Haiti Day 4

I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith collecting stories and photographs to update our church on the progress of the churches, schools, and other ministries that COF supports in Haiti. Before I came on this trip, my friend Tara, a missionary midwife at Heartline Maternity Center in Port Au Prince, wrote me and said, “Haiti is a place that won’t be understood easily but you will find love there.” I have played her words in my head several times since we arrived, but today I leaned on them all day long. We traveled last night from Gonaive and the rural village of La Source where we have spent the last few days, to a suburb of Port Au Prince where we will base for the rest of our time here. In total transparency, moving from rural to urban Haiti is more difficult for me to process, and the beauty harder for me to find. Our leader David warned us that Haiti is a lot to take in, and he is right. I am trying to process through my feelings and thoughts about the day.

It started off lovely. This morning we got up and traveled to Croix-de-Bouquets to join Pastor Raymond and Pastor Walter’s church for worship. Several groups from COF have gone there before us, so the church members are familiar with us and there is a long established partnership. Members of our team who have been here before reconnected with friends, and we enjoyed worshiping together. When we arrived, worship was already in progress (Haitian church services are several hours long, so us arriving late was by design). I loved the church service, the music, and the warm way we were welcomed. We each gave a short greeting, and if I thought speaking in front of children was intimidating, it was nothing compared to speaking on microphone to an entire church. It felt a little awkward and I stumbled through, but they had grace for me despite. Just before my greeting they had prayed for us by name and for Community of Faith Houston and Mark and Laura Shook (our pastors), and I was able to tell them that even while they prayed for us, our church was praying for them and loved them, and I was grateful we all could talk to the same God big enough to handle all the details of our lives. I sat down after, relieved, and enjoyed the rest of the service. Several groups sang songs in the service, a couple dedicated songs especially for us, we took communion together, and a member of our team shared a short message about a woman who changed her life named Debbi.

On the trip last year Debbi came to Haiti from COF and left a piece of her heart here. She built relationships with the team in Haiti and was scheduled to come back on this trip, but passed away suddenly a few months ago. Although I never met Debbi, so many people I know knew her well and loved her and talk about her often, and it does feel like her spirit is here with us on this trip. She is talked about with love both by members of our team who traveled here with us, and by our Haitian friends. Her light is still shining both in Houston and in Haiti, even while her family and friends continue to mourn. She had already paid her deposit, and her family generously told the church to put it toward someone coming on the trip, so that money paid my way. I in particular am grateful for Debbi’s legacy as I sit typing in the room a few doors down where she stayed last year.

After the service I was feeling a little tired and hot and unwell as we drove to have lunch at Pastor Walter’s house. As we drove, the dust and noise and traffic and trash on the city streets as we drove felt really overwhelming to me. There was just no break, no rest, and everywhere seemed crowded and chaotic and lacking, if I can confess my mental filter. I struggled to find the beauty I knew was there, trying to see as Jesus sees, but honestly, on that drive and for much of the afternoon, it was hard.

We arrived at Walter’s home, and were offered a truly lovely meal. From what we have seen as far as food in Haiti, it probably was the equivalent of a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal with several courses served for us, and I’m really grateful for the sacrifice I know that meal required from his family. There was not room for our hosts at the table in their dining room, so they served us and ate on the bench against the wall despite our protests. We could tell they wanted to serve us and honor us, and it was humbling and beautiful. I fell in love with Walter’s family, as I had been warned I would by staff members back home, and I loved eating lunch with them in their home.

As we drove back to the hotel, again I struggled. I felt heavy, and it was too much. I wanted to look away from it all. I prayed and wrestled, and then decided a good sleep (and maybe a good cry) would help my heart. We returned to the hotel and I quickly fell asleep. Our leader woke me up a short time later because he was going into Port Au Prince to meet up with an artist and writer he knows who lives nearby, and he wanted me to come and meet him and potentially get a part of his story recorded. In all honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I had seen so much today, and I felt tired and emotionally weary, but after reaching out to Justin and my friend Kacey to get them to pray for me, I decided to go anyway.

