So fun! I would have been so thrilled to send a Bible study workbook to any of you who commented on the last post, because each of you are really precious to me. Really. I truly love connecting with you here, and sharing life’s battles and our common faith. But, Sara Evans was the winner, and I’m so glad I get the chance to introduce her to you.
(And just in case you wonder how I chose, here’s the site I used and the results.)
Sara’s husband, Austin, was a part of our Manchaca Baptist Church (Austin, TX) youth group way back in the day. (Circa: 1991-1995) “Austin from Austin” is the way girls from other youth groups would refer to him when we were at camps and conferences…if you know what I mean. Yep, he was quite the catch back then, but Sara was the eventual winner of his heart.
They met at Pepperdine University while studying and surfing the SoCal waves. Just kidding. I don’t think they surfed all that much, but Austin did play baseball there.
Sometime after they married, they were crazy enough to pack a U-Haul with all of their earthly belongings and drive it to Amherst, Massachusetts to live and work and help us with our church-planting endeavors here.
I absolutely loved having them here, and miss them very much now that they’ve moved to Bend, Oregon. Now, whenever young families join our church, we almost always say “Oh! I wish the Evanses still lived here. You guys would have totally hit it off with them!”
Sara exercised both the gift of hospitality as well as her gifts for administration and bookkeeping in such joyful and generous ways, and I absolutely loved spending time with her. One of the great highlights and privileges of my life was participating in the birth of her firstborn son, Dominick. It was a water birth. It was without any pain meds. And it was absolutely amazing. Sara remained her beautiful, determined self throughout the entire process and I was on cloud nine for at least a week afterward. What a blessing.
They went on to have another boy named Nolan, and then they adopted a little girl from China whose name is Maelyn. Currently, they are in the process of adopting a little boy from China. It is truly an incredible story in that their son, Nolan, was diagnosed with Freeman Sheldon Syndrome early in his life, and little YouYoung shares that diagnosis in an even more pronounced way. The tears just start flowing when I think that not only will YouYoung soon have a forever family, but he’ll have a brother who shares a common struggle and syndrome – even if he shares a different ethnicity. And Maelyn will have a brother who shares her ethnicity soon. It’s all just so beautiful to me.
If you’re interested, you can follow their family’s story here.
So, congrats, Sara. I’ll contact you soon, so you can tell me which workbook you’d like!
Okay. So I really wasn’t planning to ever mention it again, but the podcast I mentioned in a previous post aired today. Bethany texted me last night to give me a little heads-up about it, and I wish I could say that I did not experience the same horror I felt in the days leading up to the interview (which had begun to subside) all over again. But them something really sweet happened.
With much trepidation, I pushed play on the podcast app as I started off on my morning run. I truly expected to cringe at the sound of my own voice, but that’s not what happened. The story was not as random and disjointed as I imagined, my voice was not as awful sounding as I had assumed, and things that are very dear to me came out in ways that I couldn’t have manufactured on my own.
Somehow, God used my listening to myselftell myown story to very sweetly encourage me.
Somehow, my estimation of myself changed as I listened to the ways the Lord has carried and sustained me.
Somehow, I could see and hear His love for me, His acceptance of me, His working in and through me.
Somehow, I ended up in tears over the ways I don’t see myself as He does, how I condemn myself, limit myself, and believe things that aren’t necessarily true or right.
Somehow, He used my own podcast interview to comfort me and remind me of His love for me.
I did not expect that at all. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what I expected.
He is so good like that.
(And Bethany, thanks for having confidence in me and for being such a great host, minister, wife, mom, and encourager of the church in New England.)
Warning: This might be the most random post I’ve ever written.
I’m wearing white jeans and sandals today…after Labor Day. Please don’t tell my dad. At least my sandals are not white, and I do have on a cardigan. (And it is in the 70’s today) At my 8:15am dentist appointment this morning, the hygienist suggested I might be in denial about the current season, but then went on to commiserate over how we were cheated out of a proper summer this year. She and her husband have a boat and didn’t get much time on the water. Water skiing was almost out of the question, because then you’d have to ride around soaking wet in the cool breeze. I kind of hated answering her question about any trips we took this summer, but it made me relive our adventures in Greece all over again. So thankful for those warm and sunny memories, because the pumpkins and mums have now arrived in New England.
Speaking of the dentist, I finally made the whole family appointments, and I was the last to go. Good reports all around. Would you believe no one in this family has ever had a cavity or needed braces? Dental mercies, I tell ya. (Well, I have several fillings, but those are from my teen years, and I might just be a test case for the fact that improving the diet strengthens the teeth and gums. And God’s mercy, too, of course.)
Kayla is in her third week of Challenge IV at Classical Conversations. This week she had to lead the Old Testament/Theology discussion on the book of Exodus. She worked really hard on it, got great feedback, and is falling more and more in love with God and His Word. It has been one of my main prayers for her. She’s both applying at a couple of colleges and considering a gap year, too, for which the Lord seems to be opening some interesting doors. We are praying for His continued direction here. In fact, I was literally sitting and praying for her (journaling it all) and asking God to show her what her next steps would be, when she came and found me just a little while later and told me she was pretty sure about the gap year. After that, a few opportunities for gap year activities were presented to us, and I’m learning more and more how much the Lord wants us to come to Him with the smallest and largest of concerns.
I got to participate in Classical Conversations this week (I’m not teaching this year) by helping to take the Challenge II class on a quick field trip to collect pond water samples and leaves for a future tree identification project. I loved taking my previous classes to do this. There is just something about getting outside and being given time to observe and interact with the natural, created world. It’s just something the classroom and a textbook can’t truly offer.
