Saturday, January 26, 2008

sweet conversations

Caleb: "You know what Jesus is working on right now?" Big sigh, eyes sparkling. This is coming out of nowhere.

Me: "What's he working on, Caleb?"

Caleb: "He's making houses made of..." dramatic pause "... PURE GOLD! And all the streets are made of the best gold! And we get to be there!" His voice is trembling with excitement and anticipation, as if it were Christmas Eve all over again. "And then, there's this book with everyone's name in it! Except for people who don't love God," said with a downcast face, which soon brightens. "And maybe we'll get to see our own names written in it!"

I don't have any pictures of this moment to show you, and it doesn't matter, because there's no way any earthly camera could have captured that look of love and anticipation from this child of the King. He was literally glowing, more radiantly than the purest of gold. His mind is so often fixed heavenward.


Lily, as we're driving past a lake on the way to her speech class: "Mom, that lake is all icey!"

Me: "Yes, Lily, it's so cold outside, the lake froze up!"

Lily: "We need to get a humpback whale to break up all the ice with his tail!" (I'm guessing she's watched an episode too many of "Go, Diego, Go," whose animal friends often come to the rescue.)

Me: "That's a great idea, Lily, except we don't have any humpback whales in Michigan."

Lily: "We can go to China and get one!" (That would be quite the interesting plane ride home...)


Seth, trying to coax me to sit on the couch with him and turn on the cartoons: "Mom, you come with me, please? Mom, you come to the couch? See, I kiss your hand." Then he kisses my hand. Big pause, as he considers his next offer. "See, I zerbert your other hand." And he lays on a bumpy one. He squeezes my hands and smiles at me, looking deep into my eyes. Yes, of course I sat on the couch with him and watched cartoons. He was a very content little boy, snuggled in the crook of his mommy's arm, and I felt drunk with love as his warm, sweet body pressed up next to me. It doesn't take much to buy off this fool-in-love mommy.


I hate to not have a Gabriel-conversation to share with you, but I honestly can't think of anything he and I have talked about the past couple of days! (Cue pangs of guilt.) It's just been the normal day to day stuff, like, "Mom, what's for dinner?"..."What else?"..."How many bites do I have to eat to get a snack?"..."Can I just have a sandwich instead?" This morning, I did make him some scrambled eggs for breakfast, and I scored a "Your the best mom in the world!" complete with a tilt of the head, sweet up-turn of the lips, and dreamy eyes. Ladies, the way to this boy's heart goes straight through his stomach...IF what you're serving meets his strict set of rules for his delicate, picky-as-all-get-out palate: no sauce, no green seasonings, nothing not completely identifiable, no more than one food group per dish, no two items touching or occupying similar space, no vegetable except for raw carrots and celery or cooked corn, no calling meat of any category anything other than "meat, hamburger or chicken", no crusts, and unless it's a fruit, use lots of pepper. Simple!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

40 Fast::Days 11-17

Today is Day 17. The past week has flown by, not really from busy-ness, although there is always that, but from lots of decisions and praying and more decisions. The worst part is that we are in a bit of a flux, and some of the decisions are not ours to make, so we must wait to even let anyone know "Here's what God is doing."

I can say this: sometimes God closes every single door around you. You try all the handles. One by one, you get the same result: locked. You're starting to sweat and feel hopeless, helpless, trapped. Finally you're standing before the last door. You reach out a trembling hand, and somewhat to your surprise, and somewhat at your expectation--it is after all the last door, and God never abandons you to nowhere and nothingness--the handle turns. You are scared at what you might find behind that door, but when you turn back to look at all the locked doors behind you, you know that God has used those dead ends to lead you to this very door. This is your door. You open it, and it leads to another door, also unlocked, and another and another. But before you burst through each doorway into something completely new and a little terrifying, you must test this against His word and pray and continue to seek Him. It's not about that door, but about Him already waiting for you on the other side, beckoning you. And in the midst of seeking, you realize that perhaps these are the doors, if given total free choice, you would have chosen all along. And so you walk through hesitantly. And until another door closes and locks, you continue through the maze.

This is where Rob and I are. We don't feel like we can openly share with everyone where we think God might be leading us, until we've made sure none of the doors standing in front of us are locked.

