In less than three weeks I will have been breathing in the air of this planet for 30 years. I really can’t believe it, in many ways I still feel like a child (which is something I pray I can still say at 70) but in other’s I feel fully a woman. My life to this point has been so complete, so full, everything I have imagined and more. I highly doubt that is something the majority of the world can say, so these breaths I take… good days and bad, I count them as blessings. I am blessed.
My life is blessed by God, and I want to give Him thanks for all that He has done in me. I rarely share my “testimony” as it would be called in the Christian circle… partly because it is complicated, mostly because it is so rich and I am not sure how to condense it to a simple conversation without cheapening the miracles God has preformed. So , in honor of the past 30 years and all of the treasures of grace that have filled them, here it goes…
30 Miracles In 30 Years…
#1) Sometime early in the year of 1982 a sixteen year old poor farmer’s daughter found out she was carrying a baby in her womb. I can only imagine how terrified she was. 16 years old… not even knowing who she was yet, and now there was another soul growing inside her… silently posing a a haunting question. Would she lay down her life to give life to me?
Somehow that little girl mustered up the courage to tell her parents of her “mistake”. I don’t know the details of their independent and collective soul searching, but they chose to welcome me into their lives with open arms. My grandparents whole heartedly welcomed another mouth to their already crowded table, my grandmother surrendered her finally free lap and newly found free time to raise yet another baby, and my young mother ; she laid down every one of her hopes and dreams because she saw value in my little life… our walk from that point on was by no means easy, but I am forever grateful to be walking it with her. She laid down so much, to give me breath.
Miracle # 1- My mother chose life… she chose to give me life… and I am forever grateful.
#2) When I was 11 I was absolutely in love with dolphins. My family took a trip to a sea life park in Canada. Dressed in my tie dye dolphin shirt, and wearing my dangly dolphin earings, and sporting my wrap around dolphin ring ( don’t judge, I’d like to see 11 year old you … they took me to see the dolphin show. It was my first time ever seeing a real live dolphin, and it was pure magic. After the show I was standing by the tank admiring these amazing creatures when one of the dolphins through her ball to me. Wet slippery beach ball straight from the dolphin’s mouth into my embrace. I am sure this moment is common place to regular aquarium goers but to my little 11 year old heart it was the most amazing thing that had ever happened in my entire life… it was a miracle, and a moment of beauty that I escaped back to many times in the coming years.
My childhood had been anything but easy, from the age of 4 until 12 I lived in an abusive home. And that following year brought more change and brokenness than any 12 year old should ever have to deal with. My mom left her abusive husband, my “father” of 8 years violently kicked me out of the house and threw all of my belongings out of a third story window smashing them in the street below. A neighbor called me to explain my bed and belongings was piled up in the middle of the city street and if someone didn’t come to take it the police would remove it and trash it. I had a treasured curio cabinet of beautiful little porciline trinkets I had been collecting throughout my life. When my uncles carried it into my grandparents backyard one summer afternoon the broken glass and chipped up pieces of beauty were the perfect representation of my shattered preadolescent life.
That fall we moved into a dingy little apartment where there was always a lingering fear of my ex step father attacking us. My mom lost her car, and the house I grew up in was repossessed. A few months later one of my best friends was hit by a car and died.
I remember sobbing on my pillow for weeks after that seeing her lifeless body in that coffin, tears flow even now as I recall the look on her mother’s face as she tried to greet all of us kids in the absence of our beloved Tristan. Night after night I cried out to God why it couldn’t have been me in that coffin instead of her. That thought was my constant companion for the next six years.
Miracle #2) That little dolphin’s kindness was my saving grace through what I hope will be the most hellish moments of my life. Somehow the beauty of that simple moment was enough of an escape for me to keep on going. In truth, the real miracle was my grandmother’s unconditional love and kindness in my life. But, kindness! I was shown kindness by a stranger, and kindness by one who loved me dearly. Kindness is the miracle. I try hard to remember the power of redemption that kindness holds. We need to practice kindness with each other. I have realized over the years that there is a percentage of the population that often mistakes kindness for weakness. Kindness is not weakness, kindness is a token of eternity God has granted to share. We rarely know what lies below the surface of each other’s comings and goings, we owe each other kindness.
#3) When I was 17 years old I was suicidal. I had seen so much pain and hate, brokenness, and hurt in the world both in my personal life and the broader world around me I honestly couldn’t come up with one good reason to keep on going. The dolphin effect was running thin, and the thought of losing my grandmother was more than I could handle… but I figured IF there was an afterlife I would surely see her there. I slept with a bottle of rum and a bottle of sleeping pills tucked in the chest beside my bed. Night after night I contemplated how much easier it would be just not to wake up the next morning rather than trying to make sense of the seemingly hopeless wreckage that was my life.
I think I would have taken that plunge if it weren’t for that lingering question of IF? If there was an afterlife? It scared the hell out of me, literally. I worried, if there was a hell… is that where I would wake up? From all I had tasted of this life the thought of hell echoed true, and the fear of hell gave me courage night after night to decide to live another day.
It was January of our senior year of high school. I had a new friend in the art room, her name was Lisa, and we made each other laugh a lot. She hung with a crowd that was so light hearted, different than the people that filled my life and as I fought off my cyncicsm , their friendship at the lunch table refreshed my spirit daily. There was a weight lifted off my own heart in their presence, and I was curious as to the secret of the souls.
One day Lisa invited me to a retreat through her church. I was skeptical but not hardened to the thought of God, and aside from getting drunk beyond reason at a party where my company wouldn’t be missed I really didn’t have any good excuse not to go. So I accepted her invitation, and my life was forever changed.
That Friday night the speaker was talking about sexual purity when suddenly the presence of God fell on the room. Thick, heavy, saturated waves of mercy, and kindness, and love… and Goodness. He fell on my soul like a tight embrace through a warm blanket after being weathered by the cold for some 14 odd years. Goodness wrapped himself around me, and nothing else mattered. For those of you who have not experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ, I do not know how to explain this moment… but suddenly without seeing, I felt the power and tenderness and goodness of God, and all of the pain and sadness that had filled my life until that point was lost in the shadow of His light. He was there, and He cared enough to look upon my pitiful life and speak love into my soul.
That night He began a work of transformation in my life from the heart, out. Within months nearly every aspect of my life was seeing the effects of His grace resting upon it… and more importantly my heart knew His love. The girl who wanted to take her life was now tasting “life abundant”… beauty, and promise, and purpose… God loved me and He was in me and near me and all around me. Thanks to that invite from my friend Lisa, and thanks to a great big God, this girl who wanted nothing but to die now had now found an overwhelming reason to live.
#4,# 5, and #6… These three all go together.
Growing up I had three dreams… I wanted to go to art school, I wanted to become a children’s book author and illustrator, and I wanted to go to Europe. Before the the encounter with God that I wrote of before I had no faith that any of these dreams would ever come true. My senior year my art teacher called me into her office to ask why I wasn’t applying for schools. I explained I didn’t have money, and I think she saw through to my overwhelming lack of hope. Mrs. Clark encouraged me to at least fill out an application to my #1 choice in schools, University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
It was shortly after sending in the application that I had attended the retreat where I found Jesus. As I said above, that night grace started flowing over almost every aspect of my life.
A few weeks after going to the retreat I was riding to school with my friend Tori when she explained how her and her brother were going to be traveling through Europe right after graduation. I was in awe, I explained how that had always been my dream to do something like that. She invited me along. Where before I would have totally brushed off the opportunity, now I took it to God in prayer. Shortly after prayer a crazy idea popped in my head… I wondered if I could draw caricatures at a local farmers market to try to make money for the trip.
I called the market, they offered to rent me a small spot, and I started setting up on weekends with my little art board offering to draw people’s sketches for $5 and $10 a pop. I had people lining up, and I started making hundreds of dollars a day! Within 4 months I had saved enough money to pay for my dream trip to Europe, and in the process yet another amazing thing happened. A woman from our local paper saw me drawing and asked if she could write a feature article on me and my little business for the neighbors section. The 3 page article came out the week before my interview with University of the Arts… giving me an impressive little piece for my portfolio. I found out a few weeks later that article landed me a half tuition scholarship to my dream choice of schools! All of that because of a silly little idea that popped into my head after prayer one day. Miracle? I like to think so!
So the week after graduation, this 17 year old girl who just months prior had absolutely no hope for life, was hoping on a plane with a great friend for the trip of a lifetime! England. France. Germany. Holland. Belgium. Switzerland. Liechtenstein. Italy. Greece. Every day was a miracle. After years of thinking there was nothing more to life than my own little world, every day the lid was blown further off my box. This world was incredibly beautiful , and ancient… and so much larger than myself. I started to grab hold of the bigger picture, I started to hear echoes of an ancient story… one that I was part of, but one that was not about me.
One of the most amazing moments of my life happened on that trip. Tori and I were in Germany and had bought a baguette and brie to share for lunch. We arrived at a dock at Swan Lake, yes…THE Swan Lake just around lunch time and just as rain was starting to fall. There we sat under the cover of the boat house looking out over the lake to Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the castle that Walt Disney modeled Cinderella’s castle after in Disney World. As I sat there staring at royal home, I caught another glimpse of eternity. This story was not about me, but the One who was writing it, and painting it, and unfolding it before my eyes… He cared enough to invite me into it. I still have never gotten to go to Disney World, but God took me to “the place where dreams come true” and He had paid my admission there many times since.
A month after we returned back I was moved down to Philly to start living out another dream. Not even six months had passed since I met Jesus Christ… and my life was completely unrecognizable… God is good, and that just may be the most understated thing I could ever say.
( I feel the need to put a disclaimer in this segment saying that in no way do I think Jesus Christ is a magic genie of sorts. I know a good amount of people who are walking very hard roads right now, who love Jesus dearly. When we give our lives to Him, he does not promise us castles and money and easy roads in this life. I know there are thousands of cries for help out there that are much more important that my silly dreams of going to Europe. I do know though that I have been given many good gifts in my life such as those above that I neither earned or deserved, and I can confidently say that all good gifts come from God. )
But with my disclaimer I also want to add this. In January 2000 I did not know that castle in Germany resting on Swan Lake existed. If I had, I never would have dreamt I could really go there… let alone that I would be going there just 6 months later. But even though I didn’t know, and even though I didn’t believe… that castle was there, and it wasn’t until I started trusting Jesus that I discovered it. I don’t know what is out there for you in this world, but I believe God does. If you find yourself with a lack of hope… seek Jesus. You never know what your future may hold… and be it castles of cancer, I would want Jesus by my side.
#7) God healed me of depression….
In January of 2000 I had an encounter with Jesus that began to transform every aspect of my life. Within months almost all of my dreams had come true. Outwardly people were amazed, but inwardly I still found myself battling the overwhelming feelings of depression that had become my companion the past 10 years.
I think depression for Christians may be one of the hardest battles. If we have Christ within us, why then do our souls still feel the weight of the world. We live in a fallen world, and I believe there are as many answers to that question as there are people asking… but here is my story, and how freed my spirit.
In January of 2001 I came back to the Lehigh Valley for a prayer gathering at a local church which is now my home church. Over the last 3 years my friend Kevin’s mom, Dianne Lexo had spent a great deal of time with me and for me in prayer… and as she sat at home that night I wonder if she had any idea that all of her loving prayers were about to be answered.
About 30 college age kids and a few adults were gathered. We started praying. A girl started crying out about how God’s heart was weeping for all of the broken families, for the effects of parent’s sins upon their children. Another girl who I had never met before came over to me and asked if she could pray for me. As she put her arm around me she started weeping! In truth I was weirded out, but I felt that same presence of God that I had the year prior. “I don’t know what happened to you, I don’t know who caused this… but there is just an overwhelming amount of greif and sadness in your heart” she said. “I believe God has heard your cries on your bed at night, and he wants to take that pain away… you will never be the same!” A man came from the other side of the room and asked if he could pray. “If it weren’t weird for me as a man to do this…” he said “I would just want to throw my arms around you and hold you tight! That is what God wants to do. You have never had an earthly father… but God wants to be that Father. He wants to hold you in his lap and let you know how much He loves you, how proud He is of you.”
I was dumbfounded. These people didn’t know me, they knew nothing of my past… and yet they saw straight through to my heart. And as they spoke, what they spoke came into existence… depression was lifted off of me that night… and I have never been the same.
Miracle #8 My “self” began to die a little, giving Jesus room to breathe.
For as long as I can remember the people who loved me the most had told me not to talk to homeless people, and not to give them money.
It wasn’t out of hate, but out of my loved ones wanting to protect the compassionate illogical soul that I am. When I moved to Philly this thought was steadily reminded to me many times
One day I was walking the city street to return a video downtown when out of the corner of my eye I saw a hand reaching up from an old man sitting on a grate on the sidewalk below. A voice called “Can you help me?” Heading the advice I had been given, I kept my eyes fixed ahead and walked right on by his call for help. As I took a few steps forward though something in me caused me to look back… and instantly my heart sank!
The man on the grate was not a homeless. He was a well dressed little old man who had fallen on the grate and had asked me to help him get back on his feet. I had completely ignored his plea for help. I was a monster.
I couldn’t breathe. The tears started to flow. I passed by the video store and rounded the corner back to my apartment. A helpless old man was asking me to help him and I completely ignored him and rushed on toward my goal.
I let the truth sink in deeper. Why did this break my heart so badly? Why did everything change the instant I realized that this neighbor wasn’t homeless? Why did he suddenly have more value in my mind? Did having better clothing make him safer? Did God call us to be safe? They were heavy questions to bare.
