From Survive To Thrive: The Art of Intentionality (31/40)

Years ago in between pregnancies when I was attempting to regain my physical stamina, I put up a picture in front of my treadmill that I could focus on for inspiration. It was a picture of me from my bachelorette party climbing a rock wall at Dick’s Sporting Goods. It was a day I remember well (and a weight I remember well, too). It was a dare, you know, from the ladies in attendance, to see if I could actually climb. I had never done it before, and I didn’t make it all the way to the top. I climbed higher than I expected to, however, and that was enough for me—that day, anyway.

35247739_10213835458455019_5928999900254568448_nYesterday I pulled out that same picture and set it beside my treadmill yet again. Not just for inspiration this time, but as a determined purpose. I’m going to climb that wall all the way to the top if it’s the last thing I do! I also posted a picture of me in my wedding dress in my direct eyeline in front of my treadmill to focus in on my goal to reach my wedding weight by my fortieth birthday. And I’m pulling out all the stops to get there. With my family, my dietician and my personal trainer all behind me, it’s a purpose I take seriously and a goal I will surely accomplish, along with the all-elusive half-marathon. Yesterday I also ran a mile and a half for the first time in almost four years. Up until then, I had just been doing walk-run 2-minute intervals. Once, I had tried 4-minutes intervals, but that led to serious hip pain. So to run more than a mile without pain was monumental, and one step closer to my goal. Tonight I trained with my personal trainer again as well as ran a mile.

This past weekend I attended a Gospel Coaching training for the first time. We learned a specific method of coaching others who are intentional about achieving their goals, whether they be relational, personal, missional or spiritual goals. While I identified twelve possible areas of growth for myself, I narrowed down one specific missional goal inspired by my personal physical fitness goals as described above. That goal is to provide my children with nutritional and spiritual foundations by way of at least one healthy meal per day focused on meeting their physical needs while incorporating Christ-centered family fellowship and devotional time (where the whole family is present).

Having these expressed goals could easily lead to me being the hero of my own story. I could muscle through each day attempting to reach all of these goals and probably making decent headway. But what God has impressed upon me this week is that He needs to be the hero here, not me.

O Lord, I know that the path of [life of] a man is not in himself; it is not within [the limited ability of] man [even one at his best] to choose and direct his steps [in life]. (Jeremiah 10:23 AMP)

I turned my life over to God some time ago, and my steps are no longer meant to be determined by me. Depending on myself is called “survival.” The Lord wants to bring me higher to a point of thriving, where I don’t struggle to achieve but rest in His power. He sees my desire to be intentional about my life now, rather than muddling through it. And I believe He will honor that intentionality by providing the strength I need to reach these goals because He has helped me identify them and because I believe they are pleasing to Him. I am going to choose Life because He is my Life:

…You shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding closely to Him; for He is your life [your good life, your abundant life, your fulfillment] and the length of your days… (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 AMP)

By God’s hand, my determined purpose is not just to choose life for myself but for my descendants also through love for and obedience of the One who is Life itself. Together we will intentionally hold closely to Him to find the fulfillment of His ordained will.


The Day My Husband Didn’t Die, Part 2 (30/40)

Almost exactly five years ago, I wrote a blog post whose title I’d never forget. “The Day My Husband Didn’t Die.” I can still remember exactly where I was, how I felt, what I was doing just before I wrote it. And how the Fear had gripped me. The Fear that my husband would die any day. Thank God, today is not that day. As far as I know, he’s safe and healthy in his hotel room on a business trip, but of course, that could change without my knowledge…until it’s too late.

That old blog post came to mind as this past week transpired. An 18-year-old boy in our church was killed in a diving accident. A 48-year-old mother of two at my mother’s church died suddenly of an asthma attack. These events sent both our church families reeling in grief at their untimely losses. I didn’t know the boy at our church, but I grieved tremendously for his parents and sister who had babysat for us many times. His senseless death whipped me right back into the face of Fear—That Fear that I’d be a widow before I could blink or that one of my own children would meet Jesus before I do.  That Fear that everything could be taken away at any given moment.