My Scripture reading from last night spoke of the time when the disciples were out on a boat by themselves and a sudden storm came up. Jesus was off by himself praying. In the midst of their terror, they spotted Jesus walking toward them on top of the water. At first they thought it was ghost. Not only was the storm overtaking them, but now they're going to be ravaged by an evil spirit, so they thought. But Jesus said, "It is I. Don't be afraid." The very thing they were so afraid of turned out to be their only hope and best friend. That's when Peter joined Jesus on top of the water, and as he looked at his circumstance, you know, squalling waves and wind, he began to fear again and started to sink. Jesus had mercy on him, reached down and saved him, then climbed aboard the boat and rebuked the storm into nonexistence. It wasn't long before all this happened that the disciples had encountered another storm, but that time, Jesus was on the boat with them, sleeping. They cried out to him as he was physically right there, and Jesus calmed the storm. I've often wondered why this happened again. The same 12 guys, the same rickety boat, the same type of deadly storm. But this time Jesus wasn't there. Yet, he still protected them from the storm. He knew exactly where they were and that they were having trouble. (Surely from he could see the storm clouds brewing overhead...)and he still rescued them, showing even more of his power as he walked on top of the water.

Jesus was taking their faith from a faith in what they could see, to a faith in what they could not see. Was Jesus any less present during the second storm?

These stormy times here are similar for me. I haven't been able to feel his presence and direction. I've felt lost and tired and overcome by waves of hardship. But Jesus has never been absent. The storms do not come as a surprise to him.

And I think I see him in the distance, walking towards us.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

40-Day Fast::Days 4 thru 10

Last week was really hard. But I guess if this were easy, it wouldn't be of that much worth to the Lord, and I want this sacrifice to be a costly gift to him.

Physically: we're doing just fine. In just the past two days I've found myself having more energy and not feel so whipped. The mornings are a little sluggish, though, and it takes me a longer to get going. I now have to remind myself to drink my water and mealtime cup of juice. Today, I forgot to drink anything until after 2:00 p.m.

Spiritually: we're growing and deepening. We see God's mercies every day all around us. Personally, I feel really close to Jesus throughout the day, like he's following me around, whispering guidance and love into my ear throughout the day. I know he's always with us, but his presence beside me is sometimes palpable. You know how you feel when your spouse is home from work early and your normal routine feels different or perhaps must now become different? How just having him in the house, even if he's hanging out in the office the whole time and you're not even talking, makes your home feel complete and your heart content? It's like that.

Rob and I have had some really intimate prayer times together. My prayers always seem weak and feeble bumped up next to his amazing ones that brim with eloquence, Scripture and faith. But I know God doesn't mind. "The only way to fail in prayer is to not show up." (From "Prayer" by Philip Yancey, I forget the page number.)

And today God has let in a tiny beam of light from a slightly cracked-open door. Ours? We pray on, with our trembling hands on the doorknob.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chinese Orphan Video

You might want to grab a handful of tissues.

Uploaded by ludo

40 Day Fast::Day 3

Today I spent a lot of time searching. Not just searching for the remote control (Caleb is a complete remote hog!) or where Seth may have stashed Rob's lawnmower key...the only one we have.

The search is based on this reflecting question: Are there dark spots in my heart that may be keeping God from answering my prayers?

I asked God today to reveal my sins, even the teeniest of them, so that I could confess them to him and repent. Um, let's just say that God wasn't silent today. There's a lot of chaff in my life! Impatience, un-gentleness, laziness, worldliness, dishonesty...I could go on, and God DID go on, but this is awfully public and painfully personal.

I can't tell you that God is gripping us punitively by the shoulder because of these, but I can say with certainty that it doesn't matter how small the sin is, it keeps us away from God. Sure, I know when I'm being rebellious, and at the end of the day, I do feel sorry for whatever it is, yelling at one of the kids or choosing not to do something I know would be a blessing to my family just because I don't feel like it or watching a television show that dishonors God, and I do confess these to God. But I seem to be just as impatient or lazy or worldly the next day. Am I abusing God's grace???? God, please forgive me!!! I know that I can't be perfect, but I also know that I can make a better effort in many areas of my life.

Thank-you, God for the sacrifice of Jesus. I know that when you look at me, you see a daughter redeemed. But you are calling me to a deeper life...and I wanna go!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

40 Day Fast::Day 2

I thought today would be harder than it is. Sure, we're a little hungry, but the pangs are certainly not unbearable. My heart breaks for those families all over the world, even here in the prosperous US of A who do not get enough to eat. I'm a grown-up, and I can handle this, but I would be beside myself if any of my children had to go hungry. How many mothers across the world have to look into big,hungry eyes and not be able to meet that basic need for their children? The Church needs to work harder to do something about that...I need to do something about that.

Part of my prayer time during this fast has included praying through some of the Psalms. One of today's was Psalm 61. I found great comfort in the words of lament that my own soul could not have expressed without help. "Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings." That is indeed my heart and my prayer today.