I spent a good time in prayer that day and the coming weeks for that man, and my homeless neighbors, and myself. I heard the echo the words of scripture in my heart over and over again.
‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
My walks through the city began to change. No longer focused on my destination… I started to take the time to smile at my neighbors, those with homes and those without. I studied their faces, I wondered what was going on their souls… What is he longing for? Did she ever have a dream in her heart? What made it crumble? Who heart him so badly? Why did they give up? How do I help?
Again, I was at a loss, I did not know how to help them… but with all that was within me I began to feel that Christ loved” the least of the these”, dearly and deeply.
He began to pour His heart for them out into mine. I began to see these forgotten, abandoned, rejected, “good for nothing” neighbors in a whole new light. They were sons and daughters, royal children… dearly loved, and in need of knowing it.
This began a trail of small acts of kindness to my neighbors, which in return started a huge journey within my own heart.
I had known what it was like to “be out in the cold” I wanted to share that “warm blanket embrace” I had experienced… I wanted the world to know how much Jesus loves them! It couldn’t sound any more cliché… but it couldn’t be any more true. I think maybe there are some truths just so profound that words fail them… “Jesus loves you.” Is one of them. So in deed I tried my best to share little by little, bits of the grace that had been so lovingly lavished upon me.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25
This story I was living, it really wasn’t about me at all. “Them” and “Him”… “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” my heart began to sing.
During the season of my life I am writing of, I spent a good deal of time reading the words of Saint Francis of Assisi. I will leave you with his words as I found so much communion and inspiration in them.
“Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.”
“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
I found this prayer on a prayer card in the chapel at Assisi the summer before. I fell in love with the words. I used to pray it daily… somehow I fell out of the habit. I fear my walking pace these days has gotten a bit too hurried, my eyes a bit too focused on my own goalsonce again. I fear selfishness and busy-ness too often cause me miss my neighbors. And yet there is grace, the invitation to transformation….
Here are the words of this dear Saint. I am going to begin to start praying them again. Will you join me?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Miracle #9) “Loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free…”
A few months after my encounter with the man on the grate, my new church back home began fasting every Wed. the weeks leading up to lent. Having struggled with eating disorders in highschool fasting was a hard practice for me to understand and in some ways an unhealthy temptation. I wanted to understand the spiritual discipline, and so I began to read and meditate on Isaiah 58.
““Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
I began to share my food with the hungry. Every Wednesday I would make a meal, write a letter, pack a bag and set out to find a hungry city friend to share it with. I would pray about who the meal was going to. That they would feel much more than the kindness of a stranger… that they would feel the love of God in that soup or sandwich. The letter would always speak of that truth… “God see’s you…. He hasn’t forgotten you! “
This truth became overwhelmingly clear to me one day as I walked down the stairs of my apartment with a meal in hand. Suddenly an address popped into my mind. It was only about 3 blocks away so I headed in that direction. As I got to the block that the house would be on I realized there was no house with that number. Momentarily judging that I was a weirdo listening to the “voices in my head” I turned around in defeat to look down the alley. No kidding, this is what I saw.
An older homeless woman was bending down by a dumpster rummaging through a garbage bag for what I believe was lunch. I walked towards her and began to explain my little journey.
“I really believe God asked me to make you lunch today!” I explained.
“Me?” she asked. “Why would you make lunch for me?”
“Because God loves you!” I answered.
“Thank you!” she said as her eyes welled up with tears.
I didn’t stay to talk, maybe I should have… but I left a letter in her bag with a copy of the Message (an easy to read translation of the New Testament)
A few weeks later I heard on the news that a homeless woman was found dead in that neighborhood of the city. She had been beat and murdered.
I never saw my friend from that day again.
I pray it wasn’t her body in the news that day, but more than that I pray her soul at peace is in Heaven… basking in the kind of Glory this world was never able to give her.
I like to hope maybe one day she will greet me there with a little brown bag lunch… exclaiming “It’s true…God loves me!”
#10) Give it all away…
“There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” – Ghandi
In 2001 I got to play a small part in something epic. I hopped on a school bus with a bunch of friends and activists to take a trip to Wall Street to help our friend Shane Claiborne drop $10,000 in one dollar bills and coins on the city streets for our homeless neighbors to gather in a Jubilee celebration of sorts.
Shane had won the money in a law suite against the city of New York for wrongful arrest after being arrested in a peaceful protest while sleeping on a park bench to defend the rights of the homeless. In addition he had been given another $10,000 which had formally been invested in the stock market.
$20,000, not by any means chump change, the stuff that many people’s dreams are made of… and yet our friend Shane did not accept it as his own, but sought to share it with the very people he had been defending. $10,000 of it was sent in small amounts to communities and organizations across the country serving the poor. The other $10,000, was hidden in random places around the city and joyfully scattered throughout Wall Street in one of the prophetic acts that I personally believe set the ball rolling for a swing in the pendulum of Christian faith and a call to a new generation for dedicating their lives to social justice.
Other’s would argue that this act was stupid, that the money could have been used much more wisely… but to Shane, and us it wasn’t at all about the money. It was about laying the money down to pick up keys to the kingdom. “Another world is possible..” Shane proclaimed from the steps of the stock market that morning. In those days we saw the promises of that Kingdom so clearly that $20,000 really was chump change, it in itself meant nothing to us. We were assured that the love of it was the root of so much evil around us… and yet in it’s sharing that day I believe God opened a flood gate of Heaven, pouring out hearts of compassion on a new wave of Christians who would care about the poor and dedicate their lives to leaving the world better than they found it. In those days I cried often in prayer because I was discussed and ashamed at the church’s lack of relationship with the poor and apathy to injustice in general. A LOT has changed in the last 10 years.
Today, while I am sometimes afraid of how 19 year old Tassia would judge the lifestyle of 29 year old me, black and white has become a lot less defined, especially in respect for having and caring for a family. There were points in my early married life that I think she may have slapped me silly, but I think we would get a long fairly well now… and I may even be able to teach her a thing or two about grace and “judging not” and redemption in the story of the years she had not yet faced. One thing I think we would both agree on though is that the church in America is in a much better place than it was 10 years ago. People who name the name of Jesus as their God are busy in masses laying down their lives to bring hope to the hopeless and to set captives free around the world. A thirst for social justice is alive and well in the church today, each time I read a friend of a friends blog or pick up a copy of Relevant, I am so thankful for the prayers we cried out years ago, and God’s ever so faithful answer!
11) Audience of One
More personally that day on Wall Street confirmed a calling that had been whispering in my own heart. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” I didn’t have much in material wealth, but my time and the debt I was accumulating with my studies… they were on the scales.
I remember being in the computer lab at school one day when I looked up and saw a poster that read “REAL ARTIST’S DON’T GO TO ART SCHOOL”. Ouch. I was doing well in school, straight A’s with the exception of an A- in anatomy( maybe this is why I am still a caricature artist, lol) . I was learning in ways I never had, and suddenly history and sociology, and my dedication to my talents were alive in ways they never had been before. But my question was, was it because of the institution I was paying for, or was it because of God and the blessings He was bestowing on me.
I looked around at my art school piers, and with the exception of a few I saw them to be self involved gluttenous slackers waisting their parents money on an “education” while just going through the motions. I was a bit harsh in my judgment those days, but still today I would think twice before I paid my child’s college tuition in full. In large majority there was much more time dedicated to pot smoking and hooking up on the weekend than the privilidge of studying in the traditions and skills of the gifts we had all been given. I was not inspired by the institution and the company it hosted… but I was inspired by my church in the city, and all of the selfless souls I had met there. I was inspired by the Saints and missionairies of old, their writings and the awakening of their souls that just seemed so very rare in the world around me. I was inspired by the overwhelming cry for help I heard in the world, and society’s apathy to it, and I was inspired by the total transformation God had done in my own life just a year prior. If He had rescued me, surely He would rescue others if I laid down my life to serve them. If I used my art, I wanted to use it to bring His Kingdom closer to the hearts around me, and there was nothing at my school that encouraged such a calling. I had decided I would leave.
My heart was confident that He was calling me on… but to where and to what waited in the abyss to be discovered. One day I was walking to South Street with my then little brother ( who now towers over me) and in my head I was praying. “Lord, I need direction. Please give me a sign.” A minute later I rounded a corner and there was a HUGE sign on a tent outside the corner of a coffee chop on South St. “NEED PRAYER?” A sign!
I walked over to find a group of kids my age from a missions organization called YWAM. They had been touring the country after 9-11 setting up their prayer tent and offering prayer on city streets for whoever would stop by. After praying for me a few of the girls were just bursting at the seems to tell me about the illustration program that YWAM had at the University of the Nations in Kona, HAWAII! Holy Moly… I liked this sign.
I went home that night and continued to pray, and the next week. The following weekend I went home to my mom’s house and decided I would let her in on the brewing of my heart. I sat in her living room alone one afternoon praying and again asked God for a confirmation that this was Him and not just me being an over adventurous 19 year old. Immediately after praying I turned on the TV and as the screen went from black to a picture I saw a beautiful black sand beach with sea turtles laying on it. Someone had left the travel channel on and there was a special on about the big island of Hawaii. The next shot was a scene from the strip in downtown Kona, Hawaii! Confirmation…. Tv has never since been so enlightening!
I decided I would go check it out. I bought a ticket to the big Island planning to go by myself. My then friend and ex boyfriend , John, proceeded to ask me how I planned to get around the island as I didn’t have a driver’s licsence and public transportation was rare. He also mentioned that he always wanted to go to Hawaii, and respectfully didn’t mention that he was in love with me and scared to let my compassionate but illogical soul island hop without someone to work out the details. He bought a ticket the next day.
#12) This was supposed to be a different topic, and Hawaii was supposed to be included in the bullet above, but let’s face it, Hawaii is a miracle in itself.
It seems cliché to say Hawaii is the most beautiful place in the world…. But remember the thing I said about some truths just being so profound that words don’t do them justice…. Hawaii is the most beautiful place in the world! I certainly haven’t seen the whole world, but I have seen a good deal of it’s beauty. Out of all of the amazing places I have been no where holds a really bright candle to the collective beauty found in this small chain of islands. I sometimes wonder if I just feel so strongly about them because we may yet return to live there for a time… but regardless, I challenge you not to take my word on it, and go see it for yourself one day.
The first time John and I went, it was cheap. We camped. We ate a mixture of fresh food from the farmers markets and roadside stands and two for $2 Mc Donald’s breakfast sandwiches. On the one night in Volcano National park where our $12 tent failed us we slept in the car… it wasn’t insanely comfortable, but guess what… we woke up in Hawaii!!!
University of the Nations was a dream. As the sun set over the sea and we worshiped with the campus on a hill one evening, John and I knew without speaking that this spot was just about as close to Heaven as we could possibly get here on earth. I was at a point in my life where I had written him off as my future husband, now as a married couple we often dream of taking our family back to that spot… and at some season of our life we believe we may call it “home”.
As it turned out the Illustration Department offered me a (volunteer) position on staff as the assistant teacher. I was dumbfounded and amazed. All of the talented teachers there are volunteers…each paying small monthly staff fees for housing and food. They teach because they love God, and they love the talents they have been given… and it is an absolutely amazing environment! In the middle of the campus is a ring of flags representing the different nations that the staff and students are made up of. There are not enough flags to cover the global community that moves in and out of that base. Christians from all over the world, all different walks stages of life living in community together. Studying, teaching, discipling, worshiping, serving, sharing meals, sending out and welcoming teams from around the world into missions. It is an absolute miracle.
There was only one thing I needed to do before I joined staff. It was called a Discipleship Training School, a 6 month intensive study and focus on your relationship with God and His call to disciple the nations. The school could be done basically anywhere in the world, so as we set off for home I wondered where I should do mine. I began to pray.
You may be wondering what the heck Hawaii has to do with my new awakening social justice… admittedly not much from the surface. It is paradise and that cannot be argued. BUT University of the Nations is the hub for all kinds of outreaches all over the world ranging from ending human traficing, fighting malaria in Africa, hospitals on ships that travel around the globe to serve the poor, and training for midwives to train women to teach women in third world and developing nations how to have safer births… all this in addition to speaking the love of Christ in all their deeds.
As it would turn out, I never made it back to Hawaii to teach (quite yet). God was about to grab hold of my heart in a major way for a little forgotten country on the other side of the world that had just gone through a brutal civil war and genocide. But that is in the next installment of miracles….
#13 ) We are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made…
These next two sections involve a vision that I received one day while meditating. I have debated sharing them as I am nearly certain I may place my self over the edge of crazy in many a minds reading this blog. But, then I was reminded that if I am crazy for writing about such an experience I am found in a long host of company of crazy including saints and visionaries throughout the ages. I am not claiming to be either, but merely saying that while meditation is unfortunately becoming a lost art in the culture we find ourselves living, historically it has led many hearts closer to God, to their callings, to peace, and to world changing. Just like Hawaii though, please don’t settle for my word on it, discover the journey for yourself. If you want starting points, please message me and I will try to blog about it later in August.
Anyway, back to the miracles…
Shortly after I had decided to leave art school I was meditating on the description of old testament tabernacle. I never really understood it or found meaning in it’s description which someone took a lot of care to write in Exodus. I sat in my mother’s living meditating on the words of an old praise song “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart,I will enter His courts with praise” when suddenly I found myself in the midst of a very clear vision.
