Monthly Archives: July 2012

Sojourners Looking for a City

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The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It’s our handle on what we can’t see.  The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd…

Abel

Enoch

Noah

By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home.  When he left he had no idea where he was going.  By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents.  Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise.  Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations- the City designed and built by God…

Abraham

Sarah

The promised son

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing.  How did they do it?  They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.  People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home.  If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted.  But they were after a far better country than that- Heaven country.  You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them…

Abraham and Isaac

Jacob and Esau

Joseph and his sons

Moses

The Israelites at the parting of the Red Sea and marching around the walls of Jericho

Rahab and the spies

I count go on and on, but I’ve run out of time.  There are so many more- Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets… Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves.  They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies.  Women received their loved ones back from the dead.  There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better:  resurrection.  Others braved abuse and whips, and yes, chains and dungeons.  We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless- the world didn’t deserve them!- making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised.  God had a better plan for us:  that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.

Hebrews 11- excerpts from the Message version of the Bible.

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Homesick

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As a missionary, it’s natural to be homesick sometimes.  It’s a human emotion that everyone feels sometimes.  But it’s weird for me to dig my spade in the dirt of my heart and excavate my own roots.  As I dig, I search for the remains of the life I used to lead.  I find bits and scraps and shards of my former life in the States and I marvel at what used to be important to me.  Like an archeologist who reconstructs the daily lives of spectors and ghosts of lost civilizations, I look through the remains of the woman I used to be.

Most of my sifting and sorting of memories begins with “once upon a time”.  We have moved internationally 5 times.  Sometimes I feel like my “carbon footprint” is wide and ample as I leave a wake of clutter behind me with each move I make.  I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself, “Once upon a time, I used to have a [fill in the blank with the random household item].  What ever happened to that?”  It’s been sold in a garage sale, abandoned in a drawer, or given away to family and friends.  For example, I use to have an apple-peeler-corer.  I have no clue where that thing landed ultimately.

But it’s not the loss of a random garlic press or knick-nack that causes the sore lump in my throat.  It is the uprooted feeling of longing for HOME, whatever and wherever that may be.  Most of the time it’s a vague sense of having lost something.  Sometimes it’s the sharp pang of knowing that my whole family is getting together in my parents’ back yard on a summer night and I’m far, far away.  My roots ache for soil.

Last Christmas we were fortunate enough to be able to go home for 3 weeks.  I wasted no time in pressing my thirsty roots down deep into the soil of home.  I didn’t care that I would transplant again in 3 weeks.  I needed to suck up the nourishment of family and friends.  I spent literally hours and hours reconnecting with old friends over cups of coffee or slices of pizza.  I never looked at my watch, I never counted calories.  I just soaked it all up.

It was a miraculous blessing to me to discover that my friends had not forgotten me, that they were still interested in me.  And for my part, I wanted to hear every detail of the past 2 years of their lives as well.  I wanted to see their kids’ school pictures, to hear the news from their latest job change, to listen to them share about a sermon they heard recently.  I soaked it all up and stored it in my roots for the long, dry summer days ahead.  I was happy that they made room for me in their lives again.  I was so pleased that they made room for me in their schedules.  My roots wiggled happily in the space my friends created for me.

When we finally returned to Costa Rica and the kids and I once again picked up the school books and backpacks, I was exhausted but happy.  Knowing that I was still a part of home, even though I’m far away, was the best cure for a homesick heart.

He’s Always Been Faithful to Me

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I chose this song today to remind myself and to testify to you:  God has always been Faithful.  He is our provider.  He is our source.  Times might look scary, but you can trust God.

He’s Always Been Faithful

By Sara Groves

Morning by morning, I wake up to find the power and comfort of God’s hand in mine.  Season by season, I watch Him amazed in all of the mystery of His perfect ways.

All I have need of His hand will provide.  He’s always been faithful to me.

I can’t remember a trial or pain He did not recycle to bring me gain.  I can’t remember one single regret in serving God only, in trusting His hand.