I’ve hardly told one soul about this, but I was interviewed for a podcast last Friday. The night before the interview I had a dream that when Bethany, the interviewer, arrived at my house, I sent her down to the basement to set up in Robert’s office while I settled some matters with my kids upstairs. (Somehow my kids all reverted to being 12, 10, and 7 in my dream and needed some wrangling before I could meet with Bethany.) When I finally started down the basement stairs, after leaving Bethany to fend for herself down there, I found her mopping up an inch of water that was covering my basement floor. Evidently my washing machine had broken and leaked water everywhere. I was horrified.
This horrifying dream may have been because I was fairly horrified about giving this interview. 3,000 listeners? Yikes. I’m horrified at the sound of my own voice. I spoke at a women’s breakfast for a church in central Massachusetts in the spring, and still haven’t listened to the recording for which the pastor’s wife (Hi Christina!) sent a link. Every time I happen to hear a recoding of myself, I wonder why anyone wants to sit and talk with me at all. Ever. Seriously. But I’m learning that many people feel this way, and that all this self-horror is really just too. much. self. focus. And I pray God would rid. me. of. that.
I don’t know when the podcast will air, and I’m still not sure why the interview took the directions that it did. All I know is that I prayed…A LOT. Prayed that it would all be led by the Holy Spirit, and that the things recorded would be just the things that some other woman needs to hear. And Bethany prayed. And then we prayed together before we recorded. So, I’m trusting that, as confused as I was about what ended up being talked about, God has a purpose. Here, I’ll give you a hint:
Just don’t make the mistake of listening to the “hey, girl” podcast – with lowercase letters and a comma. That would NOT be the one on which I’ll eventually appear. (Or on which my voice will eventually be heard. Ugh.)
Speaking of opportunities to be horrified at the sound of my own voice, I was invited to speak at a women’s retreat the first weekend of November, and have been working with the women there to decide on a topic. Several themes have been on my mind, and I look forward to which one they’ll choose, so I can begin preparing. (Especially since I just discovered it’s one of my heaviest workload weeks for my seminary class. (Old Testament II) (Good thing we get to drop three quiz grades!) But one theme has been jumping out at me in my own reading lately.
I’ve really only read the gospels this year – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. (With some occasional departures into the Psalms and Colossians in moments of desperation.) My goal was to read all four gospels each month, and I was able to keep up with that until summertime arrived. Since then, I’ve still stayed in the gospels, really wanting to soak in all that Jesus did, all that He was and still is, but I’ve not made it through all four each month. As I’ve read, a few things have jumped out at me, one of them being how often Jesus touched people, and how often they touched Him.
Especially precious to me is the story of the woman with the long term issue of bleeding who anonymously reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. She was immediately healed of her chronic illness, and Jesus knew immediately that someone had touched Him even though there were hordes of people pressing in on Him. When He investigates and she comes forward, He says
“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
I just love those words. And I don’t think she was just made physically well. I think she was made wholly well – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and yes, also physically. That she believed Jesus was powerful to make her well was a choice by faith, and that faith made her well from sin first and foremost. It reminds me of the paralytic man who was taken to Jesus by his friends. His most obvious need, his most presenting symptom, was physical disability, but Jesus forgave his sins first and foremost. His eventual healing of the man’s inability to walk was only a verification of His authority to forgive sin.
He has done that for me. He has made this daughter of His well, and continues to do so on a daily basis. I’ve been praying for this wellness in one young woman in particular this week. I know the wellness is coming, but right now it doesn’t feel so certain to her.
So, I really don’t know how to transition from the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak to Taylor Swift, but I do hope and pray that Taylor comes to know this healing touch of Jesus by faith. How’s that?
My family and a few other Swiftie friends had a lot of fun tracking Taylor’s crazy marketing ploys for her new album a couple of weeks ago. The group texts were such a fun source of laughter and ridiculousness, and you know what? Sometimes laughter and ridiculousness are just what the doctor ordered.
For the record (I can never pun on purpose), I like her new songs. To be quite honest and vulnerable here, I think Taylor is a gifted, creative, gracious, strong, generous, humble, compassionate, and beautifully confident. I have a theory that people who love to hate on her, are actually just mad that she is able to embody all of those characteristics. Envy and jealousy are oftentimes obvious in our misplaced outrage. True story.
But I’d like to suggest a few edits to her most recent song, “Ready For It.” She has a couple of other songs that are just as suggestive, and I really wish she’d make a lyrical u-turn in this area. So, Taylor, if you are reading, tell me what you think of these changes:
I-I-I see how this is gonna go,
Propose to me, and we’ll never be alone
I-Island breeze, and we’re takin’ it slow
‘Cuz soon enough we’ll know
In the middle of the night, in my dreams
You should see our wedding day, baby
I can’t wait to be with you
So I pray and I pray
Are we ready for it?
I’ve got my eyes open for a part-time job for when Kayla goes off on her gap year or to college, and I’m really thinking Taylor might want to hire me. I mean…her songs only need this slight tweaking. And I could do it from home – after an initial meeting, autograph, and selfie, of course. It’s a win-win in my mind.
Here’s something else I haven’t told many of you, which has absolutely no connection to Taylor, well, except for the letter T. I’m going on a mission trip overseas. It will be a first for me. I’ve been on several mission trips – to Mexico a handful of times and to Louisiana to help with hurricane clean up in the early 90’s, but never overseas. I’ll get to work with a team and help with English classes, provide respite care for long term missionaries in the country, and participate in outreach to people on a spiritual (superstitious) pilgrimage during this season. Here’s my team:
I’ve never had to raise my own support, though I’ve helped my kids do it several times. If you’ve sent me money, thank you so much. It has been so sweet to read the notes you’ve sent along with your gift, and I’m always overwhelmed by the joy with which people give. In many ways, you’ve taught me how to give – with both generosity of resources and encouragement. I’m not quite fully funded, but almost.
