Another Last…

Warren Group Picture

I am not sure how to write this post.

It seems surreal that we find ourselves in this place.

How did we get here?  Well it was peppered with laughing, first experiences, late nights, ridiculous SnapChat videos, frustrating pictures turned videos…disagreements, frustrations, clash of culture, American experiences, traveling, broadening of horizons, eyes open to the mercy and grace of God.  It was full of trips to Wal-Mart to buy yet again, another cup with a straw and pit stop to Starbucks on the way home.  One can’t forget the rushed morning routine, getting to school with 1 minute to spare and hoping that the side door would still be open! Donut Palace.  Trinity Youth Group.  It sounded like the beep of a blue-tooth alarm clock connecting to an iPhone.  It’s the sound of an alarm sounding on a Saturday morning after she stayed the night with a friend. Music.  A beautiful transition from pop music to contemporary Christian.  Homecoming with friends.  It tastes like fried eggs and pancakes.  It’s laced with failed attempts to make Belgian waffles.  Trips to Waffle House instead.  Running around the neighborhood, trips to Snap Fitness.  Factory Connection, JCPenny’s, Rue21, Forever 21.  Prom with a new-found love.  Cheeseburgers.  Loud music with the windows down.  World Outreach Church.  Sonic Facebook friends discount.  Chocolate shakes.  Shooting stars.  Eyes and heart opened to the mysteries of God.  Insecurity turned confidence.  An entire blog post could be made with such descriptions.

July 11th, 2015 my husband and I went to Outback Steak House to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary.  While there, we discussed the possibilities of welcoming an exchange student into our home for the 2015/2016 school year.  Life-changing.  Memorable.  Gosh those seem like such cliche words to use but it’s absolutely the truth.  We knew that we would be exposed to a different thought perspective.  We knew that we would see the world through different glasses.  We knew we’d help her do the same.  What we weren’t prepared for was for our hearts to be knit together as tightly as they have been.  We weren’t prepared for the end of the line…the list of “lasts” that we would experience and the small tears in the stitches of our heart that would happen as a result.  I was just telling her last night that our agency is really good about telling you about all the GREAT things that will happen but a description of how incredibly excruciating it would be to transition from having a daughter to being without one.  How hard the last month would be.   All of these “lasts.”  We weren’t prepared for the moment when we would be face to face with the realization that in 2 Tuesdays or 2 church services or 1 month down the road of life….it would no longer involve all 6 of us, but only 5 of us.  Part of our heart would be getting on a jet plane to go back to her home country.  The unknown span of time was quickly approaching between our, “See you later,” and “It’s SOOO good to see you again!”  The intense prayers scribbled in my prayer journal that she will stay close to Christ and lean on Him when she is faced with the Babylonian mindset and that she takes tools out of her Survival Kit when she needs them.   This past Wednesday evening, we realized it would be the last dinner at church that she would be here for.  Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and a cheesecake layered desert.  Next to dropping her off at the airport, today was one of the most final things that could happen in a homestay experience.  The last day of school.

The morning went like most others.  Wake up, make breakfast, make lunch, wait for her to get done getting beautiful (even though she could totally get out of bed and take one of those “I woke up like this!” pictures), load up in the car, squeal tires to get to the drop of line by 7:54 so she could get in the door and to the gym by 7:55.  What wasn’t the same was the fact that as I turned the last left turn to head to the school, I realized that it would be the last time we would be doing that.  The last time to rush around.  The last time to say, “Have a good day, Belgian!  Make your brain big!”  The last time to watch her walking up the sidewalk.  The last time to plan my day to get everything done before leaving the house to pick her up at 2:30….wait…I didn’t even have to do THAT today because she was going home with a friend.  Yesterday she went home with Derek….that means…Wednesday was the last day for that, too.  The whole way home I was in a fog.  Could this really be coming to an end?  Is this really it?  See, in my mind, when we started, the end would never come.  That was something that would happen WAAAAaaay in the future…as in…never.  Yet, reality set in today.  The end is nigh. The end is in 11 days.  Wow…