All I have need of His hand will provide.  He’s always been faithful to me.

This is my anthem.  This is my song.  The theme of the stories I’ve heard for so long:  God has been faithful- He will be again.  His loving compassion it knows no end.

All I have need of, His hand will provide.  He’s always been faithful.  He’s always been faithful.  He’s always been faithful to me.

 

Taxes and the Rapture

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If there’s any subject 100% certain to cause me stress, it’s money.  When I was a child, my family was in financial distress all the time.  There was always talk of not enough and of the grand-daddy of all money woes:  Taxes.  My parents’ business owed back taxes, so this word was always floating through their conversations.  They didn’t realize it, but I was listening, always listening.  I didn’t know what taxes were, but they sounded so scary!

I had another great fear as a child, also due to a mysterious word floating through the adults’ conversations:  The Rapture.  In the type of church that I grew up in, the preacher often taught about the Second coming of Christ, also called the Rapture, when all the believers would be snatched up to heaven in “the twinkling of an eye”.  There were songs written about it, sermons preached about it, and even movies made about it.  From the movies, I had the idea that we would all fly upwards naked, leaving our pile of clothing as an ominous indicator of whatever activity we were engaged in at that singular moment.  I was OK with flying naked into Heaven, but my major concern lay in the final destination of my blankie.  If we weren’t bringing any fabric to Heaven, then what would become of my beloved blankie?  I wasn’t sure I could enjoy Heaven without it.  This caused me deep anguish.

As an adult, I have out grown my blankie-love and it’s accompanying fear of loss, but I still carry tension where money is concerned.  I have over and over again experienced God’s faithfulness in providing for our financial needs, but it’s a hard lesson for me to retain.  I seem to have to learn it over and over again.  I’m like those block-headed Children of Israel who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years learning and forgetting how to trust God.  Learning and forgetting, relearning and forgetting again.  So last night when my husband said, “it’s another bad month for us” my heart clenched in my chest.

Our livelihood, every penny we need, comes from supporting churches and individuals back home.  And when times are tough back home, times are tough overseas too.  Month-to-month we are thankful for our faithful supporters who don’t forget that we are still “out there”, who don’t abandon us.  And month-to-month, God stretches the money somehow.  We’ve cut corners, eliminated luxuries (from an American’s perspective), and pinched pennies.  It’s just tight all around.  And it’s tight around my heart too.

We do what we have to do to survive.  This week I accepted a teaching position at my kids’ school.  Due to the kind of visas we have, I can’t actually receive payment, but I worked out a deal with the administration to convert what I would get paid into free tuition for my 3 kids.  This is huge for us!  Schooling isn’t free overseas.

We have made tough choices for our family.  We feel responsible to our supporters and want to respect their sacrifices as well, so we are careful about how we spend our money.  We chose a school that fits within our missionary way of life, yet is not the most expensive school there is.  We don’t have our kids in the expensive sports clubs.  They just have the after school activities that meet in the dusty old barn of a gym at their school.  They don’t get expensive music lessons.  We pay a friend to teach guitar lessons.  We are careful with how we spend our money.

My point is, we do make tough decisions, just like many of you have to make.  We make sacrifices to survive, just like you do.  And I have to remind myself constantly that God has been faithful to us… just like you have to remind yourselves of this.  Ultimately, the style of life that we have chosen is a life of faith.  We believe, though we don’t see it yet.  We believe that God will pull us through at the end of the month, but we don’t see it until the last minute.  Just like we believe that Jesus is coming back for us, though we haven’t seen it yet.

The Christian life is a faith walk… it’s meant to be.  It’s supposed to challenge us.  It’s designed to teach us how to remember- through repetition we remember the lessons of how to Trust in our Faithful God.  These are the faith-building stories that we tell ourselves and tell our children.  God has been faithful, and He will be again.

Longing for the Other Place: Guest Blogger

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This is a reblog of a blog that I personally follow.  As a matter of fact, it was written as a guest blog for Communicating across Boundaries last Sunday.  It is well written and touches on the theme that I will be writing about periodically for the next 2 weeks:  Homesickness and longing for Heaven.  This is Anne Alexander, Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Taiwan.