The lies of the Enemy were resurfacing. Could I trust a God who cuts lives so short? Should I allow that fear to dictate my actions? Strangely, it doesn’t make me a bit more concerned about my own mortality, no. I, for one, can’t wait to meet Jesus. I have no uncertainty about where I’m going when my day arrives and the joy that awaits me in His presence. But oh, the pain for anyone “left behind” to grieve. That is why the Fear cuts so deeply. I don’t want to be among those left behind, most especially by my family members. How would I go on? How could I face another day?

At our wedding we sang “Blessed Be Your Name,” which says “God, You give and take away; my heart will choose to say, ‘Blessed By Your Name.’” I chose that song because I knew one day He would take away something I would not be willing to let go. And yet, my heart must go on, must trust in, must rely on, must depend on…His Truth:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills [of Jerusalem]—From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2 AMP)

“…Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].” (1 Peter 5:7 AMP)

“Do not fear [anything], for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].” (Isaiah 41:10 AMP)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV)

“Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]” (John 14:27 AMP)

“I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!” (Hebrews 13:5 AMP)

Death of a loved one may cause us to gasp for breath through tears birthed in disbelief, determined anger, disillusioned vulnerability and the reality of a definitive end. But it is only the end of what we can see. It is also the beginning of what we cannot see. My friend and her husband who lost their teenage son raised him to believe that the soul is alive for eternity and that God created us to spend that eternity with Him in heaven by way of faith in Jesus Christ. So we do not grieve like those who do not share this hope. We rejoice knowing their son has joined in with all the heavenly witnesses in worship of and communion with Jesus.

And so we hold our loved ones all the more closely, comprehending death with earth’s finality while opening our hearts to the heavenly delight that we all long for. We may be confused by God’s timing or how our broken hearts are part of his plan. But God in His sovereignty is the same God He was the Day my husband didn’t die—the one who works all things together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose.

At War or At Peace? That is the Question. (29/40)

As a chronic sufferer of anxiety and depression, I am keenly aware of the delicate balance, or imbalance, that can arise within the human psyche. It’s not difficult to understand how each day we are swayed by our circumstances and our emotions to either fall flat into frump or rise up to rejoice. Often, it’s a daily battle happening within us when, with others like me, we are more likely to lose the overwhelming war. It comes down to whether we choose to let this battle, this war, umbrella our lives in sadness, chaos, and confusion, or we choose to delight in the day no matter what our circumstances might be. We are, after all, commanded to rejoice and be glad in it.

I, for one, am weary of repetitive fight where my real enemy is, truly, myself. Why should I spend my time being unhappy about my progress in life, when I could be enjoying how far I have come? Besides, I am not alone on this side of the trenches. I have a Warrior who stands with me, a Benefactor who emblazons the battlefront to motivate day-to-day maneuvers resulting in His own glory. The changes that occur within me only exemplify His power and magnificence all the more, just as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (MSG)

The light in my face is mounting as He makes me more beautiful than yesterday. It’s His work, not mine. His battle, not mine. His glory, not mine. That makes the choice between War or Peace pretty simple and straight forward. Without any obstacles in my way, I can choose His Peace.

Today I saw my dietician who is helping me navigate the road of nutrition with more grace than I could do alone. She was happy with my progress over the last four weeks since I saw her last, but at first, I was not. I have this nagging voice inside that says, Do more, Be more, More, More, More. Yes, I think I could step up my game a notch. But no, it doesn’t have to be a full-frontal, emotion-based attack to be effective. While I can make choices that will encourage my goal, I can also rest in the promises of God, such as Philippians 1:6:

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. (MSG)

I’ve got every resource in God’s arsenal, including all of His angel armies, to accomplish the task at hand and come to a “flourishing finish”! Not just a gasping-for-breath kind of finish. No, no. A flourishing one! While I might have a short-term goal of reaching my ideal weight, God’s got a bigger picture in mind. He means to see me racing across the finish line full of life and breath and beaming with His glory from within!

