Legion.

*Just to continue to break up the monotony of regular blog updates, I thought I’d share something I wrote recently. I got to teach the kids this lesson on a recent Wednesday night. There are lots of different applications you can draw from this story; I hope you enjoy my rendition of it.*

legion

A rendition of “Legion” by one of our Wednesday night 5th graders.

The day had been long and tiring. Jesus had taught and healed in the hot sun by the sea shore all day long. The crowd had been immense, forcing Him to balance precariously from a fishing boat while continuing to teach in parables. He was spent.

Night was fast approaching, so Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and push off to the other side. The crowd was not anxious to leave Him; many hopped in their own boats to follow, more out of curiosity than actual need. Jesus was exhausted. He promptly went to the helm and fell fast asleep on a borrowed, fishy-smelling pillow.

Hidden in the inky blackness of the night sky, a storm was brewing over the Sea of Galilee. It swept in from out of nowhere, taking the disciples by surprise. Though many of them were seasoned fishermen, this storm was like nothing they had ever encountered. Bailing felt more like backpedaling; the boat was beginning to sink.

They rushed to their Master and were dismayed to find they had to physically shake Him to wake Him up! But, when He did, He did the incomprehensible: He rebuked the storm. The disciples were taken aback. Not only had the storm completed dissipated at the sound of His voice, He had actually treated it like it was alive – an entity of its own, not just a weather phenom. Who is this Man?

Arriving at the other side of the shore, the shaken and weary disciples trudged through the coast to drag the borrowed boat on to land. Jesus joined them in the shallows. A mundane task in the quiet morning was rudely interrupted by the sound of shrieks coming from the hillside.

They all turned to see what could possibly be making the racket. A man, completely nude, with broken chains hanging around his wrists, unkept hair nearly to his waist, and a scraggly beard, was charging towards them, screaming obscenities – and calling Jesus by name. Now, who was this man?

The man stank; he was covered in bruises, bleeding and scratched on almost every orifice of his dirty body. He was thin, almost famished. While he looked quite aged, the disciples wondered if that was merely from living in a cave or in the sun for an unknown amount of time. His entire being shook, foam slipping from the sides of his mouth, as he slid in front of Jesus, face to the ground. He addressed Jesus by name, but simultaneously refused to look Him in the eye. With his face to the ground, a raspy, otherworldly voice, quaking with palpable hatred, asked, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”

The disciples glanced around at the weary travelers who were still hauling in their boats from the previous night’s excursion across the waves. They couldn’t help but wonder if this was the show they had followed Jesus to see – first a violent storm being stilled for no reason and now a crazy man begging Jesus, Who had so far done nothing except walk ashore, to leave him alone. A show it definitely was; the question was now, how would it end?

Jesus could have asked anything. He asked for the man’s name. A pause. Then the raspy, obnoxiously loud voice answered, “Legion.” In their Roman world, the word ‘legion’ instantly drew mental images of at least 3000 soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, armed to the hilt and ready to fight. A few disciples took unintentional steps backward. A host of demons were in this man; it was unimaginable.

The man’s voice changed then from one, distinct tone to what seemed like hundreds, if not thousands, of different voices speaking simultaneously. The demons were begging Jesus not to destroy them. They knew Who He was and the power He wielded over them. And they were terrified.

The man looked up at the hills and pointed. Everyone swiveled to see what he was pointing at. Only then did the silent onlookers hear – and smell – the thousands of pigs milling about on the hillside above the lake. All of a sudden, their presence, which hadn’t even been noticed yet, was all-consuming. The stench, the grunting, the stamping of little hooves on the ground – it was all everyone could hear aside from the slapping of waves on the untethered boats.

“Send us into the pigs.”

The crowd held their breath. Jesus nodded. With His consent, the man began to shake violently and was flung like a lifeless toy onto the beach. Shrieking was heard and the atmosphere tangibly cooled, as if a north wind had gusted around them.

Then, the pigs began to shriek. Their calm grunting had turned into mass chaos. Thousands of swine could be heard for miles shrieking, stampeding. The quiet morning was shattered as they took off for the cliff. Completely unorganized, the pigs flung themselves off the edge and into the deep waters and rocks below. The onlookers who were still standing in the shallows quickly dashed either into their boats or onto the shore as the red, defiled pig blood began to wash towards them.

Before they all reached the shore and long before the events had fully registered with the astonished disciples, more shouts were heard. A crowd came running from the village having been told by the herdsmen that their entire livelihood was lost. They pushed and shoved their way towards Jesus. They ignored completely the fact that the man who had terrorized their town for years was sitting, in his right mind, clothed and having a sane conversation. They stuck their accusatory fingers in the air and adamantly demanded Jesus leave immediately.

Calmly, the Master rose from the rock He had been seated on and motioned to His followers to begin to push the boats back out to the water. The newly healed man clung to Jesus’ robes and begged Him to come, too! “No,” He responded. “Go home to your friends, and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been.”

As quickly as their morning began, it was now over. The morning sun still sparkled on the lake and stomachs still begged for breakfast as they began to row back across the water to where the journey had began less than 12 hours before.

