What’s Really At Stake in These Days?

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One of the first Sundays we moved out here to the country, before we found a new church, we planned an extremely simple family worship time. We sat outside, as the horses grazed in front of us, I played the guitar and we sang some of our favorite songs. Then I remember Jason reading the Sermon on the Mount. It was all going blissfully well until he read the part about loving your enemies. At this, our young warrior, Thaddaeus, revolted.

“I will never love my enemies,” he stated emphatically. And Jason and I were left with one of those impossible parenting situations where you want to try to water down Jesus’ words and say something like, “Well, what he really meant by that was…” or “This doesn’t apply to us today…” This is an upside kingdom for sure! And to explain that kind of crazy love to a six year-old, let alone to myself, was a near impossibility.

But how can you ignore the blood red ink? Not just because Jesus said it? But because he lived it and died it. He loved his enemies.

In these last days, as our country swells with racial hatred, as terrorist attacks wring out fear and rage, as our culture grows increasingly more wicked, the divisions between Christians have never been sharper. What has happened to us? But as I look closer, I must ask myself, what has happened to you, Kristin?

This summer I reread the timeless treasure The Hiding Place, biography of Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Christian woman who was taken prisoner to a German concentration camp for helping save the Jews during World War II. I had read it years ago as a young girl, but this time, this summer, the book came alive as never before. It began to stir my heart to something that had been missing.

Corrie ten Boom stood naked with her older sister Betsie, watching a concentration camp matron beating a prisoner. “Oh the poor woman,” Corrie cried. “Yes. May God forgive her,” Betsie replied. And once again, Corrie realized that it was for the souls of the brutal Nazi guards that her sister prayed.

As I read that story, my own heart echoed the words of my Thaddaeus, “I will never love my enemies.” How can someone in a concentration camp love the murderous Germans? It is astounding and nothing less than a mighty act of God. And yet, it is obedience to Christ.

What’s at stake for the Christian church in America these days? Is it freedom, morality, security? It’s not freedom, for we are already free! It’s not morality. We know the culture, this world, the forces of evil are actively working against morality. This has always been a battle. And it’s not security, for even if they kill us, we are safe forever with Jesus.

What’s at stake really for the church in America?

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Jesus’ words from Matthew 24:9-14

What’s at stake is our love. And I can already feel the subtle effects on myself. The thinking that my life, my family’s life is most important and self-preservation must be fought for.

Wash me with your Word, Oh Christ! Yours is an upside down kingdom where the poor are blessed, where the hungry, the grieving, the despised because of the Son of Man are blessed and awaiting great reward. I think of my brothers and sisters who are persecuted. The Christians in the Middle East and Africa and China and North Korea… And then you say, “You who are willing to hear: Love your enemies.” You must bring us to repentance on this issue. You must cause our hearts to pray for our enemies. For the evil in our world, for our nation, for ISIS- Change our hearts that we may see them as people in need of a Savior. I repent, Lord. I am willing to hear.

 

Like Newborn Calves

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Two weeks ago we purchased a Jersey cow and two newborn bull calves. They were the rejects of a large dairy farm because the cow was not giving enough milk in one of her quarters and the calves were, well male, so they were not wanted. We were taking quite a chance because the cow was not the calves’ mother and if she did not accept them, we were faced with the daunting task of bottle feeding two babies.

And what did we know about dairy farming!

But by the grace of God, the beautiful Jersey cow, who we named Annabelle, proved to not only bond with one calf, but to be a devoted mother to both of the calves. Their first day together on our property she was already licking them and letting them suckle and lowing nervously if either one of them were out of her sight. It was astounding to watch them interact as if they had both been hers always. It was cow adoption at its finest.

According to the suggestion of our neighbors (who have helped us out of countless farming binds already) we got into the habit of penning up the calves every evening. We do this in order to get Annabelle used to going into her milking stall without her babies so that whenever we do start milking her she will be used to the routine.

IMG_2202In the early morning, just as the blue dawn of winter turns orange in the east, we hear them in their stalls mooing desperately. Spartan and Star, the young bull calves, wild with hunger, have to be held back until we get Annabelle in her milking stanchion. As soon as her head is secured and she is eating her sweet feed, we let the calves go to her.

