Posted in Journal

Twenty-two Nations

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How big is your world?

I love that WordPress gives yearly statistics on my Blog. They don’t share who reads but instead a list of countries and the number of “hits” per country for that blogging year.

Now, I don’t write so that others will read it; I just like to express myself through writing and it helps me process..but I am always aware that since this is a social media platform that it is visible and there is the possibility that it will be seen. It can be seen, but until recently it hasn’t. In fact, I have been blogging for ten years on this site, and never had over one or two hits a year.

Sometimes we think what we do doesn’t matter or that we don’t touch anyone in any way through Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc…but looking at the list of the nations I am reminded that everything we put on social media or speak out of our mouths wherever we are…goes out there and has some effect. These “hits” represent people that were searching for something and landed on my website. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, that is a pretty sobering thought. I need to be as careful about what I write and share, as what I speak and even think. You do too. The world is searching and they are watching, reading, and listening and you may not even know it….until after the fact. Do my words represent Jesus well? Do they share the Gospel? Are they loving and encouraging words? Do my words and thoughts line up with Philippians 4:8?

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. ~ Philippians 4:8

 

My Pastor often says that we may not be able to go into all the world, but each one of us can all go into all of our own world. I never dreamed my world was so vast and I am reminded of some of the scriptures I have prayed so many times. Scriptures like:

 

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. ~ Isaiah 6:8

Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. ~ Psalm 2:8

Since I began praying these scriptures, I have had the privilege to personally go to Romania, Haiti, and Tanzania on Mission Trips. What a blessing. I worked for a season at a local food pantry sharing the gospel and praying with the people that came there. Incredible times of ministry. These are all very real mission fields but the majority of my days seem to have little to do with missions and sharing the Gospel but instead looks more like me studying and writing and learning it for myself. I have often wondered why “waste” so much time making sure my writing and the look of a website was pleasing for my audience of “me?” Maybe, God put that desire there?

 

When we “sit” and wait on His calling to spring forth in some BIG way, we sometimes miss what God is doing in small ways. We sit and sometimes think maybe God said “no” to our prayers or that He wants us to wait longer and prepare more, or maybe we think He isn’t answering our prayers at all because it doesn’t happen in our timetable or as we expect. I didn’t expect this but look at the nations listed in my report -in order of the number of “hits” received for this past 12 months. Twenty-two nations…all over the world.

 

United States of America, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Malaysia, Spain, Philippines, Indonesia, France, Sweden, Chile, Cambodia, Taiwan, Armenia, Japan, Colombia, Canada, Romania, Algeria, Moldova, Rwanda, Austria

 

Only God knows His plans, and only God knows where the seeds you are sowing (whether they be good or bad seeds) are falling and taking root. Maybe these are just words on a page but they are out there going, going, going. I can honestly say, I had no idea. What an eye-opener!
Posted in Journal, Missions

Dust

It was the last night in TZ and the team was heading back from Safari. It was a four-hour trip and we were all very tired. Halfway back, there was a traffic jam in Arusha so our guide decided to go the back roads to Moshi. The back road was Nelson Mandela Highway. It was a road sometimes paved, most times not. We passed the Nelson Mandela University. Very middle-class area in TZ, I thought.

And then he made a left-hand turn and the scenery changed. In an instant, we were on a small dirt road in the middle of a remote village. I grabbed my camera but just as I did I heard the Holy Ghost tell me to take no pictures so I put the camera down. Oh my, people everywhere, dressed every way, animals everywhere. No cars except those trying to get through. Thatch roofs and mud houses. We got about halfway through the village and a young girl was standing on a bridge yelling and pointing at us. She was mad and they said trying to put curses on us. We rolled by on that dirt road leaving clouds of dust and a group of people covered by it – breathing it unavoidable.

And with that realization, it started – the tears. I started crying. Weeping at first but then it turned into streams of tears and didn’t stop until we arrived in Moshi. Believe me…I tried to stop. Believe me…I felt like I was causing discomfort in the van and so I tried. But the Spirit of the Lord had fallen on me and what He allowed me to see on those streets even through my tears and what He allowed me to see of my own soul overwhelmed my heart.

Maybe the love of Jesus starts by not thinking our own dust is more precious than others very lives. Having some respect and love for who they are even if they exist with just the clothes on their back, a goat or two and even if we know they worship a false god. Having some respect and love even if they hate us. Having some respect and love most especially if we are just passing through. I am not sure an unreached people can be reached for the Lord by westerners (missionaries or not) who care more about their own dust (time and their own physical conditions) more than relationships built on love and respect. That takes time and while it can be dusty and dirty is never that intentionally.

One of my thoughts as we rolled through – How can those Tanzanian villagers do so much with so little? How can we Americans do so little with so much? The point of my even writing this down is for my own remembrance, as I have no pictures to show of it. Most people will never see this or care what I write in this blog. I keep my writing fairly private…but I also write it to say this…

LOVE your neighbor…and sometimes that looks like just slowing down.
Posted in Uncategorized

Stuck Between Two Messages

I find myself stuck somewhere between two messages I have heard this week – laying a dream on the altar and not giving up on a dream. I guess in God both can work together for His good purposes.