Here’s the crazy part.  As much as I am hurting and so sad that this is coming to an end, I realize that there’s two (sometimes three) sides to every story.  I realize my pain is someone else’s joy.  Partially Audrey’s but whole-heartedly her family’s!  They have been waiting 10 months to hold their daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter in their arms.  To hold her close. To hear about her day.  To share life with her.  My selfishness of not wanting to give her back was someone else’s generosity 10 months ago.  Her parents supported her decision to pursue a homestay, spent time, money, energy and effort to make sure she had everything she need to be successful.  My tight grip was someone else’s loose hand.  They took her to the airport and put her on a plane to somewhere they had never been with people they had only skyped with twice.

Audreys Baptism
If I look back on this year, I have to thank God for putting this whole thing in motion when Audrey was just a little girl.  I believe all things that happen in life are filtered through our Father’s hands.  Do I believe her love for the USA and for the English language happened by chance?  Nope. Do I think that she was born into a family where her father speaks English?  Nope.  Do I think that it’s by chance that she mustered up the courage to apply for and actually follow through with going to a different country when she had never even traveled alone in her life.  Not a chance.  Do I think that her finding our music interesting was coincidence?  Ha!  No way!  Do I think the stars aligned in such a way that made it possible for for her to placed in our home?  Are you Crazy?  The only explanation I can find for this last year is that God knew before the creation of this world that this year would take place. That an 18 year old girl from Belgium would need to hear the Gospel.  That she would listen and learn for 10 months and then go through a complete life change.  I believe he knew that in order for all that to happen, she would need to leave what was comfortable and go to a place where she would be show the love of Christ on a daily basis.  Perfect love?  No, we are incredibly flawed to say the least.  But…a perfectly imperfect love is what we had to offer her.  It is amazing to know that I have a daughter which I have carried in my heart this year.  She came a stranger and leaves my Sister.  Oh Lord, I am so unworthy of this gift.  Thank you for bringing her into my life and allowing me to witness a miracle in her life.  You really leave me awestruck as I think about this beautiful wanderlust of a young woman.  Lord, have your way with her life.  To you be the glory.  Amen!

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Dr. J and Mr. H

I was commenting on a Dizzy Lizzy’s blog post from today over at http://runningmyracewithjoy.blogspot.com and realized there is so much that God is showing me today.  Her post was basically on the struggle to eat right, but as I commented, the basis of what she had to say could be transferred to any aspect of life.

I am one who has struggled with a short temper for years and years.  I have a very hard time controlling my words and emotions when the boiler pot in my stomach and chest begins to get heated.  I feel like a pressure cooker full of pea soup ready to explode.  Unfortunately, many times the seal of the pot breaks when those closest to me are within splatter range.  Nothing good came come from an explosion, or pea soup for that matter.

It had been four or more weeks since my family and I had gotten up, dressed and out the door in time for Sunday School.  One of the weeks our youngest had the full on flu.  Not a stomach bug, but a full on case of the flu.  I’m sure everyone is pleased we stayed away that week but for the rest, it’s like there was a super magnet pulling us in the opposite direction.  No matter how hard we tried, no matter if we laid out clothes the night before and went to bed early on time, we just couldn’t get there.  Today we must have been more determined than other weeks, or maybe God just went to bat for us and fought off the spiritual battle going on around us because we made it for both Sunday School and service!  It was clear we I was supposed to be there to hear what was being said.

In Sunday School we talked about Paul’s explanation of the internal struggle we have on a daily basis as believers.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.

At a glance it may seem that he is talking about his life, per-salvation experience.  However, he is in fact talking about his life when he has the holy spirit on his side.  A question was posed during our discussion:  Does this passage confuse, discourage or encourage you?  It used to confuse me.  Now, it both discourages and encourages me.