I leave in just about two weeks, and I’d really love it if you prayed for us – for many open doors to share the gospel, to bless others, to serve others, to learn about God’s work in a very different context than my own, and for safe travels. It’s still scary to me to cross an ocean in an airplane and leave all of my loved ones behind, but this invitation to mission and service seemed like one the Lord was asking me to take.
How’s that for randomness? Thanks for loving me enough to track right along. I love sharing it with you.
Summer birthdays can be really awesome or really weird. Parties can be big, all-out shindigs, or altogether nonexistent, because all of your besties are camping or traveling or working odd hours in summer jobs. Fortunately, Kayla is happy to celebrate anywhere we happen to be at the time. Due to its July 28th date, we’ve celebrated her special day in various places…once at the home of an old high school friend of mine while visiting D.C, once in Connecticut at the home of fellow church planters, and this year we celebrated in Maine.
We have been going to the same cabin in Ogunquit, Maine every summer for as long as Kayla has been alive. (She started her cabin stays in a Pak N Play, and has since graduated to a twin trundle bed.) The cabin is a ministry to those in ministry, and a has been huge blessing to our family. Robert and I left a couple of days early and stayed in New Hampshire, and then Cooper and Kayla met us on Wednesday for lunch and the rest of the drive into Maine.
We invited Lars Gren to join us for lunch, since he lives very close to our route. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that Lars is one of the “Saints on Strawberry Cove.” He is the widower of Elisabeth Elliot, and has now been without her for a little over two years. The last time we had lunch with him was on July 15, 2015 – exactly one month to the day after Elisabeth died. I was eager to catch up with him and see how he’s been. Despite a head on collision with a drunk driver last August, and dealing with residual pain of several compression fractures, he’s doing well. He had just returned from California where he attended a wedding and spent time with the family of the bride – a young woman who had been homeschooled and part of a conference and ministry at which Lars and Elisabeth were often asked to speak.
We enjoyed his stories and sitting together on the patio, though it was hot and I’m not sure how Lars endured it with his long sleeves and sweater. He also ordered hot water (with lemon) and let us know that he never drinks anything cold….unless it is a 7-up, and then, of course, it requires ice. When we told him we’d be traveling to Greece for our anniversary, he said he also traveled there “years ago, courtesy of the US Navy.” Said he’d trade duties with other officers and take the night watch, so that he could go and explore the various cities in which they docked during the day.
We discussed the family of Jim Elliot, whose brother died in the last year. Lars traveled to attend Burt’s memorial service, which sadly also ended up being a memorial for Burt’s wife, Colleen, who slipped on ice walking up stairs, hit her head and never recovered. Tragic indeed, but in a strange way also very meaningful to celebrate two lives at once and a marriage dedicated to Christ and missions together.
It was a really nice visit, and the Wenham Tea House was just as you might imagine – little old ladies eating scones, salads, and tea sandwiches catching up on all the local scuttlebutt. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, think Emily Gilmore and the ladies of the D.A.R.
Then we drove up to Ogunquit, walked across the drawbridge to Perkins Cove for ice cream, grabbed some chicken and veggies at a cute downtown market to grill for dinner, and played a cutthroat game of Spades.
Cooper’s girlfriend, Madison, joined us for the day on Thursday which was really nice, and began with a big breakfast together at one of our favorite restaurants, The Roost. Gluten free pancakes, muffins, and waffles are always on the menu there.Friday was Kayla’s birthday, and the only day we spent at the beach. It was nice and sunny that day. Since 17 year olds and 20 year olds like to sleep way past 7am, Robert and I went for a run, stopped at The Love Shack juice bar on our way back (beets and carrots and parsley!) and then started working on the birthday girl’s special breakfast – gluten free waffles (made in one of her birthday gifts, a mini waffle iron) and pancakes, eggs, bacon, and fruit. Her other gift was a pair of long-desired Birkenstocks. Cooper gave her a pair of Crocs, so I’d say she’s all set for summer footwear.
After breakfast, we packed our lunch cooler and headed for the beach.
Though it was warm that day, it was not really warm enough to get in the water. (In my opinion, of course.) Kayla kept begging someone to go in with her, but when Robert finally agreed and hit the waves ahead of her, she wasn’t so sure anymore. Eventually, they both took the frigid plunge
She’s planning a waffle birthday party for herself this week while we’re away in Greece, and has lots of other activities lined up for the week without us – babysitting, assisting a wedding photo shoot, and time with friends.
I know parents are supposed to say wonderful things about their children, and especially on their birthdays, but I don’t feel any obligation to exaggerate here. Kayla is just a wonderful young woman, and I thank the Lord for giving me the gift of being her mom. We’re watching her work out her own call to ministry and seek the Lord for direction about college and beyond, and I’m always impressed by her discernment and wisdom and willingness to listen to God. She’s focused on meaningful things, and though tempted, not swayed by the different choices and direction of others.Saturday morning had me up with the sun and sitting on a bench along the Marginal Way with my Bible and journal. The gift of quiet and beauty all around, I finished the coastal-view walk with a trip into town for coffee and gluten free muffins for our final breakfast together in the cabin.
I hope Kayla looks back on her 17th birthday with happy memories of “the cabin in Maine” and a day at the beach. Maybe someday she’ll even be glad for the time with Lars (though she baked in the sun and wondered if she’d end up in a blog post) and being joined, even if ever so slightly, to the story of their family and ministry. Maybe she’ll even join their ranks as a missionary and hero of the faith.
She’ll be reading this soon, of course, so I’ll sign off by saying…
Kayla, Yes, you ended up in a blog post again. 😉 I love you and thank God for your life of faith and faithfulness even (and especially) at age 17. God has gifted you with a strength and confidence and calling that I know He plans to use for His glory and the good of others. I really love being your mom, and I can’t wait to watch it all play out in His time.