The problem with laying a dream on the altar is that you have to actually take the steps to kill it -yourself. The problem with the death of a dream is that it was only tangible to you and God and so for the most part no one else gets your grief and so they tend to try to redirect it toward something perhaps totally unrelated. 

——

Last night I was out having a quiet dinner with my son and we ran into my group of friends going to Africa on a mission trip this winter. They had all been getting their yellow fever shots. Ouch! They said it hurt. Don’t know about that but it sure pinched like crazy to have to deal with my own feelings in the middle of Cracker Barrel. I admit it hurts not being a part of the mission and group. It hurts to be on the outside when I get together with these friends and this mission is now the topic of conversation. It hurts and yet I am still interested and have a heart of love and I still am supportive and want to always offer life giving words regarding this mission and my friends willingness to go and share the Gospel.

So I deal privately with my heart and I sit here and the tears roll. I have happiness for them and the changes that will come in their lives. I have happiness for those they will meet along the way. They have lots of projects with orphans and widows and pastors and ladies that have come off the streets of Tanzania. I so wanted to be a part of the ministry to the ladies and widows there.

So I do what I know I am allowed – pray and sow and lay my dreams and plans on the altar.

Interesting how ours seem so “perfect” but God alone has perfect plans.

——-

And then there is the other message of don’t give up….

Posted in Uncategorized

Just Showed Up For My Own Life too

Three years ago I watched a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Honestly at that time I had no interest in Africa, AIDS or the people affected in the world. It was not in the radar of what I knew as my life, but that day God sat me down and sat me still and He touched my heart. Although it wasn’t a religious video or even one of social justice, I couldn’t turn away from what I saw and heard from Him that day…the burden. I told my family afterward that I would be going to Africa on a mission trip one day.

Over these last years I have thought about that statement and that day often. Then several days ago I watched a music video by Sara Groves. It was a video set to her song I Saw What I Saw and it was a message about how her life was changed and how it really began by a visit to Rwanda. When I saw it I started crying. I was bawling like a baby. Couldn’t contain my feelings. I know what God has placed in my heart and seeing that video brought it all into the open, if just in my own room…it had become a burden and was this true desire I was feeling?

Today I watched another documentary from the Nomad Film Series. It was titled- Just Showed Up For My Own Life. This documentary, about Sara Groves as well, chronicled both that visit to Rwanda but in much more detail and Sara ministering in Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I am completely undone.

I have over these last years asked God to give me a heart that felt love, real love. God has taken my heart filled to the brim with so many prejudices and judgments and apathy and I can feel Him replacing it with His heart of deep longing and love and “homesickness” for these nations of Africa but also for individuals; also for this nation…the poor and broken-hearted of this nation and this town. I have cried all day for the orphans and the widows; for the elderly; for the women and for the men. Those living in poverty and a kind of trauma that I can’t even understand. His people, His children. Then I find myself praying that He would give me a nation and to help me perceive the need in the one in front of me today.

What God has placed in my heart is beyond my understanding. I guess I write it here because I have to believe there is someone out there that knows something at all about what I am feeling. I admit I don’t get it exactly and I admit it might sound crazy. I don’t even know the simple things I need to know so yes it is so beyond me…but for whatever circumstance I find myself or whatever season of my life I am in, this is. This is a new reality that has always been there in God’s plan for me. It is now a part of my own life. It is risky and yet I know the risk of not showing up for this part of my life is so much greater. I see documentaries like this and read books and listen to missionaries speak and I just want to see and know a people with that kind of love, faith, healing, joy that these people seem to know. I want to walk with Jesus there- maybe so I can know more of how He wants me to walk with Him here. One of the consequences of great prejudice seems to be great responsibility. I have to own that. I want to quit crying and yet I don’t want to ever quit. It is now my burden, my desire and my prayer.

I have been meditating on this scripture today. It has blessed me:

Isaiah 41:9-10 (New International Version)

9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Posted in Missions

Romanian Mission Trip Letter

My Dear Family and Friends,

It has been two months since I returned from the mission trip to Romania.  I admit a feeling of numbness upon returning. It left me with almost an inability to relate.  I felt torn between two worlds and not exactly sure how I fit into either or how to express what I had experienced and am still experiencing.  That numbness combined with being two weeks behind in work and underestimating my ability to catch up in a timely way made it hard initially to sit down and write as promised.  I am now over that but I have been dealing with something different and that is God’s call for me to share with you in a way that is much more transparent than I am accustomed.  I am sorry to say that I have fought Him for the last two months on sending this even though I know that a battle with God is not one I should ever want to win. So again I surrender.

Someone started a sentence recently “If anyone knows Melissa...” I don’t know how that sentence ended but God has used those four words to not only set the tone of what this letter to you should be but to also to restructure my life.  As I set out on this mission trip I did so with so much love, support and trust from all of you that it seemed almost hypocrisy for me to receive those gifts and not share a bit more of myself so that you can know the person to whom you were faithful.  I guess I have tried to protect myself by keeping me and my life private and very compartmentalized for a long time. For that reason there are very few people that know me.  The most important thing that I have learned through this experience is that it is impossible to give and to receive authentic love without being yourself and exposing who you really are and allowing others to do the same.  So in that light and for better or worse….