Discouraged:  Sometimes I think, “Oh if I just read my bible more,” or “If I just pray the right prayer and serve people more,”   everything will be easier and that inner struggle I have with keeping my cool will get better.  If I just get a little closer to God, everything will be easier to deal with.  Well as my experiences and this passage clearly illustrate, that couldn’t be further from reality.  I believe that when we are born, we have a sinful nature.  That isn’t wiped out when we become saved, we simply get a helper in dealing with those times we are tempted to act on our sinful nature’s desires.  Chances are I will still lose it and blow my top.  Does that give me a lease to do as I please, not trying to control my behavior?  Nope!

Encouraged: Paul is a highly noted man in the bible.  He was a key player in the advancement of the Christian faith after Christ was taken back to heaven.  His salvation experience was nothing I have ever experienced in my life….total transformation.  From Christian killer to Christian.  You couldn’t be more polar opposite than what Paul was.  And guess what?  He had this same internal struggle that I do.  I have no reason to question my salvation.  I have no reason to think I am so special that I should be able to skip out on this unpleasant part of life just because I’m a Christian.  This battle is real and if each Christian would be transparent enough to admit it, each one experiences this in one aspect of their life or another.

Our discussion leader made the point that in order to overcome a struggle, one has to die to that sin in order for something new to grow back in it’s place.  Think about it like this: you have a garden (life).  You go to admire it and you see things you don’t like in it.  WEEDS (sin)!  Arg, how frustrating.  You’ve worked so hard to make it what you wanted it to be (making your own goals, trying to be a “good person”) and there it is, rooted right in the middle.  You realize you need something to make that weed disappear so you go grab some weed spray (salvation experience, being born again, asking Jesus into your heart).  Everything is supposed to be perfectly beautiful from here on out!  I mean, it’s just the right tool for the job, right?  One and done!  You go back in the house to pour some lemonade, you settle in for a good night’s sleep later in the day, for a week you to and from work (you go along life).  You might even tell your coworkers about all you did to clean out your garden (witnessing and testifying to others what Christ has done in your life).  The next weekend comes and you’re so excited to be able to sit out in your beautiful garden, beautifully manicured and fixed garden.  You pull your lawn chair out to the garden plot, fresh cup of lemonade in your hand and *gasp* A WEED (more sin)!  “Wait, wait, wait…!” you shriek as you all but jog directly to the garage (church) and pull out the bottle of weed killer (bible) to read the back directions and expected results.  In fine print you realize that several applications and possibly other tools (Christian fellowship, bible study, quiet time, prayer, meditation on the Word, sermons, Christian music and worship) may be needed to keep the weeds at bay.  This is exactly where the passage above comes in…  Just because you’ve had a salvation experience, doesn’t mean everything in your garden, or life, is going to be roses and tulips.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have struggles, times of total frustration.  It doesn’t mean that your day to day life is going to go without a hitch.  There WILL be weeds that come up.  As a matter of fact you may think a weed or sin has been killed, but you may not have seen a shoot that was under the mulch about to come out four feet away, or several years down the road.

When I left Sunday School, to be honest, I was thinking of a friend of mine who is struggling with a drug relapse after many years of being clean.  I thought, no wonder she writes about wanting to kick dope, speed and  crack but feels like she is powerless to do so.  Just because she’s a Christian doesn’t mean she is exempt from having to have this struggle.  I was also slightly thinking about my temper issues.

Theeeeeeen I sat down in the pew for service.  Our pastor was talking about the parable of the tenants from the book of Matthew in chapter 21.  God sent his SON to help me on a daily basis.  I have the holy spirit to help me when I am weak.  If I decide to cave to the less desirable behavior, I am not taking full advantage of what the son came to us to do.  To set us free from the bondage of sin.  We are going to have that internal struggle, but we don’t HAVE to lose control.  We do have a way to fly a straighter path.  We will get off course, but we do have a helper and don’t have to do life alone.  Today made me very expectant to the day we get to Glory.  When we will no longer need a helper.  When we will spend all day praising God and living whole lives in his presence.