We loaded up in a car and went to this home in a nicer part of Port au Prince, near the UN compound. We went in and spent some time with the artist and his wife, an older couple who astonished me. I was unfamiliar with his work when we went to his home, but soon got swept up in the conversation and the images around me. His home was full of his paintings (and he had painted on almost every blank wall in the home), and he gave our leader one of his books as a gift. Although when we arrived he wasn’t feeling well, he welcomed us into his home as friends, and even called our leader his son, and I was really touched by his hospitality. I know a weakness of mine is that I can be more task oriented than people oriented, and COF missions is a very people and relationship-oriented endeavor, which always stretches me. But moments like this and connections like these are why that concept is important. We didn’t even attempt to pull out equipment and record him because being present with them was more important. His wife offered us cake and juice and we ate together and talked together before he showed me the art on the top floor of his home and his studio below.

His art, and his writing, is centered on chaos and finding beauty in chaos (and in much of his art the beauty is noticeably absent). Haiti is central to his work because Haiti is a very chaotic place and the struggle to find beauty here is constant and relentless. When I saw his art, heard him speak of the difficulty our planet is facing, and even just the act of sitting with an aging man struggling with what to do with the last years of his life as parts of his body fail, I felt less alone with the confusion I had felt all day. I realized that my struggle to understand and comprehend is a universal struggle that people have wrestled with since the beginning of time. In fact, it is a struggle reflected by artists, writers, thinkers, musicians, humanitarians and leaders for centuries. These same themes are even in the Bible. These opposing ideas of beauty and chaos, a loving God and suffering, the staggering reality of human starvation in a world where there is also ignorant excess, the simplicity of grace in a world overwhelmed with complex addictions and sin – it is all a struggle. The same things I see in Haiti on the street that are a shock to my system are less shocking when they are hidden in suburban Cypress or Keller or Grapevine, but they still exist. And my mind can’t reconcile it.

We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home – Jamie Tworkowski

Tara told me that Haiti will be difficult to understand, and it is. We as humans don’t like complex things, we like to caricature and simplify. But reality is complex. The same city can have dirty streets with beautifully-dressed people walking down that street toward church where they will worship Jesus and show love to one another. A filthy child can sit on a pile of what looks like garbage in the heat and still be absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. The road to a home where we are offered an extravagant and loving meal can be littered with children who appear hungry and animals begging and scavenging for food. A woman who loves the Lord and serves him can suddenly be taken home without warning or explanation. We have the hope of heaven, but for now we walk this world that can be confusing and scary with very real and acute suffering. In the chaos, God is good. I don’t understand it, I can’t reconcile it, it gives me a headache from tears, but I still choose to believe it. Life is lived and love is given to each other in the messy chaotic beautiful middle, and God is there with us in that place. I’m grateful today that God is with me and everyone I have seen, and because of Him there is hope.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18. 

Haiti Day 3

This week I am with Community of Faith in Haiti filming videos to update our church on our ministries in Haiti. We moved locations, and the internet is better, so I’ll try to add some photos to this tomorrow after sleep. 

Yesterday I had shot interviews with three different people, a little girl named Sabine and a father and daughter who both attend our school together (the father decided as an adult to return to school and humbly comes to class with children less than half his age and his daughter in the room next to him because all he wants to do is learn so he can help his family).

This morning, I woke up and in the first waking moment before my brain really even registers rational thought, I realized I hadn’t gotten enough of the little girl, Sabine’s, story. In rapid succession, 4 more questions I wanted to ask her popped into my head. I have learned in my life to never ignore those early morning ideas. More often than not, these moments are the Lord speaking to my heart.