One man. He did all of that – for one man. If He pursued this man that hard, just imagine how He is pursuing you.

A recap

A week ago Thursday, we awoke to a nasty snow storm. E had a delay (again. She is no longer getting out of school June 2; in fact, her ‘last day’ is now unknown!) and it was a MESS outside. Every flight in our area was either cancelled or delayed. Which messed everything up for my Friday flights to Houston. I was already not looking forward to flying and, by 8am, we knew there was no way I could fly out of Wilkes-Barre – that flight was now landing after my flight to Houston was to have left! Last minute decision found Brian driving the boys and I down to Newark, NJ, for me to catch my Houston flight. On the plus side, it was only one flight and so four hours later, I landed in hot, humid Houston. A far, far cry from freezing cold, snowy PA!

After a run-around trying to just get out of the airport and find my ride, I finally made it back to my friend, Kristen’s, home. I was so grateful that a friend I haven’t seen since she was a young teenager was willing to shuttle me around and give me a place to crash for a few nights!

Saturday morning, she got me to the conference center – a giant mall connected to a beautiful hotel. I turned a corner and basically slammed into a wall of estrogen mingled with perfume! I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many women in one place (744 attended the conference). I registered, got my coffee (praise the Lord), and found a seat along the edge of the large room in order to take it all in. Honestly, I just wanted to be alone. I wasn’t there to make friends; I wanted to learn.

The day was filled with long sessions given by Beth Moore herself, being extremely transparent and honest about her process and how she develops material, from personal quiet times through to publishing. It was the experience of a lifetime to learn from her.

In the afternoon, we had our choice of workshops and I chose the one on publishing – which ended up being taught by one of the publishers for Lifeway. She gave us the world’s fastest 45 minutes of insider info on how to get published. Elusive information I have never been able to learn. Invaluable content. This was worth every cent of that flight!

We wrapped up our day with a panel Q&A getting answers from some of my own personal heroes: Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Christine Caine. OH wow. They could have answered questions for HOURS! They were a pool of knowledge and answered questions I’ve always wondered. Phenomenal.

Oh, and the worship time – surreal.

I left there so encouraged. Encouraged to keep going. Encouraged to do something more. Encouraged that I can, in fact, actually do something more and possibly even succeed! It was the refreshment I needed – as a mom, a wife, a missionary, and a leader at our church. I really didn’t know how badly I needed some time away, alone, until I got it.

My plan now is to run what I have learned past a few of my other mentors and get their take and additional suggestions. I am going to quit waiting for that non-existent time frame when my kids are magically quieter and more easily occupied so I can write in my unaffordable writing nook. I’m going to write. I’m hopefully going to write a lot. And then we’ll see what happens from there.

Thanks for praying me through my trip this weekend. If you want more details, please schedule a coffee with me; I’d love to share (my “brief synopsis” to my mother took an hour and a half, just so you’re forewarned). And thanks for praying for Brian and the kids! Not only were they alive, the dishes and laundry were done and everyone had a great time!

Welcome, Rainy February

Just got home from taking our daughter to school. Yet another 2-hour delay! Freezing rain is such a pain. Now it’s warmed up and just plain raining. Feels more like spring than February! I’m afraid it’s just being deceptive.

Brian is out with a board member purchasing a tractor for MRF! This was approved by the board at their meeting and Brian is ecstatic. A tractor will be so helpful out here in the woods! He’s had to just borrow one the last four years; it’ll be nice to have one that belongs to MRF.

The two empty houses are getting nice makeovers right now. The kitchen in one home had lots of cabinets, but one of them was literally falling off the ceiling. It had always housed an overload of dishes and had finally succumbed to the weight. Brian removed it and then stabilized a few other cabinets since the home is not new and the cabinets have been bowing for awhile.

The other house has had a mice issue for quite awhile, but when you have constant residents for more than two years, it’s hard for Brian to get in and really assess the cause of the mice issue. He finally figured it out. Unfortunately, they had built a nest above the oven, inside the range hood! What a mess! That’s been disgusting to clean out and repair, but he’s basically done now. He’s also replaced a toilet that was obviously installed in the ’70’s!

My job now will be to go in to both houses and rearrange the kitchens and cabinets, as well as remake the beds and fold all the laundry. I’ll also need to finish cleaning once Brian is done with all the repairs.

At church, we are preparing to take the Wednesday night kids to a local nursing home on the 15th. They have made just about 60 sun catchers and will finish them up tomorrow night. We have about 30 kids that we’ll be taking to the home. It’s an endeavor, but we’re really looking forward to it!

Last week, for the first time in a long time, I completely messed up my schedule. I had written down the wrong dates for the Clarks Summit University ministry conference! So, I’m making dinner Tuesday evening and hear my phone beep — it’s an email reminding me to be on the campus by 6pm to set up! oops. The bigger complication was that we had a friend visiting for the week and I had specifically told her last week was better than this week because of the conference! Oh good grief. She ended up coming with me all three days and it was absolutely wonderful having her along! The conference went well and I had a few good conversations with students. I may have messed up, but it still worked out just fine.