Then I read the blog I referenced above.  The constant struggle between wanting to do the good things, but caving to the lesser choice.  For me that is:  Wanting to be able to patiently speak to my kids and husband.  Being able to handle conflict in a calm way around my home.  Instead, the latched lid of the pressure cooker is mangled and tangled into a mess as it flies off hitting walls, ceiling, pea soup covering everything.  It’s not pretty.

We are all in this thing called life together.  We will make crappy decisions.  We will blow it, we will burn bridges.  That’s ALL we have to hope for in life outside of Christ.  It’s not until we ask Christ into our lives that we have a helper to get us through those times of conflict with a few less casualties.  It doesn’t mean he is a cure all for our lives.  He isn’t there to create a problem free life for us.  He’s there so we don’t have to do it alone.  Being alone is a very scary and sad place to be.  Praise God I don’t have to walk life alone.  So, until Glory comes riding in on clouds, how are you going to get through life?

Cheers,
Andrea

What Happens When God Shows up to a Half Marathon Race

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.

Ecclesiastes 4 : 9, 10

Rest assured, you will read this post from start to finish in one setting.  I, on the other hand will be stopping several times during it’s completion as I recall the events and cry.  May I be the first to say God is so good.  He cares SOOOooo much for you and hears even your unspoken cries for help.  He loves you so much that he makes a way for your needs to be met.  He will also knock you down a peg or two if your chest is puffed too far out.  He is the Great I Am that we sang about this morning in service.  There is nobody above him, nobody beside him.  He is the Great I Am…and I am amazed that he even cares that I exist. Continue reading

Grace like Banana Bread

What’s better than running first thing in the morning?  Hearing and receiving God’s living WORD first thing in the morning!  Have you seen the movie “Faith Like Potatoes?”  It’s an amazing story about how God brought a Scottish potato farmer named Angus Buchan out of alcoholism and anger into a worldwide ministry through a community testimony service.  I’ve seen this man preach in person and WOW!  To say he can touch the inner most parts of your being is not enough.  Well I had a day that I would describe as “Grace like Banana Bread.”

As I shared before, I went running with the Mach Tenn Running Club at 5:30 Sunday morning.  Directly afterward, I came home, showered, enjoyed an amazing breakfast prepared by my fireman husband, then headed off to hear Pastor Scott preach it, man!  The guy is real, he’s down to Earth and brings the word in a way I am quite confident that everyone in the house can understand and receive it.  I thank God for him and his family and the way God is using him to transform our community for His glory.

He wrapped up a 4 week sermon series on money entitled, “Money Matters.”

Money-Matters

WAIT!!  Don’t close this tab yet! I know exactly what you’re thinking I’m going to say…you need to tithe.  NO (well yes but…) that’s not the message for today.  This whole series is about the fact that everything is God’s.  Our money included but not exclusively our money.  Our families, our minds, our homes…everything.  As a matter of fact just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about what else he had to say on the subject.  This week, we talked about the fact that if we understand grace, we naturally will be cheerful givers, and not just with our money but with our whole lives.  Grace, defined biblical is being given a gift that one can’t afford, deserve or work hard enough to obtain.  This is where my tears just began to pour out of my tear ducts. I mean rivers, people.

God's provision through his infinite grace.

God’s provision through his infinite grace.

This beautiful home that God has given to us is WAY beyond what we have worked to obtain.  We wouldn’t be able to afford it if it weren’t for God moving mountains and piecing together circumstances just perfectly.  There is nothing in my life, my husband’s life, my kids life…that any of us have done to deserve a blessing of this magnitude.  A friend of mine has told me repeatedly that it’s God’s grace that he freely gives as to why were have found ourselves in this season of our lives.  I heard what she was saying.  I even pondered what she was saying.  It wasn’t until I was sitting in the second row of the 10:15 service this past week that the entire tide of God’s grace really sunk in and knocked my emotions over like a tug boat in the middle of the ocean.  I was completely overwhelmed by how God relates to and with us.  My word…even now as I type that my eyes are almost too moist for me to see the words as I type (it’s a good thing I took keyboarding in high school or I’d be up a creek).  So basically we don’t deserve the house we are in at all, but through God’s grace,  that I don’t even fully understand, we have been given a gift so huge we could never possibly pay God back for it.  Through the realization of what he has given us, I can’t help but overflow with gratitude.  Through that gratitude, I have the drive to do all I can to glorify Him with this home.  It consumes my thoughts, actions, feelings, emotions…to the point of struggling to breathe.