I remember when I crossed the finish line of my first 10-mile race in 2014. It felt like one of the biggest accomplishments of my adult life—to press on through sweat and tears of training and then complete the race itself, to see my family standing there cheering me on till the end! What a feeling! It felt like anything was possible! So I know there’s a half and a full marathon in my future someday because that’s the kind of victory that happens when God’s promises are “YES!” and “AMEN!

A New Creation (28/40)

We don’t often get things right on the first try, do we? That’s why a second chance is always welcome. A fresh start is never an opportunity to pass up. We all need them every now and then to put us on new pathways that can lead to success. The question that remains is what we will do with that fresh start that’s different.

Today’s date, 5/17, always makes me think of 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]. (AMP)

What a beautiful notion it is to be reborn—the past gone and only new things to come! Believing in Christ gives us this monumental chance to turn our backs on the old ways of doing things, to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us new ways that bring new life, a more abundant life than we can possibly imagine!

Today this is especially significant in my own life, as I had my first official personal training session at my local gym. With 19 weeks and counting until my 40th birthday, I’m taking my fresh start and running with it, literally and figuratively. I’ve had several “starts” over the years, most notably after the birth of each of my three children. This time is going to be different. For starters, no more babies will be coming out of this body! That ship has sailed. In addition, I’m working with a personal trainer and a dietician (both of which I’ve never partnered with before) to ensure that I will not only reach my wedding weight by my birthday but that I’ll also hit my overall goal weight in about nine months.

That being said, none of what I’m about to endure will be easy. I fully expect to wake up with extremely sore muscles for the next two days thanks to my trainer, Kile, who has taken on the ever daunting task of coaching me. But as my pastor once said regarding us becoming full-time missionaries, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

This afternoon I read the story of “The Hungry Caterpillar” to my two-year-old son. The caterpillar is born with a hunger that is not easily assuaged, so he eats through an enormous number of foods until finally he is left with a stomachache. Then finally, he builds himself a “house,” where he remains for two weeks and comes out a beautiful butterfly.

I wish I could just lie around for two weeks and suddenly arrive at my goal weight. Alas, I believe my journey will look more like the “stomachache” part of the caterpillar’s tale. I certainly have enough hunger to see me rise to the occasion. The transition is bound to be a hard one but assuredly one that’s worthwhile, not just for my own health but for the benefit of my family as well. Besides, second chances don’t just come around every corner, so when one comes along, you can bet I’m going to take it.

When It’s Time (27/40)

Do you have a dream? From the time we’re children, most of us have dreams of the future—what we will do as a profession, who we will marry, how many children we’ll have of our own—things of that nature. Then, there are those “other” dreams, the ones we may have talked about as young adults, the ambitious ones that sound like we’re ready to take on the world. As the years start passing by, we talk about those dreams less and less until one day, we have let them doze off into La La Land. And we leave them there.

I’ve had a few of those dreams, the ones I don’t talk about anymore, the ones that may just sleep…indefinitely. Now, as if out of the blue, I’m about to turn forty (and I spell out the word instead of typing the number just to keep it at bay a little while longer). I’m starting to wonder about those dreams again; are they ready to awaken? Or am I too afraid to startle their slumber for fear of failure?

One of the dreams I put to bed was a Master of Divinity degree from a theological school in Boston. I was accepted into the program and took a few courses but was unable to continue due to finances. As a busy mom of three young children, I don’t think now is its time to be woken. But there is another dream lurking in nightly shadows that has been whispering to me in my dreams. It may not come as a surprise to many, given my blogging over the last five years. But yes, I want to write a book.

I am enormously proud of my aunt, Lisa Romeo, who has just published her first book as of May 1st, entitled Starting with Goodbye, about her relationship with my grandfather after his death. Observing part of her journey with publishing over the years, I have often been inspired not to give up on this little dream of mine and that perhaps, after all, this blog might prove useful along those lines.