Now you have to know, some of these children walk more than 2 hours to get to school. They had come in the day before, on a national holiday and what should have been their day off, to greet us. It was now Saturday, and of course school was not in session. There are 200 students in the school and out of that we had picked this one precious girl to focus on, and now I had lost my chance to film her entire story. I felt terrible, incompetent, guilty, and wasteful. I sat there in my bed, and I had myself a little pity/shame party. But then I thought about what we had been seeing and hearing from the Pastors in Haiti, and what I have learned since the day I first stepped foot into Community of Faith. I have had a Master’s course in the past 11 months of the real, tangible power of prayer, and now was my chance to put it into action.

I got my phone out and made a note of the 4 questions I knew I needed to ask, so I wouldn’t forget them, and then said a little prayer I would repeat through much of the morning. I asked the Lord to somehow deliver Sabine to me so I would have a chance to talk to her again. I knew we were going to see the land that Raymond, one of our Pastors, has purchased as the future location for the new school, we were going to work together with the teachers and administrators to clear a small plot of land for a tilapia pond, and we were going to meet Raymond’s family who live in the same valley. We would be in the area immediately surrounding the school, and I asked the Lord to give me another chance to talk to her.

To help the Lord out with the miracle (ha-ha), I tried to ask two of the teachers in the car on the way up to La Source if they knew where Sabine lived. Neither of them understood me, so I knew I needed to just pray. We arrive in La Source, unload from the car near the land they have purchased for the school, and as always, some neighborhood kids peek around bushes to greet the car full of strangers. I step out of the car and look behind me and someone smiles at me. I smile back, turn away, and then jump back around. SABINE! I run up to her, hug her, and excitedly in English tell this poor Haitian girl that I have been praying she would appear! One of our translators, Silvia, laughingly intervened and explained why I was so excited and asked her if she had a few minutes to speak to us again. She shyly agreed, as her siblings giggled around her. I got permission from our leader to stay behind and travel with Sabine to her home to meet her family and film the rest of her story, and we would meet up with the group later.

Silvie and I walked the short distance to Sabine’s home, gear in hand. Sabine is blessed to live so close to her school, as it is only a short 10-minute walk. Many students in this area travel hours to get to school. We hiked a small portion of the mountain behind the school today, and gasped for air when we were about a third of the way up it, and they told us that several students live on the other side of the mountain, and that it takes them more than 2 hours to get to school and get home each day. In urban areas, schools are often inaccessible for families because of cost. In rural areas like La Source, not only cost but simple access is a barrier to education. Even many of our professors travel an hour to come teach each morning on the back of motorbike taxis down dusty bumpy roads, but they come out to this rural area because they believe in the power of education and Christ to give children hope.

On the way to Sabine’s home I asked Silvie (my friend fluent in French who inspires me to learn another language) to tell Sabine that we don’t want to intrude on their lives, so she could go ahead and ask her parents for permission before we arrived and only if they invited us in would we come in. She smiled and told us it was not a problem, and we found out later that her parents are both farmers, and the 8 children in their family take care of each other during the days while their parents work. There is much more to Sabine’s story that I will soon share with the church via video, but for me, personally, to walk into her home was a really powerful moment.

The homes in this area are all on similar lots – and the lot size is similar to mine at home (I think I heard them say 100 x 200 but I have no idea what measurement that is – so I’ll let you imagine). They all have fences around them made of cactus to protect their gardens (the fences are beautiful). When we walked into Sabine’s yard I was amazed by how clean it was. The ground was swept dirt and was perfectly flat and even. It felt like walking across my carpet after I had vacuumed. I could tell her family had spent time getting it free of rocks or debris. Her little brothers and sisters ran around, smiling at us, and hiding behind older siblings. There was the main house, which was beautiful with cement front, a porch, decorative windows, and lace curtains in the doorways. There was another small house to the left where three girls were washing clothes in bowls on the porch, and on the back of the dirt lot there was a large building with no walls but just a roof. I asked one of Sabine’s sisters what it was, and she told me, but I have no idea what it means and can’t remember the word, so you can guess about that as well. The entire place was beautiful and we felt immediately at ease.