This is not a day by day chronicle of events.  These are just a few of the many things I began in my journals during this journey which seemed to begin the day that God called me to go in February but in reality began when God Himself created me and my life.  For that reason, your first impression may be that some of this stuff has nothing to do with Romania but it is all very connected.  These are the things that woke me up at 3am to consider and pray about, to anguish over and marvel in. The things I found myself wondering about.  Some of these things changed me, hopefully for the better. Two things for sure, I have what some would consider the curse of being a thinker and because of that I will probably never be accused of having an unexamined life.  As usual, I am longwinded so grab a cup of coffee because this turned into a long letter and when I added a few pictures…ouch!  If it is too much and reading is not your thing, know that I love you and it won’t hurt my feelings.

 

Former Thinking– 

 

When I was a girl, as some of you will remember and others of you will now know and perhaps be quite shocked by, I stood up with no fear and gave a heartfelt speech at my high school commencement on the virtue of simplicity.  In that speech I shared my life, stains and all.  I shared my dreams and my hopes for the future.  I shared my thoughts on Jesus Christ.  I talked about redemption.  There were no censors at that time. It was my time and I said exactly what I wanted. I embraced it.  My beloved teachers and the principal, although admittedly most were from my church and had in many ways helped to raise me, embraced it also. If anyone that did not know me actually listened that day they left knowing where I stood on many things…they knew I had a great love for Jesus and hopefully less of a love for Henry Thoreau. That speech and the giving of it exemplified everything about the person that I was then and the one that I thought I would be as I grew older.  Looking back though my naiveté and perhaps my arrogance were apparent.  Oh, the theme was great.  Don’t go after material things and don’t care about what people think of you because the only thing that matters is Jesus.  That life theme is easily lived out when that is all you have ever known.  When you are poor and depending on generosity from your church family for shelter, food and clothing.  It is easy to believe that you shouldn’t care what people think when you have been forced to face accusation and questions…or when you are fatherless and the only possibility that you see of that type of affection, which you are starving for, is a miracle from God.  If that is all you have and know for the right now, it is truly easy to think that you believe that so wholeheartedly that you can be steadfast in that same belief.

I was a girl that was raised by “a village” long before that phrase was coined.  My “village” was my mom, maternal grandparents, and an amazing church family.  When we found ourselves with nothing and didn’t know who to turn to this church, who knew us and loved us as their janitors while my dad was studying for the ministry, turned to us and spent their money and years of their lives to bring us back from a town that we found ourselves homeless in and provide for us in ways that showed such profoundly selfless love that there was no doubt we were experiencing God.  The adults in “my village” did almost too good of a job as they watched over me and protected me and partnered with each other to purposely try to help me heal from the wounds I had suffered. I was everyone’s child in many ways and until I left for college I really went no where without at least one of these people with me.

I entered college and was for the first time in my life given both freedom and choices. But with no excuses except for being very human I began to lose all that I had valued as that girl. In my search for what I thought I wanted and what I thought would bring me joy, I lost what I had said I wanted most.  Now let me be honest.  I didn’t lose my relationship with God like I lost the diamond out of my engagement ring.  It was not a completely unintentional thing.  I lost it because I traded it.  I went after something fleeting.  Even though I knew that it was wrong, I became so obsessed with earthly relationships and the attention and then over time earthly things that God became second or third or perhaps last. Every word in that speech now seemed a lie based on the way I lived my life.

Although I had always been a bit shy, I could work through it but at that point in my life sin, and along with it fear, began it’s hold on me.  Over the years as I believe most of you know, accompanied by revelations of my father’s past and my sister’s death that same fear would eventually control my entire life.  But at this particular time the fear was just taking root and even still I found myself suddenly unable to do many of the things that I had loved. I could not speak, except in the smallest of groups.  I was very used to talking…though young, I spoke quite often at church and school.  I could not write and I loved writing. I had written stories and poems since I was a very tiny girl.  But now I couldn’t even write in my journal. That speech would be the last time I wrote anything significant.  It would be the last time I spoke publicly with ease. The girl that had won art contests and had participated in community shows, suddenly could not draw. The girl that could sing…yes brace yourself for this because I will probably never admit to it again—back in the day, I was part of a youth group that traveled around singing and giving testimonies at churches and retreats and I once won a contest for a solo rendition of Silent Night and Away in the Manager…I could no longer sing.  The girl that had many, many good friends suddenly lost them all. I don’t tell you these things to brag about me and things I did.  I tell you these things because in order to know anything about me it is important that you understand how far I fell. I tell you this because for some of you that were those that invested in me, even after all these years I owe that confession. I tell you this because I know and understand, as some of you may, how such a fall can happen and how it feels once it has.  I had been given so much and had always given the glory to God and with God’s help and blessing was successful.  But I gave Him up and with that bad choice that girl that had been me seemed to no longer exist.