My eyes were closed, I was not hallucinating, but suddenly what had seemed rather meaningless text in Exodus, was very real before me. The first thing I clearly remember and could serve as another story in itself was the bronze basin described in the courtyard of the tabernacle. It was meant for cleansing yourself before you entered into the Holy place. As I looked into the basin in the vision it was laden in mirror, to get the water the cleanse yourself you had to first face your reflection. At that time I still had a severely hard time with this, I think most women do, and I physically began to cry. At that point I felt God speaking “I made you, I molded you, for you to hate yourself is you hating my creation, if you believe I am the Creator, you need to believe I am YOUR creator.” Being an artist myself, this spoke very 4deeply to me. I felt challenged to speak the words out loud “ I am beautiful.” It sounds cheesy, but as I did it I physically felt a wait lifted off my heart, I inhailed deeply and something chaned.
I later read that the basin I had invisioned in the tabernacle was fashioned out of mirrors given by the women of the community. The giving of their mirrors was both a physical and symbolic sacrifice of their vanity. I believe vanity is defined as excessive preoccupation with one’s appearance. Some fall vane out of pride and some like myself fall vane out of self hate. Whatever the source, vanity is largely celebrated in our culture, I however have found it to be at the least a distraction and at most a stumbling block. After the vision I went through a 2 year season where I stopped wearing makeup. During this time I also didn’t buy a single piece of new clothing, with the exception of when a washing machine tore up ALL of my bras at a YWAM base in Northern Australia two days before I headed over to East Timor. It certainly helped my cause that I was heading for a third world nation.
Since then I am much less “religious” in all of these practices, in fact God has spoken to me many times over now the value of beauty. But in the spirit of Christianity, things often need to die before they can fully live, and this season put death to my vanity and taught me how to see and appreciate my own beauty and the beauty in others. I had always had such a terrible self image, and in this process of laying it down I was eventually able to pick it back up and be able to look in the mirror with thanksgiving to my Creator rather than fighting off attacks from my enemy. This body is just a temporary home for my soul, at times it is really fun to dress it up … but the need to impress or prove something by the way I look is rarely there anymore- and I can’t thank God enough for that freedom.
One more disclaimer before we go on- for those of you who have or will in the future run into me at the grocery store or some other odd place and find me to be looking quite unkept and homeless like. Please know this is not my attempting to look holy , lol, but rather just the result of my general lack of time in this season of my life juggling calling and business with my precious small babies in the house… and with that a toast to all of my company of “holy looking” mommy friends out there We may just find that our shabby-ness is a reflection of holiness in the end J
#14) Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear
All of these little postings from this time in my life are a little hard to write about as I feel far from them and the girl I was back then. God is working on me to redeem the good qualities I lost from this time, but I find the clarity I thought I had found back then a little muted both by experience and knowledge, and with this next miracle of “No Fear”, I find I have certainly entered into a season where my lack of fear is gone and I find myself clinging to courage each day. It is fairly easy to be courageous as a single person I think, but when you have little hearts beating outside your own body that you know you are responsible for, fear has a thousand and one more ways to rear it’s ugly head. I once read that “courage is not the absence of fear, but being afraid and doing it anyway.” I like that, I think every day of parenthood calls for courage. But that is now… and this is then….
Back to the vision…. There were other lessons gleaned from it, but most profoundly was this. In the old testament only the high priests were able to enter into the Holy of Holy’s and only once a year , I believe I remember reading that they would enter with a rope tied around their leg so that if they died in there because of their unholiness they could be pulled out without another soul needing to enter in to the presence of God. Again I would love to write a proper post about this alone one day, but in short the theology of the New Testament proclaims that Jesus Christ, the son of God, laid down his life as an attonement for our sin. We each are sinners, and alone we cannot stand in the presence of God our Judge. God is pure untouched goodness, and sin can not exist in his presence. If you believe in the words of the New testament however you believe that in accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior that He takes away the sin of the world. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16.
And that day I believe I experienced just that. As I entered into the Holy of Holies in that vision I saw before me a great pillar of fire, like a skyscraper of fire. I stood there staring at it, and began to see a shaking like an earthquake. The walls of the “tabernacle” came crumbling down around me and vanished, the curtain dropped, and the pillar of fire swirled and scattered itself into a million little pieces each as profound as the whole. “I AM” I hear a voice say “ IAM always with you!”
The vision was over. I sat in my mother’s living room feeling like I had just been to a distant land. Wanting to share the sotries of my trip and knowing few would understand. IAM , IAM always with you. He was here… suddenly my mother’s living room was the Holy of Holies, everywhere we go every moment of the day, I believe God is present, giving us an invitation to enter in to the Holy of Holies.
I called an earlier post “Audience of One” but I guess it should have been this one. I started seeing the world differently. This girl who had always been, and still is, incredibly fearful had this amazing new found courage. If God said jump… why wouldn’t I? IAM was always there, and He would catch me.
So off we went, God and I … literally jumping out of airplanes ( think that was my idea and not Gods, but in the form of a working parachute, He caught me, lol), dropping out of school, giving away all I owned and moving across the globe. I am not promoting recklessness here, and at this point in my life I would not go skydiving again, but as the story would go I eventually crashed pretty hard on the other side of the globe, and guess what, God was there to catch me.
#15) Change of Heart-
To make a long story short I decided to do the Discipleship Training School (the prerequiset for teaching in Hawaii) in Australia. Again, a seemingly pampered calling… until I read of the outreach. The school in Australia sent some of their teams into a small country called East Timor. Rarely have people on this side of the world heard of it, but as a friend’s father greeted me a year later in Sydney, his hello said it all. “So, are you stupid? Why are you going to East Timor? You want to die?”
I have to admit I greeted God with a similar hardened heart when I read of the horrors the people He was calling me to had gone through. A tiny little half of an island that the world had truly forgotten about. Just a year prior they had gone through a brutal cival war with Indonesia where over a third of their population was massacred in a mass genocide. Think about that, think of the nine closest people to you… now picture three of them dead. That was their reality, and not just dead, mascecred. Entire families burned alive, children hacked up with machetes in front of their parents, wives raped in front of their husbands… the majority of young men had died fighting for their countries freedom.
And I felt my loving God asking me to follow Him there.
No. It was the cry of my heart. If there was hell on earth, surely this was it… I wasn’t going.
That was the way the prayer conversation went one night after Googling East Timor in my down town Philly apartment. No, I wasn’t going.
But as I laid in bed falling trying to fall asleep that night and picturing the faces of these women and children who had lost so much, I began to think. Who am I? These people have lost SO much. If there is hell on earth, surely this was it. And it was their life. They didn’t have a choice… God wasn’t calling them there for a couple weeks. They were stuck, in their own personal hell.
I on the other hand had been rescued from mine. I knew Hope, I knew Peace, I knew the transformation that Jesus Christ brings to a heart and life surrendered to Him. Now He was asking me to join Him in sharing that with a people He loved… and I was saying NO.
I didn’t want to go. I think I physically threw up that night thinking that my fellow man was capable of such evil and trying to swallow the apathy of the world as “we” had just sat back and let this happen to the people of East Timor. “ All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.”
I didn’t want to go. I wanted to run like Jonah and get swallowed in the belly of a whale. I wrote above about fear being taken away, but THIS scared me. I didn’t want to be hacked up by a machete. I didn’t want my grandmother and mother to receive a letter in the mail explaining that the child they had sacrificed their lives for been raped and murdered in a jungle somewhere… and God invited me. God, the one who created me, and called me out of my suicidal plan, and redeemed my dreams… He invited me, and I was saying NO.
I prayed, a very simple and incredibly profound prayer that night… “ Lord, if this is you… if this is your will- Change my heart.”
I fell asleep. Two days passed and nothing really happened. I couldn’t get the Google images out of my mind. I couldn’t get the thought out of my heart. I continued praying.
The third day I woke and I felt like I was in a fairy tale. You know like when animated bluebirds are singing around you while your’e getting dressed and cartoon daisies are pushing their way up from the cracks in the sidewalk. It was like when you are 14 and you think you are falling in love… you want to doodle all over your notebooks and you just can’t stop dreaming about your life together. It was like that, except it wasn’t a boy I was falling in love with… it was a nation, a people who had just had a third of their population hacked up, burned and mass buried… but somehow the cartoon birds and daisies being drawn in my heart was making it seem like a trip to , well, Hawaii. I couldn’t wait to go, I couldn’t wait to meet the hearts that God wanted to speak to, I couldn’t stop talking about East Timor and borrowed every ear that would listen. I was in love, God had changed my heart.
And not just that, but the words of Scripture came alive with promise like never before. I would open my Bible and it was as if gold was crackling out of the pages. Power! God loved the people of East Timor, He had ancient promises for their newly found nation… and He was inviting me to help him deliver them. I believed with all my heart that transformation was coming, and I was honored to play my small part in that, whatever it would be.
You know, it may not be third world war torn country He is calling you to. It may in fact be the spouse sitting on the other end of the couch that you feel totally indifferent or hateful toward, and that journey can be just as hard. It may be the friend that repeatedly lets you down with their selfish remarks. It may be the neighbor you just wish you could move far away from.
“Lord- change my heart.”
They are simple and powerful words that I think God likes to hear, and I that I know He is faithful to answer. I don’t promise cartoon birds and daisies will appear in your life three days later… they may well show up at some point, but I promise hope. God can take away our hearts of stone, and share with us His own heart for the people and places around us… and that is a miracle.
Part 6- Above- photos from our Christmas play with the children in Weberek. It was the first drama the village had ever acted out or seen live. Which was good, as I was the director, and we all know how un talented I am at acting and singing. It was wonderful, complete with a neighborhood boy walking up on stage in the middle of the performance to try to sell me pineapples
I have to admit I am growing a little weary in writing. Not that it has become a chore, but I have lost my enthusiasm as fear has crept in. It’s funny how I just wrote of a season in my life where the absence need to impress and the lack of fear were so prevalent and yet I am being haunted by those very things as I write. Not that I want to impress you all, whoever “you all” lovely people may be, but a few posts in I realized I was writing about the most precious thing in the world to me, my relationship with Jesus, during a time in my life where I have allowed myself to get so busy I have very little time to digest the words I am writing. To add to my fear, the comment thingy isn’t working on my blog for some reason, so while I can see a good amount of hearts are reading this, I haven’t had much feedback (although the words that a few of you have spoken have really blessed me, thank you!)
All that to say, here comes another disclaimer…. I am many things, but I am not a theologian… I am a girl who is now a momma who has loved Jesus dearly and followed Him for the past 13 years. I am not assured that everything I am writing will agree with all of you or even with me in ten years, but it is the path I have walked, and I count myself blessed for being down it. So please have grace with me if my writing isn’t perfect, or if I fall short of giving Glory to God. I could never do HIS story justice… so in the spirit of the words of Ann Voskamp that I read this morning…
You have to bury your fear in faith. Otherwise you bury your talents.
Pranee and I in a downpour in East Timor, it was our first shower in weeks, lol.
I remember when I felt God call me to Australia, it was the idea that I would physically be as far away from everything I had ever known as I could be, and I would need to rely on Him. Once again, He provided the means… I began drawing caricatures at the beach the summer before and was able to fund my entire trip and school with enough left over to bless others on their way.
I lived in a beautiful old Victorian stilt house on Harold St. in Townsville Australia just up the street from the base. There was a mango tree in the back yard. There were tropical birds, kangaroos just out of town, and sunshine almost every day, and when it rained there were giant bull frogs outside our window. I will never forget their serrenaid with the symphony of the rain in the back round. The morning after the rain you would wake up to find the streets paved in smashed up bull frogs that were hit by cars the night before, and by afternoon they were all but petrified because of the heat.
Australia was amazingly beautiful and so were the other souls that had gathered around the world to do the DTS together. My two closest friend from that school were Lynn, a girl from Papa New Guini, and Pranee a world traveler born and raised in Thailand who moved to Sydney at the age of eight. My first memory of Lynn was during a “getting to know you game” where we each had to take turns standing up and saying something about ourselves that we thought few people in the room could say. Lynn stood up soft spoken and sweet and looked around the circle as she spoke the words “My grandfather used to eat people!” Cannibalism is still practiced in parts of PNG today. Lynn was and is every ounce a treasure. Meeting a friend from such a different world, carrying a spirit of yet another… I was so incredibly blessed by her friendship.
My other best friend was and still is today, Pranee. Ah, that infamous name that shows up on my FB status from time to time with exclamation points trying desperately to exclaim the love I feel for the woman and joy it gives me when we get to see each other. Truly though, it was not love at first site….
Pranee was one of my 4 roomates. Our bunks were across from each other. I do not remember our first conversation, but I do remember her description of her internal war going on during it. As she later explained, she all but cursed God when I walked in the room. “ Since the age of eight I had been tortured and teased by skinny blonde chicks” she explained, “ and in you walked, this bubbly skinny blonde thing that I was sure was going to be my doom!”
As I listen to this song that Pranee shared with me in those early days of our friendship I am crying thinking of the goodness of God over our lives. Two broken little girls worlds apart feeling the effects of sin and hell, and yet He saw us, and loved us, and saved us, and called us out of that misery… and brought us together. I love my friend, and I love the way God called us together. I am so bad with relationship, but Pranee, this girl was so certain she would hate me forever , has been by my side even when we were thousands of miles apart every second from that day on. When I said I was going back to East Timor, she came with. When I told her I was going to marry John, she flew around the world to put him to the test, when she had her first little baby Hannah, John and I flew around the world to hold her, and then the five of us flew around the world together. Like every relationship I fear I have let her down many times, but Pranee, you are counted among my miracles. I love you, tremendously.