Finally getting around to writing about camp today, though we’ve been home almost a week now. It was our 16th year to go to Gordon College for Crosswalk – our regional weeklong summer camp for teens. Robert’s first year on camp staff was the summer I was pregnant with Kayla, and we’ve only missed two years since then. My kids grew up going to camp long before they were old enough to be campers, as you can see.
Cooper has even made Gordon College his home away from home by going to school there. He’ll start his second year as a student there this fall, but he’s had 16 years of prior dorm, dining hall, and campus experience. 😉
We love our week at camp for many reasons, but it feels a little weird to tell you all the highlights without letting you know that the weeks leading up to camp and the week back home have been hard. The days have been consumed with resolving conflicts, receiving emergency texts and phone calls, making hospital visits, facilitating counseling sessions, encouraging dear friends in crisis, and more. In many ways, the intensity of these situations seems greater than ever before. Daily, we are reminded of and burdened by the effects of sin and darkness, but at the same time we are sustained in Christ’s strength. Still, we would appreciate your prayers.
So, camp was as wonderful and as exhausting as usual.
The staff arrives 3-4 days prior to the teens in order to prepare for the week. Trying out new games is often a weekend activity, and here you can see Itamar and Jared playing Chinny Penny – or keep a penny flat on your chin without letting anyone knock it off. Last one with a penny on their chin wins.
Reconnecting with returning staff, eating, laughing, catching up, praying, and worshiping together are things we look forward to every year. In texting with our director prior to camp about various questions, I said “Won’t it be nice to enjoy sweet fellowship next week?” We both agreed that it would.
After campers arrive and get settled, their days start with Morning Celebration:
While the teens are in Bible study groups, Robert and I spend the time in Bible study with all of the adult chaperones. My group played musical rooms this year, and studied both the book of I John and did an overview of the Seamless study and workbook. (Have I convinced you to do the study yet?)
After Bible study, it’s “Rec” time, and Gordon has such a beautiful spot for this – “the Quad” – right in the middle of campus.
After lunch, the teens head to Activity Tracks. They can choose anything from Arts and Crafts to Missions to Competitive Sports. (This mission track learned about a really great ministry called Sole Hope during one of their sessions.) Free time follows and many of them just stay on the quad playing frisbee, soccer, and football. They can also swim at the Rec center on campus, play basketball in the gym, or go back to their room and read, play games, or paint each other’s nails.
The evening worship service happens after dinner and a short activity at 6:35pm – called 635. 😉 Robert spends his afternoons polishing off sermons he’s tried his best to prepare before arriving, creating PowerPoint presentations, printing notes, and practicing.
This year’s most memorable image may have been the Jenga Tower of Babel. (All sermons were on things built either by God or humans, since the camp theme was Blueprint.) And if you know Robert at all, then you know that about halfway through the sermon, he knocked that tower right over to illustrate what God did to the plans of humans intent on making a name for themselves rather than for their Creator.
Want to see it in action? Click here for the camp highlight video.
I still don’t know how he pulls this off each year. Well. that’s not really true. It’s God’s grace and His provision of ideas and direction and efficient work. Still, I marvel. Six sermons in six days!
(I would like to take credit for some of his wardrobe choices throughout the week, though. It was a crowd of teenagers after all, and I am able to provide at least a tiny bit of fashion counsel so as not to distract from the message.)
Mercyhouse was well represented at Crosswalk this year. Just look at these four…
Tommy and Kaitlyn served on staff leading Bible studies, Activity Tracks, and playing in the band. Sarah served as a chaperone for our girls for the third time, and Chloe served as one of our many adorable camp mascots. She even made appearances in two sermons.
And here is Sarah again with Meghan and Anthony. Pretty sure these three would have won World’s Best Camp Chaperones this year if there was such a thing. They were amazing, and I thank God for their eager investment in our teens’ lives last week. They truly went above and beyond.
Shoutout to Ellen, Patrick, and Nick as well! So fun to be with Mercyhouse people while away at camp!
One final picture of our group on the last day. They all seemed to have such a fun and meaningful time. Lots of heart transformations and life direction received. Many renewed in their desire to “offer their bodies as living sacrifices” which was the other very tangible image of the week – Robert placing his whole body on a small table to illustrate what a whole burnt offering is all about.
Saturday morning it’s all over. One last time with Bible study groups, one last song and short sermons, and all the teens are back on the road with their individual churches.
Staff stays around another hour or so for clean up, which may be the toughest job of all.
Because deflating beach balls, giant pizzas, and ring toss cones is hard work, y’all!
We didn’t plan specifically for this, but a classic New England summer has been in full swing lately. Kinda hard not to call it classic when it kicks off with a trip to Fenway Park on a PERFECT June evening.
We were offered two Red Sox tickets by an unnamed source (whose name begins with an A and might just be one of their biggest fans) the morning of the game, and somehow were able to make quick arrangements for a trip to Boston that afternoon. The commuter rail from the Worcester area was suggested for parking and traveling to Fenway and back. I took full advantage of someone else driving by sleeping most of the way back to our car that evening.
Our ticket giver was not too happy about having to forgo the game that night due to being under the weather and exhausted from travel, so we tried to fully enjoy her great seats and even indulged in some Cracker Jacks for the occasion. (I’m just glad it wasn’t a 16 inning game like they had against the Yankees on Saturday night.)
It was on the way to the Red Sox game that we realized that in just five short days, we’d be at Tanglewood in the Berkshires for the John Mellencamp and EmmyLou Harris concert. The only thing that would have made this event more “classic” would have been seeing James Taylor instead, but we’ve done that several times already. (It never gets old, though!)
John Cougar and EmmyLou were fantastic! We enjoyed every minute – even the minutes we had to snuggle under the umbrella due to a couple of passing rain showers. We did not expect to see the sun at all, but it finally pierced through the clouds and made for a gorgeous evening.