In my late twenties, I came back to the Lord for a time and once again I was blessed with abilities and opportunities that were beyond me.   How I wish I had learned steadfastness, but I didn’t and I suffered the tragedy of the deaths of our two sisters and that blindsided me and tested my faith in God and I once again chose fear over trust in Him. Fear became my master and throughout the next years I would hide my face from the world and once again lose most of the life that I had known.  During this time God never stopped pursuing my heart.  But of course it is a choice He gives each of us and it was not until September of last year that I became desperate for a renewed relationship with God and finally sought Him and saw Him in a true way.  I confessed and took responsibility for my sins.  I had to admit that in choosing the road that I thought was safe, I had actually chosen the wrong road.  I also had to come to agreement with God regarding responsibility for the affect my sins, and the control I had allowed it to have, had on many people throughout my life, including my wonderful husband and my own children.  God was merciful and at the point of my seeking with my whole heart, I had an encounter with Him that has changed my life and most everything about it. He healed me. My coming back into fellowship was and continues to be quite an experience.  I pray everyday for God’s protection and the wisdom and courage to give up the right to understanding as I face a life that will inevitably give me more disappointments and loss and will once again test me and my faith.  God has rekindled the core values of that high school girl but is challenging me one at a time on each of my old flawed ideas.

One of those ideas that I didn’t get as the girl that spoke so long ago about redemption and that I am just now beginning to understand is this.  God created us.  We fell.  Jesus saves and we are redeemed.  I always left it at that.  That is a great thing but what I have learned is that God wants to restore us…back to what we were before the fall.   While many of you may have understood this all along in your Christian walks, this concept is new for me. It is indeed a paradigm shift. God made a promise to me upon my reaching out to Him that He would restore all that satan stole from me. I misunderstood.  I thought it was a promise about earthly relationships or things or earthly abilities or even time but now realize it is about my soul.  He restores our souls so that ultimately His perfect creation is restored.  The restoring of our souls is a process which as I understand will only be complete upon Christ’s return.  In light of this, I think perhaps this….these types of short term mission trips may change a life here and there but mostly your own and yet- in that changing- it is not about me.  It is about HIM.  His Glory.  His will. His creation.

Man, am I ever the prodigal child? God greeted me, with open arms, right where I was on the road. We are making our way home, but the path is rather long because God met me way over yonder.  Because of this I didn’t feel prepared for or equipped to go on a mission trip.  In fact at our first meeting Pastor Sammy asked what I could do and I absolutely could think of nothing I could ever contribute.  I mean we weren’t going there to build a church building or some type of physical labor I could try to hide behind.  We were going to build relationships.  To sing, speak and worship with a group of people. Though in my life now I seem to constantly feel a yearning to study the Bible and pray and know Him, I am not really that far along in this process.  I didn’t know enough and to be honest there was a part of me that believed that all of my mistakes in my life disqualified me to do anything publicly for Him. It seemed it should require someone with more of something. Not me God, I am not ready.  A lot of you had great faith and encouraged me saying, “God will equip you, if He calls you.”  I trusted that because I knew that God called me though I couldn’t possibly imagine why.  God kept telling me while I was preparing that there was one person.  One person I was going for.  Perhaps I was the one. My being ready was irrelevant.  I will never be ready.  For some reason on the path home to the feast, God said I needed a detour.  It was amazing and perhaps someone there heard something helpful from me, but the only things I know for sure and can give testimony to are my own learned lessons and how they have changed me.

 

Family

One of the things that I loved most about this trip was the people I went with.  Each person was so unique and gifted.   I was awed at the group that God put together.  There was a part of me that just wanted to say “How did He know?” and yet that seems so ridiculous.  Of course He knew.   He’s God!  I am so accustomed to spending my days alone and relating with people face to face was incredibly refreshing.  I didn’t realize how much I have missed it.  Now that is something to contemplate. I grew to love and I learned something from each person. I have to share just a little about them with you because their impact on me and what they each taught me was not so little.  Knowing the people that they are, I doubt they have any idea.

From Hayley I learned the beauty of humility.  Hayley is humble and sweet.  She is genuine.  She puts God and family first in her life and that life is a wonderful example.  Hayley never made anything about herself during this trip.  She is what I wish I had been at 26.  She is the kind of person I still strive to be at 46.  She wants to truly make a difference in the world. Does she know that she has?

From George I learned honesty.  George was true-the “real deal.”  Things that were a core part of who he was before the trip were also a core part during the trip even if that meant personal sacrifice.  George faced discrimination and yet he handled it with patience and good cheer.  I never heard a complaint from him about anything.

From Donna I learned about love.  Donna loves her family in Romania. She loves her family in the US.  She loves us and she couldn’t wait to share all of that.   She did it with excitement.   She did it unselfishly even when it sometimes came at a loss to her.  Donna lived 1 Corinthians 13.  And her laugh!!! Wow! Just thinking about it makes me happy.

From Jan, I learned about steadfastness.  Jan is such an over comer.  That she was on this trip was a blessing.  Jan never wavered.  She was a strong encourager. At times when some of us were floundering in emotion and doubt, Jan sat beside us and patiently listened with a non-judgmental ear.  Jan is an amazing woman and friend.

From Sammy I learned about sacrifice.  Sammy sacrificed so much of himself in preparing for and carrying out this mission.  He was a wonderful example of sacrificial leadership.  In that role he led us by an unwavering example and with the warmest of hearts. I know that in the pulpit he tells a good joke but I was astounded to find the person Sammy to be really funny.  He made me laugh out loud.  (I wrote this particular piece of this letter before Pastor Sammy’s heart surgery.  Sacrifice takes on a whole new meaning in light of what I now know. What Sammy did for the Lord, for me personally, for the team, for the people of Romania is beyond words for me…That the Lord asked him to do this anyway and he did…true sacrifice and trust.  I will be forever grateful and changed.)

