What a week it’s been

I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel very deeply about people and circumstances. Maybe it’s my imagination or maybe God has given me a deep sense of empathy. Whatever it is, it’s been there my whole life. It’s especially prevalent when family goes through things, good or bad. And this week has been a rough one. Please don’t misunderstand me, though. This is not about me and never has been. I just feel burdened for my family, who are burdened far more than I can imagine.

One of my cousins on my dad’s side had a baby the day after Christmas. Ever since, he’s been struggling with gaining weight – in fact, he lost a good percentage of his weight the very first week. Praise the Lord, his amazing doctors in Florida figured out the issue and as of Monday, his surgery is already over. He should be just fine.

But then this week, we got a call that a cousin on my mom’s side had a 16 year old son killed in a car accident on his way to school. This has settled like a rock in the pit of my stomach and I just can’t shake it. While we haven’t seen my relatives on my mom’s side in a long time, I am a mother and Facebook does wonders in connecting people. I find myself holding my kids a little longer, crying a whole lot, and telling them how much they’re loved and how big a plan God has for them.

When I got this news on Tuesday, I was home alone with my boys. Brian couldn’t come home and I didn’t expect him to. But, the news really shook me up and I just needed consolation. I don’t know where you turn, but for me, my only thought was, “Where is my Bible?!” Not my new one that’s still being broken in, but my old one – the one that has traveled around the world, been written in, cried on, marked up, and stuffed with every manner of keepsake and note. It just falls open and reminds me of having a conversation with an old friend. I opened it up and just begged God for comfort. He gave me this verse {and isn’t it funny – the verses surrounding it were marked up, but this one was not. God really gives you what you need when you need it}:

I will hide beneath the shadow of Your wings until this violent storm has passed. -Ps. 57:1

How fitting, isn’t it? Just hide. Just sit, rest, and hide under His protection, warmth, and comfort until it’s over.

My parents will arrive in Topeka tomorrow to be around for the funeral and to help my extended family process this tragic, sudden death. I ask that you pray for all of them. No one should ever bury a child. The pain is incomprehensible.

It’s been a tough week. I’ll do a more upbeat blog hopefully next week…

Reflections

I don’t usually wax eloquent on our family blog – I try to keep it to our family and ministry happenings. But, I’ve been very contemplative this Christmas season and thought I’d just take a couple minutes to share some thoughts that, for once, are not just a typical update.

I’ve been a Christian a long time. I’ve also taught children a long time. During these years, there are a few Bible stories one tends to teach frequently: Christmas and Easter. It can get easy to find these repetitive and begin to think that you know the whole thing, there’s nothing new there. But, the Word of God is “living and active,” so I decided a few years ago to ask God to teach me something new from these stories – something I’d either never thought about or a fact I never knew previously. He never disappoints! Something new always crops up.

This year, it began with a simple phrase:

…And Joseph named him Jesus.  -Matthew 1:25b

A general theme this Christmas season in church, in our kid’s program, and in my personal life was about doing hard things and trusting God to accomplish the outcome. This was summed up in that verse about Joseph.

Let me back up:

God asked Mary to do something exceptionally difficult: to “not be afraid” and to, essentially, be God’s mom. She was a young girl, Jewish and engaged, who was told she was going to get pregnant outside of wedlock. The ramifications of this one statement were enormous. In Jewish culture, at the very least, she was going to be ostracized. At the most extreme, they could have chosen to stone her. More than likely, she was going to end up divorced from Joseph, ostracized, and unable to remarry. This was a big proposition for a young girl of probably 14. And yet, she didn’t ask anymore questions of the angel beyond, “How is this going to happen since I’m a virgin?” After that, we only hear her glorifying God for giving her the immense privilege of being the mother of the Son of God.

God asked her to do something extremely hard – and she said ‘yes.’