We filmed Sabine’s story, took some pictures of her siblings because they wanted in on the fun, and I got to again take a posed picture, and show it to precious kids as they giggled. Some of the sisters ran in front of a beautiful tree by the main porch and posed, and I went over to take their picture. After the picture in the bright sunlight, when I bent down to show them, I could feel little hands on my waist as they leaned in closely to see the dark screen in the bright sunlight. I loved it. It made me long to bring my girls here so they could play in this place with these children. We left, hugging children and saying our goodbyes, but we happily discovered that most of the children in her family were following us to meet up with our group. They showed us shortcut paths that weave between homes and gardens and we felt like a part of their community off the main roads walking through areas where normally only Haitians walk. We spent the rest of the morning with them, working and laughing together with the teachers as we cleaned out the pit for the tilapia pond, squealing when one of the teachers discovered a tiny snake, taking pictures together in various poses, and hiking up and back down the mountain (on the way back down one little girl in green ran fast and light, barefoot but somehow graceful on this dirt and rock trail, reminding me of Tinkerbell). It was a beautiful day with Sabine and her family. They welcomed us not only into their home, but into their family and neighborhood for the day, and I loved every moment of it.

Today 2 of the 200 students at the COF school came out to help us dig the pond and spend time with us, and one of those was Sabine. Our God is a genius at the 1% odds and always, always, always answers our prayers.

Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You. Part 1

Brilliant blog on why people leave churches. So grateful to serve at a place who shows people that God’s love is real every single day.

john pavlovitz

WalkingAway

Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?

I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.

You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.

You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed-up the morality of the world, that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.

But those aren’t the reasons…

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The Summer of Light

This week has been tough, with tears pressing behind my eyes and an almost constant headache because of the battle with the voices in my head. And sharing about it is scary. But I believe in the power of vulnerability, in the power of the “me too” moment when one person connects with another. So despite the panic when sharing and what Brene Brown so brilliantly calls “The vulnerability hangover” afterward, I, with a deep breath and a prayer that the Lord will redeem this moment for good, want to open up.

In Texas, where we live, this is the last week of school. Starting on Friday, all of our littles will be home for sun, fun, and relaxation. And all over Facebook I see moms rejoicing in that fact, excitedly planning sun-kissed adventures. But for us, in our home, we have a child who requires structure, who pushes boundaries, and who has been, in utmost vulnerability, challenging to parent for manymonths. So I look to the end of this week with dread. I battle fear. “What if she acts out and the nanny quits? What if she gets worse over the summer? What if we can never get this under control? What if? What if? What if?”

And all of you moms can predict how this goes. The immediate next feeling, after the dread and fear, is an overwhelming sense of guilt. “How can a mother think this way?”  A feeling of failure at this one job you want to do well, more than any other. First I feel like I failed her that she is even having these struggles, then I feel failure for the fear about the ways we handle it. “What  if we are making this worse? What if there is something wrong and she really can’t help all of these behaviors? What if something we did is causing this?”

My thoughts are a mess. It feels like I am a mess. It feels like our home is a mess.

But I know that isn’t the whole story. I know that we are not a mess. I know that the Lord has a plan for our family, for our little girl, for me as a mom. I know that the circumstances we face now are not the defining circumstances of our life. And I know that my little girl has a huge heart that loves and seeks Jesus, and because of Him she has hope.

So I write this for a few reasons. First, there may be moms like me, with children who require special parenting, who are fearful this week and drowning in isolation and guilt. For you I say. “me too,” and I believe that the Lord has good plans for us and our special kiddos. I believe that he can take this summer, with the lack of structure, and do something beautiful. Second, I write this because I can’t get past it until I do write it, as an act of confession, and trust the Lord to do in me what He needs to do through this circumstance so far out of my control. Third, I have developed, through the years, this amazing support system of people who pray for us. We are seeking help for our child and for our family to try and make life better and restore peace in our home, and we have a very important appointment this week leading us hopefully in the direction of some solutions. Would you pray with us that we find that peace and have the wisdom we need?