From Johnny I learned about being a servant.  Johnny gave and gave to us and he was happy while doing it. He gave to his family.  He gave to the people of Romania. He encouraged us and gave a smile just when we needed it.   He translated so that we were never left out.  If we wanted for anything, even a Pepsi, he got us a Pepsi.  The awesome thing about Johnny is that he did the same for every person that I saw him come into contact with on the trip.  People on the plane, in the airport, in restaurants.  Johnny gave to us and he gave to the Lord, without ceasing.  Talk about a lesson in foot washing.

From Todd I learned sincerity. Todd knows how to worship with abandon.  He really loves what he does and he loves the Lord and he isn’t afraid to be himself.  He almost knocked me over, literally, several times during worship but my question became, why am I not almost knocking him over? Why do I sometimes struggle just to raise a hand for God?  “Anyone that knows Melissa” knows that I love deep, intellectual conversation with just the right amount of humor.  I love to laugh.  Of all the conversations that I had on this trip, and I had some great ones, one of the deepest was with Todd.  Who knew? It actually took me by surprise.  Of the times I laughed the hardest, Todd was right there in the middle of it enjoying life and allowing us to enjoy it with him.  Todd is one of the craziest, yet most sincere people that I have ever met.

The ninth person that was a part of our mission team was Sorin, Johnny and Donna’s brother-in-law.   There is no way that I can talk about what people meant to me and what I learned without saying something about the people of Romania and Sorin exemplified all that was good in these people- the absolute ideal.  From Sorin I learned truths about being a part of God’s family.   Sorin played a bigger role than any of us.  Sorin handled the logistics in Romania.  We absolutely wanted for nothing because this man worked tirelessly.  I am not exactly sure when he slept.  He was always doing something for us.  He arranged drivers, meals, places for us to stay, took us sightseeing, carried our heavy bags.  He gave in to our spoiled American wants.  He let us use his phone to call home.  It would have been enough had he just done this for Johnny and Donna but he did it for each of us too. He treated us all as special and prized. Sorin and all the people of Romania were wonderful examples of how God wants us to treat each other in His family.

 

I had fun with these people. We went from being a group of individuals on a mission trip to being friends.  Don’t you wonder how God thought up friendship?  It is such a wonderful and precious thing that only God could have planned and created it.   It made me wonder about the disciples.  When it was just them did they have as much fun as we did?  Did they sit around and get to know each other and did they come away loving each other deeply?   Did they joke around with each other and laugh and call each other playful names?  Did James punch Thomas lovingly and say “TASHBA (Romanian for “shut up”) Thomas. You are driving me crazy.”  I know how some were changed by their mission trips and experiences but in the end did they change more lives than they were changed themselves?  When they were sent back to their everyday lives and their everyday jobs, to be workplace ministers as even we are, were they numb for a while?

 

Failure

Originally I was not going to share the writing about this part of my experience but in the spirit of honesty and because it was so important to me, I have.  I am a normal, very imperfect person and I sure hope that I learn more from experiencing failure than from not.

My biggest challenge in quite some time came during this trip when at the final service of the retreat I was asked to speak without prior notice. Now I stood up and gave my testimony to the ladies the day before but I wasn’t prepared for this and I once again had a reaction of fear.  After months of what seemed victory after victory, out of no where I was confronted with something I thought was gone and in an instant I saw the truth about my sinful nature.  The fear that I felt that day was the only real anxiety and fear I had felt in months.  Although it may not make sense to someone that has not experienced this type of thing, it was true terror and it caused me for a while to doubt everything about myself, God’s healing and the mission trip.  Later I tried to explain it to myself as perhaps a lack of sleep.  Hey Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  That was just a silly excuse though.  The truth is that I cannot explain it other than as an attack by the devil. I was determined I wasn’t doing it and I tried telling Pastor Sammy as much.  He told me to get over it and although it made me angry that I was not getting my way (like a little kid or something) at the same time I felt comforted because I heard God’s voice and God’s protection through him.  “Get over it.”  I don’t remember what I said when I stood up that day.  I only remember sitting down and trying to control the emotion caused by the conflict.  I do know that standing up that day and speaking anyway led to ladies coming over the next day with their own stories and doing it even though they too had their own fears in speaking to me.  That in turn established relationships and changed the trip for me. I have learned that if I am ever going to do anything of even the smallest significance, I have to leave my comfort zone. At the conclusion of the retreat as I sat and reflected on what had just happened during that service, feeling very broken and seeking forgiveness, God reminded me of these words that I heard earlier this year and wrote down in my Bible.  “I would much rather you step out in faith and fall with My knowing your heart than to have you live your life cowering in the corner, afraid to show your face and speak and unable to hear My voice.” 