Here is the song we fell in love with each other and God over… you should listen, cause it’s awesome. Try to hear those bull frogs and rain in the backround… run a hot shower to get some of the Queensland humidity in the room, open a bag of Tim Tam cookies … it was a magical time. It was a friendship and a miracle in the making….. http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A2KLqIAFjg1QS3wAGN_8w8QF;_ylu=X3oDMTEyOXM4OTBiBHNlYwNjZC1zcgRzbGsDdmlkLXNlYXJjaAR2dGlkA1YxMTY-?c=0&l=00%3A16&p=jami%20Smith&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DC87yXONMQms&sigr=11ardv08l&tit=Jami%20Smith%20-%20Your%20Love%20is%20Deep&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts3.mm.bing.net%2Fvideos%2Fthumbnail.aspx%3Fq%3D4526449511890946%26id%3D2ac7ce5e521e302dc95f5a3311f23775%26bid%3D7CqLa%252fhCxhqV5A%26bn%3DLargeThumb%26url%3Dhttp%253a%252f%252fwww.youtube.com%252fwatch%253fv%253dC87yXONMQms&vid=E4951AC642F86B8B2AECE4951AC642F86B8B2AEC
#17) Miracles- like full out walking with Jesus Miracles….
During our time in Townsville, Pranee and I got involved with a local church’s homeless ministry. In Australia homelessness is much different than East Coast US, as the main population of homeless people are Aborigines, and do not want homes… as they see the land as their home. They are an ancient nomadic people who’s way of life and dignity as a people has been systematically and individually trampled upon and buried by a “more civilized culture”. I feel a small amount of grace in such finger pointing as I stand humbled knowing well that my own people are at fault for the same cultural genocides in this nation. Australia’s history is a little younger than ours though, so the wounds are fresher and a little less hidden than in our own land. The main shanty town settlement “Happy Valley” that we would visit was not a safe place. We were often greeted by soft spoken stories by the women of visits from the KKK the night before. One woman explained to me in tears one day how a group of hooded KKK members beat her son’s head open killing with a baseball bat the year prior.
‘Happy Valley” was not happy. It was not a place for children, if fact if they were found there they would be taken by child protective services. One day however I met a little girl there. She was eight years old, and joyful and lovely. Her mom had taken off on her and her siblings a few months ago and she had been house jumping with “family” ever since. We played and talked and laughed. I shared part of my story with her, and we prayed for her mama.
Before I had left the US I had bought a bunch of little gold cross necklaces to give to children. My grandmother had gotten me one as a child, and somehow it often pointed my toward hope. I wanted to leave them with children I prayed with, hoping the same direction would be found in my gift. I didn’t have one with that night as I didn’t expect to meet a child. When I got home that evening I prayer that I would meet this little girl again to give the little gold cross with flowers to carry by her heart.
The next week we returned to Happy Valley. I wasn’t feeling well, and didn’t want to go, but I hoped to see my little girl. What was supposed to be a one hour visit turned into three after we got a few “houses” in and the pastor began to pray for a woman who was either demon possessed or on drugs, or possibly both. I should have been praying, but I was mad. It was hot, I was sick, and I was sitting around being bitten by flies while watching a very dramatic scene unfold before me and wishing that somehow I could get home to my bed. I pulled out the little shiny cross necklace from my pocket. I came for my little girl, and she was no longer here.
As the sun began to set, the atmosphere changed. Physically it was getting darker, but spiritually a bright light broke through. After hours of prayer and drama, the woman’s entire demeaner changed. Violent thrashing tuned into hugs, screams turned into thankful crying, and next thing I knew she and the pastor were calmly talking about family, and where she could go for help. She explained that her sister lived an hour north, and that she was pretty sure she could go there for a while. Sister Wendy, who was my ride back to Townsville, so lovingly offered “ Well, then we’ll take you there!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me”, I thought in my heart… my one hour trip was turning into six, and why was I even here in the first place?!
I hopped in the car for the hour ride up north, just in hopes that this woman’s sister would be home and would take her in. Sister Wendy explained that she had friends at a church up there that could help the woman get back on her feet. I was inspired as always by Sister Wendy’s love for this stranger, but in truth I was a grumpy kid hiding in quietness of the backseat of the car.
We arrived at the house, thankfully with lots of lights on. I believe it was a double wide trailor. As we were welcomed inside the woman’s sister lovingly embraced her. There was a room full of family who quieted as the sister’s hugged. You could hear the laughter of children in a back room, and with the hush from the living room a train of children came pouring down the hallway to see what what happening.
“Mama!!!!!” A sweet little voice burst forth from the river of kids. It was my little girl, the one I was praying for. We had brought her mommy home to her… and that little cross necklace would always remind her of that night!
16..B Australia and East Timor were just filled with these kinds of miracles… too many to write in depth right now, but during my time there I believe God gave me a special grace with soup. It started one day while Pranee and I were at sister Wendy’s house making soup for our visits with the homeless community that evening. Wendy pointed us to the kitchen without a recipe and explained that there were ingredients that she had been given in the paper bag on the counter.
My grammy has always been good at making soup, and Pranee’s mom is a Thai chef, so between the two of us and the teachings of the awesome women who raised us we were fairly certain we could come up with something tasty. However, as we looked in the bag, our confidence went out the window… and our hearts went quickly to prayer. All I remember is old cabbage and celery that needed to be chopped up to be salvaged, a bunch of carrots, and a semi salvageable pumpkin. Until this day we had never really realized how poor sister Wendy was herself. We were in a holy kitchen, and we called upon God for some help making a holy soup out of the “garbage before us”. I believe we found eggs in the fridge, and some spice in the cabinet… but nothing of substance that should have made that soup taste good. As yet as we added our measly ingredients to the pot and savory aroma filled the air… God was cooking up something good, and we were pretty amazed.
We loaded the big pot into the back of the station wagon that evening and began our rounds. It never ran out, out of an old head of cabbage, celery, carrots, and a half rotten pumpkin… that pot of soup must have fed over 40 people that night, wit second helpings. We received so many compliments on the cooking, and tasted for ourselves that it was really quite good. I felt like I was in the crowd of 5,000 with Jesus before me feeding His beloved.
The miracle of soup continued into East Timor. There, out in the jungle, I was often the cook with no kitchen ( well a gas tank cooking stove on a porch with no running water… more of a kitchen our neighbors had) cooking soup for sick neighbors, and all kinds of large visiting teams from all over the world, including a small Australian rock band. Banana pancakes, stir fry and soup… odd sometimes off ingredients almost always turned into something scrumptious with people asking for seconds.
I made the mistake of thinking I was just a good cook and tried to cook up one of my famous stir fries for my family when I returned home to the states the year later. I had “better ingredients” and an easier kitchen to cook them up in. They still tease me about how terrible it was to this day! But that afternoon in Australia with Pranee and Sister Wendy, and all of those mornings and evenings in East Timor where we had nothing of our own to give, God provided for us and our neighbors… well , and in abundance.
In this regard, all of life is a lot like soup.
18) There is so much I want to write of my time in East Timor… but blurbs on blogs crammed into a bullet point cannot hold the triumphs of God. I will pinpoint two experiences though that I hope I never forget.
Once I was reading in the early morning while on the porch of our house in the village overlooking the mountains where the village had fled just a few years prior. It was a glorious breaking of Dawn, and as I watched a very few birds fly over head I praised God for the hope of the new nation. During their war so much of their infrastructure was burned to the ground that the large majority of birds had left the island from the smoke and fled to other islands. During my time there I took joy in watching these birds return to their homes with my neighbors, a return to normality, and a hope for a better future.
As I looked out over the mountain one of the little neighborhood girls came over to me. She greeted me with her beautiful little smile, adorned in plaque and cavities and a big chipped tooth. We didn’t have a sink at the house so my toothbrush laid by my Bible on the porch as I had just brushed my teeth in a bush with water from my nalgine.
“I need one of those!” She said as she pointed to the toothbrush. “ My smile is an ugly smile, and I need to make it clean.” The joy sunk off of her face. I hugged her.
“You have a beautiful smile!” I told her “ I love it! God loves it!” “ But you do need a toothbrush, so lets get you one.” We weren’t supposed to share supplies with neighbors without some big protocall (which I will touch on in the next segment) but as I snuck into the storeroom to get my little friend her treasured gift I prayed for a miracle.
“ Dear one” I told her in Tetum ( her native language which I probably spoke at a 4 year olds level. “ Jesus loves you… He gave you that smile, and a heart of gold. I won’t always be here to give you what you need, but He will. When you need something… ask Jesus. He hears your prayers, and He loves you!”
She smiled giddy, more at the toothbrush in her hands than at my poorly spoken words.
Later that morning as she ran to school with her friends, she ran over to me with a twirl in her skip.
“ They’re clean!” She explained as she showed me her pearly whites, and they were! Her teeth we clean, the yellow was gone, and I kid you not the chip in her tooth that was there two hours earlier was gone… her tooth was whole… and her smile was much more beautiful than my own. A miracle! And we both knew it!!!
18 B ) I lived in the village of Weberek for 6 months. Weberek in on the south side of the island of East Timor. It is a seven hour trip through the jungle to get there, and the last portion the roads are no paved, so if there has been too much rain not even the bases Toyota 1980’s Land Rover could make it into the village. It was an isolated community of around 400 people with no running water and no electricity, where as Bono proclaims… the streets really had no name. It was lovely, and in my new home I found a sense of community so lacking in Western culture.
The women took me under their wings, often laughing to each other at my mispronounciation of words as they tried to teach me Tetum. I learned a lot from them and their hard way of life. I loved them, and as they explained to me one day “ You are alone, you have no sister’s or mother or grandmother here… so we will be your sisters and grandmothers.” They were my “mission” and I was their “orphan” we loved each other deeply.
One woman I grew particularly close with was Senora Domingas. Senora Domingas was dying of a tuberceoulosus, as disease that has been erridicated in this part of the world, and I hope one day can be true of the world over. It is very treatable when carefully managed in it’ is early stages, but not in a village in the middle of a jungle where people trust in a pill just about as much as they trust in a piece of tree bark. And so, when I met my friend, Senora Domingas, she was coughing up blood, in a sense she was coughing up her lungs. She was dying, in pain, and scared. I would visit her with my tiny offerings of soup, and lemograss tea, children’s Bible picture books and humor as I tried my best to translate them into her language in what I am sure sounded like a three year olds gibberish. We became good friends.
One night a team from Australia was visiting and a few of us were hanging out as the guys were playing guitar. We were just about to go to bed when Senora Domingas’s grown sons came running up to our house.
“Our Mother, she’s dying… we need your help!” We ran down the dirt path to her hut with them. Inside sat family from the next village over who had come to say their goodbyes, her pregnant daughter, and her sweet little granddaughter. Everyone was frightened as Senora Domigas fought for each breath. The spirit of fear and death was heavy in that little bamboo room. I believe my friend Wes began to play his guitar, he and Mike began to sing. Thankfully we had a visiting nurse staying with us at the base. She took Senora Domingas’s stats. It wasn’t looking good. I don’t know the exact numbers but her BP was through the roof and she was struggling for breath. There was fear in my friend’s eyes… death was knocking at her door and she wasn’t ready.
The nurse ran back to our base as fast as she could. She had determined that Senora Domingas needed fluid and she ran back to get an IV and bag for her. With our only medical hope gone, Seniora Dominga’s breaths got shallower and quicker like she was going to hyperventilate. I glanced around the circle of loved ones gathered… fear reflected in the big black pupils of everyone who stared back. They had invited us into this moment because we were their only hope. I felt helpless, and I began to pray out loud.
“Mai Maromak!” I cried, “ Mai, Jesus! Ami Presusa Ita!” Mai Maromak!” …. “Come Lord God!” “Come Lord Jesus! We need you! Mai Maromak!”
The words fell off my tongue with a newly found articulation. “Mai Maromak!” The tears poured forth.
I grabbed hold of my friends hand as she literally held on for dear life. “ Mai Maromak!” A voice cried inbetween grasps for breath, this voice was not my own, but my friend Senora Domingas… calling on my God for help, calling on her God for help! “Mai Maromak!”
A wind swept through that little hut. It carried out every trace of fear. Senora Domigas’ breath returned to normal. A glow was resting on her face. The atmosphere had completely changed. When our nurse friend returned a moment later her mouth dropped when she entered the room.
“What happened?” As she looked at her patient who moments before fought for her life and now sat there peacefully with a huge smile plastered on her face.
We all explained with almost a little disbelief except that it was the very moment we were living. Senora Domingas and her smile, and her peace explained what none of us could muster up the words to describe.
The nurse took her blood pressure and we were all amazed when it confirmed the miracle we witnessed as Senora Domigas’ BP was again resting at a normal rate.
The next day I went to visit and my friend was sitting out on her porch. She had let down her hair for the first time since I had met her, and her face looked 20 years younger. She greeted me with a huge hug.
A few days later I had to escort the visiting team back to Dili, the capital city 7 hours away. While I was gone, yet another miracle happened.
The people of Weberek are very poor. At most they own a cow or a horse, maybe two. The only time they are ever butcher one is in celebration of a wedding or in mourning at funeral. But, as the team and I made our way back to the city in the back of a pickup in the pouring rain one day… my friend Senora Domigas was busy planning a new kind of party. She told her sons to go and butcher their only cow, and invite the village for a feast. As my friend Liz explained to me two weeks later when I returned to Weberek. A party was thrown one afternoon. The family of Senora Domingas dished heaping shares of their most valuable earthly possession onto all the plates of their neighbors. At what would have been her funeral party, our dear friend sat there on the edge of her porch telling everyone in the village one by one of how Jesus Christ had saved her just nights before.
“Mai Maromak!” “Come Lord God!” Our prayer was answered… Jesus was alive and well in her heart, and she wanted the whole world to know it!