Yesterday I went to a funeral for a dear friend. It was a true celebration (the most joyful, Christ-honoring I’ve ever attended), but that couldn’t stop the tears, even in worship.

As funerals and farewells often do, this one brought up the pain of losing my brothers in childhood, and all the related pain of leaving relatives and friends on both sides of the ocean time after time after time. It brought up the longing for the ‘other place’, whichever one I wasn’t in, and the people I love around the world.

TCK lives are filled and colored with losses of all kinds.

Some of us stuff feelings really well for a long time (for me, until middle age), but some of us are blessed, unable to do so.

In the long run, the ‘expressers’ are less likely to develop physical or mental aberrations because ‘the truth must out’, and our pain is truth to us.

The angst the world feels because of the God-shaped, Heaven-shaped longings implanted when we were created for Him hums in their experience like an irritatingly loud refrigerator– sometimes softer, sometimes louder, but ultimately ignorable until the margins of our lives are used up.

As TCKs we live with less margin most of our lives, continually pushed into areas of growth, change and challenge. We may disguise the irritation and angst of being  between homes and Home, but we can’t hide it any more than a person with 3 arms can hide it under a 2-armed shirt.

Growing up, we’ve sampled more fulfillment and full-use of our potential, more of and varied pleasures and experiences, more pain and loss, than many of our passport-country friends do in an entire lifetime.

We are accustomed to adrenaline in traffic and true life-threatening experiences, to fox-hole friendships with those we work and worship with, to ‘relatives’ closer in spirit, purpose and faith than any blood relatives we could find in our passport country.

We have lived life without the bubble wrap, warfare without boxing gloves, and the exhilaration of seeing God come through when it really matters.  And we know it’s more than just making the next traffic light green so we can get to work on time.

Is it any wonder that we grieve the distancing from LIFE that sometimes seems to accompany return to our passport country? Is it any wonder that we long for friends and ‘relatives’ like those with whom we grew up, or worked with in our country of adoption?

Thank God for a word like ‘saudade’ that helps us express the inexpressible longing for that remembered world of discovery, friendship, growth and possibilities. We are not alone. And there will at last be a place where all potentials will be realized as they were meant to be.

But until then, my heart will go on singing (even if sometimes the minor key spirituals of hope);
But until then, with joy I’ll carry on (knowing that even if no one else understands, my Creator, Companion and Burden-bearer does)–
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me Home. (Until Then chorus by Ray Price)

And in the meantime, that third arm comes in handy for all kinds of tasks, like wiping the tears I sometimes can’t hide, or helping a friend in need.

Kindergarten in Mandarin was TCK Anne Alexander’s introduction to Taiwan, and for 44 years she has called Taiwan home. At present she’s teaching and researching Bible storytelling in Mandarin for a doctorate from Biola’s Cook School of Intercultural Studies. 

 

Things I’ve learned at the airport

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See, even Matt Damon picks his nose, so I guess it’s OK

Do you enjoy people watching?  I admit that as a connoisseur of the ridiculous and bizarre, I relish times when I can sit back quietly and watch the weirdos go by.  Highly entertaining for me.  And the airport is one of my favorite people watching venues.  Good opportunities to gawk and mock make trips to the airport at least tolerable.  This past summer we have made more trips to the airport to pick people up than I can ever remember making in the past.

So here’s my latest revelation gleaned from the bounties of boredom at the airport:  apparently you don’t have to worry about how you behave in public anymore.  For years I have labored under the illusion that personal grooming should be conducted discreetly and in the privacy of either home or bathroom.  My mother, who went to Charm School in the 60’s when other young ladies were burning their bras, has insisted that I learn how to behave in public.  This included walking lines to keep my duck toes pointed straight and moderating my voice so as not to laugh too loudly or too obnoxiously in public.  So it is with great shock that I observed various cases of personal grooming and self-touching that caused me to purse my prissy lips in dismay.