This morning I read 1 Peter 2:2-3 and the passage breathed into life as never before.

Like newborn babies crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

I remember my own babies and their desperation for life. The way they awoke in the middle of the night with pursed lips and clenched fists, crazy for the nourishment that only I could give them.

IMG_2157It is no different with Spartan and Star. As soon as we release them from their stall, they bound to their mother with all of the vigor that separation produces. They suckle loudly and greedily, white, creamy froth covering their mouths and dripping like whipped cream onto the hay beneath them. They ram their little heads forcefully up into her quarters so that she continues to let down milk and they gulp until they have had their fill. And Annabelle stands patiently and lovingly still.

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I remember, years ago, a missionary friend of mine praying earnestly, “Give me your Word, Oh Lord, lest I die!” I never forgot the desperation in her tone. And this from a woman who knew the Word, who had lived out the good news of Jesus for years. She still approached the Word of God with the same hunger and longing as a newborn baby.

I desire this for myself. I long for this for my children. That we may see the wonderful gift of the Word of God as our very sustenance. That we might say, along with our Jesus, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Luke 4:4.

That we might be like newborn calves.

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Good, Good Father

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Thaddaeus had found a stick twice his size and was using it to lead the way for me through the brush and dead trees to the creek. He came upon one of his usual entrances down to the water’s edge, but the creek had risen in the middle of the night and there was no way to walk across to the other side, apart from swimming. Apparently he didn’t feel like a dip in the middle of January, so he turned from “the mountain” as he called it and took me another way. A much gentler decline, I followed as he hopped down the muddy and sandy bank, still carrying the staff. This way was easier and happened to be one of my favorite views of the creek that runs through our property. The stream flows shallow here and you can jump across the creek at the bottom, or just walk through with rain boots. I looked around at the moss-covered banks and up at the trees, some still yellow and gold, most bare and dormant, a few evergreens. The water trickled peacefully and Thadd led the way through to the other side of the bank, still on our land.

And I couldn’t help myself but quote Psalm 23 aloud to my shepherd son and to the winter trees, waiting for the rebirth of Spring:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

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He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

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You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cups overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I am here to testify that God has been good to us.

We have been living just outside the small town of Madisonville, TX on 16.7 acres for almost one month now and our lives are entirely different than they have ever been before. He has given us above and beyond all that we have desired. The details surrounding the selling of our house and the purchasing of this land were astounding and the timing impeccable. It was just like God.

As we look back on this last year at all of the changes, all of the heartaches we have endured, and the ways that God has proven Himself faithful again and again, as we see how well he has shepherded us, we can proclaim, with all certainty:

Our Father is good. And we can trust Him!

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Back to Mexico

I remember being awaken in the middle of the night to a shout as my father slammed the light switch on and bright light flooded over me.

“She’s bit her tongue,” he was saying, “and I can’t get her to stop shaking.”

I plunged out of bed and raced to their room, totally unaware of what was going on, but knowing that whatever it was, it had my father, the strong ex Navy Seal that he was, desperate and seeking my help. My memory swirls at this point as I witnessed my mom groaning and shaking in bed, blood dripping down her cheek, while my father tried to pry her mouth open to free her tongue. As an eleven year-old I had no idea what a seizure was. My mother had never acted like this before and my father was beside himself.

I remember when the shaking finally stopped, when she finally woke up, but didn’t recognize us. Didn’t know who my dad was and was calling me Michelle, a name I knew belonged to her childhood friend. I remember my younger brother, Ryan, was there, but didn’t seem too concerned. I tried to talk to my mom, but she wasn’t making sense. I remember my dad picking my mom up, in her nightgown, and carrying her out the front door and into our “combi” (volkswagon bus) and he told me he was taking her to the doctor. He told me to stay there at home with my brother and that they would come back.

We were living in Texcoco, Mexico at the time. We didn’t have family around that we could call, there were no cell phones at that time that he could use to keep in touch with me. Just the promise that he would come back.

I crawled back into bed, curling up beside Ryan, as the dawn began to creep into our home. But my whole body was shaking from fear so noticeably that I was keeping my brother from sleeping. “Stop!” he complained. And I tried to force myself to stop shaking, but my teeth rattled together uncontrollably.