 

Don’t you love it when He does that?  I let it go because I was forgiven, but I have to wonder this…During this trip, I was bound to fail at some point because there was a part of me that didn’t think I would because I was committed.  I thought if I kept my eyes on Jesus I would “stay healed.” How much pride is that? Me me me me me…Keeping my eyes on Jesus to try to obtain something?  Should I not just keep my eyes on Jesus because He is? No matter what praise God.  I mean I ended up standing and speaking but in my heart I caved at a request to acknowledge and praise the Lord. How sad is that?  And God could have told me I would do that.  Had He told me I would have said “No way. I am committed to do whatever is asked of me.” I even said it to myself several times during the trip.  You want me to talk, okay I am talking.  You want me to sing, I am singing.  You want me to stand up and say what You have done for me in bringing me to Romania and giving me the gift of this day and these fine people, without a script…..ummm.   Just like Peter.  I mean look at Peter. He said “no way, not me-” when Jesus told him that he would betray Him.  He thought he had courage too. We both failed.

 

It says in 1 Thessalonians that we are to give thanks in all circumstances as that is the perfect will of God.  So that we are to acknowledge God in everything- not in everything if we aren’t afraid and if we are prepared and if no one is watching or listening.  Praise God in everything and if we don’t we have sinned and betrayed Christ.  I am glad I felt conflict, I should have.  The Scriptures also tell us how Peter’s experiences changed him.  I wonder if mine will change me.

 

(I wish I could say that something had happened and I was a totally changed person as it relates to this particular recurring struggle.  Sometimes I can get it right but, much like Peter did those three times, I too often squander my opportunities.  God gives me these chances to praise Him and publicly say what He has done for me and yet at times I am still faced with this unexplainable fear and I give into it.  I ask for your prayers regarding this. If it were something that I felt I just needed to accept about myself I would move on or I feel like it would be okay to keep silent if I had nothing to say- but I think I do.  I have a desire stronger than my understanding of that desire to actually just speak.  I just praise God, I praise Jesus that even still He loves me as I am right this minute, not some future version of me and I pray that in His strength next time the opportunity comes, I will open my mouth and that He will be pleased because it will be all Him and none me.  I mean in all honesty, He needs nothing of what I offer anyway but I need everything of what He does.)

 

Father

It is not at all ironic that I write this as another Father’s Day passes.  I have always wanted a father.  It is very important for me to tell you here that as it regards my dad, I am filled with forgiveness for his mistakes and mercy for those things that were beyond his control.  Nevertheless…I have still always wanted a father.

 

Each year as Father’s Day would come and go I would watch with envy as my friends, total strangers and even my own family celebrated.  Seeing fathers and daughters together would at times rip at my heart.  It felt like a kind of sorority that I was not chosen for or allowed in because something was wrong with me.  Even though God did indeed raise up men throughout my life that taught me, challenged me and loved me and were excellent examples of fulfilling a Godly duty, I always wanted more.  As a girl, I would pray to God for a man to appear and become that person to me- the magical father.  I had heard of stories of this kind of thing.  Well okay Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch but I was sure it happened in reality too, right?  Choose me!  What is wrong with me?!  Father’s Days came and went but never that father.  You would think as an adult those desires would diminish but I haven’t found that to be true.

 

Then while we were in Romania we visited an orphanage.  This particular orphanage was a home for kids with disabilities.  Several with disabilities so great and heartbreaking that we were warned about what we would be seeing.  I was feeling uneasy, so I said a quick prayer that God would let me see, appreciate, process, never be afraid of and never forget what He had prepared and brought me there to experience.  Then we met the children.

 

There is Matthew.  He is three years old.  Matthew is a little boy with a head twice as big as his tiny newborn sized body.  Sitting up is impossible for him so he spends his days lying there looking at nothing. He can’t eat so he is fed through a tube. He cries and yet when I rub his face he smiles and his eyes dart around wildly trying to see the source of that touch.  Another child named Lenka has the opposite condition.  Her head is very small but her body is big so she can do nothing except lay in her bed also….but she can smile at me and she loves the attention.  All the children at the orphanage are disabled, except for one.  Anna Marie.  Anna Marie is as normal as can be.  A little blonde headed fireball of a toddler.  She loves the spotlight and she knows exactly how to get it.  She was precious to all of us and to the caregivers at this orphanage.  Anna Marie has a twin sister that is disabled, so they will grow up in this orphanage because of the laws that don’t allow them to be separated…unless a Romanian citizen rises up to adopt them both.

 

Well God answered my prayer.  I saw each of the little faces of the children we visited that day without fear.  Each child was so unique.  Some with deformity.  Some with smiles.  Some with tears. Some seeking – perhaps a hug and love.  Some with a faraway look of resignation.   I could hear each of their voices.  Some with laughter and squeals of joy.  Some with shrill cries.  Some with soft almost non vocal cries.  Some with a silence that said more than a voice ever could.   God also answered my prayer in the way I processed what I saw and heard.  In my mind, although I could see their handicap there was nothing wrong with these children.  Because in each face, each voice I could absolutely see creation, made in His image; a little piece of God’s plan.  Perhaps a part of His plan beyond what my limited faith is capable of understanding but no doubt God was there.  I could feel Him.  I wondered if they could.  Perhaps they were in a relationship with God different than ours.  Perhaps they were allowed to even understand their purpose that day.  Perhaps they knew ours.  I don’t know but I do know that in each little face I saw Jesus.  It brought me an amazing sense of peace except that still somewhere in my heart I could hear the words, “Choose me!  What is wrong with me?!”  I left there that day affected by something that seemed beyond horror or pity or religion or understanding.  I couldn’t figure it out. Was I just making it all up to protect myself from feelings of helplessness at such a situation?