Two personal family notes:

  • Brian is in the process of becoming an elder at our church. He was nominated by a church member awhile ago. We prayed (a lot!) about it until he finally accepted the nomination. He was questioned by the existing elder and pastoral team, who unanimously approved of him. This past Sunday, after a fellowship dinner, he was questioned by the church body. It went very well. I was so proud of him because being questioned isn’t, obviously, his most favorite thing to do. But, he answered so well and our church family is so supportive. It ended up being an encouraging time.
  • I leave Friday evening for Beth Moore’s LIT Conference in Houston – a one-day event on Saturday, specifically designed for women who want to use writing, teaching, and speaking as a ministry. Will you pray with me that this trip will be beneficial and that I will use what I learn right away? I know God wants me to do more with my writing and I would love to teach more than just children. I’m praying this conference gets me moving in 2017. I have a wonderfully supportive husband who is fully behind me, too. I got an email this morning from Beth Moore saying that everyone at her office has handwritten all 744 names of the attendees and are praying over them – by name. They prayed every name out loud, then posted all the sticky notes around the building so they could pray for us by name the rest of the week. I am thrilled that I get to be part of this group and I can’t wait to see what God does! Pray for my trip (I hate traveling alone) and for Brian home with the kids (just until Sunday night). My daughter, especially, has a hard time when I’m not home. Thankfully, they have an amazing dad, so I’m not worried.

Still no pictures… I have slacked off this month and will regret it later, I’m sure! You’ll just have to believe me that the houses look great, the kids are still cute, and it’s white and cold outside. Oh wait – here’s one from right now!

img_20170207_105814645-1

How we roll: color wonder markers, squished on the small couch when the big one is completely vacant, talking to Mommy constantly while I try to work. 🙂

A regular update!

Okay, time for something happier!

January is always the month to try to get back into a routine – as I’m sure it is for you, too! We had a great holiday season, but, personally, I crave routine. It’s been nice to get back into the swing of things, even with snow days, delays, illness, and bad news thrown into the mix.

One of the oldest homes on the property is finally vacant for awhile, so Brian has spent all month working in there. It’s a modular and it’s feeling its age! He took out some old cabinets that were bowing and not serving much of a purpose anymore. He took out a giant china hutch that had no use except to collect dust. He is working on fixing the bathroom. Got rid of a family (or three) of mice. The carpets will be professionally cleaned in the next week. There are some other problems that need addressed, but the house should make it for a little while longer now.

Another family left us last week after almost a year’s stay. They were hoping to stay for only about six months, but just could not get the support they needed and ended up staying longer. This is probably the one job where we’re happy to see families leave because it means they finally have the funds to return to the field! The house they were in, though, has not been unoccupied in a couple of years and it has had some major wear and tear during that time. Hopefully over the next few weeks we can do some rearranging, move in some new(er) furniture and a mattress, and make it a little more welcoming.

These two homes alone are keeping Brian plenty busy. Once he gets the big grunge work and the big cleaning all set, then I go in and rearrange, make beds, and finish cleaning up. We’ll be busy for at least another week or two getting these homes ready to go.

On the BCM front, I will be going to Clark Summit University in February for the annual missions conference. I’m not teaching this year, so it’ll be a pretty chill couple of days. I won’t finish the conference because that Friday, I’ll get on the plane and head to Houston by myself. I got into a special one-day-only conference that Beth Moore is hosting for women in their 20’s and 30’s who want to use writing, speaking, or teaching as a ministry. I have a friend in Houston who is helping with housing and transportation and the conference was a whopping $25 entrance fee. I’m not particularly looking forward to the travel time, but I’m excited about the conference and really hopeful that it will be beneficial to future ministry. But, that’s not for another few weeks so I’ve got time!

Church is keeping us steadily busy. We had a cooking skill nite last Wednesday with a whopping 29 kids in attendance (which is really great for us)! In February, we’ll take the kids to a nursing home for a service project. Summer events are already in the planning stages as well as my annual training day which will be in March. Brian is down at the church once a week for a meeting and then he does work around the building.

As for the family – E. showed us again how big her heart is by donating her hair a couple of weeks ago. She had finally grown it to a pretty good length and I sent her with her dad so he could get a haircut and she could get her bangs trimmed (she always talks about wanting to be Rapunzel so I wasn’t going to ask her to get it cut). She came home with a new haircut – all the way to her chin! – and said she’d donated it. We’re so proud of her!

The boys keep themselves quite busy at home. Big J’s favorite thing on earth is going to work with daddy. We are blessed to have the kind of ministries that allow for that so at least once a week, Brian takes him to work with him. And he really does work! He’s hungry and exhausted by the time he gets home, but SO happy that he got to spend the day with daddy.

Little brother is talking up a storm and into absolutely everything. He’s adorable as all get out, but such a big troublemaker! And WOW does he pick on his brother and sister! But, he makes everyone laugh and somehow that makes up for the tornado he leaves in his wake.

Thanks for continuing to pray for my extended family, and for us! I’ll get some pictures up for the next entry. If I can find my camera…

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.

p1090915

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.

p1090887

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.

p1090893

This one only wanted Grandma and food.

p1090934

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!

p1090866

We wish you all the happiest of Christmases! 

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