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We live and we grow and we change, but somehow, deep down, we are affected profoundly by the wounds we experienced as a child. This is something I was not aware of, though it may seem so obvious. I knew my mother’s seizures (she had one more after the first) had deeply impacted my life, but it wasn’t until this year that I was able to recognize just how they affected me.

Every week I meet with a small group of dear women. This summer we discussed the book, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldridge. We spent four or five weeks on just one chapter which focused on the wounds we experienced as little girls and the lies we believed because of those wounds and the vows we made on account of the lies. I remember sitting in bed one night with Jason, fighting the tears as I remembered my wound as a little girl in Mexico, witnessing my mother’s grand mal seizure. I knew it had impacted me, but the way it impacted me surprised me. I believed from the time of eleven years on, that I had to be strong for my mom. I grew up that day and in some ways, my role with my mother was reversed. I became the strong one and had to look out for her and take care of her. I hadn’t realized how much I just wanted to be the little girl again.

Jason spoke truth that brought on the tears.

“You don’t have to be strong.”

I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to have it all together. I can be the shaking little girl, so scared out of her wits that her teeth are chattering. I can be weak like that and crawl into my Heavenly Father’s lap and just let Him hold me. I can be weak.
IMG_1724The next day, after this realization, I received a Newsletter from our dear missionary friends, Ben and Angela, in Puebla, Mexico. I remember reading through it and one sentence standing out to me. Angela was going to meet with some ladies from her church to talk about doing a women’s retreat for the purpose of “soul care”.  It was at that moment when God spoke to my heart and told me that I needed to go to Mexico to help with this retreat. I remember going outside and crying. We were in the process of putting our house on the market to sell. The timing was crazy and we had no money to put toward a trip like that! But, when God calls, He provides everything needed.

Jason was in support. I had a group of friends and family who were giving prayer support, and all the finances were taken care of by different people who felt strongly that God would have them give for me to go. But the greatest thing was that my daughter, Addie Rose, was coming with me. I felt all along that she needed to come. Passports, tickets, gifts for Ben and Angela’s family, all of this was provided. It was astounding just how clear God made it that we were supposed to go. So we went.

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I can write so much more about all that I learned and all that God did in and through me on this trip back to Mexico. But the biggest accomplishment was done in my own heart. I poured out my heart to Angela concerning the pain from my childhood and she was used mightily by the Lord to pray healing over me. God took me back to the land of my childhood, the land of my wound. He took me back with my daughter to reestablish me as His daughter. I left Mexico healed and free.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his spendor. Isaiah 61:1,2,3

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After all these years, my parents have come a long way and restoration continues to take place. As I process through my healing with my mom, she is encouraging me to be the daughter. I look forward to the coming years.

Celebrating Desert Wanderings

I don’t do very well with in-between times. I don’t like waiting, especially after sensing God’s leading in a certain direction. It doesn’t make sense to me why sometimes God doesn’t speed up the process. His timing is, so often, not mine.

I have been reading through the book of Exodus with my children this year. We’ve studied the miraculous saving of the baby Moses, his own exile to the desert, his encounter with the Great I Am, his return to Egypt and then we read about the plagues, the Passover and Israel’s final departure from Egypt.

But we realized that God doesn’t lead his people straight to the Promised Land. As if reading this for the first time, I stumbled out loud over Exodus 13:17-18.

 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, for that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.

God leads his people to the desert because they weren’t yet ready for war. They had a lot to learn before they marched around the walls of Jericho with Joshua some forty years later. They needed to understand the nature of this God who led them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They needed to trust in God’s provision of food and water for them daily. And they needed to receive his law in order to know the holiness of God and just what he required of his people.

During this time in the desert the Israelites did not settle down in order to live there permanently, but lived in tents, or booths. It was a time of in-betweens where God’s people were already delivered (from Egypt) but not yet living where God intended them to (The Promised Land of Israel).

One of the commands given to Moses by God (yes there were more commands than just ten) was to celebrate a yearly feast to the LORD called the Feast of Booths, which celebrated the LORD’s provision for and presence among the Israelites during their desert wanderings. (See Leviticus 23)

Starting on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Tishri, many Jews and some Christians will celebrate the Feast of Sukkot, or Booths. This is the final festival in the seventh month of Tishri, preceded by the Feast of Trumpets and the solemn Day of Atonement. Sukkot is a joyful time, celebrating the autumn harvest of grapes, figs and olives in Israel and commemorating Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness for forty years. There are differing opinions on when this feast begins, but many will begin their celebration on sundown of September 27 by constructing sukkah, or tabernacles, to remember how the LORD provided for the Israelites during their wandering in the desert.