My friend Senora Domingas and her gran-daughter Domingas.
19) Senora Domingas died a few weeks later. My last memory of her is the recounting of her banquet celebration, and I am fairly confident that she will be one of the first souls to greet me at the table that awaits us in the presence of our Savior in Heaven. She was my friend, and I loved her, and Jesus loved her, and she knew it… and she was confident of the Home that awaited her. Eternally saved and well.
As I sat in her backyard one afternoon as the entire village came to mourn my friend I heard their whaling of pain. They threw themselves on the grown and beat their fists, they sobbed a kind of grief that I had never seen before. I was overwhelmed as I feared drowning in the sea of grief that poured out before me. I became painfully aware that these were not just cries for the departing of our friend Senora Domigas, but for all of the friends, and sisters and brothers, mothers, fathers, and babies that were stolen from each and every one of my neighbors.
In hindsight, I know her death was just a new beginning. She was saved, and her story goes on. And God had created the perfect platform in her funeral for me to share that faith with the village. 400 mourning souls gathered inviting me to take a stand and give them words of hope.
The entire village could have taken faith in Jesus Christ that day!
I wish with all my heart that this is how the story went. That I accepted the invitation to speak at my friend’s funeral , that I opened my little mouth and told my family there of the wonders of my God in their time of need. That I had a call for prayer and that each and every soul accepted Jesus into their hearts that day. Oh if I could only take back one moment in time, this very one I would like to erase and rewrite.
Instead I failed. I epically failed. Instead of sharing my faith with my community in need, I sat in my room clinging to it for dear life… and drowning in my own self pitty.
It is amazing to be able to write of this without tears in my eyes now, that alone is testimony to grace a huge healing in my heart as this moment in history left a heavy weight on my chest for years later.
At the time of Seniora Domingas’ death the perfect storm had been unleashed from Hell. Lies intertwined so deeply with promises that they made the promise seem to fail. Dreams and principals that I believed so deeply in being dismissed and burnt by the leadership I was under, and Denge fever sending me into a 102 fever in 102 heat left my spirit feeling like it had been kicked to the ground and beat nearly to death. I never dared day hope was gone, but I couldn’t see it… I couldn’t feel it. I was bruised and broken, just short of crushed… I wallowed in self pitty as I was sure I had nothing of substance to offer my village family.
The perfect storm was brewing, a battle was waging for my soul, and at the moment and for years after the enemy regrettably had the upper hand.
To begin to explain my dismantle I need to back track a year prior to my original visit to East Timor. If you remember I was only supposed to be there a few weeks, but on my trip to Weberek scripture began to pour fourth promise like gold… and I knew God was calling me back to this little village. I was in deed ready to lay my entire life down to live there, and the 6 months I returned was only supposed to be the trial before the bog move.
As I sat on top of the Range Rover that night on outreach looking at the stars God’s word spoke of hope and deliverance for the people I believed He was calling me to, and then with the flip of a page I believed He was calling me simotaniously to something completely different and yet intertwined.
Psalm 45 It spoke of a bride preparing for her groom. Something deep in my heart was touched and I really sensed it was a leading from God. I was so confused. I had laid dating down a year and a half prior. I had by what I believed to be God’s leading rejected a handful of Christian men who couldn’t have been crafted any more perfectly for me. I had in all honesty considered for a brief time converting to Catholicism and becoming a nun. Jesus was my all and all… and now in the middle of the jungle I felt Him asking me to prepare my heart for marriage.
I looked up from my Bible and dangerously began to fill in the blanks, there he was… A beautiful man who was also called to the very same village. He loved the same children I loved, he was good at building, brave and strong, loved the Lord… and well he had an aweful pretty face the likes of Chris Martin. Yes Lord, he would do. Ha!
Fast forward a year. The words about preparing my heart for marriage continued. I spent a lot of time out in the village alone with other women on base, but when “Mr. Chris Martin face” came to work along side of us I spent way too much time dreaming of our life together without ever making even the slightest hint that I believed God was calling us together. To boot, I was so caught up in my day dreaming I didn’t even build a proper friendship with the guy. Nor did I offer anything to attract him as at the time I still saw makeup and hair maintance as lesser forms of living, lol! I became way too mystical, and lost touch with reality… something that isn’t hard to do in the midst of the jungle.
The Christmas that I spent in East Timor I gave everyone on base these little glass heart ornaments I had filled with craft snow before leaving the US. Many of us were from places where it snowed at Christmas and I thought they would be sweet reminders as we sweated away in the jungle that day. I put scripture in each one according to the person who received it.
Fast forward to January. “Mr. Chris Martin face” was preparing to leave the base. His commitment was up and he just wasn’t sure what came next. I said nothing. As he carried a bag of his belongings down the stairs own day I watched from the upstairs balcony ( I had been out there reading, not stalking him as this sentence may make it appear, lol). Somehow that fragile glass heart I had given him with came slipping out of his backpack smashing in to little pieces on the concrete below. The snow came falling out, the scripture promise lay there ready to swept up with the rest of the garbage… and somehow I just knew this was foreshadowing of what was to come.
Days later a girl showed up that he had met on another DTS. They explained to the base that they had been writing for some time and had feelings for each other, and next thing I knew Mr. Chris Martin Face was on a plane out of East Timor and gone from my life forever.
My heart was broken, it wasn’t even so much the guy, as the complete and utter confusion as to what had been going on between God and I the year prior. Had I heard His voice? Was I dillusional? Flood gates of doubt came pouring in replacing trust between me and my Jesus. I knew God’s promises never fail… but I was crushed, I was confused…. That little glass ornament I watched fall to the pavement was my heart through and through…. What had happened. I didn’t know what to do.
My heart was broken, it wasn’t even so much the guy, as the complete and utter confusion as to what had been going on between God and I the year prior. Had I heard His voice? Was I dillusional? Flood gates of doubt came pouring in replacing trust between me and my Jesus. I knew God’s promises never fail… but I was crushed, I was confused…. That little glass ornament I watched fall to the pavement was my heart through and through…. What had happened. I didn’t know what to do. My perception of God was up in a whirlwind. Until this point everything had always been so clear. He said jump, and I would jump. He said go, and I would go…. but now, I was falling, sinking…. and I didn’t feel or hear Him anywhere. I was alone in the jungle, no phone, no friend… I clung to my Bible, and this worship song from David Crowder.
youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WGQk07jZhI
At the very same time as the above heartbreak was brewing the enemy was hard at work attacking me from another direction As I explained in earlier posts, the past years God had lead me on an exciting journey of self denial in the search for a way to bring social justice and help the aching hearts of East Timor. But once I started serving under the leadership of the base in East Timor, and specifically Weberek I realized that this was not a joint vision with those I was serving under. In fact I wasn’t exactly sure what their vision was, but without sounding harsh it did not seem to be in any way sharing with our neighbors in need, or encouraging visiting teams to do likewise. To be fair, I know the people I served with and under sacrificed a great deal of their lives and some even bravely sat with our East Timorese neighbors during the war. But, at the time I was there, there it seemed was a lack of vision at the base that clouded most attempts I made to serve our neighbors.
Over and over again I had to swallow a bitter pill as my simple and practical ideas to bless our neighbors were met with doubt, indifference, and downright hostility.
Once when we had almost enough empty plastic water bottles for the entire village I suggested we distribute them to families so that individuals could carry safe drinking water with them from the well out to the fields for work. To explain the importance of this…. Children would gather water in old used gas cans to drink!!! When I shared my idea shoulders were shrugged by the leadership, and as I returned that afternoon from visiting with some older ladies in the village I was greeted by the smell of burning plastic. I rounded the corner to see all 350+ bottles crammed into barrels burning.
Another time when we had a visiting team from Australia there was a surplus in their budget that would have paid for a misquito net for each house in the village. I suggested that we ask them if they would like to donate that money to buy these potentially life saving gifts for our neighbors. Instead leadership decided that it would be wiser somehow to buy hamburgers ( which are incredibly expensive in East Timor) and French fries for the team, lug them 7 hours through the mountain and put them in a freezer which we needed to run our generator to power so that the team could have a night of comfort on their outreach. I got the pleasure of cooking the hamburgers and French fries… another bitter pill to swallow.
Things like this went on weekly, and slowly a part of a fire in my heart that God had ignited became a little flame, and flickered out into nothing. Passion and compassion turned to apathy and indifference. The good work that God had begun in me was under attack, and I surrendered to the attacker.
One more flaming arrow came flying my way to make things fun that month, the week following Senora Domingas’s death I caught Denge Fever. A misquito born virus much like Malaira that sent me into skyrocketing fevers and hallucinations. I was completely confident that I wouldn’t die….
My body survived but when I left East Timor a few months later I was a shell of my former self.
My neighbors in Weberek greeted me goodbye so lovingly, with tears and laughter and an overwhelming amount of love in offerings of their few worldly possessions. As much as I tried to refuse I left the village that day with coconuts, 18 oranges, an entire tree’s bunch of bananas, a tribal knit scarf, and a chicken in hand.
I felt by all accounts as though I was leaving them with nothing. I had failed them. I had failed God. I had failed myself. As much as I kept saying this story wasn’t about me, somehow I had become involved enough to epically fail… and it was terrible. I thought this village would be my home, but now I was leaving, and just couldn’t muster up the courage to come back.
The day I flew home around the globe was Good Friday, the day that Christians reflect on Jesus’ death on the cross. I remember sitting in that very long plane ride as I followed Good Friday around the timezones… and thinking that in all of my failure before the cross how ironic it was that I was in effect living this day twice.
It wouldn’t be until years later when the healing came that I would really understand the beauty of that day in all of its anguish, perceived failure, and lack of hope…. But God had given me true communion with his closest friends at the cross that day.
They had met Jesus, they were amazed and awed by His great love and mercy and the Heaven they saw in His eyes…. They left all they knew to follow Him, they saw Him perform miracle after miracle. He was real, and truer than the reality around them. He opened their eyes to heaven, He invited them to a feast… he promised He would always be with them, He would never leave them or forsake them. …. And suddenly He lay dead before them. The earth shook, the sky turned black, Peter must have played his denial over and over and over again in his head. Jesus was dead. His promises seemed dead. Hope seemed dead. They must have felt so utterly overcome by disappointment and grief.
But for those of us who remember our Sunday school lessons… their story wasn’t over, and neither was mine. I would like to say hope and clarity came three days later… but in truth it was a rather long and gradual process over the next seven years. But it came, resurrection came!
I knew with all my heart that God had not left me. His promises had not failed… but I was confused and disappointed and as I explained to a good friend came home from East Timor feeling like a war vetran who had all but been killed in battle. Before I left someone prayed over me explaining that they saw me going out to the front lines advancing God’s Kingdom…. At the time it all sounded so exciting. But, I was a young over passionate warrior without the experience or spiritual covering I needed to go to battle….I had no idea what kind of brutal attacks you face on the front line. In truth I am blessed I came home at all.
In the end after a very long recovery God has, I believe, in exposing my weakness hidden me a lot deeper into His love. Like Jesus’s friends on the road to Emmaus God started showing up in unexpected places. So not like I expected, I think it took me a few times to recognize His face.
A lot has changed for the good since then, God has brought me into a church family with leadership I admire, respect, and love… and as of late began to resurrect everything I could have sworn was dead on that long Good Friday plane ride back from failure.
But that is now, and this is then…. a heartbreak worth posting alone.
20) I returned home broken hearted, crushed in spirit, clinging to my faith for dear life as disappointment and doubt tried daily to steal it from me. Until that point in East Timor my relationship with God had been cut and dry. Deep, beautiful, mystical, adventurous, marvelous… methodical. But relationship isn’t methodical… it’s organic, sticky, mucky, unpredicatable… prone to misunderstanding and attack… even with God.
Until my “epic failure” I don’t think I had truly known grace, or if I had it was in my undoing that I realized my utterly dependent upon it I was. If life was an ocean, meeting Jesus had been like being given a surf board to harness the power of those big blue waves. It was magic… new perspectives I never imagined I would wee, wind whipping through my hair… a grand adventure. But now, now everything had changed. I lost my balance, the wind kicked up, the doomsday clouds rolled in, the waves I once road with elegance were tossing me back and fourth pulling me under threatening to undo me. When the skies were blue I loved that surf board of grace, but now in the lonely blackness of night with lightening crashing behind every wave, I clung to that grace for dear life. It wasn’t a toy, it wasn’t a joy ride… it was life when death was all around me.
Life at home had gone on while I was away, friends were married, working, buying houses, getting engaged…busy doing life, I caught in the midst of a nightmare no one could see or understand and I felt completely lost. I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged or what came next… all of the questions that had surrounded my relationship with God before were counted as loss… I just wanted Him, I just wanted a clear picture of His love to hold me.
One night I was praying for my friend John who was on a short term missions trip to Guatemala. I was praying for him and our other friends on the trip. It was his birthday a few days after he got home and I was asking God for a scripture to put in his card to encourage him in the next year.
John was a good friend. He had been my friend since I was 14 years old. He was there for me the night I got drunk in high school and threatened repeatedly to kill myself with a kitchen knife and another time by jumping out a window. He was my high school crush who I spent many nights dreaming about. He was my first real love, and a dream come true when he showed up at my window one night in the pouring rain confessing his love for me. He was the only person I would allow in my room after my cat died and I secluded myself for 3 days. He brought me videos and bagels when I had mono and jaundice and couldn’t get out of bed for 3 weeks. And when my Jesus changed my heart at 17, John gave His heart to the Lord shortly after. We had seen each other through a lot. We were baptized together.
And then I left.