A few days later it was time to celebrate the Fourth of July. With barely a hint from me, Kayla (and then Mary!) agreed to plan, shop for, and prepare ALL of the food for our annual picnic for the Amherst fireworks. I was so relieved! As much as I enjoy hospitality and putting meals together, it can certainly wear on me, and I was just not wanting to go to the effort.
Kayla and Mary to the rescue!
These girls took everything on the to-do list and executed it with zero help from me. (Well, a few cooking consultations, but that was it.) Not only was it a huge relief to me, it was a big blessing to those who joined our picnic that night. They were truly amazed by what we pulled out of our picnic bags and cooler – everything put together beautifully by these two young ladies.
And my kitchen after their afternoon of cooking and baking?
Little Joseph was happier than any of us had ever seen him – and he’s definitely already a good natured and happy boy. Dancing and laughing and eating, he was mesmerized by the fireworks, and it was a gift to us all to experience the holiday through his eyes. A gift to be with his mom, too, who had never experienced fireworks in person, and who could not get over the feast that Kayla and Mary had prepared.
The very next day was our last time to meet as a small group. Bittersweet for sure. I loved being with these ladies so much and working our way through the whole Bible and redemption narrative using the Seamlessworkbook.
Vi made us a set of flash cards for the icons used in the workbook, and so we had a bit of hands-on practice with the order of events. I think I mentioned that we accidentally ordered the wrong book and ended up doing the “teen girls” version. Everyone just rolled with it (still a great, substantive study!), and on our final night together, SouYoung said that she thought it was no accident.
“No mistake at all,” is how she worded it. New to faith, to church, and certainly to the Bible, she added a richness and freshness to our study. She enabled us to see Jesus through the eyes of a new believer (her retelling of the story of the woman caught in adultery brought tears), and challenged us with her ability to perfectly recall all thirty events in the redemption narrative. She was truly a gift to us.
The very next day, Robert and I were off to the North Shore of Boston – maybe one of THE most quintessential New England locations – to prepare for a week of youth camp at Gordon College. Dinner at Woodman’s in Essex (because everyone was hot and sweaty and not up for fine dining) with a few members of the camp staff got us started off right.
Not a paleo meal by a long shot, but gluten free fried fish is such a rare treat. It felt like a little taste of heaven, and we ate way too much of it.
We got settled into our dorm/apartment at Gordon College later that evening, and started preparing for a week of teaching and preaching, of late nights and early mornings, and of ministry to over 500 teenagers and their chaperones from all over New England.
Blueprint was the theme this year. God’s plans for building and rebuilding.
It was an incredible week, and I’ll have to tell you about it next time. We’ve only been home three days now, and are still somewhat in recovery mode. We’re also in planning mode for our next and annual New England adventure – a trip to Ogunquit, Maine. Planning for our 25th anniversary trip on August 1st as well. I haven’t told many of you about that one either, but it’s a big one and I’ll fill you in soon.
For now, I’ll leave you with a fun pic of our camp staff this year.
Feeling really thankful for the privilege of doing ministry (and living life) in New England today.
A couple of years ago, I experienced what felt like an all-out betrayal (which is an exile of sorts) by someone close to me. I was hurt, and I grieved the loss of relationship through tears for weeks. When I would recount the experience, listing off all of the felt injustices to my husband, he would say this:
“I know. I’m so sorry.”
“But don’t you love Jesus more now?”
Maybe it seems an insensitive way to respond to a weeping wife (as I did for a split second), but I thank God for a husband who offers truth in the midst of emotion.
You certainly won’t find me out there looking for more betrayals and conflicts, but I do love Jesus more for the ones I’ve experienced. He met me in my grief. He taught me to not put my hope in people. He reminded me of His steadfast love – the kind others aren’t able to give perfectly. I read His Word more. I prayed more. I poured out my heart more and was met with more grace and strength by the One who had experienced a betrayal much, much greater than mine.
Why did God require a 70 year exile to Babylon for His children? Because they had not chosen to know and walk closely with Him at home – in the Promised Land, in Jerusalem, their holy city.
It’s in our exile that we learn to love our real home as we should. And our real home is in Christ.
But listen to that famous verse to exiles again:
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:10-11
Some versions say “I know the thoughts I think toward you” and this is what Charles Spurgeon had to say about that:
“Yet what God told the exiles through Jeremiah was even better. God does not only think of His people, His thoughts are toward them. The Lord not only thinks of you, but towards you. His thoughts are all drifting your way.”
Instead of punishing the exiles forever and not granting them any hope of redemption or rescue, He assures them of His plan and His promises for the future. He is coming for them eventually, and in the meantime His thoughts and plans are for them.
I don’t really anticipate a permanent return to my home in Texas – at least not anytime soon. But I do love Texas more now than I did when I lived there. I appreciate the temperatures, the landscape, the food, the history, and the culture much more than I did when I was swimming in it – sometimes literally. (Have I mentioned the rivers and lakes? Gorgeous!) And I appreciate my Savior more when He allows different sorts of exiles in my life.
Israel’s sin exiled them from their homeland and the temple leaving them in Babylon. Our sinexiled us from God’s presence and a glorious garden leaving us in this fallen world. But God still promises us a rescue and a return to the garden – if we acknowledge and receive forgiveness for that sin.
The only way He could promise this rescue?
To become an exile Himself.
He did that in Jesus, who chose exile from heaven, put on flesh, and died on a cross for the sin that caused our own banishment. Then He resurrected showing power and authority over the death that sin brought about. (And trust me, the exile from Texas to Massachusetts was really nothing compared to the exile from heaven to earth.)
If you have placed your faith in Jesus you can hope in the same promise the Babylonian exiles received from God – that He is coming back for you. He will eventually return you to your true and new home with Him.