I am intrigued by the Jewish Festivals, but especially by the Fall Festivals. Jesus, through his death, resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, has already fulfilled the Spring Festivals. The Fall Festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot look forward to the things that have not yet been fulfilled through Jesus Messiah. We look forward to the return of Christ and to his setting up of his kingdom on this earth. We look forward to his conquering of our enemies and doing away, once and for all, of the curse of sin and death. We look forward to his actual, physical presence! I believe that this Feast of Sukkot looks forward to the time when we will be forever with the LORD.

I want to learn about this feast and try to celebrate it as best as I can, not because I am under compulsion to do so, for I am not bound to the Law as those who were under the Old Covenant. No, I want to celebrate because I want to look forward to the day when we will feast with Jesus and remember his faithfulness to us during our own desert wanderings on this earth. Our own time of already but not yet. For now we see as in a mirror and are looking forward to that time when we shall see face to face!

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

 

Waiting for the Harvest

One week before school started we put our house on the market. There were a few reasons we waited for this unusual time to try to sell our house. We had to wait for our foster daughter to go home before we could get ready to move. We also had to wait on God to impress upon us just when we were to move our family. We have wanted for some time now to move to the country, but we needed to know that it was God’s timing and His plan. Exactly one week before our house was officially on the market, Jason finally told me that he had heard from God and that now was the time to go.

This last month has been a hurricane of activity and work as we have painted and packed and fixed up our house to sell. Three days after it had been listed, we had a contract and we were looking to close on September 22. It all seemed like God was moving and things were going so smoothly.

Until the day we drove out to Madisonville to look at a property we were interested in purchasing. On the way there, we got the call that our buyers were backing out of the contract.

Jason had to pull over on the side of the road as we decided whether or not to go ahead and look at this land, even though we couldn’t put an offer on it anymore. We were shocked and disappointed, but decided that since we had come this far, we should at least see the property, so we continued.

And fell in love.

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It’s been two weeks since our house has been on the market again and those two weeks feel like an eternity. We are in the waiting again and every time, no matter how many times God has proven Himself faithful, it is unbearable to wait on Him.
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The other day I was hungry. Being at the tail end of the shopping week, there was hardly anything to eat in the house. Well, hardly anything that this paleo mom could eat anyways, so I found myself in the garden desperate for something to fill the void. The remaining figs weren’t ready yet, the tomatoes were green, there was okra galore, but I was getting tired of okra. What I really wanted was for the three gigantic cantaloupes to fall off the vine. Hadn’t I been waiting all summer for them? One of them was yellow and heavy, but the vine still clung to the fruit with a death grip that meant it just wasn’t quite ready yet. But I didn’t care. I reached out and wrestled the fruit from the vine, struggling and twisting it until it tore free. I brought it close to my face and inhaled, but it wasn’t sweet. I smelled earth, but not the fruity aroma it was supposed to have. I took it inside, washed it off and brought it to the cutting board. I cut into it and the fruit was the right color, a deep orange, but it was hard to slice and even cutting it produced no aroma whatsoever. I knew I had done this fruit wrong, but I was hungry and it was too late now. I made the best of it, sliced the rest of it up and ate a bowl of no-taste cantaloupe.

It filled my belly, but there was no delight in eating it. 
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I received an email from our realtor, the same one who had shown us the property in Madisonville. He had been responding to an email I had sent him, asking him to pray for us in this process of waiting on the Lord once again. He encouraged us that he and his wife were praying for us and he proclaimed that we could trust our Daddy, that in His KAIROS timing, He would make a way for us to sell our home and purchase what He had for us.

Kairos is the Greek word meaning, “fitting season, opportunity, time.” (Strongs Concordance) It is used many times in Scripture to tell of the time of the harvest.

Do I believe that His timing is kairos? Do I trust Him?