Today I came across Habakkuk 2:3, which says:

For the vision is yet for the appointed [future] time
It hurries toward the goal [of fulfillment]; it will not fail.
Even though it delays, wait [patiently] for it,
Because it will certainly come; it will not delay. (AMP)

There was a specific vision, one I’ve written about before, of a book to come forth at a future time, but there certainly hasn’t been any hurry on my part. But Time has been a category of captivation as of late, as I start to see mid-life approach at an ever-increasing rate. The Word says we are not promised tomorrow; today is all we have been given. I have waited patiently for this vision, but I believe God has shown me the space this book is to occupy in my present to give life to the vision in the future.

In the last few weeks, I wrote about my idolatry of Time—where my time was “My Time”—an idea that needs to tumble until Christ becomes the Keeper instead. For at least a year or two, I have become dependent on afternoon naps, coveting “my” two hours of hopefully uninterrupted rest while my son napped as well. In many ways I felt that I couldn’t make it through a whole day without that down time. But for the last few months, I’ve felt a certain energy return to my body (no doubt corresponding to the weight I have been losing), giving me enough stamina to make use of that nap time to accomplish various tasks instead of sleeping. Blogging being one of those tasks, I have used my time to awaken my creativity again. And now I find an increasing urge to really unleash that side of myself that has laid dormant for so long. I still walk with trepidation, calling quietly to arouse my creativity from its sleep with the hope that my timing is not off. Alas, only Time will tell what happens between here and…40… Twenty weeks to go!

Rocking My Boat (26/40)

Last week I published a book called The Six Senses of Peru with photos taken on our many trips to Peru along with scripture references pertaining to the various senses (sight, sound, touch, etc.). With this picture I included Matthew 8:27 (AMP): “The men wondered in amazement, saying, ‘What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’”

Well, last week was also a turbulent time emotionally for me, as my husband, Alex, was in Peru for eight days while myself and the kids carried on back home without him. My winds and sea of emotions threatened to cast me overboard a few times, as you can imagine, while dealing with three little ones and all their daily carryings-on. Thankfully, my mom was in town to help us with all physical tasks, but the emotional ones still challenged us all. Alex travels from time to time for work, but now that we have our ministry in Peru, he travels at least four times a year there as well. This was one of those trips.

Each time Alex boards a plane to Lima, Peru, a piece of my heart goes with him. Having lived there in 2007 to 2008, we called it “home” once and now always because our ministry is based there. So naturally, I wish I was with him on each journey, but my calling as a mom is just as important, although my emotions might tell me otherwise. Every single time he leaves the house, my anxiety goes up a notch as I wait for his return. And sometimes those winds cause bigger storms than others. Sometimes the sea is rougher if I let my mind wander at all the things that could go wrong, both here and wherever he is.

Last week, another challenge arose that I was not anticipating. The girls were to go on a Girl Scout day trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Daddy would normally take them, as Mommy has a certain comfort zone that does not involve long, downtown drives or big groups of people. But since Daddy was out of town, it was up to Mommy. Ugh. Luckily, this was one of my devotions last week:

Because you are my God, I don’t have to dread the turbulent weather that threatens to capsize me. When I look to you for help, you calm my nerves, remove my fears, and speak tranquility into each situation I face. There is peace in your presence. (Raindrops from Heaven by Twila Belk, April 25.)

So I prayed, “Lord, I know this is true. Your Word is Sure. So I will ‘stand my ground where hope can be found’” (Lauren Daigle “O Lord”), and onward we went to the aquarium! Right away, He moved to lessen my anxiety by providing another driver for me and my girls. Above and beyond that, the leader who drove us had clearly spent ample time talking to my husband in the past, as she knew a great deal about our ministry and even encouraged me with stories of other missionaries. She was a comfort throughout the day, as she and the other leaders were so encouraging of all the girls and kept their cool in potentially irritating situations. My girls were surprisingly well behaved for the most part. And when the troop sat in the “splash zone” of the dolphin show where I knew we’d get soaked, a quiet inner voice said, “Just roll with it.” And yes, we got soaked. But no, nobody was overly bothered by it, me included.

