Sunday, August 6, 2017

Nothing Is As It Appears

Do you ever have the feeling tomorrow can’t come fast enough?  I do.  We all have hopes for what tomorrow will bring.  For our family, we have dreams and aspirations of reaching our destination…and just like the story of Nehemiah we have had some come against us with words of discouragement and maybe even to stand in our way.  But would you expect less?  I believe that the devil is coming against us but our resolve and the reason for which we are here is to do what God has put into our heart. 

So, this past Tuesday we had been invited to a party for a day of celebration (Guanacaste Day) with our organization here in Costa Rica and just as we were about to go, I (Aaron) somehow managed to puncture a reservoir and the front right tire of the car all while backing out of the dumb driveway.  

Our driveway 

Have you ever had that feeling of utter defeat?  That was me.  I was frustrated with the fact that we now couldn’t do what we planned to do.  The delay seemed to affect our whole family.  Kids started to melt and the mood completely changed in our house.  Hmmm, where’s the blessing in that?!

Well, as our kids went down for naps, I began to do research of where to go to get the car fixed.  For a lot of men this kind of thing is an adventure.  However, for me, this was a daunting and incredibly stressful thing.  I don’t claim to know anything about cars.  It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I’ve never made it a priority.  Add to that being in a foreign country with a car I do not know and not being able to communicate in a way that I want.  Where do I even start?  Who do I call?  And once I make the call, what do I say? 

I decided to ask a few more seasoned people and found some places to go.  The Lord directed me to a tire store.  “Yo necesito nuevas llantas por favor con un buen garantí?  Cuanto cuesta?”  (I need new tires please with a good warranty.  How much does that cost?)  When they told me the price I thought that they weren’t either being honest or probably more likely I didn’t understand them.  But when I got the bill I was delightfully surprised.  I still didn’t fully get the message.

Then a day later after we got a nearby mechanic to fix the other issues that I caused to the car – I thought, OK here it comes… the painful reality.  But I met the manager and could communicate well.  He was a believer, and we had a great conversation!  Then I met the owner who was also a believer.  He told me that because we were students at the missionary school he would give us a great discount.  My skeptical nature was still suspect but a couple of hours later I came away with only a $40 bill.  In addition, I had the opportunity to talk with those 2 Christian men in Costa Rica about the vision God had laid on our hearts.  Wow, encouragement can come from the most bizarre and unexpected places. 

The shop we used, which is closed on Sundays for worship.

Does God sow the seeds of our future in the disappointments of today?  Somehow, I am beginning to think this way.  Biblically, I know this to be true. Experientially, I doubt more than I actually trust, especially while in the throes of frustrating or difficult circumstances.

Maybe you feel like you are drowning in despair or you feel like your difficulties are outweighing the good.  Maybe you’re frustrated at God with the hand you have been dealt.  I know my circumstances probably don’t compare with what you may be going through, but I have had far worse than this before. And we ALL struggle sometimes in deep sorrow. 

But maybe, just maybe, our heavenly Father is sowing seeds of the future in the difficulties of today.  And when it seems that sorrow is too difficult to bear, we need to remember that nothing may be as it appears. Maybe much is meant to be hidden from our view.  

Isaiah 55:8-9

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dare to Be a Daniel

It has now been 2 months since our family left the states to serve in full-time missions. Costa Rica is where God has called us and so this is where we are! The training (as mentioned in the last blog) was lengthy but needed. Fundraising - while hard - strengthened friendships and developed new ones! Also lengthy but needed. The packing, purging, parties and goodbyes - all part of the process of leaving.

Saying goodbye at Gerald R. Ford airport in Grand Rapids, MI. 

But now. We're here in San Jose!  Spanish language school is in full swing for all of us - including our adorable 15 month old babbling baby. Immersion is part of our daily adjustments, and frankly isn't always easy. We knew it wouldn't be and for most things, by God's sovereign grace, we have met the challenges head on! Our kids are not wimps, and neither are we.  We recently walked a hot 2 miles for a few errands, unfortunately on garbage day.  The kiddos skipped and sung, while maneuvering around piles of trash that were potent enough to wake the dead. We clung to their small hands tightly so they wouldn't trip in potholes or cracks or trip over the homeless man who often snores soundly on the sidewalk.

Our oldest owns a machete and cuts our small patch of grass weekly. He does a pretty good job and so far hasn't cut anything but the yard. Some people think we're crazy, but his dad is training him well and he loves the work.

We live behind a locked gate and a metal barred door. All our windows have bars. Razor wire tops the gates and the roof line. That's just part of life here in this central american city! A new friend's home was robbed at gunpoint a few days ago and a woman was assaulted on a nearby street. We don't use our phones when we're out walking, because we'd actually like to keep them in our possession.

Reality is - everywhere there is danger. As is obvious in the news, whether in the states or here in Costa Rica, Satan is on the prowl and wants an entrance into our hearts and home. Should we live in a state of fear? The answer is NO.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. The adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." 1 Peter 5:8,9

Over breakfast this past Sunday our family read the words of both 1 Peter and Daniel chapter 6.  After REFUSING to renounce his faith nor stop praying, Daniel's punishment was horror awaiting in the lion's den.  Daniel offered his fear to God, and God provided an angel to shut the mouths of those hungry lions. Satan lost a huge battle that day! Word of God's faithfulness to protect Daniel spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom.