We've had a substantial amount of flooding in nearby areas this week. Last week we received around 16 inches of snow, and then the temperatures shot up to the 60's, melting the white mounds. Then several inches of rain fell. It's so bad that many schools were closed or delayed. Many, many roads are closed. Yesterday morning in a nearby town, a young mother and her five children attempted to cross a flooded road in her Chevy Tahoe (not a small vehicle) and was overcome by the current, which pulled her truck into seven feet of water. The children were all very young, ages three months to five years old. The mother was only able to save three of them; the two-year-old and the five-year-old drowned. My heart is so broken for her and her husband. Will she ever be able to forgive herself for her error in judgement? It's truly my worst Mother-Nightmare come true.

The next chapter of, "Incredible Moments With the Savior" talked about the royal official who approached Jesus to heal his dying child. The man was one of Herod's men, probably very wealthy, and he was probably used to using his wealth and his position to get whatever he wanted. But when his precious son fell ill, he could neither buy nor command health. I think he would have traded every last coin and given up his illustrious career to make his child well, to save him from dying. Then as a last ditch resort, he travels to where a homeless man named Jesus was teaching. He had heard rumors that Jesus had healed some people, and he didn't care that he was a Jew. The life of his child was at stake. Nothing else mattered. He was not above begging for help.

Of course Jesus healed the official's son. He sent him on his way, telling him that the child would live. On the way home, a servant met him and shared the amazing news that his little boy's fever had left...the same time Jesus had spoken to him the day before.

Today as I prayed for God's provision, I was reminded of the young mother who will never get to tuck two of her precious children into bed again. I thought about all the mothers whose children are going to bed hungry tonight, and how helpless they must feel. And I thought about the Roman official whose money could not buy him that which was most important to him.

We have four beautiful children who are healthy and smart and loving. I fed each of them three meals, plus snacks, plus "more juice, please" today. And I know that I will have enough to do the same tomorrow.

I gotta tell ya, I feel like the richest woman in the world right now!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

40-Day Fast::Day 1

Today was a little hard, but not too bad. I had to stop myself from licking the strawberry jam off my fingers when I made the kids' lunch.

I must admit, I knew for sure that I was going to have a craving for Saylor's chicken ranch pizza during this journey, so yesterday, before the fast started, the kids and I went out for pizza for lunch. And I bought a little Christmas chocolate from the clearance aisle. Hey, I know what I was going to be thinking about, and I wanted to ward off giving into it before it was wrong! :o) "To thine ownself be true," quips Polonius, Hamlet's older and wiser friend, who surely would have nodded his approval at the Ghiradelli squares.

I'm reading a book called, "Incredible Moments With the Savior: Learning to See" by Ken Gire. Today's encounter with Jesus revealed a bit of his compassion and self-sacrifice through the miracle of turning water into wine at the Canaan weding feast. Such an odd first public miracle, I used to think. But I see how perfect it was. The water jugs that Jesus commanded be filled with water were not meant to hold anything valuable. They just held water for the ceremonial washing of the guests feet. However, Jesus gave them new purpose by turning ordinary water into choice wine, the best of the best, in the same way that He came to give the Jewish law new purpose: not as a set of to-do's to get into God's favor, but to show our desperate need for Jesus and God's grace to forgive us for never being able to fully measure up.

Jesus can take this dull and ordinary vessel and give it a greater purpose! What hope!

More than that, Jesus' compassion for the wedding host, who would never have been able to live down the embarrassment of running out of wine before the end of the wedding celebration, far out-weighed his own personal cost of performing this miracle. Yes, there was a cost, for as soon as he did it, "Jesus crossed the Rubicon--that river of no return. The die was cast. The clock was wound. It would begin ticking down to the final hour of his destiny and set in motion the gears that would ultimately enmesh him and cost him his life. For the wine he provided at Cana would hasten the cup he would one day drink at the cross" (Gire 6).

Can you see how much he loves us???

I leave the end of day one feeling completely loved by God. (And only a little hungry.)

40-Day Fast::Prelude

Okay, it's been almost forever since I've talked to you. Sorry. Christmas really kicked my rear. I hope I can say that without sounding completely bah-humbug, because I'm not scroogey in the least. I love Christmas, truly, I do.

In fact, my tree is still up and lit. Yeah, I'll probably take it down sometime this week, but I don't think I was really able to enjoy it with my full schedule until after Christmas was finished. The mom for whose two children I babysit took last week off from work, so HURRAY, I actually got a bit of a break! The kids and I basically spent the whole week recovering from merry-making.