God did in fact calm my nerves, remove my fears, and speak tranquility into each situation I faced that day. And just long enough for Daddy to come home Sunday morning and meet us at church for our “Missions Sunday,” where we held lunch and other fundraising opportunities for the various short-term missions teams to gain support. If that were not enough, I even was able to go to a Chris Tomlin concert that night to even more so be uplifted in worship on a large scale…just like heaven!

Sometimes God has to rock my boat in order to make me grow, to give me opportunities to depend more fully on him. Honestly, I think that’s why he allows Alex to travel once in a while so that I’m reminded of who my First Husband is, my true Provider and Protector. I need to stand in amazement at how firmly His hand calms the stormy seas of my life. Each experience builds on the next so that my trust in Jesus matures.

I’m proud to share the book inspired by our ministry experiences in Peru because they have built my faith so much in the Savior who leaves the ninety-nine for each one that is lost and needs to come home. Every soul matters to Him, from the richest to the poorest in places like Paraiso (“Paradise”) in San Juan de Lurigancho of Lima, Peru. The furthest thing from paradise, Paraiso is where you will find believers and nonbelievers alike sharing shacks and hillside water buckets and maybe a few hours of electricity each day. No matter how much or how little they have, they are grateful for a God who reaches out to them through our ministry and reminds them that they’re important to the Father too. I’ll let my boat get rocked any day to know that what I do, whether it be in person myself or allowing my husband to travel there, builds their trust in Jesus too.

To order a copy of The Six Senses of Peru, click here. To donate to Amor Real Ministries, click here.

“Enslaved to Our Stuff” Part 2 (25/40)

Last week I wrote about God’s re-question to me, “Am I enslaved to my stuff?” This week I am coming to realize that I’m not. Not enslaved to my stuff, that is, but I am enslaved to something: Time.

This is a very difficult realization for me, but a true one. Time has been a deeply entrenched idol to which I bow every day, and I can feel God tugging at my heart that it’s time to give this one up.

I think it crept into my heart slowly at first, unnoticed, even undetectable until it became an enormous monument representing all my selfishness and seemingly righteous anger. Today my Bible study group reviewed the chapter entitled “The Clock” in David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace. And as I sit here now pondering our discussion, it is so abundantly clear that I have tried to grasp my time by the neck, strangling it to the point where I have dominated it, controlled it, and subdued it according to my every whim—only to find that Time has really been controlling me.

This past Sunday, I came across a quote from Tim Keller that seemed to sum up my problem:

When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains.

My time is “my time.” Everything is, after all, about Me. Ahem. You can frequently find me actually counting the seconds till I can put aside any and all responsibilities so that I can have time to myself. I want to choose how I spend my time, even sometimes at the expense of others. If I want to spend time with someone and don’t get it, I’m upset. If I don’t want to spend time with someone but have to, I’m perturbed. If any certain activity or responsibility takes too long, I’m bothered. Do we see a pattern here?

What I must confess, if not entirely obvious, is that I want to be in charge. I really don’t want even my husband or kids to have a say in how my time is spent. I’ll act like it’s my choice to wait at the bus stop or in school carline because, of course, I get a few minutes to myself while I wait. Yes, I’ll put the kids to bed each night, so long as they’re down by 8:00 p.m. so that the rest of the evening is mine. And if Alex isn’t ready to spend time with me when I’m ready for him, it isn’t a pretty picture.

But my idolatry of time goes outside of our family too. I schedule plans and activities on a limited basis. And I tend to be very protective of the time I have left. Unfortunately, I realize that I’m not very flexible with the remnants of my days. While I do use some time serving others when it comes to our ministry in Peru, you might not find me focusing much time on other immediate service opportunities. David Mathis puts it this way:

“Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works,” [Paul] writes, “so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). Fruitfulness (productivity) means meeting others’ needs with “good works”—expenditures of our time, energy, and money in the service of love—which will be both proactive and reactive. Without scheduling, we will falter at the proactive; without flexibility, we’ll be unavailable for the reactive. (214)

Scheduled or not, my “good works” are few and far between. Perhaps I am being a little hard on myself, being a mother of three little children and Vice President of a foreign ministry. But it all comes down to where my heart is and where it needs to be. I need to let God decide how my time should be spent, to be flexible and not enslaved to Time any longer. It’s time for “my time” to become Christ’s time. For where my heart is, there my treasure will be also.