And not only do you have future hope, but you also have present help…Help to bloom where you are planted. Strength to remain, to settle, to surrender – no matter what your current circumstances are.
His plans and His thoughts are all drifting your way.
Are you walking through a difficult season (or the end) of marriage?
Is He asking you to be pure, patient, and faithful in your singleness?
Are you exhausted by the difficulties and challenges of parenting?
Is He asking you to keep praying for and being patient with a rebellious child?
Do you need to be strong for and keep striving with a sick child or an elderly parent who requires great care?
Is your family and homeland thousands of miles away?
Are family dynamics a source of pain or discouragement?
Do anxiety or depression (or both) overcome you?
Is your work environment frustrating, demeaning?
Are people taking for granted your faithful volunteer efforts?
Has a friend betrayed you?
Are finances dwindling?
Do you have dreams and desires that seem disregarded or shut down by God Himself?
All of the above, different facets and layers of living in exile. And though seemingly impossible at times, all fertile ground for blooming, too. Not so fun at times. Often uncomfortable. Sometimes totally heart-wrenching. Still, I thank God for my exile and the for the growth and blossoming He’s accomplished through them.
And some sweet day, near or distant, I’ll finally get to return to Tex-Mex and temps above 70.
Just kidding. I’ll finally get to live fully and wholly in and with Jesus.
I can’t wait.
Until then, praying to blossom and grow in this exile.
The following July when Kayla turned one (the sun came out, the morning sickness ended, and I found a wonderful OB/GYN and hospital), I looked around my dining room table at the people I’d been able to gather to celebrate her birthday and watch her eat her first cake ~ a teapot cake I’d carefully made for the occasion. There were a couple of local folks and students, two other visitors who were college students we’d known from Oklahoma (Hi Jenny and Jason!), my husband, my two little boys and me. It was not the big gathering of friends and family that my boys had each had back in Texas for their first birthdays, and I wondered why the Lord had sent us to this place. I’m not sure what I expected, and I though I loved ministry and knew that we were here for a good purpose, it seemed like the punishment of exile at the time.
It was sometime after that, that I came across Psalm 37 and I’ve already shared the verses that I began to cling to and try to practice. Here it is again:
Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. v. 3-4
Dwell: reside, live, be settled, stay (Hebrew – Shakan – to establish, abide, remain)
Cultivate: to improve growth by labor and attention, to develop, to dig, till, plow, and fertilize (Hebrew – Ra’ah – to tend, graze; also – befriend, associate with)
Faithfulness: devotion, long-continued and steadfast fidelity, loyal stability
When I read those verses, I knew the Lord was asking me to bloom where I’d been planted – to settle in and be faithful. I wrote the verse out and put it on our refrigerator as a constant reminder. As difficult as I often found it, and as resistant as I could be at times, I knew He was asking me to build my home here.
To plan birthday parties here with whoever is able to come. To pick apples in the fall and learn to eat a lobster. To meet my neighbors. To walk the Freedom Trail and enjoy the local history. To learn to love snowshoeing. To pray for my town and state and region. To join the local Woman’s Club. To purchase a snow blower and some waterproof boots. To join the local organic farm co-op. To lead small group Bible studies for young women and spend time on the college campuses. To invite church folks over for lunch after the worship service and more.
David’s words toward the end of the Psalm in verse 25 gave me the encouragement I needed to live those things out…
I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread. v. 25
David was saying, in essence, “I have been alive a very long time, and I’ve been observing how God deals with His children all these years, and NOT ONCE has He forsaken them or left them in need of anything.”
And though I have come to love New England, my town, and my church, Texas still feels very much like home. I was just there last month for my son’s college graduation. Many of you know he went to Baylor University in Waco, TX. If you are a Fixer Upper/Chip and Joanna Gaines fan, you know exactly the place I’m talking about. It’s that sweet little town where the 4 bedroom 2 bath homes are less than $200,000, the marriages are all happy and fun, and the local business owners are all friends and go to church together.
It was warm and sunny while we were there. I was drinking iced coffee at the Silos and shopping at the market. When I’d go out for a morning run, people smiled and waved. Sometimes they stopped me and engaged me in friendly conversation. (True story.) We stayed with my dad who is healthy and active, but growing older. We cooked steaks on his deck after a few hours of floating the beautiful nearby river.
Did I mention that it was warm and sunny? Yeah – you could swim in that river without your lips turning blue and your whole body going numb….in mid-May.
And like the Israelites in exile experienced, there have been some false prophets in my life. During an especially difficult time in ministry a few years back, someone said something like this to me: “You’ve given up over 15 years of your life living in New England and doing what your husband is called to do. I think it’s your turn to live where you want and do what you want now.”
Now, I know that the Lord often speaks through others when He wants to lead us in new directions, but I knew immediately those words were not from God. A true prophet would have known that what’s best for me is to be right where God has called BOTH my husband and me. A real friend would have encouraged me to be faithful to that calling and not tempted me further with my own desires which were mostly self-centered and honestly had much more to do with months of sunshine and southern hospitality than ministry or walking with God.
I knew I needed to disregard those words, because they were so contrary to the “dwell, cultivate, be faithful” commands God had been asking of me all along. And if it’s not a friend or family member playing the role of false prophet, there are plenty of other voices on social media, podcasts, and in your local bookstore. You don’t have to go far to find someone encouraging you to seek out your own personal desires and follow your own heart no matter the cost or consequence, no matter God’s will or purposes.
So many wonderful things have happened in our church and family over the last 18 years. I consider it a great privilege to be here and see first hand the incredible ways God works in people’s lives. The difficult days of ministry and the longings for home have not disappeared, so at times it still feels like exile, but the reality is, we’re all living in a type of exile. This world is not our home. Life here is difficult and riddled with disappointments, yet we are asked to settle here – as “aliens and strangers” is how the apostle Peter describes it. (Or “sojourners and exiles” if you read the ESV) It’s not the Garden of Eden we were created for, and it’s lasting a lifetime.