Joseph was such a good man. He must have loved Mary very much. He had every right, in their culture and faith, to make a public example of her. Legally, they were married and just waiting for him to complete their home and make it official. To end their betrothal, they needed a divorce. He could have done this quite publicly – made her an example, humiliated her, and made it impossible for her to hold a job or remarry. Instead, his desire was to simply divorce her privately. No big scene, no one had to know the circumstances (although a pregnancy would’ve been made public at some point!). This would have allowed him to remarry eventually if he so chose. By Moses’ law, this was completely permissible and probably the most respectable solution.

Instead, as we know, God told Joseph to “not be afraid” and take Mary as his wife anyway. Not only did Joseph take her as his wife, he stayed pure until the baby was born, AND – Joseph named him Jesus.

We all know step parents. We know really good step-parents and we know not-so-great step-parents. The really good ones are usually the ones who take the step-children in as their own. They give them their last name, the kids call them “mom” and “dad” and there is mutual love and respect. One would have no idea they were “step-children” unless they were told. The family merges seamlessly. This is how I picture Joseph. He didn’t just marry Mary. He didn’t just stick by her while she raised this child. She was not the sole parent. Joseph took the responsibility of raising Jesus as his own and it began with giving Him His name. He took ownership of this child that was not his own.

God asked Joseph to do something extremely hard – and Joseph said ‘yes.’

While God won’t be asking any of us to be parents to His Son again any time soon, I do believe He asks us to do hard things. Immediately, when I think of “hard things”, I think of missionaries. You know the ones I’m thinking of: out in a tribe, learning an unwritten language, with people who have never had an outside influence before, forging through the jungle, and building a home out of mud. That, to me, is hard!

But, God hasn’t asked me to do that. Am I unworthy? Or is He simply asking me to do something else, equally as hard in its own right? 

You may not be asked to leave it all and live in the jungle, either. But, you might be asked to love your impossible-to-deal-with neighbor. To witness to someone who is a staunch atheist. To love a family member who is completely unlovable. To raise a difficult child. To work in a less-than-convenient work environment with little pay and less recognition. To stay in a marriage that feels like it’s crumbling under your feet. To move your family to a new country or State because God has called you to a new ministry or job. To leave your job and be a stay-at-home mom even if it means less income.

Or something else entirely.

And you know what? It’s HARD.

God may have called us to ministry and we may have a very clear understanding, desire, and love for that call, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fight, cry at night, get frustrated, or want to give up sometimes. With great joy also comes great heartache. Doing what God asks brings immense contentment and eternal rewards, but it also brings sacrifice. That doesn’t make it bad, nor does it mean you’ve “missed your calling.”

Joseph and Mary were specifically chosen by God to do extremely hard things. We look up to them and every little girl wants to play Mary in the church Christmas program. But, we tend to look beyond what is not written in our Bibles: the scorn, shame, and incredibly difficult time they must have had raising this “illegitimate” child. Think about it: gave birth in a barn (away from home and Mom!), fled for their lives to Egypt in the middle of the night with a toddler, lived in a foreign country for a few years (and who knows how much contact they had with family at that time – did Mary’s mom even know if they alive, or ever coming home again?), and returned home to a small town to raise a child no one had seen yet (and we all know how small towns talk!). And this was just His childhood!

So, what has God asked you to do in 2017 that’s hard? Every year comes with it certain challenges, most of which we will never foresee coming. Yet, when they’re from God they are always prefaced with, “Do not be afraid!”

At least for me, I always enter a new year with excitement and a little bit of fear and trepidation. I know what God has asked of me in the past, so I’m always just a bit curious what He’s going to ask of me this year! This year, though, I’m going to keep in mind what I learned this Christmas season: Do not be afraid if God asks me to do hard things and answer His call with an obedient ‘yes.’

I don’t know what 2017 holds in store for you, either, but I hope this encouraged you to do the same. Don’t be afraid; God’s got this all under control.

Happy New Year!

Well, that slipped by quick…

I am not really sure where this month went! I seriously blinked and POOF – Christmas!

Our Thanksgiving break was spent fighting the stomach bug. Everyone got hit, but E definitely got it the worst. Yuck. I feel like we lost that entire week, from Thanksgiving Day until the following weekend.