The “Vulgar and Unrefined” behaviors that I observed at the airport today are apparently now socially acceptable since more than one person was doing them and I have seen these actions repeated almost daily here in Costa Rica.  They include:  brushing hair, picking noses and ears and teeth, clipping fingernails (!), indiscreetly adjusting undergarments, and  scratching any body part that itches.  I would like to add to this list, the use of the cleavage as a cell phone holster, and the “manly” rubbing of the bare belly I have observed by men standing idly on street corners.  I’m not sure whether to advert my eyes or to giggle like a junior higher.  I do the adult thing- I smirk.

Well this revelation is quite liberating for me.  I will now be picking and itching with careless abandon!  It’s a good thing that nobody cares how you act in public anymore.  At least I’m still wearing a bra.

Lucy was here, better call FEMA

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Lucy, my 5 year old, is a living tornado.  If you want it broken, for insurance purposes, just put it into her hands and you’ll have a perfectly good claim in under 3 minutes.  She is easily the most destructive child I’ve ever known.  I’ve known puppies that cause less destruction than this mischevious child.  For example, I’m on my second lap top since she poured a cup of water on my first one.  So I should know better than to leave her alone for any period of time.  But today I had a lapse in parenting.  I got side tracked doing something upstairs and left her alone in the living room watching a video.  I should have known better.  She can not be trusted.

An hour later when I came downstairs, our tile floor was a swimming pool.  There was standing water on the coffee table, a wet spot on the couch, a soaking wet towel covering the foot stool, and a puddle that spanned from the living room to the dinning room and into the kitchen.  I followed a set of dirty foot prints into the half bath just off the living room and I think I found the source of all the water.  This weekend our water was shut off for pipe repairs.  So I had strategically placed buckets of water next to the toilets for flushing purposes.

Our water had come back on yesterday afternoon, but I had forgotten to empty the bucket in the half bath.  Now I’m no forensics expert, but I have played Clue, so here’s how I think the crime scene could be reconstructed.  Lucy is watching a video and absent-mindedly colors on the couch with the capless, brown marker in her hand.  Knowing this will make Mommy very angry, she goes into the kitchen and takes the towel from it’s place by the sink.  She’s too short to reach the sink, but she knows where there is a bucket of water placed at her height… in the half bath.  She proceeds to dip the towel into the water and carry it dripping, no soaking wet, to the couch.  She sponges the marker spot on the couch.  She still has enough water on the towel so she decides to clean the whole coffee table, after all, it’s sticky too.

She takes the still dripping towel back into the kitchen where she gets side tracked.  Her 5 year old attention span zeros in on the refrigerator.  She knows there is a bag of chocolate chips in the freezer and she thinks it’s about time for a snack after all that hard work.  The clip is off of the bag because she’s already been into it today, so she carries the bag upside down to the coffee table, spilling crumbs of chocolate chips all over the floor.  The crumbs look suspiciously like mouse poop, but there’s just too much of it to be anything but a mushy mess in the puddle which now covers 2/3 of the floor.  She goes to get the broom and dust pan from the laundry room.  She quickly gives up on that plan and abandons them in the kitchen.

Looking around, she spots some purple tissue paper on the dinning room table.  Maybe that could work like paper towels!  She carries the tissue paper to the wet spot on the couch and proceeds to rip it in two.  Well, that was fun!  She decides to rip another piece.  She continues ripping the purple tissue paper into soggy shreds that bleed onto the couch and the white tile floor.  And at this point I take notice of the dangerous silence in the house and come downstairs.  I gasp!  I shout!  I spank!  I don’t know where to begin cleaning this disaster.  I should call FEMA.

Feeling the full weight of shock and awe, I try to reconstruct the crime- Lucy with the towel in the half bath.   I think about the time when she was a toddler, she dipped a wash cloth in the toilet and sucked the water off of it.  I am thankful that this PROBABLY isn’t toilet water… at least I think it’s not.  I pray it’s not.  I check the level of the water in the toilet bowl and mentally measure the amount of water on the floor.  Nope, not toilet water.