But we’re not the only ones who have been asked to dwell and bloom here. That same Hebrew word for “dwell” in Psalm 37 God also uses to describe what He does with and for His people.
Exodus 29:45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.
I Kings 6:13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.”
And even crazier than a God who chooses to dwell among His people in spirit as these Old Testament verses are describing, is a God who chooses to put on flesh and dwell among us in Jesus. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
“Pitched a tent” among us is what the Greek word for “dwell” means in the first chapter of John.
He comes close to us in our exile.
To be continued…
(Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday!)
Okay, so the hostas I reluctantly planted must’ve put down some roots, because they are looking great this year. Healthy, happy, full, and green. And all of this in spite of being uprooted from the foreign land of Betsy’s front yard and exiled to my house a mile away. Evidently, plants can do that sort of thing with quite a bit of resilience.
The Israelites, not so much.
Psalm 137 tells us that in their captivity they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept. They couldn’t even sing or enjoy music due to the grief of being taken hundreds of miles away from their beloved homeland.
I can relate.
I, too, am hundreds of miles away from my beloved homeland. Thousands, actually. And I had no idea the affect a place can have on a heart. (The hostas and myself are more of a relocation than an exile, but stick with me.)
Despite their deep despair, God tells them (through Jeremiah the prophet) to “bloom where they are planted.” And He’s not vague on the details regarding what “blooming in Babylon” should look like….
Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce.Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. ~Jeremiah 29:5-7
I really don’t think this is what the Israelites had in mind.
Settle down in a pagan culture? Raise families there? Pray for and seek the good of the city? Especially difficult to escape were the words of the false prophets telling them the exile would be short, that God would be coming to rescue them and deliver them back home any day now. In reality, they would spend seventy years in Babylon, which meant that most adults would never see Jerusalem again.
Are you beginning to think of times when God has asked something similar of you? You may not have been literally driven from your home because of your rebellion (or maybe you have), but you’ve been asked to endure uncomfortable circumstances, less than ideal situations, seasons of life that were unexpected and difficult, tragic loss. Not places you’d choose to be, but there you are anyway?
I can relate.
I didn’t grow up anywhere near New England, but I did dream of traveling here one day. In fact, growing up, this Texas girl’s dream honeymoon was a New England one. New England…that far away land in the top right corner of my geography class map. Lobster, bed and breakfasts, quaint small town inns, scenic back road drives with falling leaves, white steepled churches, rocky coastlines, and fires burning in every wood stove. Maine was probably the only state I could name and locate at the time, but it just seemed like the perfect romantic fairy tale to me.
That I did not end up having a New England honeymoon is not just an understatement. The only similarity my real-life honeymoon had to my fantasy honeymoon was its proximity to a coastline. The Gulf Coast coastline in this case. Robert and I spent a week in Galveston, TX staying near a less-than-beautiful beach at a family-friendly resort. (A family I babysat for during college had given us a coupon for the place.) We could hear the older man in the room next to us snoring each night, as well as hordes of children running up and down our hallway on their way to the pool all throughout the day. It was a far cry from my romantic northeastern ideal.
Robert was a youth pastor in Austin,TX at the time, and I was still in my last year of college at the University of Texas. Living on one ministry income while finishing college meant that you gladly take the coupon to the family-friendly resort being offered to you. It was a honeymoon after all, and so it wasn’t that difficult to “bloom where we were planted” in that case.
7 years later, though, the Lord did grant a trip to New England. So far that “trip” has lasted 18 years.
It was not exactly what I had in mind.
In 1999 God opened a door and invited us into ministry in New England. Robert had a desire to plant a church in an area of the country that was in need of more churches, and right after he completed seminary the opportunity came to do that very thing in Amherst, Massachusetts. I think we both thought church planting (which was a fairly new thing at the time) would be something we did in our forties and fifties, not in our late twenties and early thirties. (Now that I think of it, we are still sort of church planting in our forties and almost-fifties, so we weren’t all wrong in our thinking.)
We visited Boston and Amherst in January of 1999 (our first-ever trip to New England) and moved to Amherst with our 4 and 2 year old boys in July of 1999. I was pregnant with my daughter by December of that year and really did not know even one soul in Massachusetts, let alone an OB/GYN. It was bitter cold and snowy. My husband was very busy trying to meet folks in town and plan our first worship services. I was at home on the couch with relentless morning sickness and two toddlers running around, except when I was hosting college students and out-of-town mission teams for meals.
Then, very soon after I found out I was pregnant, the headline of our local newspaper proclaimed the new abortion services being offered at the nearby hospital. I don’t know exactly why, but that glaring headline sitting on my doorstep felt like a tipping point. This foreigner was very lonely, probably depressed, and semi-horrified that I lived in a town proud of its abortion services. Where had God brought us? It was not romantic or fairytale-ish at all.
John Piper’s Advent reading plan on the Bible App has been giving me a lot to think about and be challenged by lately. Here’s part of what day 22 said:
“You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird, so spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.”
Urbanspace on Vanderbilt
Thank you, Jenna, for the recommendation!
You can also travel to New York City and take in all of its elaborate window displays, giant Christmas trees, and holiday music playing everywhere and forget to set your mind on Jesus. You can even host a Christmas tea party for a great group of teen girls, make gingerbread houses, create handmade gifts, and eat Christmas cookies without considering the baby born to die.
But we tried not to do that this week.
Mary & Izckra got to try the gigantic doughnuts.
Just choosing to go to NYC at the beginning of a busy week was an opportunity to trust God! I had to fight the temptation to fret over all that was not yet done back home, but the calmer of the seas was providing peace and helping me to laugh at the days to come.