This will not be the summer of fear, or of dread. This will be the summer of light, and of knowing the grace of God in a new and powerful way. I do believe it and I pray it for your home and mine.

The Powerful Woman

“Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.” – Bates (Downton Abbey)

powerFor years I have been working through what I believe about women and power (I call it processing, but really, like Bates, it’s brooding). Because there are two extremes in our culture, and I disagree with both. There is the world’s definition of female power, distorted by our enemy until somehow women choose to do things that are absolutely terrible for us to demonstrate we have the right, and then the church’s definition of female power, which in many places is no power at all, or worse, no voice (although certainly not everywhere). Both extremes make me very uncomfortable.

I’ve not always thought about women and power in a righteous way – in fact most often probably the opposite. The rebellious contrarian nature in me (that aged my parents like my rebellious contrarian child ages me) rises up when someone addresses this issue, and I struggle to understand and work through what I believe about rights, submission, surrender, and the power that is mine as a child of the King. I’ll search the Bible for answers, and feel my spirit lift and fall as I read things that encourage or confuse me when it comes to women and power. Paul, for example, writes some pretty strict limitations on women’s leadership, but shortly after praises a female apostle and writes greetings to several women leaders in the early church, and after that says there is no male and female in the Kingdom. It is confusing, and anyone who tells you it isn’t apparently possesses some secret Bible decoder ring that I’d love to borrow for a month or two or forever. And again I’m a contrarian, so I want to know the truth, but I won’t believe something just because you say it is true.

I’ve always been this way. As a child, in my Christian school, I submitted a science fair project on my attempt to determine the point where life begins, studying it both in the Bible and from a scientific viewpoint, trying to work through what I believed. And let me tell you – the entire project didn’t go over well in the school I attended, despite my genuinely pro-life viewpoint (I think I got a 72). Sometimes questions, even asked innocently, make people uncomfortable.

And that discomfort certainly exists when you start discussing women and power in today’s church. We all have a point of view, often shaped by our experiences. For years I served in churches where women on staff were the absolute minority and relegated to non-ministerial “director” roles. On one staff, I was the only woman on the executive staff (terrifying, right?), and I felt like I had to represent all women at a table full of men, all of the time. It exhausted me. So I left ministry, aside from serving beside my minister husband, because I couldn’t figure out how to be me in those environments.

But in the meantime, I kept being drawn to these women who were both powerful and righteous – and I loved watching them be all God had made them to be. I longed to see more of that from the Church that I love.

So this position comes up at Community of Faith for me to serve full-time on a church staff again.  Honestly, I’ve never cried or agonized over a decision more in my life. I actually said no several times. And then I visited here and saw that this church is defined by so many things that move my heart: mission, Prayer, restoring the broken, redeeming the lost. This place is real and simple and powerful. There is freedom here. Beauty. Vulnerability. God’s presence so thick you can feel it. Prayer like I’ve never experienced. I wanted to be here but I was not sold on my role on the staff until I met a woman who demonstrated quiet graceful strength. She is our Pastor’s wife – but we also call her our Pastor. She doesn’t claim that title or call herself that as if it were her right – but she started COF with her husband and her wisdom saturates this place and she completely fills that role in the right way, so that is what we call her, because we honor her. On the drive back to Dallas, after seeing the church and meeting the Shooks, Justin and I talked and wrestled and prayed and processed like our life was on the line – because it was. During that talk, I cried when I told him that meeting her, I finally saw myself here. I knew if I came on staff I would never have to represent all women, because they are very beautifully represented in the women on staff here already. But more than that, I felt like I had seen the right kind of power displayed and honored, and it felt like coming home.