December came roaring in with the annual Living Christmas Village, snow, rain, school Christmas program, school delays and cancelations, lots of snowmen with little baby carrot noses on the porch, and only a couple casualties due to sledding and icy snowballs. Now, the snow has all but disappeared, much to the chagrin of two happy little snow bunnies who are busy praying for a white Christmas.

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The Living Christmas Village did not disappoint. Brian and I both worked it Saturday while the kids enjoyed a sitter. Sunday evening, I took them through. Two hours later, we finally headed home! About 1900 came through this year.

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Two of the kiddos in front of the well in “old Bethlehem” (the kids’ area). I was able to save the well and an awesome Bible-times boat which has helped transform the kids’ area into a more Bible-times setting.

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This one only wanted Grandma and food.

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This one had a beautiful Christmas concert last week. She’s such a wonderful little singer and it was adorable watching her little brothers watch her on stage!

Brian’s big project the last couple of weeks has been the BCM World. It took a bit of time to put together and then was put on pause for another project right towards the end, but it was emailed out today! Here’s the link. Brian did a fabulous job (especially with the cover!). I enjoyed writing about Cameroon. Each ministry I get to write about tugs at my heart a bit more!

This week consists of the big Christmas party at church for our Wednesday night group. Brian’s fixing some pretty major problems on the MRF office computer. Brian’s running sound for the Christmas Eve service so he has a rehearsal on Thursday. Friday is E’s Christmas party at school which I will be joining her at and doing some baking for. Then, of course, Christmas festivities and family and friends coming home! Next week, Brian has the unique privilege of making one last trip to D.C. while my uncle is still in Congress (he’s retiring this year) and going up into the dome of the Capital building with my sister, bro-in-law, and father. Wish I could join him, but somebody has to be responsible and take care of our 3 kids! 😉

2016 has been a good, full year. We look forward with anticipation and excitement to 2017! We are so grateful to all of you who follow our journey by means of this blog or in person or emails and letters!

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We wish you all the happiest of Christmases! 

“You shall call His name ‘Jesus’ for He shall save His people from their sins.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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…because ‘picture perfect’ is so cliche…

Top 10 things we’re thankful for in 2016 (in no particular order):

  1. E being able to attend, for the 2nd year, a wonderful Christian school.
  2. A new van since the old one was progressively less reliable!
  3. Trip to South Dakota to visit family & friends.
  4. New Supporters!!
  5. Being almost out of the red in our support fund!!
  6. Our life at MRF – getting to know fascinating people and helping them out during sometimes difficult transitional times. We’re also thankful for the Board who takes such good care of our family.
  7. Amazing, supportive friends, both here in PA and around the world. We have a truly great support system who are basically in the same stage of life we are and our kids are able to grow up together.
  8. Our church family.
  9. Healthy, funny, happy children.
  10. Being given opportunities within BCM that we never would’ve dreamed possible just a few years ago. We are constantly thrilled with what we are allowed to be a part of, especially as it impacts global missions.

The Lord truly takes care of us. We have never found this to be more true than during the times we have felt the most lacking. This year, our support level dropped substantially for the first time since we began this journey in 2008. However, we have never once lacked for a thing this year, even though our bank account and support fund screamed at us that it should be otherwise! There is zero logical explanation for this. God simply takes care of us. We have seen His love and care for us in ways that would take much more than one simple blog to explain. Not the least of which happened just recently when we opened an unassuming envelope to find a check with a simple note: “Go buy Christmas gifts for your family.” I stood in the kitchen and cried because God knows we do not deserve things like that! “Grateful” barely begins to describe our hearts this year.

So, we thank you – for reading this blog, praying for us (even if it’s just in passing as you skim these notes!), supporting us emotionally or financially, and just being a part of our ministry. We say it every year, but the truth of the matter is, we could not do or be where we are without all of you. It’s truly a team effort.

From our little house in the woods to yours, wherever you may be: Thank you.

And Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thanksgiving Week!