We tried the pistachio-cardamom gluten free bread and the chocolate truffle cookies.
First we had a taco, cookie, and doughnut feast at Urbanspace on 44th near where we parked. Then it was shopping on 5th Avenue – Topshop, GAP, Uniqlo and more. Later we hit the H&M near Macy’s, of course.
It was a Sweet Sixteen celebration for Mary!
Skating at Rockefeller was the plan, but the girls decided against it once we were there. It was pretty cold and windy out, so we headed underneath the big tree for dinner and more shopping – gluten free Mediterranean wraps, soup, burgers, sweet potato fries and Starbucks. Wandering around in Anthropologie took us about an hour, but no one dared purchase anything due to the mile-long check out line.
Saks 5th Avenue is directly opposite the Rockefeller tree. If you’ve been there, you know that if you turn 180 degrees from looking at the tree you see the front of Saks. Not only are the window displays beautiful there, but they do a light show on the front of their building every ten minutes. Such fun treat – and a lot to take in in just one spot!
My old friend Mike stopped by Rockefeller for a quick hello and then swiped us all onto the subway headed in the direction of Macy’s. From there we Ooo-ber’d it took an Uber back to our parking spot and enjoyed chatting with our driver who is planning to enter the NYPD Academy in January and shares a love for the show Blue Bloods. How cool that someday soon he’ll be working for Commishioner Tom Selleck. 😉
Saks 5th Avenue Light Show
Wednesday was spent getting ready for the tea party (and tonight’s open house), and Thursday morning we enjoyed having several of Kayla’s friends over for her annual tea party. I just love this tradition!
Dress Code: Pj’s
Some friends have moved away and some weren’t able to make it this year, but just look at how much they’ve grown! When we first started doing this, I could totally envision this past Thursday’s scene in my kitchen – big girls enjoying all the same tea party activities that they did when they were little. Does anyone ever outgrow a love for decorating gingerbread (well, graham cracker) houses?
Tea Party 2008
Thanks for reminding me of this pic, Virginia!
After decorating our houses, we moved on to the actual tea party part – eating finger foods and drinking hot tea, hot chocolate, and we’ve added coffee in the last couple of years. We used to read a children’s Christmas book together while everyone was eating, but this year we switched to a passage of Scripture. I chose Mary’s song – the magnificat – to read to these girls who are all probably about the same age as Mary was when she was visited by the angel. We talked about the meaning of “bondslave” and discussed Mary’s virtuous character and love for God as revealed in her song. I pray that each of these young women continues to grow in her desire to know and serve God in the same way.
Next we made our gifts for mom – a coconut oil, sugar, and peppermint hand and/or foot scrub…
And pocket sized hand warmers – fabric squares sewed together and filled with rice which can be heated in the microwave. I thought I might have to spend a lot of time helping them with the sewing machine, but thankfully (and impressively!) several of the girls knew how to use it. I hardly had to help at all, because they just naturally helped each other.
The boys hung around for a while before letting us have the house to ourselves.
So nice to have them home!
So nice to also have Ms. Abbott with us – or “Sabbott” as she is now affectionately known.
Even Sabbott got sewing instructions from Jessica!
There was cookie decorating and game playing later and I enjoyed every minute of the morning into early afternoon – even the kitchen cleaning from which I could hear the girls laughing and chatting in the living room. Truly a delight.
Mary’s song always serves to help me remain in awe and worship during this season…
My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on generation after generation toward those who fear Him… Luke 1: 46-50
Thinking on the Mighty One, the Savior, and His mercy have sustained me this week.
John Piper has given me words to pray in request for a heart that is spellbound by the incredible gift of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection…
“Oh, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you; for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God.”
May your heart be wakened by the Spirit this Christmas to the reality of the God who put on flesh for you, to Emmanuel, the God who came near.
A half hour to read and review after Robert and Kayla leave…
The cutest, smartest Sunday morning co-pilots you’ve ever seen…
View to my right…
…and to my left. Proverbs 31:1-9 today…on what makes a man.
Self Control. Sober Judgment. Sacrifice.
Back home and a helper…
…coffee brewing…three pots.
Real dishes and silverware…I love real dishes and silverware…
…and fresh, homemade food. (With help from two talented co-hostesses…Laura…and Laura)
Baked Ziti, Butternut Squash, Tossed Salad, Garlic Bread this week.
Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Veggies, Pumpkin Souffle last week.
Half of the smiling faces fit around the table…
A vegan dessert for one of our favorite “Smithies”
Real conversations about spending both life and death for Christ…
Inspirational viewing…Williams College…Haystack Prayer Meeting…Student Volunteer Movement
“If we are exiles and refugees on earth (I Peter), and if our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3), and if nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8), and if His steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63), and if all hardship is working for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians)…
…then we will give to the winds our fears and ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6). We will count everything as rubbish in comparison with Christ (Philippians 3). We will ‘joyfully accept the plundering of our property’ for the sake of unpopular acts of mercy (Hebrews 10)…
…We will choose ‘rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,’ and we will count ‘the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. (Hebrews 11)”
~ John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
I even enjoy washing the Sunday dishes, but I usually have some help…
…even from the pastor at the end of a long day.
Catching up with the college kiddos…tests…friends…football…sermon discussions…
…and then he’s off again…an evening appointment with a non-church couple seeking marriage… but learning Christ for the first time…and how can he refuse that?
Self Control. Sound Judgment. Sacrifice.
My helper is off being a helper to another evening Bible study. She’s watching the little ones so the bigs ones can freely discuss and share and pray.
So…tea that’s good for the tummy and an epsom salt bath for me, and this, that my dad sent and has taken me weeks to finish…
Texas Monthly articles are LONG, and so are Sundays, but I love them!