(There are some who will shut down as you read the last paragraph, and I get it. I  hope my heart is coming across correctly, but I also know we all have entirely too much baggage when it comes to the issue of women and the church. We have seen abuses and been taught rules and boundaries quite forcefully, so I get the complexity and discomfort).

So we decide to move here after the Lord confirms our decision about eleven different ways, and I return to full-time ministry. We are at this church, this church of our dreams, serving with people who are fully alive to the world of the Spirit and fully on-mission to reach the world. Last weekend I filmed sixteen people as they were baptized, and our Pastor stood at the top of the steps of the baptistry and said “I’m proud of you” to each one as they timidly stepped into the water and into the new life of obedience to Christ. This place is not perfect, I know, but it is special and the Lord’s hand is here and we are moved by it week after week after week. So many times since we moved here Justin and I have said to each other, “This is worth giving up our lives.”

But even still, it hasn’t been easy for me. I brood. I feel unsettled. Awkward. Striving. Inadequate. Insecure. Too tall. Too loud. Too much. Not enough. I am fighting to process all of this because it is all so new. This new culture. This new paradigm. Even the new roles Justin and I are filling at home and my role at work. In every area of our life there are massive changes, and I am stuck in my head working through them. Most of all, I’m working through how to walk through this door the Lord so clearly opened for our family. Because it’s amazing and refreshing to meet a woman walking in the right kind of power, but it’s hard to be a woman walking in the right kind of power. I feel a little bit like I’m learning to walk again, wobbling between extremes, trying to find my way. Too fearful one moment, too bold the next. Too confident in my own wisdom, then plagued with self-doubt, all the time not relying enough on the wisdom of my Father. My feelings are all over the map, and although rationally I know my feelings aren’t truth – still I feel so many feelings and it makes me uncomfortable.

Finally I come to tonight – and the reason I am writing. There has been some serious violence in our new area in the past months, and the women on our staff were invited to a prayer meeting to stand together against the forces of evil in our town. So I go with some female staff members and staff wives, and we walk into a room with about 16 people total, where we are led in prayer. And it was powerful. All-caps POWERFUL. We are praying in unison, quiet at first, but with more and more boldness as we go. We are humbling ourselves, begging the Lord to intercede and move and change hearts and rescue. We have been afraid, but we aren’t going to live in fear anymore. Instead we are laying down our requests before the God who controls armies of angels. We are also stepping into the power that is ours to fight against the enemy. The leader of the prayer time says,  “We don’t have to take this – we don’t have to be subject to this violence and the schemes of the enemy. We have power in Christ to push back this darkness” and my spirit felt free to walk in that power. It was glorious… and I’m not a person who uses the word “glorious.” We are women, praying in power, as if we have the right to claim this victory and take back this land for the glory of the Lord. Because we do. And I just kept thinking as I left – this is the right kind of power. This is the undefinable thing that moves me about this place.

(As a sidenote, in that room praying with us was one of the most powerful and influential women in the entire Christian world – a name every single one of you would know without question, crying out to the Lord alongside us, revealing the Source of her very formidable strength. When the Lord shows me something, He often has to repeat Himself until even I can’t miss the lesson).

Tonight these conflicted ideas stopped being conflicted for me. The power is not in me, and yet is in me. I am a simple girl. A mess more often than I admit. I know better than anyone how utterly unqualified I am on my own strength to lead anyone or represent the Lord in ministry to a hurting world. And yet I am a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, so His power is in me. He uses me despite my weakness. He empowers me with His strength. And when I walk in that power, there are no limits to what I can or should do for the Lord and His Kingdom. The difference between power out-of-control and beautiful righteous power is the Spirit in which I am walking. Am I walking in surrender to Christ, filled with the Spirit? Then I am powerful and I have no reason to fear or limit myself.