“Enslaved to Our Stuff” (24/40)

When I hear the phrase “highly blessed,” often my mind goes to the fact that so many of us in the United States are blessed financially and/or by material possessions, at least to some degree. Because of these “blessings,” sometimes we lose sight of other things that are more important. Which begs the question: are we enslaved by our stuff?

Whenever I go on mission trips, I come across people of other cultures who have so little yet have so much joy. In Peru where our ministry is based, it is no different. We meet people who are willing to give out of their poverty to be a blessing to us, because after all, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We come across the poorest of the poor who offer us food out of their little because they are so happy and grateful for the ministry we provide. Are we as grateful for the Lord’s blessings in our lives, such that we give out of our abundance?

For the past eight months, I have been doing a book study with a group of ladies at my church. The book is called “Habits of Grace” by David Mathis. The book takes a look at three basic spiritual principles that often define our faith with the grace of God: listening to His voice, speaking to Him in prayer, and joining together with His people as the church. I highly recommend the book to those who need more discipline in these areas.

This week we discussed chapter 20, “The Dollar,” which reflects on giving as another spiritual principle by which we experience God’s grace. A friend in the study brought up the experience she knew I had had when God called us to move to Peru. God told us to sell almost all the stuff we had so we could move there for an unknown period of time. This was no easy calling, as you can imagine. I didn’t wake up one day and think, “I don’t need all this stuff” and then just give it all away. My heart was very hard, since at first I told God “no way!” Then after three sleepless nights where God woke me up each night to speak to me, my heart began to soften until I realized that this was, indeed, God’s voice and God’s true call on our lives.

The calling to sell all our stuff was a journey that I embarked on reluctantly, but I did submit my heart to Him and understand that just about everything must go. We boxed up a few personal items to put in Alex’s mom’s attic, but other than that, we were to go free from baggage, both spiritual and physical, that might impede our call. I remember my perspective begin to change whenever I entered a store. Just as John the Baptist said of Jesus—“He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30)—so too did our stuff have to become less as our calling became greater. Each time I would come upon something I wanted, I had to remind myself that our job was to do the opposite of what my nature was telling me to do, what the “American Dream” is all about, to find a true freedom from wanting things in order to want God more.

God was merciful to me on that journey. We slowly watched our stuff get sold or given away, only to come down to one yard sale where the rest had to go. But thankfully by God’s grace, I had mono on that day and could not even set foot outside my door, let alone work a yard sale. Alex had to watch it all walk away without my emotional support, but he was certainly strengthened by God to do the job.

Mathis quotes Rebecca DeYoung in his book as saying:

The point is not to live on crusts of bread with bare walls and threadbare clothes. The point is that a fully human life is lived in a way free from being enslaved to our stuff. Our possessions are meant to serve our needs and our humanness, rather than our lives being centered around service to our possessions and our desires for them. (p.208)

It was a hard lesson to learn, but we had to remove all of our “stuff” to get a clear picture of God and His will for our lives at that time. Since we moved back to States from Peru, however, we have again accumulated a great deal of stuff, including a house full of material possessions, along with three kids and all their stuff! While we are obviously in a different stage of life now, I think this week God again is speaking to me about putting Him first above my possessions. While I consciously do not decorate my house in dust-collectors or other fanfare, still we have fallen back into bad habits, following those inner voices that say “I want this” or “I need that.” I have to ask myself again, am I enslaved to my stuff?