John remained my friend even after I broke up with him for other guys. He remained my friend after I broke up with him for “God” and told him that there was no way we would ever end up together. He remained my friend at a quiet distance when I told him we couldn’t talk anymore and went off globe trotting leaving him behind. He was always there when I needed him, and he loved me no matter what.
I didn’t know where we stood, we hadn’t talked in nearly a year, but he was a good man and a good friend and I wanted a piece of God’s word to bless him with.
As I prayed for this man somewhere in the jungle, I waited and listened for a word of scripture for him.
Eventually I felt led to PSALM 45
I opened my Bible and began to read.
My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
2 You are the most excellent of men
and your lips have been anointed with grace,
since God has blessed you forever.
3 Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one;
clothe yourself with splendor and majesty.
4 In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.
5 Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies;
let the nations fall beneath your feet.
6 Your throne, O God,[c] will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
8 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.
9 Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.
It appeared to me that my God really liked my friend John. And then I read on… it began to talk of a bride preparing herself for the king, and was a little bit dumbfounded.
This was the beginning of the Psalm that lead to the scripture that I had read on top of the Land Rover in East Timor 2 years prior…. The one that had gotten me in trouble with my daydreams of Mr. Chris Martin Face. The scripture I thought had been the beginning of my end.
God had told me to prepare my heart for marriage in that scripture. I had reached a point where I didn’t even care if I was ever married, and He called me back. As I reflected on the past years and how I had tried to piece together the puzzle and fill in the blanks, I wondered if I hadn’t missed it completely. God never pointed to “ Mr. Chris Martin”. He never pointed to anyone… He just told me to prepare to become a bride…. to open my heart to the idea of joining my life with a man.
I sat in my room, the broken shell of my former glory that I was, the crippled veteran without a voice, and I pondered what a perfectly terrible picture of a bride I would hypothetically be.
But then a whisper of grace…. God didn’t see me like that. He didn’t care if I failed or succeeded… He just loved me, unconditionally…. at my utmost best and at my downright worst. Whether it was me, or His church at large… Jesus, our bridegroom, He just wants our love… our relationship, ugliness and all. We fail, and He loves us still….
“Husbands, love your wives the way Chirst loves the church”.
John had. I wasn’t his wife, but He had always loved me with that unconditional love of Christ, failure and selfishness and ugliness and all…. He loved me still.
Even when his romantic love was rejected he quietly loved me with friendship. And in the midst of my fever and blistering wounds and brokenness in the jungle months prior a package arrived with our names on it. From John Schreiner in Bethlehem, PA to Tassia Reith in the jungles of East Timor. His love traveled across the globe to find me in my hour of utmost need and defeat.
I hadn’t emailed him in months, all he knew of me was second hand information. The package was sent a month before all Hell had broken loose… and it was a little hug from Heaven that held back the enemy forces for just a little. It included a CD with an album from one of our favorite worship bands, and a photo of our friends on new years with a small caption “we miss you.” I needed arms to hold me, I needed a place to belong, and even when we were literally worlds apart, he found me and gave me the embrace I needed.
Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church… He had been faithful to me even in my unfaithfulness. I prayed and thanked God for my friend that night. I tried hard not to jump to conclusions… but I felt heavenly light being shed on an old story in a new way. A part of my life I had tried hard to dismiss just may have been God’s romance from the beginning.
I didn’t write the Psalm in John’s card that night. I did call a good friend the next morning after not being able to sleep.
John returned home a few days later with some sort of crazy stomach bug he had caught in Guatemala. Our friend Kevin explained that He could see me falling in love with John all over again as I watched him dry heaving on the couch one afternoon. Kevin was right. I kept my mouth shut and waited. God’s timing was perfect.
A few weeks later John and I were talking when he began to explain that a couple of his friends had been telling him he needed to talk to me. In a nutshell, he had always hoped we would get back together but they were telling him it was time to clarify our relationship and for him to move on.
I forget exactly what words were spoken that night, but as we all know I am a bit of an open book. I remember before I left his house that night he kissed me at the door and told that he would be going to bed a happy man.
#21) About four months later John and I met some friends at a cabin in the woods of New Jersey. After dinner the friends left, they had stayed the night before and as I believe explained that they had to get home for something. It was the weekend before Halloween. John went out to the car and brought in a cooking tray with two pumpkins on it. He told me he thought it would be cute if we carved jack-o-lanterns. I cut the top off of my pumpkin and began to scoop out the “guts”. To my surprise, in the midst of all of the goo, I was suddenly holding a ring box in my pumpkin gut filled hand. John had cut a small hole in the bottom of the pumpkin and slid the ring box up through it. I was surprised. I think I dropped the ring, I kind of blanked out, but next thing I knew John was down on one knee proposing. I cried, we hugged, he asked me to be his wife… I said yes. It was a good night!
I am fairly certain that my hubby just had a really clever fun creative idea in his pumpkin proposal that night! I don’t think he meant any sort of elaborate symbolism, that’s not really his style. But in writing and reflecting on this all there really was something of great depth to finding that diamond with a whole life of promise attached to it in the midst of pumpkin gutting that night. I was a mess, I may as well have been that pumpkin cut up with spiritual and emotional wreckage all over the table… and yet John loved me fully in that moment. He saw through my brokenness, and he loved me unconditionally… at my worst. I can never explain how much that meant to me. John’s unconditional love and friendship has been one of the biggest blessings of my life, even in those moments that I failed to reckognize it, even in the moments now when business and loud babies cause me to forget my beautiful friend. That night I found treasure and the new promise of a faithful and familiar hand to hold in the midst of an otherwise painful process of letting go and making room for new light to shine through.
22) John and I were married Aug. 27 2005. It is beyond me how that beautiful busy day was over seven years ago this August. Each year keeps passing faster and I am so thankful to have my friend to recount the memories with.
If I was my mother in the months leading up to our wedding, I don’t think I would have allowed me to get married that day. I think in all honesty I would have encouraged myself to go out on another trip around the world and try to “find myself” again. Making a major life decision like getting married in the midst of a spiritual and emotional crisis is not the wisest thing to do. But I didn’t have the strength or desire for another adventure. My heart needed a home, and next to God John had been my resting place since the age of 16.
I had a near panic attack the night before the wedding, details, and untied loose ends… and to be honest, doubt… I wasn’t sure of anything in my life at that point… I went to bed crying.
I woke up the next morning to a house full of flowers. Buckets and buckets of sunflowers to fill line the church and vases.. and for my girls to carry. The house was filled with joy, even in the midst of uncertainty. As I carried a bucket out to my little VW Cabrio the sun was shining, birds were chirping… I put the bucket in the car and turned around. Thick storm clouds rolling in over the mountain behind me. Uncertainty.
We drove to the church and sun welcomed us through the huge old windows of the chapel. We lined the sanctuary in those flowers telling the story of the sun shining on all those local fields. I walked down the isle with my arm around my grandfather to greet the man that would be my husband. We promised our love and our lives to each other and to God, we took communion together to a song of promising to be the dreamer of God’s dreams… we kissed, our friends clapped, our pastor pronounced us husband and wife. The sun was shining, the church was filled with love… the limo pulled up to take us to the farm, the church doors opened… and the floodgates of Heaven poured buckets outside.
The sun was gone, but I grabbed hold of my beloveds hand and smiled… life was uncertain, and that was exactly why we were married. Come what will, come what may, John is my home, and I couldn’t ask for a more faithful friend by my side to share this life with.
We honeymooned in Italy. It was a dream, except the entire trip was shadowed a bit by a near plane crash we had upon arrival. Air Italia had canceled all of it’s flights in and out of Rome as a massive storm system overtook the city. Unfortunately we were not on an Air Italia flight, but a German airline with a very determined pilot. Countless times he tried to land that plane, taking us into clouds so black and dense I thought they would just eat up that little plane. Lightening cracked all around us. It was like the storm I had described in my heart was unleashed in the air, and we were caught in the middle of it.
Women were frantically praying their rosaries, others were crying. A man across from us was barfing in a bag. The stewardess teared up and begain to tell the woman next to me of her children at home! The woman next to me began to tell me in detail that this is just how a plane in Canada had gone down a month prior. I buried my head in the chest of my new husband. If this was it, I wanted to disappear into him until we disappeared and appeared before our King.
A huge jolt sideways, a dop, screams and then a change in direction… the plain shooting up like the rush of a roller coaster. Suddenly a change in altitude. The turbulence stopped. The dark clouds were gone. Sunshine and blue skies were all around us. Had we died? Did Ijust envision the plan shooting up when really we were going down? Was this our arrival at the pearly gates?
The pilot came over the loud speaker in a voice of annoyance and defeat explaining we would be traveling to Naples a few hours (minutes by plane) south for an emergency landing. We all sighed loudly knowing we were not heading back into that storm. There were many “Thank God!”s spoken, and I can imagine so many more cried deep within the souls of all of us who found ourselves still alive on that plane.
My husband who by all accounts is usually not one to say things profound… looked at me and said one of the most profound things I have ever heard in my life.
“ That storm” John said… as he held my hand my probably still shaking hand. “ That storm is a lot like life. You never know what is going to threaten to overtake you.”
“But this, this up here… when we pray God takes us somewhere higher, up above the storm. The storm is still just as real, just as threatening, but He takes us up above and hides us in His grace where the storm can’t reach us.”
Sunshine and white puffy clouds… grace.
As our plane made it’s unexpected but safe landing three hours south in Naples, I thanked God for my own course of direction. The one scripture God had given me before I left East Timor which I clung to….
“I will broaden the past beneath your feet so that you feet will not slip”.
I could sympathize with that stubborn pilot and his perceived failure as he couldn’t conquer the storm over Rome. That was his mission… Rome, and even though I hated him for his stubbornness , admittedly it must have sucked not to be able to land his plane there. But by the grace of God and wisdom of a few good air traffic controllers we were safe on the ground in Naples. Naples wasn’t Rome, but it was safe and good, and we were thankful for solid ground beneath us.
Life was not as I envisioned it a few years prior, but it was good.
23 ) God gave us a home….
John and I and six other passengers got off that plane in Naples that day. After the emergency landing the plane was just refueling and heading back to Rome to attempt another landing. My new husband and I, and the six others decided that we were not trusting our lives to that pilot again and refused to fly.
We would have just stayed and enjoyed Naples, except for the fact that there was one huge problem… they had let us off the plane but we were not allowed to collect our baggage. Our luggage was still on that plane heading to Rome. And so John and I began our honeymoon chasing baggage, which is unfortunately the same way we began our marriage.
Despite the fact that I was a spiritual mess, I was bound and determined that we as a couple needed to get out on the mission field. I saw life back home as pointless, and fought daily against the lie that “I was in the wrong place” that I had “made a bad choice”…. Not in John, but in the life we were living.
I couldn’t find God in the day to day living here in the US, and so the emptiness got filled with busy-ness which became a business, which even in my spiritual floundering God blessed the work of my hands.
A few months into our marriage we realized that we would need more of an income to keep John’s house comfortably, and I needed something to do. We ended up moving back down to the shore together so that I could draw caricatures. We moved to Seaside Heights and took out a loan on his house to invest in renting an incredibly expensive stand from an incredibly greedy man on the boardwalk. We really had no idea how big of a risk we were taking in that move, and thankfully God provided. I busted my butt that summer, working harder than I ever had before… too hard. I was successful, I made lots of money, but John and I had no life, and we were surrounded by people who’s main goal in life was becoming rich. I am so thankful that God blessed our business there, with some trial and error, but it was not a wise move. I believe we become a product of our environment, and although God spared us the shackles of greed that all of our neighbors were caught up in, Seaside for a time did take away a bit of our soul… but that story comes later.
At the end of that summer I heard that my uncle was selling his house. It was a big beautiful old farm house covered in brick. Big windows, high ceilings, wide plank floors, a little room off the side of the master bedroom for a nursery. It was a dream.
I remember in art school drawing an illustration of a man hunched over carrying a huge house on his back representing a mortgage. It was beyond me how anyone would want to commit themselves to paying off such a tremendous debt for an object.
But time and hormones change a woman. Now I was a married woman, with dreams of babies in my heart…and my heart longed for this house to be our home. I believe we have a video somewhere of my literally dancing giddy in it’s big empty rooms the first time John and I went to check it out. I saw murals painted on the nursery walls, children running through the loop of rooms, I heard the banging of a pots and pans symphony in the kitchen, I invisioned a Christmas tree standing tall in the living room and the crackling of the fire as we sat snuggling our babies. I saw libraries of books and reading benches on the wide windowsills, John saw a tree swing hanging off the tall tall trees that shaded the backyard. We saw bbqs with friends on the back porch and Easter egg hunts in the back yard…. Dreams upon dreams swept through our heart as we explored that old farm house together. And thanks to my amazingly gracious uncle Mark, all of these dreams have come true. My uncle sold us his big beautiful house at a price we could afford, when we otherwise could not have afforded it… every time I look down at my babies playing on those wide plank floors it is a very real picture of grace for me. An amazing gift we did not earn or deserve, and yet we and our children are blessed to be living in it.
#24) God called us home….
Here we found ourselves in the midst of our dream house… and instead of pure joy and thankfulness I found myself in the midst of an ever waging internal war each day. I still felt we were failing God, that I was failing God… my eyes were so focused on getting back out to the mission field that I couldn’t enjoy the amazing blessings plopped in my lap. It was like we were in Naples, beautiful Naples… but I totally missed its beauty, because my baggage was making me run frantically to Rome.