Pray for me, sweet friends, and I’ll pray for you, that we will walk in the power of Christ in the way we were intended, without fear and without a desire to glorify ourselves. And may we progress from infants struggling to walk in this power to daughters dancing and running, pushing back the darkness and bringing glory to the God who created us male and female, for His glory.

For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor 1:26 – 31.

I think this is appropriate given the subject matter. 🙂

All Things New

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?…

For the past several years, Justin has been the Worship Pastor at Southlake Baptist Church and we have lived in the DFW area. We have loved our ministry time there, and are grateful to the church, staff, and our friends. We grew as people, parents, and ministers, and made lifelong friends. We thank God for SBC.

But Justin and I have waited with bated breath for a chance to to “go public” with some pretty big news. We will be moving over Christmas to the Northwest Houston area to join the staff of Community of Faith church. We will both be joining the staff, he as a member of the Worship team and I on the Communications Staff. This opportunity came out of nowhere, and as it has unfolded it has become clear to us that the Lord is moving mountains to get us there. For example:

Justin playing with the Worship Team at COF

Justin playing with the Worship Team at COF on his interview trip.

  • Within weeks of talking to one of us about a job, a position for the other one opened up.
  • Our house, in the first 12 hours on the market, received 2 offers. (Shout out to Christy Horne for her help – having her as our real estate agent is one of the wisest decisions we have ever made).
  • COF was the answer to prayers we prayed quietly about the kind of church we wanted to serve at in ways we never imagined.
  • Some of our closest friends serve at this church, ready to provide a support system for us.

We are incredibly excited. Let me share a few things about this church that match our hearts and passion. First of all, the Pastor and his wife are former missionaries, and the church was actually planted to fund ministry and missions around the world. When you walk in the door there are huge prints of pictures of the people they are partnering with around the world, and almost every leader in the church has traveled with the church and has a global perspective on ministry. Second, the staff considers themselves missionaries serving NW Houston and the world, and it is a value of the church to involve staff children in ministry at every level. Our children will grow up with the idea that international missions are completely normal and necessary to the local church. Third, the church has a laser-focused vision and refuses to spend time or money on anything that does not support that vision. Fourth, the Pastor and his wife are some of the most authentic, visionary people we have ever met and we love the idea of following the Lord with them.

Jen shooting Mark and Laura for Christmas TV commercial.

Jen shooting Pastor Mark and Laura Shook for Christmas TV commercial.

This will be, by far, the biggest leap of faith our family has ever taken in our journey of following Christ, and we appreciate all the prayers you can think to lift on our behalf. We truly feel this is the Lord’s leading, and we feel peace and a sense of excitement about what He is doing in our lives. We look forward to continuing our relationship with all the people in our world, possibly from a larger distance, but from hearts near to the Lord and to each other. We wanted to tell our church in person, but because of the weather and the timing of our announcement, we won’t be able to share it as we had planned. So we wanted to write this letter to spread the word from our heart to yours so you will hear what the Lord is doing.

It is a new day for us, and we have many emotions. Some sadness about leaving the people and places we love, some anxiety about new roles and transition, and much excitement about what is next.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:3-11

There is a Time

Today one of my best friends has the fun sonogram where you find out the sex of your baby. It’s my favorite one. My heart is full of joy for her. I even dreamed about it I’m so excited. At almost the same time, my other best friend will be planning the memorial service for her beautiful mother who went home to be with Jesus yesterday. I can’t believe her mom is gone. My heart is broken for her.

And yet it is also so appropriate I would feel this amazing joy today. My friend’s mom was full of life. She loved to laugh and dance and sing. Her house was one of my favorite places in the world. She loved babies – she was a pediatric nurse her entire adult life. She’s one of the people who inspired me to return to school. She would be rejoicing alongside me today.

So I dwell with both emotions – grateful for the gifts we have on earth and grateful for the hope of heaven when we face these weighty sorrows.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

I love you Mama P. I will dance with you in heaven again.