All Things Work Together, Part 3 (23/40)

Throughout our first week back, my mind kept rerunning many powerful moments of our trip, easily the best trip of many I’d been on. Part of me daydreamed about what it would look like to move our family there, all the while knowing that was not in God’s immediate plan for us. But what other way could we be more involved with our Peruvian “family”?

A week later Alex mentioned to me something that he and the owner of Pat’s Place had discussed a year ago: the possibility of us taking over Pat’s Place. Fear immediately crept in and said, “Not possible!” But I wasn’t ready to let fear have the last word. Alex texted the owner to be sure the offer still stood…and it did! Such a massive undertaking was going to take some massive prayer. And plenty of wise counsel!

Alex and I began to individually seek the Lord and to discuss the possibility with our spiritual and life advisors. One of my advisors asked me what I would need to have happen before I would know that I know that I know that this was God’s will for us. I replied with four items:

  1. That Alex knew beyond a doubt that this was God’s will for us.
  2. That God would confirm it in my heart in a way that only He could.
  3. That God would give me the name of our new ministry.
  4. That money would come in without us even asking for it.

And one by one, each of those four items came to pass.

Another question our advisors asked us is, “If money weren’t an issue, would you do it?” Alex was at the point where he could say yes in a heartbeat. So that helped to answer #1. But Alex had been ready for a full year already. He knew that it was God’s will for us as a family, but I still needed the Lord to confirm it in my spirit.

One day I was looking at pictures of the Hope House renovations. It happened to be in the middle of me reading through a Bible study about knowing and doing the will of God. And my eye caught the new Hope House logo created by their new owners. Seeing it in that moment was like seeing the Burning Bush. I realized that Hope House now had champions—defined as “ardent defenders of a person or cause”—and it was time for Pat’s Place to have champions too! That’s the moment that God spoke to my heart and gave me the name for our new ministry. The women and children at Pat’s Place deserve to know what true love is, which is why our verses come from 1 Corinthians 13. So the ministry name is Amor Real, which means “True Love” in Spanish.

From the moment the decision was made in my heart, people began offering to support Pat’s Place financially. And in my spirit, the Lord confirmed at church the next Sunday morning in worship that if He is for us—none can stand against us!

Since then the Lord has been flooding us with vision for Pat’s Place. We are so excited about all God has shared with us and the people He’s brought alongside us to faithfully walk out this calling. I’m so honored that God has called and is equipping us both for the grand tasks ahead. I’ve realized that my dreams have been resting in God’s capable hands from their very inception. Had I but trusted Him throughout the quiet waiting period, I would have seen all my dreams come true at this time. Looking back, I can see God’s hand has been clear, His timing perfect, and His grace sufficient.

“God did not promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, nor sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears and light for the way.” – Author Unknown

God truly has worked all things together for good, even the things we thought perplexing or painful. For all the sorrow, there is now laughter; for all the rain, there is now sun. For all the days ahead, there is now strength; for all the tears, there is now comfort. For the way ahead, there is great light. And we just have to follow and obey, one day at a time.

All Things Work Together, Part 2 (22/40)

After our summer mission trip to Peru in 2006, our calling was clear. We were to move to Peru as missionaries, which we did in September 2007. However, as I wrote last week and detailed in another earlier blog post, our time as full-time missionaries was cut severely short, and we came back to the States at the end of 2008.

Our full-time ministry days were over, but our connection to Peru was one that could not and would not end. Alex remained in contact with the head of NCM and traveled to Peru from time to time on assignment. Finally, he began leading mission trips there again in December 2012, but the door for me to return to Peru was closed until the summer of 2016.

July 20th was no ordinary day. It was the day before Alex and I were leaving for ten days in Peru, and I was running around crazy trying to get everything prepared. Our friends were getting ready to watch our two youngest children while the third was staying with my mother. And in the midst of the chaos, my heart was spinning with emotion.

“Should I stay? They need me!”

“Should I really go? I thought I put Peru behind me.”

After all, it had been eight years and three babies since I had been there. I had buried it so deep in the ground that I was ready to walk away from Peru and missions altogether for a while and make our family our sole focus. Alex was stepping down as Short-Term Missions Director at our church for that reason. I wondered if I should really awaken this issue again. I had every reason not to.