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E’s turkey puppet with thankful feathers

For those of you not on the East coast and maybe not aware – we have had an absolutely gorgeous fall. Idyllic, really. Beautiful colors, not a lot of rain, barely any cold snaps. Yesterday, it was genuinely warm out. We took the kids out to Sweet Frog in the evening to enjoy some fro-yo for the last time this year in warm weather. By the time we finished grocery shopping afterwards, the skies had completely blackened and the wind had kicked up. Brian grilled steaks and was positively freezing when he was done – the sleet had begun. When we went to bed, there was almost 2″ of snow on the ground! This morning – at least 6″! Brian had to hook the plow up to get us out this morning! Crazy. It’s snowed pretty much all day and the wind has HOWLED non-stop. Brrr! Buh-bye, fall. We’ll miss you!

In other news…

We had asked you to pray for BigJ as we needed to find him a dentist asap. He had some dental work done in September and it went fine. We went back a few weeks later to finish up and it did not go well. They didn’t use any sort of numbing agent and he went through the roof. It was horrible to watch. They couldn’t finish the work and there was no way on EARTH I was going to take him back there! The MRF Director suggested a local dentist for a 2nd opinion. They got us in right away, checked him out and even did an x-ray for free. They refused to touch the work since they’re not a pediatric unit. So, we got referred to the next city over, about 25min away, to a really great pediatric office. Unbelievably, this place got us in the same day they called us! Last Monday, I took him in expecting just a consultation and left with the work completely done and a super happy little boy in the back seat! So thankful for laughing gas and an amazing pediatric dentist that, miraculously, also takes our insurance!

We had some great times in the kid’s ministries in November.

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There was a puppet skill nite, which was a lot of fun!

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Last Sunday after church, we took 20 kids (10 families) to the local State Police (2min from church) to drop off 20 ‘survival kits’ they had put together with candy and a booklet.

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This past Wednesday, we had our first ever Christmas Shopping Nite. We always have a Store where the kids spend points they’ve earned. This time, we asked the church family for specific donations for family members so the kids could ‘shop’ for Christmas presents for their families. Wow – HUGE success! It was a blast! They shopped, had the gifts wrapped, made cards, ate Christmas cookies, and watched Christmas movies. So. Much. Fun. E has a big bag of gifts stuffed in our closet waiting for Christmas Day. Best statement of the night was from Paul, the leader seated in the picture: “Okay boys, we don’t just wrap. We present.” Such a good night.

Our church is now preparing for our annual Living Christmas Village which is Dec. 3-4 (Click Here to see what it was like last year). Brian will run sound and I will be helping with seating people and moving them through the tour. Last year, we had over 2000; we’re praying we get just as many, if not more, this year. I had a part in editing the drama and I think it’s going to be good!

MRF has its annual Christmas dinner on Dec. 1. This year, since we have 18 kids living here, I’m going to do some special stuff with the kids. We always look forward to the dinner; it’s just a nice get-together with everyone.

Brian had taken an old, rotten porch off the back of one of our oldest houses and discovered the siding underneath was rotten as well. He was hoping to get that siding done before the snow flew. We weren’t expecting quite so much this weekend, so that is now put on hold! That home is the only one with no residents at the moment, so it’s not a problem for now. Brian will be working on miscellaneous projects during the winter, while his back heals and the homes are full.

The BCM Christmas giving catalogue is almost completed! And the next edition of BCM World is in the works! Essentially that just means that we’re never bored. 😉

Kids are great, though coughing like everyone else right now. E is looking forward to a longer break from school. They’re all looking forward to seeing their aunt and uncle from Vermont this week!

Finishing Fall

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Unfortunately the leaves don’t look like this anymore! They are mostly gone with just a few stubborn trees hanging on still. It’s beginning to look more dreary. It’s already flurried once and it’s COLD when we ship our daughter off to school in the mornings! However, I say that, and yet today it’s supposed to be around 70* again! We can’t complain too loud!

Brian has seen the doctor about his back and was told it’s a herniated disc and just to take it easy and not lift things over 20lbs. He’s been doing more work and has noticed that lifting is not nearly as painful as before. He’s looking into some other ideas to help his back heal more fully. It’s been such a slow process; he still struggles with not getting discouraged. Getting back to work has made him feel more like himself again, though, so that’s good! We also are SO THANKFUL for all of YOU who blessed him with sweet cards over the last few weeks after I sent out the plea via email (if you’re not on our newsletter list, you missed that one! Sign up today!). It really did encourage him – thank you for taking the time to write those!!