During the next half hour of cleaning the mess my emotions swing wildly between being angry that I have to clean my floors again after I literally just did them twice yesterday AND being thankful that tile floors are waaaaay easier to clean than carpet.  So is the glass half full or half empty?  I don’t know, but I think that half of it has spilled on my floor.

My child in motion… constantly.

The Good Life

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Here’s a bonus for you this week.  This is a classic song by Audio Adrenaline off their album Underdog.  Here you go, folks, “The Good Life”.

[vs. 1]

I’ve watched my dreams all fade away and blister in the sun

Everything I’ve ever had is unraveled and undone

I’ve set upon a worthless stack of my ambitious plans

And the people that I’ve loved the most have turned their backs and ran

[chorus]

This is the Good Life

I’ve lost everything I could ever want and ever dream of

This is the Good Life

I’ve found everything I could ever need here in Your arms

[vs.2]

Loneliness has left me searching for someone to love.

Poverty has changed my view of what true riches are.

Sorrow’s opened up my eyes to see what real joy is.

Pain had been the catalyst to my heart’s happiness.

[chorus]

[bridge]

What good would it be if you had everything, but you wouldn’t have the only thing you need?

[chorus]

Don’t You Get It?

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Every year in my English class I make my students do an assignment with the verb “To Get”.  Rather than me explaining the thousands of uses of the verb, I make them research it on their own and report back to the class what they find.  (Look it up in the dictionary sometime and you’ll be shocked at all the ways we use the verb Get.)  One of my favorite uses is the phrase, “I don’t get it.”

Have you ever found yourself wandering aimlessly through life and thought, “Is this all there is?  Am I missing something here?”  I want to be sure that I “get it”.  I want to get it RIGHT and I want to get it ALL.  I want to squeeze every last drop out of life.  I want the Good Life- every ounce of it.

I have no doubt that someday I’ll be in heaven (so I know I got that part right).  But I don’t want God to say to me, “You didn’t get it.  You had all those years on Earth and you didn’t get it.  I was always with you.  I surrounded you with immeasurable beauty every single day.  I was calling to you every day.  I was trying to get your attention.  I wanted you to see me and admire my beauty.  I wanted to fill you up with my beauty, which would have made you so happy.  But you were too busy.  You were too focused on the pointless details.  You were too frustrated to look up.  I wanted to give you the Good Life, but your hands were already full.  I was trying to show you, but you didn’t get it.”

How many sunsets have I missed?  How many loving gazes have passed unnoticed?  How many times have I been looking down when I should have been looking up?  How many days have I spent scratching around in the dirt when I should have been soaring through the clouds?  How many times have I felt sheer joy rise up inside of me, threatening to swell and burst my heart, but I’ve pushed it back down again because I’m a grown up now?  Children never do that.

When a child is bursting with happiness she sings and dances with abandon, she squeals with giddiness, she claps her hands happily.  Her eyes shine with joy and her smile stretches from ear to ear.  Then what happens?  She runs into her Daddy’s arms and hugs him tight around the neck… she is thankful.  She “Gets It”.   She gets that the Good Life is a life full of thankfulness.

Thankfulness both causes and results from Joy.  It’s a beautiful chicken-and-the-egg cycle.  Noticing beauty makes me happy.  Happiness makes me thankful.  Expressing thankfulness makes me even happier- Joyful even.  And with that Joy I find even more beauty in the world, which makes me overflow with thankfulness.  I worship.  I wrap my arms around my Father’s neck and squeeze- extracting every last drop of Joy from life.  I get it.

Busting through the Brick Wall

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Part 4 of how we became missionaries.  If you missed the last 3 days, you might want to go back and read them too.  I hope this is an encouragement to someone.

We came home from our life changing trip to Mexico and took a few weeks to pray before we talked to anyone about becoming missionaries.  We knew that this could be just a “high” from being on the missions trip, so we wanted to let our emotions cool a bit.  When the idea just wouldn’t go away, we started the application process to become missionaries with our denomination.  We knew this process could take months, so we didn’t plan to tell anyone until we were well on our way.  But the story leaked out.  Our family was shocked and not at all happy.