Most days it doesn’t seem like it as I fret about the inconvenience of keeping the house in pristine, show-ready condition. When I read about the financial crisis about to hit our nation and despair that the house will never sell. When I start to doubt that maybe we missed His voice or didn’t do everything we were supposed to do.

But then, I return in surrender to the One who has proven again and again His faithfulness to me. The One I know I can trust. The One who speaks to the depths of my being that He longs to give me the desires of my heart. Me!

I can choose to trust that His timing is nothing short of perfect.

I decided to wait to let the cantaloupe actually fall off the vine before I took matters into my own impatient hands again.  When I did that, I discovered that waiting until a fruit is ripe and in season is the best way to enjoy it.

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It smelled divine and tasted even better.

A Happy Ending

One year ago, to this very day, a three month-old baby girl was placed in my arms for the first time. I was given the charge to take great care of her until her parents got their act together. If they got their act together.

This was the second foster placement we had and my family knew somewhat of the unknowns belonging to the fostering realm. There were no guarantees really. Kids could stay for a month and then be whisked away to stay with some obscure family member with a freshly-done home study, or they could stay a year or two. Or the parents could relinquish parental rights and the child would stay forever.

The truth is, I didn’t want her parents to get their act together. I wanted to raise their daughter as my very own.

For about two months we heard absolutely nothing from CPS as far as if her parents wanted her or were doing their services or trying to get her back. And that was fine with me. Our family quickly bonded with the little joyful girl and we affectionately called her “Bella” (the Spanish way, with the L’s having the Y sound).

Two months into our story of doctors’ appointments and sleepless nights, Bella’s lawyer called me and scheduled a visit to check on her. When he came, he told us the heart-breaking news: Bella’s parents did, in fact, want her and were doing whatever they could to get her back. Apparently her father was seen crying in court because he wanted his daughter.

I say “heart-breaking” because how could I give this child back? I wanted to keep her. I remember standing in my bedroom, with my hands clenched tightly into fists as I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “Give her back to me, my child.” I balled my fists tighter and cried out, “No, God! I don’t want to. I don’t want this story to end like that!” But with tears streaming, I knew I had to let go. I softened and my hands relaxed until I was holding them wide open. She is not mine. She’s never been mine.  

We’ve always been stewards, haven’t we?

I got to see Bella flip over on her stomach for the first time. I captured on video the first time she called for Daddy, “Dada dada dada dada!” My children experienced the thrill of making her laugh. I experienced the thrill the first time she slept through the night! And then the agony of the first teeth she cut, and then she didn’t sleep for a long time. We got to witness her first time eating solid foods and then realized that she would only eat if Addie fed her! I was there for her first halloween, her first thanksgiving, first christmas. We shouted encouragements as she began to army crawl across the floor, in the particular way she would drag her whole body with her right arm. We were there when that turned into a true crawl and then when she would pull herself up to stand and stay there crying because she couldn’t get down! Oh how we loved her!

And her parents loved her too. Two times a month for two hours Bella had supervised visits with her parents. Four hours a month. Very early on, upon meeting them, we realized that they truly wanted their daughter back and were not just playing games with CPS. Little by little, our trust in them grew , as did our compassion for them. One day, we were invited to Bella’s mom’s birthday party at a park! And soon after, we invited them to our house for Bella’s first birthday.

You see, theirs is a success story that is not your average CPS case. Mom and Dad did their services. Completed every single one. Dad stayed with Mom, even though his leaving would have gotten him his baby girl. He chose to stick with her because he is an honorable man. And then, I just can’t help but think that with everything against Bella’s mom, an abortion would have been such an easy way out. But she chose life. She chose life even though she knew her baby would be ripped out of her arms when she was days old.

We’ve had them to dinner at our house and we’ve heard their stories. And I cannot even begin to understand the heartache and brokenness they have each experienced. We have such tender love for them both and it is only because of Jesus that our paths would be brought together and that I would be able to give them back their daughter.

Three weeks ago, Bella returned home to her mother and father. We miss her greatly, and the tears and the sadness come, especially from my tender-hearted Jeremiah, but there is such joy in this that it is quite difficult to be sorrowful. We loved Bella well. She has returned home to a good place with parents that love her and want to bring her up to love God. God has turned their lives around.

This story ends where theirs begins. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!