Not to help my internal war, we had asked for money instead of gifts at our wedding in hopeful plans of moving to Africa the year later. Now we found ourselves not in Africa, but in a great big house, with the missions money still in the bank and the accusations and judgments from people we both loved and respected came flying. Perhaps rightfully, but I can say this in truth… the reason we did not go to the mission field that first year was much more a result of our brokenness, lack of direction and confusion then it was the greed or selfishness that some accused us of. We never touched that money that was meant for missions until we left for YWAM, we thought about giving it away to a missionary out of guilt that it was sitting in the bank. The wedding money in itself wasn’t enough to support us in anything long term, and we were not confident enough in ourselves to ask others to support us. It was a terrible time. Not only had I failed God, but now I felt that we had failed those around us.
When John’s house sold we found ourselves with a good amount of money. We were advised to invest it in the stock market. I often beat myself up over the way we spent and lost it and gave it away, but in truth had it been invested into the markets we would have lost it that following year anyway. It was only money. We talked to our pastor and parents about a plan to go back to YWAM, to a base in New Zealand so that John could do the Discipleship Training School and we could see where God was calling us for missions.
Our pastor advised us against it. He explained that he thought the money would be better saved for future use and offered to disciple John and I himself with his wife Trish. Our pastor is a wise and amazing and hero-y type of man, O how I wish we would have headed his advice and his offer! But off we went, with his both his warning and his blessing… on a very long and expensive trip, in short to be called home!
John and I did the school together in Auckland New Zealand.
One of the most clear memories from our school in New Zealand was a day when one of the women on staff was praying for me. She said she saw my life like a fresh cut forest. All of the trees had been cut down, and the forest was left feeling barren and done for. ( this made me cry in all of it’s truth) But she said that she felt that God wanted me to know that all that wood wasn’t going to waste, that there was a purpose in the cutting… it was going to good use. And that like any good woodsman, he was busy replanting… there would be new growth soon, healthier growth. In writing this it all sounds more physic than Christian, but this vision really spoke to my heart. It reminded me that our God is a God of restoration… and it helped me find peace in what really felt like a barren time. And as barren as those days felt, as I write today 5 years later I sense tall healthy trees sprouting up all around me.
Another thing I remember vividly from that far away land was praying with John one morning. We had decided that we wanted to have a baby, and in praying for our future children we felt lead to the story of Noah. We read it together one morning… “Noah found favor in the eyes of God”. John told me that morning that he thought we should name our son Noah. About an hour later it started to rain. We looked out the lecture room window into the sunny yet rain filled skies… a huge rainbow stretched as far as we could see. This spoke promise to us both that God had heard our prayers and that a little Noah would be joining our family sometime in the future.
The third very clear moment from that short season of our life was this. One day a guest speaker was talking to us all about calling. The speaker was referencing the passage Ezekiel 36:24.
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of countires, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all of your filthiness, and from all of your idols. I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you, I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put MY Spirit in you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land I gave to your fathers, you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
John looked at me and said a very simple thing, that became the answer and peace to a very deep question and longing in my heart.
“Ezekiel 36:24- 3624…. That’s our address. I really think God is CALLING us home.”
I realize that this leading like many in my life was based on scripture completely taken out of context, and yet that scripture spoke to and brought healing to the debts of my heart like nothing else was able to.
We had traveled around the world to find out where God was calling us, and God called us back home.
We finished out our school. The last day of the school a woman came and lead us all in a time of Christian meditation. She asked us to ask God for a picture of our spiritual home. She explained how she had done this and God both encouraged her and directed her to fix different parts of her spiritual life based off of the vision.
As I was praying and waiting I got a very clear picture in my heart of our old farm house back home. I t was a bigger home than I ever expected I would find myself living in. It held promises for our children. It was worth far more than what we had paid. It was ancient, built and crafted long before our parents were ever even dreamt in the hearts of their parents. It was strong, stone farmhouse walls covered in brick… a fortress from any storm. It was the kind of house filled with creative promise… and it called for someone to bring out it’s beauty.
God spoke to me that day of being an artist. In ways it was a hard pill to swallow as my heart had become so attuned to the cries of the suffering around the world that I had many times laid down the arts at His alter, foolishly thinking they were a lesser thing. But since that day, and since the time I first picked up a crayon … God has spoken to me over and over and over again, that He is a lover of beauty. He is the creator of beauty, and He created us in His likeness. We were created to create beauty… in drawing, and painting, in music, and writing, in dance and in drama, in cooking, and gardening, building of homes, engineering of bridges, transplanting of hearts, mixing of miracle drugs, growing of orchards, and teaching babies to grasp the magic of the crayon they hold in their hand… God created us to create beauty. It is not a lesser calling, it is high, it is dear to his heart… transformative and life giving.
He spoke to me of His church, and that His church was all of those things that our great old house was… and that He was calling me to bring out her beauty. I certainly haven’t lived up to that calling, and I am not sure what that looks like, but from that day forward I have stepped in that direction.
Since that day I have written the words of Phillipians 4: 8-9 on my heart….
“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy- meditate on these things.
The things which you have learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these, and the God of peace will be with you.”
What an honor it is to be called to beauty. Through lens and brush and pen and key… He has called me to focus attention on the finest things in life… those things that are noble, and just, and pure, lovely, virtuous, praise worthy. Even in business now, I am invited into the most precious moments of people’s lives… births, and birthdays, family laughter, engagements, and weddings. People invite me with camera in hand to take for them a photo of the rich blessings God has bestowed on them, it is an absolute joy and honor.
I often think of my failure that day in the jungle and the 400 souls I could have turned toward the loving eyes of Jesus Christ. I am terribly uncomfortable being on stage, but behind the veil of artistic endeavors I find myself with a special boldness that I can only account to Christ. The God of peace is with me, and HE has bestowed on me talents with pen and brush and lens… and so my prayer borrowed from St. Francis continues “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I have dreams hidden in my heart of leading the masses to His throne through my small images of His grace. Our days in this life are numbered for sure, 80 to 100 years at most to grab hold of that which is eternal…. Faith, hope, and love, I am confident these things will remain… and I will dedicate my life to illustrating them.
25) I peed on a stick!
We returned home from New Zealand with a lot less money in the bank but a lot more peace and certainty in our hearts… which by all accounts is a much better place to be.
One June afternoon John and I were hanging out at our little cottage we were renting by the sea with one of my oldest friends from high school. I was due for my monthly friend in a few days, but as I mentioned earlier John and I had hopes of babies in our hearts, and I just had this inkling that there might be a little soul growing in my womb.
I told John and Sarah I was going in the bathroom to pee on a stick. They laughed and thought I was crazy. I came out minutes later dancing a happy dance with tears in my eyes and that urine soaked magic wand in my hands exclaiming to my beloved mockers that God had blessed us with a baby!
That morning I had been reading a book on art in the church when I came across the Greek word “Kalos” which referred to the pure goodness encountered in Eden before the fall. I had never felt so close to the goodness of God, this fresh little soul from Heaven alive within me… I asked John if we could give the baby the middle name Kalos, and he agreed that it was very fitting.
26) Twenty weeks into my first pregnancy John and I were all but busting at the seams to run into the ultrasound appointment to find out If this little dream within me would be wearing pink or blue to accompany the totally unnecessary but amazingly perfect little cowboy boots awaiting him or her.
As we stared at the blurb of private parts on the monitor the nurse asked us “do you know what that is?” And thanks to those awkward sex education classes in 5th grade John and I looked at each other in amazement as we stared at our son.
A boy! A son! A man! A father! A knight! There was a little man growing inside of me. God had given me a son, and even though I couldn’t hold him yet, I was utterly in love with him.
Our giddiness hushed as the ultrasound technician became quiet as she repeatedly scrolled over our baby’s brain. “Is everything Ok?” I asked. “ I think so” she said making sure not to look me in the eyes… “ I just need to get these measurements and the doctor will be in to talk with you soon.”
“I think so..” the words circled in my own brain over and over the next 20 minutes as we waited for the doctor. I instantly began to love my own mom more as I felt this uncertainty dance upon my heart. My baby, our baby. What was the doctor going to tell us?
As the doctor hovered over the same spot on the brain as the ultrasound tech just moments before John and I prepared ourselves for the worst. “We really aren’t sure what we are seeing here” they explained. “ A few of the ventricles in your baby’s brain are enlarged, and it is probably nothing, but we want to send you to CHOP for a fetal MRI so we can get a little better picture of what is going on in there.”
“It’s probably nothing,” I repeated trying to assure myself, “but if it is something, what are you checking for?”
“Well” he went on, trying to choose his words wisely… “ sometimes enlarged ventricles like this can be a sign of Hydrocephalus, and sometimes they are nothing.” “ Your baby’s ventricles are measuring just at the point of where we begin to get concerned, so we would like to do some further imaging… and we will just have to wait and see how things progress.”
Hydrocephalus as he explained was a condition where there is too much fluid inside a brain which creates too much pressure on the brain which without constant care can lead to all sorts of non-lovely things like brain damage, aneurisms, and internal bleeding.
“ It could be a sign of hydrocephalus, or it could be nothing… we would just have to wait and see.”
“ Oh my God!” From the pit of my being I cried out those next few days “ Oh my God!” “Help me, help my baby!” I learned quickly in those months of waiting in pregnancy that becoming a mother is much more than pink and blue booties and all the cute stuff on the baby registry…
Heart of my own heart, flesh of my own flesh… brain of my own brain… I would give my life to make his well, and yet I was utterly helpless to help him.
To be honest my first instinct was self preservation… I needed to know what could be, and I thought I needed to make myself Ok with it. I was so scared of being disappointed and disconnected from God again, I thought if I could only make my soul prepared and accepting of the worst outcome then maybe we could whether the storm to come.
I prepared for the worst… a sick baby, brain surgery, a shunt, life long trips to the hospital, mild to severe learning delays.
And then one day it dawned on me in prayer… this wasn’t MY life I was asking for acceptance in. It was my son’s… I was his mother, and if anyone was going to ask God for a miracle on his behalf it should be me. Day and night, night and day, every time that fear crept into my mind I laid hands on that growing belly of mine and prayed for the little soul resting within.
“Lord, You gave me this baby… but I need to give him to you!” I cried out my trust one day “You love him, you created him, you put this love in my own heart for him… but He is yours. Father, you have never failed me or forsaken me. You have always heard my prayers and you have always been faithful to answer. Father, I give you this child. If hydrocephalus is part of your plan for him I will praise you no matter what… but God, I don’t think it is. I really don’t think it is. So in the name of Jesus I speak health to his brain, and in the name of Jesus I speak to those ventricles to be healthy in Jesus name, and Father I pray that this child would be smart and talented and wise and that this threat against him now would only be the beginning of your great testimony in his life. Father, Noah is yours… heal him, let him find your favor!”
I prayed, John prayed, our family and friends and church prayed. The MRI showed no tell tale signs one way or the other. We were thankful that it had not shown progression toward Hydrocephalus, but the doctors wanted to keep tracking it, he wasn’t in the clear, we waited.
Four days past my due date I stopped feeling the baby move within me. I wasn’t overly worried, but I felt unsettled and called the doctor. They explained that we should go to the hospital to have the baby’s heart checked and to bring our birth bag just in case.
As I was showing no signs of labor, we by all means expected to go hear a normal heartbeat and be on our way to visit John’s parents that night. Instead when they hooked the fetal heart rate monitor up to my belly they found that every once in a while the baby’s heart beat would drop really low. At first they were going to just monitor us and gave us the option of inducing labor. I wasn’t comfortable being given drugs that would force contractions on an already struggling little heart so I opted to be monitored without being induced. About an hour after being checked into the room though things took a drastic change. An alarm on the monitor started beeping and within minutes nurses and doctors and people with paperwork were swooping in all around me prepping me for an emergency c-section.
I send medals of honor out to all my mommy friends who braved natural child birth and sing of it’s glories, but with all of the negative attention on c sections… I have to exclaim, mine was a miracle! Noah’s heart rate was dropping fast and had I been one of my friends in the jungle faced with only the option of natural child birth, my perfect little baby boy would have quite likely have been born dead. I forget exactly what the cause of the dropping of his heart rate was, but it had something to do with the umbilical cord. The surgery was traumatic, but in the end I held my precious healthy alive baby boy… and I thank God for that C section as a means for birthing such a beautiful soul.
I have traveled the world. I have visited sixteen nations on four continents. I have climbed mountains into the clouds swam under waterfalls, watched as lava flowed into the sea. I have wandered through castles and cathedrals. I have swam with sea turtles, yachted through turquoise water, explored lemon groves and vineyards, and mango orchards in the company of kangaroos. I have seen beauty….a whole lot of beauty…
But none of this holds a candle to the beauty of the miracle of holding our newborn baby in my arms. We named him Noah, meaning rest and comfort… and he was. In him my life found more meaning than I ever could have imagined. I was his mama, and my heart was full!
This wonderful amazing beautiful miracle… I held a little life in my arms that came straight from Heaven. Knit together in my womb, carrying pieces of the story of John and my families, but carrying in him something more, the promise of another world. One of our pastors once sent me a quote saying “Babies are proof that God wants the world to go on.” I didn’t quite get it when I read it, but holding this precious little life in my arms … he was a promise, and God had entrusted him to us.
Time for another disclaimer… if anyone is reading this that has a desire in your heart to be a mother but you have been told or believe that you can’t…. I would like to encourage you otherwise. God knows the desires of your heart, and family was God’s idea. I have three friends who were told by the medical community that they would not have children, period. One of these friends just celebrated her adopted son’s 4th birthday, and her biological son’s 1st birthday this past June! Another one of these women is pregnant now with her third healthy child after doctors told her she would NEVER get pregnant. And yet another friend of mine who was told she miscarried her son in the hospital, is about to celebrate that very same healthy thriving boy’s 3rd birthday this Decemeber!