I arrived in Lima that July with a heaviness upon me that dragged my soul so low, you could tell just by looking at me. For two years the darkest wave of depression (unrelated to Peru) had crippled my very core, as event after event made me question whether living was really worth it anymore. And suddenly as I got off the plane, stinging memories flooded my mind. Part of me felt like I was coming home to Peru, while part of me felt like I was returning to the scene of a crime. I desperately longed to see old friends and familiar places in Lima, but I was overwhelmed by my own senses taking in stimuli that echoed of past pain.

As I gathered all our luggage filled with donations, we met a team from The Prayer Room Church from Houston, Texas, at the airport. Together we made our way to Pat’s Place and settled in for the night. Already I couldn’t contain my emotion, and tears repeatedly welled up and were swiftly wiped away before they could be noticed by anyone. For the first few days, I only half-heartedly participated in the group events. I was mostly distracted by those memories I found around every corner, every street, even every room at Pat’s Place. So much had changed; so much had stayed the same. Emotion wanted to explode within me, but I kept pushing it back down, keeping it all at a distance so that my heart couldn’t become attached again.

Halfway through the trip, Alex and I had dinner with the new owners of Hope House (an orphanage for girls that we often worked with), Elmo and Kat Compton (no relation but what a coincidence!), who did not yet know the history of the House. As we shared the history, they began to share their dreams for Hope House. And I found myself crying for joy that God had appointed such an amazing couple to fight for His best for this home. What a blessing for both the girls and the staff of this orphanage!

I had one other reaction to this news that I did not expect. Anger. And jealousy. “God, You are blessing this couple (and their almost five-year-old son) with this awesome opportunity to serve in Peru, but You didn’t bless us (for very long) with the same! Why, God? Why NOT us?”

I was heartbroken all over again. This time I couldn’t keep the anger at bay. This was not a reaction I wanted, as it was a night of joy and triumph for Hope House. But I was honest with God about my anger and confusion, and I let it be.

When we got home that night, the mission team was all gathered on the first floor of Pat’s Place just outside my bedroom. I just wanted to go to bed, or at least be alone, but the team seemed to be flowing in the Holy Spirit, loudly laughing, singing and praying. Before I could escape to my room, team members grabbed me, sat me down, laid hands on me and began to pray for me. I am told that they prayed for me for about an hour and a half. For a good bit of that time, I felt nothing. When someone asked, I said I felt dead inside. This made them roll up their sleeves and pray harder! They prayed for a breakthrough in my own spirit, past all the deadness and pain that I had striven to deny these last eight years. They prayed for healing and Truth to enter in and fill my heart with joy. And they just kept praying, until finally, one team member embraced me, and the praying around me became louder and louder. Suddenly, the floodgates of emotion were open and pouring forth! I let the pain of the apparent death of my dreams pour out of me as I wailed and cried out to God myself. And slowly my mourning changed from darkness and heaviness to joy and light! I began to laugh instead with the kind of joy that only God can give. God was, indeed, healing the brokenhearted.

The most important messages I received from the Lord that night was that God had never left me and that my dreams were not really dead. I wasn’t sure what that all meant just yet. Nevertheless, that night is a night I will never forget. The next morning the Lord woke me up before my alarm clock to spend some time with Him. He reminded my heart of how much I loved Peru and the joy it gave me to serve the people there. The next few days I worshipped and prayed and served with a renewed fervor, a noticeable joy that the whole team could see. I purposefully engaged with our work and nearly every member of our 30- person team. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of hard, dirty work, as well as our times of play, touring the city, sightseeing and shopping on our free day.

Soon enough, it was time to leave again. Now my heart began to wonder if and when I would return. The tears certainly flowed when we said goodbye to Pat’s Place and headed to the airport. Something in me had changed. I no longer wanted to be done with Peru. I wanted so much more. I prayerfully pondered what God had in mind as we flew home.

To be continued…