We finished out another year of youth ministry before we were “officially” accepted as missionaries.  Then the fund-raising began.  We spent 21 months raising our funds for a 3 year term in Mexico.  At the 18 month mark we were stalled out.  Josh was working the phones for 12 hours a day, we were traveling every weekend to preach at different churches and ask for support, but nothing was working.  We were discouraged.  To top it all off, we had been trying to sell our house for the last 3 months.  It had been shown many times, but no offers yet.

Then one day we got a phone call that felt like a kick in the stomach.  It was July 1, a Thursday.  Our Head Quarters called us and said if we don’t make a significant improvement this month, we’re done.  I raged.  I cried.  I panicked.  I punched pillows.  How could they fire us?  We’d worked so hard for so long, it wasn’t our fault that churches weren’t picking us up.  What more did they want us to do?  But the day needed to continue, so Josh and I agreed to go about our day like normal and pray about it while we worked.

That day while I prayed I thought about Gideon who asked God for a sign.  He spread a fleece on the ground and asked that the ground be wet in the morning but the fleece be dry as a sign that God was really asking him to do a risky, crazy thing like tear down the household idol.  God made it happen.  So Gideon reversed the test the next day, just to be sure.  And the next morning the fleece was wet with dew but the ground was dry.  So there he had a clear answer- God wanted him to do the crazy, risky job.

When we came back together that evening, I shared my thoughts with Josh.  I said, “I think we need a sign that we are still on the right path.  I feel like there is a brick wall in our path and I don’t know if it means this is the end of the road.  I feel like the road continues beyond the wall, but I don’t know how to bust through the brick.”  So we decided to ask God for a miracle to show us that we are still supposed to go into missions.  We asked that our house would sell… that weekend… on 4th of July weekend.  Even though no one had looked at the house all week and it was a holiday weekend.  It was crazy, no one buys a house on 4th of July weekend!  We prayed.

The next morning we got a call from a real estate agent.  Someone wanted to see our house!  This was it!  I just knew it!  This was going to be the sign.  By the end of the night we had accepted their offer.  We sold our house.  We were still supposed to go into missions.  Somehow God was planning on punching through that brick wall.  Now we knew we were still supposed to walk this road.

All excited about the miracle, emboldened, we asked for another miracle.  Our missions agency wanted us to raise $500 in pledges by the end of the month.  We asked God for $500 in the next week.  But the goofy thing was that we were going to be spending a week up at a District Family Camp and we wouldn’t be making any phone calls all week.  Without making a single phone call, by the end of the week, we had $500 in new pledges!  God did it!

Again we asked for another $500 for the next week!  That week we were scheduled to be touring churches in Iowa and we would not be making phone calls that week either.  We prayed, and BAM!  God did it again!  Another $500 in monthly support came in.

The last two weeks were ear marked for packing and garage sales since we had to be out of our house by the end of the month.  No phone calling for those weeks either.  Yet we prayed again and each of those weeks we ended with $500 more in pledges.  Our deficit was filled.  Then one day I was standing in the garage selling junk and opening the mail at the same time.  There was a card from a little old lady that I had met at a church over a year ago.  My mouth dropped open.  Inside the card was a check for $10,000.  Our cash budget was blessed also.  God thought of everything!

We spent the last 6 months jam-packed into my parents’ basement again- homeless- as we awaited our December departure date.  We were on our way to Mexico to be missionaries.  Not only had God punched through that financial brick wall for us, but He had boosted our faith beyond measure.

Many times since then, we have gone back to that point in our history and remembered how God came to the rescue and was faithful to finish what He started in us.  Since then we have never doubted that God was leading us.  It was just too clear that His mighty arm was leading and sustaining us.  He doesn’t work the same way twice, but we’ve never been in such desperate financial need either.  Lesson learned:  Trust God, He can handle it.

Great is Thy Faithfulness!  Great is Thy Faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided-

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!