Pray, and ask people to pray with you. Miracles happen.
We were still waiting for ours. Noah was born healthy, praise God. But his head was a little larger than normal, which could have been a sign for hydrocephalus, and as he grew his head grew faster. At three months Noah’s head was skyrocketing way off the charts and for whatever reason had grown a HUGE amount in a matter of the doctors sent us for another MRI of his brain.
The Sunday before the MRI our church brought us up front to pray for our baby boy. The entire church prayed, a huge crowd came and laid hands on him and asked God for his healing. There was such an outpouring of love and support and faith that day, we left confident that we were in the midst of a miracle. People prayed for three month old Noah that day, not only that he would be healthy but that God would bless him abundantly with intellect and creativity.
After church that day we decided that we wanted to plant a tree in faith that day to remember God’s healing hand on Noah’s life. We wanted a symbol to show our son as he grew up as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to us. On the way to the garden store we decided on a cherry tree for the backyard. When we got there though, there was only one cherry, and it looked terribly unhealthy. John and I looked at each other and grinned…
‘A faith tree!” I said. We will plant it and pray, and it will grow… and It will make for a better story. We did plant it with, and we did pray and four years later both that tree and our boy our both healthy and strong. It took a few months but by the age two Noah’s brain was given a relatively clean bill of health. He would not need brain surgery, and he would not need a shunt, praise God!
Our faith tree began to get cherries this year… four to be exact. The birds ate them, but it began to bear fruit. Our boy too turned four this year, and he has been blessed. Noah is beginning to read and write, singing and playing piano, acting out entire TV shows… quick witted ,curious and this child has a memory that astonishes me. He daily calls blows my mind with the outpouring of his own… blessed and healed by the hand of God.
#29) Eek! 29!
Noah got a very special gift for his second birthday. In a room jam packed with friends and family our little boy unwrapped a tee shirt that read BIG BROTHER. Family jumped up, our moms started crying, claps and screams… this two year old boy was not so impressed with the shirt and utterly confused as to why everyone else was!
About 12 weeks later we went back to the room where we first heard the threats against Noah’s brain. This time we were not nearly as concerned with whether we would be buying pink or blue as to what that little brain was going to look like.
The ultrasound technician said that our baby’s brain looked great, beautiful was her word to be exact. Beautiful… and it was the perfect word to describe the little GIRL she was looking at! We were having a girl!!! I had entirely convinced myself that Noah would have a little brother… and now suddenly a rush of pink and purple came whirling into my heart! A girl… my little ponies, and hairbows, princesses and unicorns, tea parties and glitter… and a girl, a baby girl who would one day be a teenager, and a woman, and hopefully one day a mother herself.
The thought of having a little girl growing within me had an instant effect on me. Until that day I in many ways I was still holding onto my thought that makeup and pretty clothing and decorating your home was was just something shallow. Not that I judged others in it, but I didn’t feel comfortable giving myself to it. But this little baby, who I didn’t even know yet… I wanted her to know how beautiful she was. That she was a woman, endowed with beauty and grace, both inside and out. In the same way that I had known beauty could be used against a woman I now sensed it as a very powerful gift. God made women to be beautiful, and it was such a lovely thought.
I went out and bought two dresses that week, for this tiny baby yet to be born, and for me, her mother. I felt this huge release of freedom sweep over me. I wanted Ruby to take pleasure in her beauty, to be able to thank God for it, and it was time for me to stop ignoring my own.
The night before she was born I was reading scripture and got a vision of this little girl with flowers springing up all around her. She would walk through the dessert and flowers would bloom, she would walk up a mountain and flowers would follow her path, she would wade in the sea and flowers would rest upon the water. Beauty was in her and about her, greeting her, meeting her, transforming the world around her wherever she was. There was something in her that would call out the beauty in those around her… and her calling began in me. The moment I knew this little girl was resting within me I was lured once again to the power of beauty, and how wonderfully God has created women to enthrone it.
Annika Ruby awoken my heart to beauty… and this sweet little baby girl did something else for me too, she humbled me!
When we brought our baby boy home from the hospital like was like floating in the clouds… I was euphoric! Motherhood was magic, nighttime feedings were followed by sweet gassy grins, and baby snuggles… and my life was absolutely perfect right there on my couch. I was in love with being a mommy. John and I couldn’t get enough of this little miracle baby and his giggles and grins and coos.. we started co sleeping because he was just so sweet that we didn’t want to let him out of our site.
Other friends of mine struggled a lot with motherhood, with the self sacrifice and lack of free time, and some even with severe post partum depression. I tried to be sympathetic, but truly I could not understand. I knew motherhood to be life’s greatest joy… and I just didn’t understand why it was so hard for them.
And then our dear Annika Ruby joined our family. I believe the first few days home from the hospital were smooth sailing, except for the expected sleepless nights. Automatically I realized that this season of “newborndom” would not be as euphoric with baby two. The beautiful advice dished out to me so very often with the first newborn “sleep when the baby sleeps” was all but impossible with a very active two year old in the house now as well.
I remember about two weeks after Ruby was born having a whole bunch of girlfriends over with their newborn babies as well. I had made homemade soup for everyone that morning, and as everyone piled in with their sweet baby girls the question was asked “ How the heck did you find time to make soup!?” My response was “ I just needed to, I needed to do something that I knew I could do right!” Everything seemed to be going wrong, and I just needed to finish a task I could do right. Baby Ruby was a mystery to me, she screamed all day and all night. For months she puked at least three times a day to the point where both her and I would need changes of clothing, not to mention floors being scrubbed and the baby needing a bath. I am sure there were many days I was long overdue for one myself. And as colic and food allergies and restricted diets were setting in, so did my own form of post partum depression. I just felt helpless. She screamed all the time! There was nothing I could do to comfort her. She didn’t cuddle or coo or snuggle like our baby Noah, and there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t feel like I was failing as her mama. Sometimes Noah would cry and just ask why the baby wouldn’t stop crying. One day he told me that he had an idea… we could throw Ruby in the trash! Sheesh.
I was afraid to go out. I hated going to visit family and friends or church because I knew there would come the moment where Ruby would start screaming or puking and all eyes would be on me and I wouldn’t be able to help her.
Things got better. I honestly don’t remember how or when, but they did… to the point that we are ready to have another baby (sometime, not as in this second). But this poor little girl and her hard entry into life (and now her big brother and his very emotional preschool years) they have humbled me. Ruby’s addition to our family made me understand motherhood a lot clearer. It is glorious and rich and I believe the absolute highest calling a woman could take part in… but it is not easy. Truly great things rarely are.
Night and day, day and night every second of our lives seems to belong to someone else. These beautiful little creatures calling out for us to help them and guide them, feed them, clean up after them ,remind them , discipline them , encourage them, inspire them, comfort them, fix their boo boos, wipe their hineys, inspire their hearts , and do it all in love and graciousness… it’s all a little overwhelming. Any badge of mommy honor I thought I may have won with baby Noah, baby Ruby quickly buried in her puke. All this to say, each child is different… if you have easy-peasy overachieving babies and kiddos… you are blessed, but from my experience don’t go patting your back too hard. And if you find yourself with a terribly colicky infant who you just don’t know how to help… please don’t beat yourself up, it’s not your fault, and it will get better. Motherhood is a miracle, the good the bad and the ugly. Be gentle with yourself, and your mommy friends… we’re all on the same team and we need each other’s encouragement.
It is ironic that I include Ruby and her power to humble this mama as one of my miracles… as my last week has been something of that sort. Since I wrote last our family has moved,I have in a sense laid myself off, our baby caught a terribly nasty blood virus that literally crippled her for a few days, and in truth my 30th Birthday came and went with little celebration. Having spent the night before in the ER with a chance that my child’s intestines had telescoped or that her kidney’s might be failing, I would like to say that I woke up that next morning with complete joy and thankfulness. In truth however, it was quite the opposite… I was exhausted before the move and before the attack on my daughter, and I woke up the morning of my birthday with the unfamiliar feeling of deep hovering depression. I was overwhelmed, I felt trapped, when not just giving my all to take care of my very needy and hurting children, I was miserable to my husband. I couldn’t write, I didn’t want to see friends, everything felt cloudy and my vision for the future was gone. I believe it may have been a spiritual attack, or maybe just the heaviness that comes from the thick of life… but I needed a change of perspective.
I can’t say I have fully grabbed onto the hope that I held in the weeks leading up to that day… but I have reminded myself of a few things that is awakening my heart to the expectation of miracles yet again! I am in a season of transition, we have just made a major life decision that in the eyes of the world doesn’t make much sense. I have made many of these before, by the leading of God… and although they sound adventurous and fun in the leading up to it, and in the hindsight of it… in the midst of these steps of faith it can be kind of scary. I am prone to crying, and doubting, and trying to take control once again. But in the end, I know that my God is trustworthy. His calling is so very much worth following, and though I do not know what the future holds… I am beginning to know the One who holds the future a little more in this whole process, and I think maybe really that is the whole point.
It has been hard for me to write this next miracle, because in all ways I feel inadequate. This last week has been a hard reminder that I do not have my act together, I fail, big time, often. And yet there is a truth as clear to me as the sun beating on me through my 100 year old windows… I am called, by God. Such a high calling terrifies me in my failure. I cling to grace… those wings we all need so dearly to lift us up above the storm, and grant us a change of perspective. God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.
#30) God is calling me back to the mission field!
I remember buying my plane ticket to East Timor, there was something final about holding that piece of paper in my hand. My life the past years had been blessed and comfortable and relatively predictable and safe… and here was this piece of paper that stood as proof in my hands that I had responded to an invitation to something far away from all of that. Adventure for sure, exciting for sure, but all promises and hope aside the reality of it all is bewildering, and unknown, and terrifying . An internal battle irrupted every time I held that ticket… a Holy calling, a carnal fear.
I find myself poetically holding that ticket once again. A Holy invite calling me forth out of my comfort, out of our security, and into the world of the unknown. God is calling me back to the mission field… He once again has attached my heart to a very specific place, He has bestowed on me bits of his own heart… his great love and compassion and hopes for these people… He has called me to the mission field, and this time my journey is home.
Christ is our good Shepard, He compassionately and passionately loves His flock… and one of the great mysteries of our God is that I believe His heart beats equally for things great and small. We must remember the good shepherd who left behind the 99 to go and find the one. Jesus loves the nations, He calls us to the nations… but I am beginning to see that just maybe discipling nations begins at home. Noble kings and brave generals, heroic knights and evil dictators, wise presidents and visionary artists, brilliant scientists and revolutionaries of all kinds…. They all started out at home. This work of a mother raising her babies, it is no work of unimportance. In the same way that God calls us to disciple the nations, He calls us to lay down our lives to disciple our children, His children, the precious ones that He has entrusted us with. Brains to mold, passions to inspire, virtues to instill… like the English proverb says, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” These years of planting, and nurturing, and loving… they are not a lesser calling, they may just be the highest calling. God has called me to be a mother, heart and soul and mind… and it in every way equal to my call to the jungle.
In some ways I wonder if that trip to the jungle was merely training for this one. I learned there that one cannot be alone when serving God, we need each other. We need protection, and prayer, encouragement, and accountability… our mission, our lives and the one’s we have been entrusted with depend on it. I learned there that I fail. I can dream big dreams, and try my hardest to live my very best… but I fail. It’s a given, and I need grace. We all need grace. Our children need grace. I learned there in the jungle that the path isn’t always clear, our successes cannot be measured by what we feel or what we see…. It’s not about failure or success, it’s about grace and trusting God… and daily seeking Him out with all that is within you.
I am scared to be a mother. I am often selfish, and distracted, short tempered and near sighted…. I am not qualified to raise God’s children. And yet He calls us, with failure in our hands, to lay it down at His cross… to follow Him into grace, and extend that grace in such a way that the hearts around us want to know our God more. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…on earth , here on earth, in the thick of life…in these precious little hearts and souls and minds that He has entrusted us with.
In truth I started this very long entry because God has redeemed some very large dreams in my heart. God has been more than faithful to fufill my every dream in my twenties. I often feared or wondered if I would die early as my late teens and twenties were in many ways too good to be true. For me, though I am sure I will laugh at this in 20 years, thirty is the beginning of not being young anymore. Something about this age calls change, I have not “died young” and so this age, it calls for dying. Dying to self, to my selfish ambition… I have but one life to live, and I want to live it for my King. God has fulfilled my every desire in my twenties, it is now my heart’s desire to spend my thirties and the remainder of my life living and birthing the dreams of my Savior. I have carried some really big dreams in my heart for the past 12 years. There have been times of their burial and mourning, and my healing and moving on. But as of late, there has been their resurrection, and not just in my heart, but the hearts of those that God has brought to our kitchen table. I am not confident speaking them out in detail just yet, but this very long entry was begun with the intent to say to you, the world around me,the one’s I love… that I have no reason not to trust God!
As it has evolved I have realized that maybe this statement is for my own heart more than anyone else’s.
I have no reason not to trust God!
He has been faithful in the big.
He has been faithful in the small.
He has always been faithful.
I truly from the bottom of my heart want to thank each of you that read this post, that read my miracles. Our lives and our time here on earth is so precious, and the fact that you gave yourself to the reading of my story means more than I can say. The Bible says that Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our stories, our faith…
He has surely written a good one in me….
and it’s not over yet.
He is always faithful.
Comments are working again, so if this post has blessed, encouraged, or challenged you in any way, I would love to hear from you!
thanks and love,