It has made it easier not to get sidetracked by the world, but then I have the battle that is in my mind.  You know, when you start to pray and next thing you know you are daydreaming about the cake you want to bake later in the day.  Or the cupcakes you ate the night before that were so good.  Or when you are reading scripture and realize you have no idea what it is saying because your mind is elsewhere.  It takes so much energy and effort to focus on the King and give Him what He is due, what He is worth.  Discipline.

And I will be honest with you, the days that I leave my quiet time feeling renewed and refreshed and like I am leaving His very presence, those days are the hardest days.  Those are the days that Satan pulls out all the stops and starts attacking.  I can feel my mood shift and anger start to rise at the smallest things.  He is no dummy.  If I feel like that after a good devotion, then maybe I will just stop.  He doesn’t seem to attack so hard on the days I fail to pray.   However, there is joy in persevering and doing what is right, regardless of the results.

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I can go on and on about the ways and areas in which He is teaching me to discipline myself (marriage, motherhood, ministry, to name a few), to push myself out of my comfort zones so that I can bring Him the most glory.  I believe that life on this side of Glory is itself an area that requires an inordinate amount of discipline to live well as a Believer.  Thankfully we are all in this together!

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5 Reasons why I lost touch

There are always good reasons in my mind for the reasons why I don’t carve time out to blog.  I thought I would share a few with you so that you, dear friend, can be my encourager.5 reasons

5.  My life feels uninteresting.  Sometimes life over here is just as mundane as life everywhere else.  My days get filled to the brim with homeschooling all the little ducklings that swim around my feet and dinner preparations where every little thing has to be made with love from nothing.  There are days when cooking dinner feels a bit like I imagine it would have felt to look over the vast emptiness of the universe and start to create wonderfully elaborate and creative things as a human not as God who can do ALL things with just a whisper, of course.

4.  My mind is mush and there are no words left.  You know how it is at the end of a long day, when your children have been asking questions all day and your husband needs attention and love and someone unexpectedly shows up for dinner.  When the moment comes at the end of the day, when all is calm and quiet, it takes everything I have to stay awake until an acceptable time for an adult to go to bed.

3.  The pressure to write something witty and engaging is too daunting a task, so I don’t even try.  Yep.  That’s true.  I will remember this when I tell my girls to just try when they really don’t think they can do something.

2.  I feel like a gross imposter.  I want to be able to write an account of all the marvelous things I did for the Lord and how many times I shared His name and how He moved in my world.  But, honestly, a lot of times I can’t do that.  I can tell you how I didn’t bite my girls heads off when they failed their tests and claimed it as my most successful moment of the day.  Or I could tell you about the one child who admitted to peeing from one end of the shower to the other side of the shower because it could hit the wall and how when I heard that, I put my hand on my face and wondered how they will ever get married.  Then there was the time when the stove burner was turned on while a pan of brownies was sitting on top, ruining the pan that was my Grandmas and ruining all the brownies!  Sometimes the only marvelous thing I do all day is survive, hopefully with more grace than the day before.

1. The Enemy is near.  Hands down, this is the number ONE reason I stay away from sharing my thoughts and my heart.  I have never felt the kind of warfare that I have felt since moving to this side of the world, nor would I have ever imagined the frequency.  I can feel myself slipping into a place that is cold and ugly.  A place filled with doubts and lies that must be crawled out of by sheer will.  I know that I am not alone in that pit, but He trusts me to be able to bear so much more than what feels possible.  There have been some wrestling matches with the Father that I fought with tooth and nail to resist what He was telling me to do, rather than to just let go and let Him carry me into His perfect plan.  When I get to this place, this awful, shameful place, I go silent.  If you could see my face, you would see the tears streaming down my cheeks as I fight against curling up and quitting.  It is here, at this point, that He sends reinforcements and we start all over again.  Sometimes YOU are the reinforcement He uses, sometimes it is chocolate cake.  It is always welcomed and received with gratefulness.

So there you have it.  Five reasons I fall off the face of the planet for weeks at a time.  Hopefully it won’t be so long this time.

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