Only one home will be mostly vacant this winter. Every other home on the property will have residents throughout the rest of 2016 and most of 2017. We’re really enjoying getting to know everyone on the property these days. Really unique families with unique backgrounds and ministries.

Brian is hoping to finish siding at least one more side of the main house before the snow flies. He finished winterizing the pavilion, including digging (very slowly, on his knees) a trench to help drainage around it. I’m not sure what all his plans are for the next few months since the homes will be full.

With BCM, he finished designing the 2017 calendar (and it looks awesome!). Right now we’re working on a Christmas catalog and I have two articles on my plate for December’s BCM World. This Friday is the annual BCM Banquet in Lancaster which we won’t be able to attend this year. However, if you’re in Lancaster and would like to go – please do! It’s a great opportunity to hear in person what God is doing through BCM around the world.

Church has been going very well. We’re running just about 30 kids both Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings in our main programs, along with 20 kids in the younger classes and 10-15 in the nurseries! We packed 10 shoeboxes together on Wednesday night for Operation Christmas Child. In two weeks, the Sunday morning kids will take “law enforcement survival kits” to the local State Police Department. They’ve been contributing candy and we’ll put them into little bags with a cute note and a booklet (“How Good is Good Enough?”) and a business card with the church info on it and hand deliver them to the officers after church. My goal is to have one service project in both the fall and spring semesters for the Sunday and Wednesday kids and so far, so good!

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Kids are doing well! They were sick with nasty colds for awhile, but nothing too drastic or abnormal. E just went on a field trip with the 1st & 2nd grades to the Crayola Factory and Brian got to go with her! I think it’s pretty awesome that her dad was able to take time out to go with her and they had a great time.

You can be praying with us that we can find a good pediatric dentist for Big J. He needs dental work and we had a very traumatic experience last Friday in the process. I need to find him a pediatric dentist right away. Poor kid; dentists are not going to be his friend anymore than they were mine I think.

A formal newsletter will be going out soon! If you’re not on our list, drop us a note and we’ll add you.

Unexpected Blessings

We knew back in August that E’s Christian school (the elementary school part of it) were taking on MRF as their offering project this year. I had volunteered to come in and share about MRF’s ministry in person so the kids could understand where their offering was going, but I had no idea when that presentation would be. I got the call Monday that they wanted me on Wednesday! A last minute change meant I could come in and speak to the elementary kids! The only caveat: I had 35 minutes and the last few presentations we’ve done, we’ve had no more than 10! So, I did some quick rearranging, adjusting, adding, and practicing between Monday evening and Tuesday and finally felt prepared by Wednesday morning. Chapel went very well – it was K4-Grade 6, so quite a large group with varied ages, but it was so fun. They were attentive and the feedback from the teachers was that it really helped with understanding the ministry out here. Mission Accomplished.

This week was kind of an unofficial relaunch of our MRF Facebook page. It took a hiatus for a while for a number of reasons, but I am starting to keep it much more current now. If you are on Facebook, please Like our page! Search “Missionary Retreat Fellowship”

Brian’s back is not getting any better. Though not particularly getting worse, he is not seeing great improvement either. So, he was floored when he found out the Board had decided to put together a work crew to do the one roof that really needed new shingles before winter! Today is that work day and they’ve been here since 8. One board member even came last night and began the work since he knew he couldn’t be here all day. Brian is the official runner, nail fetcher, etc. It’s torture for him, but he knows he has to take it easy. We’re just so thankful for these guys that are giving their time to get this roof done! It was in pretty rough shape and the family living there is very grateful.

Brian will see a doctor on Monday and figure out a game plan for his back. Please continue to pray for him as the pain can get pretty intense.

I leave you with a picture of our {drained!} lake at the bottom of the MRF road – fall is gorgeous in NEPA!

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