 

That night I woke up crying from what seemed a nightmare.  I quickly tried to control my emotion because I was sharing a room with Jan and I didn’t want to have to explain myself because I didn’t have the explanation.  Something about my father but I also knew it had to do with these children.  I tried to let the experience go except that I couldn’t so I mentioned it to one of my team members on the flight home.  Even then I left it as a vague “this nightmare type thing happened.”  Nothing was resolved but I felt more at peace having shared it.

 

Then on the Tuesday after our return, God woke me up at 3am with the same experience.  I again woke up crying having had what seemed the same dream but this time I remembered the kids.  I remembered my father’s face in the background very faded, almost indistinguishable.  I said “I don’t understand, God.  What are you saying?”  God prompted me to get up and write although I didn’t know why or what exactly to write about.  I followed anyway and wrote these words …

 

“You have always wanted a father.  A father that would choose you.  A father that would love you the way fathers are supposed to love their daughters.  There is nothing about you that is a mistake or a disappointment.  You are exactly what I knew you would be.  I do love you. I have always loved you.  I did choose you. I have always chosen you. You are My special lamb. And I know that you love Me, but in your search for a father why haven’t you chosen Me?  What is wrong with the ME that you perceive that caused you as a girl to seek and even today to keep seeking an earthly adopted father, instead of being the true daughter of the Father whose image you bear…the Father that is real and forever?  It is time now to choose.  And don’t choose Me just because you believe I am all there is for you in the right now.  Choose Me because you know I am all there ever was. I am all there ever will be.  Just like Matthew and Lenka and Anna Marie, I have something for you far beyond what your present level of faith and an earthly father can ever supply but you have to choose it.” 

 

Wow!! Don’t you love it when God does that?  He has given me another chance at making a choice.  God is amazing and He continues to work in my life and change me.  I happily tell you that I have chosen.  With God’s help, I am letting go of that fantasy but it is not easy.  It has held me captive for many years and is tied to many pieces of my personality.  But I have chosen and will allow God to remold me.  That Tuesday at around 3:30am I fell to my knees and I surrendered my longing for an earthly father. I thanked God for the abundance of good and Godly men and women that He sent my way through the years that have helped me even when I had strayed so far.  Some who helped in ways that only He knows.  Some who have since gone to be with Him and even some who are reading this letter.  I choose what has been there all along.  I have always wanted a father and here I am with so much more- the blood bought daughter of the MOST HIGH GOD and that is more than enough.

 

 

Faithfulness– Romania interpreters

While in Romania I stayed, along with Jan and Hayley, in the one bedroom apartment of a woman that was on vacation in Spain.  Her wonderful mother, Zina, was responsible for taking care of us.  She walked from her home every morning to cook breakfast and clean and to talk.  Zina is studying English and could understand most of what I said but sometimes had a hard time communicating what she wanted to say to me.  We did work through this with hand motions and pictures and a translator.  Zina, like many of the people of Romania, are examples of a beautiful simplicity. They aren’t materialistic, whether that is by choice or circumstance.  Zina lives on $100 per month that she earns caring for her daughter’s family.  It is enough to provide the very basics for her.  There is no extra.  She loves children and spent her life working in the orphanages that she took us to but was forced to quit because she is going blind. She had dreams of a ministry to help older disabled orphans that are put onto the streets at the age of eighteen but because of her own disability and financial status has given up that dream.  Most of the people that I met while in Romania don’t have a lot of stuff or excess money and yet they spent the money they had providing for us.  You could tell it brought them joy. They are a people filled with love that just flows…for us, for each other, for God.  Our translator, Cristina, was a twenty year old student that is majoring in languages at the local university and plans to be a missionary.  She has a forty-five minute walk to and from school each day.  She spends her spare time studying, doing volunteer work with the gypsy community and writing.  Her poems brought tears to my eyes though she read them to me in Romanian. She told me they reflect her love for the Lord, for His creation and for His mercy.  These are just two of the many women that shared their testimonies and heartaches and victories with me.

 

Years ago I was told that one day I would be able to look back and see that God is faithful. At the time I didn’t understand the concept or didn’t want to understand because it was during a time that I was feeling very betrayed.  I thought sure God was faithful in the things that seemed totally aligned with His will, but I couldn’t understand faithfulness in ALL things.  Through this trip I began to understand the depth of the meaning of those words and that this person was right.  Sitting in that little kitchen with Zina and Cristina sharing our lives and talking with Cristina about her life and the power of forgiveness, God showed me that everything in my life from the beginning to that day was incredibly set into a correct place for what He was able to give to Cristina and to me, at that moment. It was humbling and filling. And from Zina, God gave me another sister.   She was, by her own admission, initially so afraid of me but we bonded over good, slow conversation and many cups of Jacob’s coffee. Her willingness to love me and the level of love that I feel for her has stunned me.  I also know from Zina that I was set to stay with someone else and on the way to Targu-Mures from Bucharest those plans were suddenly changed.  I am grateful to God for those changed plans.  From these two women and from many of the other women of Romania, I learned that my life and story and my healing are not extraordinary when it comes to my God and that to me is a comforting and wonderful thing.  I can’t even imagine the possibilities of that truth.  God is faithful. He always was.