Ever since my husband and I decided to take the plunge and agree to take over this home, I have been planning what to do to bridge the uncomfortable gap of being the newbie in the neighborhood.  If you follow me on facebook, you may have even contributed to the brainstorming process. You know how it is when someone new moves in next door.  You watch as they pull out piece after piece from the moving van or vehicles, so much so you wonder if they have rented a circus car in the shape of formerly said mode of transportation.  In the house they go with each arm full.  Day after day you watch as the sweat rolls down their faces and backs during the physical labor of relocating every item that belongs to them and you wonder:

  • Who are they?
  • What are they like?
  • Are they weird?
  • I wonder if they are “good” people.
  • Are they private people?
  • Do they let their kids run the neighborhood?
  • Are they going to take care of the place?
  • I hope they aren’t partiers.  And on and on.

Who makes the first step in breaking down those barriers?  Tradition says that the established neighbor is the one who is to reach out to the new family, however in my past experience, this simply doesn’t happen anymore.  Though I have taken welcoming gifts to new neighbors in the past in keeping with tradition, I have taken it upon myself to break down those barriers when we are the new family coming in more times than not.  As I have said before when confronted with this very question, If I wait for someone else to make the first move, I’ll be waiting my whole life.

My youngest son and I with a basket we delivered to new neighbors.

My youngest son and I with one of six basket we delivered to our new neighbors.

If you read the first post I made about our decision to move here, you will remember that I strongly feel God has a plan to use us while we are here.  Have you ever been confronted by someone who is well meaning in their approach to get to know you but you just know they have an ulterior motive?  Me too and it’s annoying and most times I do everything I can to avoid that person from their on out.  I truly do want to get to know my neighbors as we are leaving a neighborhood which is very close knit.  We adore each of the families on our street.  To say we were comfortable there would be an understatement for sure.  I would love to be able to foster those sort of friendships again here.  I also know that in order to be effective for Christ, a foundation of friendship, trust, and love has to be established first.  I have no intentions of using my bible as a hammer to pound people between the eyes.  From the deepest part of my soul, I want to bring the peace and love of God to a hurting world.  The bible says that we are to reach people in our own town, state and country as well as the other parts of the world.  Did you get that first part?  Our own town…the people we interact with on a daily basis…that’s our first mission field.  How do you do that effectively?  By meeting people where they are, growing the friend relationship and then taking opportunities God lays in your path to share what he’s done in your life.  Do you think that just because someone has a nice car, house, well dressed kids, smile on their face that they aren’t hurting or have doubt about why they are even alive?  Is it possible that the people you talk to on a daily basis have deep desires to end their lives or are trapped in addictions, be it Rx drugs or sexual addiction?  The though of him using me…a stay at home, homeschooling mother and wife…who runs to maintain her sanity most days…to reach any of those people and others utterly blows my mind and humbles me to the core.

First two dish cloths finished and placed in baskets.  I put together six baskets total.

First two dish cloths finished and placed in baskets. I put together six baskets total.

Over the past week, when I haven’t been working on filling sponsorship orders, I have been creating dish cloths for our neighborhood introduction baskets.  Each one was done in white cotton yarn and each had a unique pattern from the others.  These were far from cookie cutter cloths and each one took several hours to complete.  I wanted something in there that was directly from my hands for the personal touch but also to soften up the basket a bit.

Ripe bananas to make banana bread with!

Ripe bananas to make banana bread with!