I do have one bit of SAD news concerning Christmas: Seth erased every single one of my Christmas pictures from our digital camera! I was, and still am, devestated; but then again, I'm the ding dong who put off uploading them from the disk to our computer. Arg. I did get our family's present-time recorded on the video recorder, but it's a little hard to scrap book video. If only I had caught up with him and the camera two minutes earlier. Ah, well, nothing to be done about that now.

So, back to today's entry title.

Rob and I are at a crossroads in our ministry here in Dowagiac. When God moved us up here three and a half years ago, we knew that we would be taking a risk. Many factors contributed: the church was a realtively new church plant with few footholds in the community; they couldn't afford to pay our growing family a full-time salary, so Rob would need to keep his appraisal business; and they had no permanant meeting place. But God saw us through so many of those obstacles. We were excited about building a church from the ground up. In fact, in the year preceeding our move, we felt God pulling our hearts toward church-planting. This church was basically a restart. Secondly, Rob's business was still strong, and the flexibility of self-employment allowed for him to work full time in the minsitry uncompromisingly. And thirdly, we were able, with some help from the district, to finish the inside of the pole building on our property into a lovely church building, small but totally charming and completely adequate.

It would seem that God was clearing the path before us and the church, and we were so excited about what He might have planned for this ministry.

Fast-forward to today. We've spent three and a half years building friendships and connections and involving ourselves in the community, but don't have nearly as much to show for it as we would like. We have a couple of families that attend because of our seed-planting, but we've lost more families than we've gained, putting our church in an even more challenging situation, finacially and otherwise. It's hard to attract people to a small church! There's certainly no blending into the pews at Pathway! (Especially since we don't have pews...) Secondly, to say that the real estate market has plummeted would be a gross understatement. Every year that we've been here, Rob has done half the business of the year before. This year, he has taken on several other odd jobs, but the total income still does not make ends meet...and he's running in many different directions, making it seemingly impossible to meet all of the demands of family and ministry all the while trying to earn enough survive. So what's the point??? There's a lot riding on our shoulders, you know, carrying the mortgage that allows our church to have a meeting place.

So here we are. We've prayed. A lot. We've searched scriptures. We've sought wise counsel. God has been cryptically silent. We have got to have some answers and direction. God must intervene lest everything around us crumbles. Yet, through all this, neither of us feel released from this ministry. We're exhausted, yes. But both of us feel like God is not going to send us AWAY from this unless He's sending us TO something else. I hope the meaning of that comes across in my flat writing. We don't feel like he is going to send us away defeated. Neither of us is panicking, either. Last year, at this time, we were. And we're still here. God has strengthened our faith, so that today's desert journey has not scourched our souls to the point of despair.

I'm making myself, and my family, very vulnerable right now. Humility is about all we have left. All we want to do is make a difference in this community for Christ.

The year before we came to Pathway, Rob and I embarked on 40-Day fast. We both felt compelled to do this, to prepare our hearts for whatever ministry He was calling us to, to seek His direction whole-heartedly. I brought it up a few weeks ago, that maybe we should do another extended fast, and Rob had been thinking the same thing. There's nothing magical about a fast, certainly nothing formulaic about it. We don't serve a formulaic God. But for some reason, fasting does get God's attention, and it absolutely gets our attention.

We need God's hand of blessing! If He has moved it, we must move, too. If or the creating a wall between our family and God's blessing, we must remove that wall.

So, today is day 1 of our 40 day fast. I'm telling you all this so that:

::you can pray for us! We are completely desperate for the prayers of other believers.

::you can hold us accountable. It's a little harder to cheat if others know about it.

::I can share with you the way God is reaching out to sustain us and best of all speak to us.

Since we've done this before, we know a lot of what to expect. For example, the hardest days of the fast are days 2 thru 4. Your body is figuring out, hey, something's going on here...FEED ME! Lots of stomach cramps, crabbiness, weakness. After about the 4th day, your body has figured out that no amount of complaining is going to work, and so it stops asking for food. You really just stop getting hungry. We're also prepared to be FREEZING (our last fast also fell in January) as well as dealing with severely itchy and dry skin. At about day 38 or 39, the body starts to go into starvation, and you feel hunger again. It's important to listen to those cues and resume eating...slowly easing back into solid foods.

Those are just some of the physical aspects.

The spiritual rewards are great throughout. God really does speak. He really does want to be found by true seekers. I'll go into more about all this as I reflect on this daily.

Please don't worry about us. We are keeping completely hydrated. We are allowing ourselves to have some fruit and vegetable juice throughout the day, and we're taking vitamins.

I hope to walk away from this refreshed in my spirit from having spent so much intentional time with my Lord, and I pray that He will shed a light on this darkening path before us.