The relationships I formed in that short time made me wonder this… If I can go across the world and befriend and love someone when I can only understand about 25% of what they are saying, how much can I love someone that I can completely understand?  That person across the cul-de-sac.  How many people can I befriend here that I have not? And why not?  Why am I willing to go across the world to a place I don’t understand but not always so willing to just walk across a room to get to know the person that is looking alone and a bit out of place?

Future

So what now…I am not sure of everything but I do know that God began some things. I hope that someday He asks me to go on another mission trip.  I loved everything about it.  One day I would like to travel back to Romania to have a longer visit with Zina.  I would like to perhaps work in one of the orphanages for an extended period.  I feel like my time there was too short.  In the meantime, I will try to take that desire and use it locally as I am sure of two things- there are people in this county and perhaps even my own church or neighborhood with some of the same needs for love, understanding, acceptance or perhaps just a friend and that each of these people are also made in His image and are a part of His plan.

While traveling from Charlotte to Memphis on the first day this trip, God told me very clearly to not forget my journey…any of it. I did not get the sense that He was talking about the mission trip although I really don’t want to forget any of this experience.  I believe that God was talking about how I relate to the people that He puts in my path.  One group that He has probably put into my path or will put there, but definitely has put into my mind are the “dechurched” (is that a word?) –those people that have left church because they have been beaten up or beaten down by it.  Those that try to come back as I did.  They will come back with great need.  They will come back lonely, hurting, broken and dying.  So I have to ask myself as it regards this group, this person –  How can God use my journey to help accomplish His will?  I wonder how many are out there, praying that someone anyone would help them, seek them out, befriend them or mentor them if just long enough so that they can be brought to a place where they can ask the Holy Spirit to take over and heal their soul.…Someone anyone just as I prayed for so many years and sometimes find myself praying even now, because I just don’t always know what to do with what God asks of me.

 

I also believe that God was talking about something else regarding remembering my journey and with that in mind and with the Lord’s incredible direction, I am beginning the process of writing my life story.  As my family and my friends some of you know all too well that I have a story to tell.  Though sometimes painful, I have lived a pretty interesting life.  Writing it down is something that I have known since I was a very young girl that one day I would do. Until recently I have been too afraid of tackling it but my life and my trust in the wonderful God that authored it have changed so dramatically over the last year and as a result that particular fear has been replaced with peace…and mostly because it is not a story that is now painful to me.  In fact my life story is not even just about me. During the last few months it has developed into a story of God’s faithfulness.  I have become very aware that I have been blessed to know and have been touched by some incredible people from many places and many walks of life.  When I hear some of their stories and realize how much detail was involved in intersecting our lives, I just stand in awe of the Lord.  God is so good and looking at His plan in retrospect it is so easy to see His love for each of us individually and all of us as a whole.  I wonder why knowing that, sometimes it is still so hard to trust.

 

Coming home from this mission trip experience I want to know God. Not just a theological knowledge. I want heart knowledge. I want to walk so closely behind Jesus that I am dirty, like the old Jewish blessing “may you be covered by the dust of your rabbi.”  I know that my love for Jesus Christ, those core values and even that simplicity that I once proclaimed so boldly, are once again what is driving me only in what seems a more balanced, chosen way and with a better understanding of my sinful nature.  Some of the dreams of that high school girl are still a part of me.  It may take a miracle at my age to accomplish the things I had originally set my sights on back in the day or perhaps at my age there has been a greater miracle and I can stop caring about my dreams and my sights and live the life that He intended and that only He knew was possible.  I now know and understand that I am accountable for what God calls me to do so I “go to the hem of the garment” and ask for a release of the presence and power of God in my life that I might be obedient in what He asks of me today and each day.

 

I thank Him for setting into place every piece of my life that took me to this very moment.  He is an awesome God.  I thank each of you for your support, prayers and encouragement.  I felt the prayers and I know and hope you know that although I made the trip, we were all and are all part of the same team. During this trip my small group, my family and my friends prayed for me every step of the way.  That my name was being called everyday by so many carried me.  It was amazingly powerful.  I could feel it. I know that some members of my small group already do this but here is something I wonder… I just wonder what life would be like and what I could do, what you could do, what we all could do together if we all did that for each other.  If we lifted each other up in prayer everyday and not just for mission trips or when there is great need.  Let’s consider that.

 

What has God been doing in your life?  A year ago a friend asked me that question in an email and I couldn’t answer it.  I had drifted so far for so long that I didn’t feel I really knew God.  God used that friend and that question to bring me to that point of desperation so that He could change my life.  If you have drifted like that or if you have never known Jesus, I want more than anything for you to know my Jesus.  I want you to know the joy, the peace, the freedom that I know through Him.  I want you to experience His grace and His healing. I want you to know a perfect God who loves you unconditionally and can transform your life.  God’s mercy and His love can take any bad decision that you have ever made and turn it into something Holy through the Blood of Jesus.  He can take your defiance, even years of defiance, and turn it into something good.  He alone can change your brokenness into something beautiful.

Thanks again for your trust. I love you all….

Melissa