After church, I spent several hours mixing up and baking banana bread from scratch as well.  I think my husband nearly had an emotional breakdown when I told him there wouldn’t be any leftovers for us to enjoy.  I’m pretty sure he told one neighbor it was pure torture to be in the house, smelling it bake, knowing he wasn’t going to get to have any.  He cracks me up.  I also whipped up a batch of chocolate chunk cookies as well.  In my opinion, they weren’t the BEST cookies, but they were alright.  Who doesn’t like a cookie straight out of the oven after all.  Within an hour of all of these items coming out of the oven, they were packaged and we were out the door.  The bread was still warm when we handed the baskets over.  Mmmmm…makes me hungry just thinking about it actually!

In addition to the handmade and baked goodies, I attached an index card with a note saying it was nice to meet their family, all of our names and the ages of our children, our address and our phone number in case they ever needed or wanted to contact us.  My hope is that they reach back to us, at least with a wave as we see each other out and about over the next days and weeks.  I plan to create more baskets as the weeks and months come.  I just think it would be so cool to be able to personally introduce each of the homes in our little subdivision.  Put names to faces, kids with parents and houses with families.  My husband and I, along with our three boys walked around to the house in front of us, behind us, to either side of us and two other homes in the neighborhood to start the process.

In November, a new ministry in town called S.H.A.R.E. (Sharing Him and Reaching Everyone) has encouraged each of us to reach out to our neighbors.  I hope by that time I will have made contact with everyone and will be ready to further follow up with them over the course of the month.  My prayer for the people in my closest reach is that they grow a sense of community with one another in Christ so that we can support each other in struggles and in good times.  I pray that a fire is started in this community that engulfs the entire town.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the property value of these homes sky rocketed as a result of the supply and demand created because everyone wanted to be a part of the brotherhood here?   I believe we will see Mark 12:30, 31 in the flesh.  People loving God first, and loving their neighbor as themselves.  With that, people will start treating people the way they want to be treated (Luke 6:31).  I’m sitting here praying for everyone in the neighborhood as I type this and Chris Tomlin’s song God of This City popped into my head.  Fitting I believe.

Lets go back to the picture of those bananas for a second:  Ripe bananas to make banana bread with!
The sight of those bananas is pretty nasty when you think about it, isn’t it?  Nobody in their right mind would think, “Oh those look fantastic!  I think I’ll just dig right in!”  No, on the contrary, most people throw them out when they get the slightest hint of brown/black on the peel.  And to buy them from the store that way?  HA!  I think that’s the way God sees each of us…even you reading this!  We deserve nothing more than to be thrown out with the evening trash.  Dirty, rotting, mushy messes of people.  We make mistakes, say things we shouldn’t, think things that would make our mother’s put us in time out for a long time, gossip with the best of ’em, lie, cheat and steal.  And God…he couldn’t bear to see us discarded. Not only did he buy us while we were still horribly disgusting, He also gave us a gift far more precious than a beautiful home that we could have never gotten on our own.  He gave us his SON!  I mean I love you, but I’m not sacrificing any of my kids for you…not even on a bad day!  But God did!  Even though we don’t deserve to be given another chance.  Even though we deserve to be thrown into the fires of hell on a daily basis, he loves us too much.  Instead,  He takes our nasty peels off, mixes in a little bit of grace and mercy.  Folds in a mixture of patience love and peace.  Pours us into a mold that shapes us to fit His plan for our lives, puts us through the fires of trials and bakes us into a perfect loaf of banana bread.  It isn’t until we are banana bread that he can deliver us to people who need fed with the ONLY food that will satisfy.

Thank you God for picking me as a nasty banana.  I submit to your plan and ask that you make me into banana bread as well.  I give you this home, this family, this neighborhood for your service.  My answer is “yes” to what you have for me here.  To be honest I am a wee bit intimidated but I know I can do all things through your Son who strengthens me.  Have your way, Lord.  Have your way!

Cheers,
Andrea