Our kids have heard this story over and over, but this day we reminded them that the devil who "prowls around like a roaring lion..." wants to daily devour our love, joy and peace - especially in our home. He tries to lurk in the most sneaky places. Subtlety is often the name of his game.  A word harshly spoken. Impatience. Selfishness.

After a few humbling examples, one thing was obvious! Every day is a battle!! In the face of fearful or irritable moments wherever we are, we MUST remember to RESIST. Our world is not getting nicer. Satan is not letting up. HE HATES BELIEVERS! Yes, we must be sober-minded and watchful.

In May Pope Francis stated that more Christians are martyred today than in ancient times. Read the story here. Days after the Manchester bombing 29 Christians (including children) were murdered for resisting Satan and refusing to renounce their faith. This violence is happening all the time. Christians martyred usually just doesn't make the main news.

Okay, so this post may be a bit of a downer! But as we live out our faith here in Costa Rica or wherever we travel, it is becoming more evident of how watchful we must be. Fearful??! No. Firm in our faith? YES!! And instead of backing down when we enter the den of lions, may we dare to be a Daniel.

From the words of a childhood song...

  1. Dare to Be a Daniel
  2. Written by Philip P. Bliss, 1873

  3. Standing by a purpose true,
    Heeding God’s command,
    Honor them, the faithful few!
    All hail to Daniel’s band!
    • Refrain:
      Dare to be a Daniel,
      Dare to stand alone!
      Dare to have a purpose firm!
      Dare to make it known.
  4. Many mighty men are lost,
    Daring not to stand,
    Who for God had been a host
    By joining Daniel’s band.
  5. Many giants, great and tall,
    Stalking through the land,
    Headlong to the earth would fall,
    If met by Daniel’s band.
  6. Hold the Gospel banner high!
    On to vict’ry grand!
    Satan and his hosts defy,
    And shout for Daniel’s band.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Time for Training

In some ways we are the same family who left Michigan over 7 weeks ago. In other ways we are forever changed.  God has used our time of training to teach and mold us into more usable vessels.

We were stretched in ways we didn't expect and prepared for real ministry from people who have lived it. The facilitators loved us enough to speak truth into our lives even when it wasn't fun. Many of these seasoned missionaries have served in multiple countries across the globe and God has used them to impact many lives - it was an honor to learn from them. We are even more excited now to immerse into Costa Rican culture and feel we are better equipped to do so!

Our days were spent learning about how culture and language affects the worldview of individuals. Why do people act the way they do in a particular culture? How did this come about? How did historical events change people forever? One example: What makes people of the United States feel a sense of security in their freedom? This is deeply ingrained in our culture. Even to the point we believe we possibly deserve it. Two-thirds of the world however, were not liberated, but enslaved. If you live in that context, it changes everything about your worldview. 

"It's not wrong. It's not weird. It's just different."  We have adopted this mantra so that when we get to Costa Rica, the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to the heart of the individuals we are going to minister to. Our family will not be bringing the United States to them. We are entering their world with hearts open and willing to serve and grow alongside them.

God has uniquely positioned and gifted us for this people group. That being said, we are going in weakness and humility placing ourselves in subjection, so that we earn their trust and are able to lavish Christ's love & grace on them. We are not going to try to fix them. Only God can change hearts!

Yes, our training was exhausting. Our minds and hearts were challenged! As for our children: Micah, Mia, Merry and Manna were loved deeply by the teachers, facilitators, other missionaries and their classmates.

What a blessing to be at CIT as a family to grow together and be prepared for leaving the US. The unique, fun moments we captured were refreshing. We treasure these kiddos!

As we leave NC - yes, we are changed. God has invited us into His plans. The work in Costa Rica is His. The language which speaks to their hearts is His, too. Gratefulness fills us as we know He is faithful to complete the work begun in us. We are honored to play a small part in what He's doing!

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it." 1 Thess. 5:23-24

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Counting the Cost - Part 2 (Cassie)

I sat in the basement and wept. There was so much work to do before leaving for pre-field training! Piles of sweet-smelling baby clothes stuffed in totes were one of the last major items to be purged. My heart hurt.

"I don't want to do this, Lord!  This is hard!"

Countless missionaries had moved away from home and done this before me, but that brought no comfort. How much more did I need to get rid of? Would I lose the memories if our stuff was gone?

I felt silly. Other people have faced huge loss. I could do this! I would donate or sell it all! But then I peered into another tote and saw my kids fuzzy sleepers or homemade blankets, and the tears wouldn't stop.

I snapped the lids closed and delayed the process for another day.

Merry Joy made me smile.

Our mentors and other missionaries encouraged me to mourn the loss, embrace the change AND keep the things that brought me joy!! So, I decided to keep a few (not-letting-go-right-now) baby clothes & blankets, books, my beautiful Christmas nativity and kitchen must-haves....among other practical and (not-so-practical-but-brings-me-joy) small stuff. (Kinda sad that a puppy isn't very practical at this point..hmmm...)  Also, our parents offered to store a few other "keeps" here in the States. Gotta love them!

I never realized it would be such a hard process. The time-consumingness (is that a word?) of going through our possessions surprised me. Our kids have taught us a lot though. They cherish only a few toys and books. Anything else needed? Mom & Dad will simply provide!

That is exactly how God asks me to trust Him too. Most days, there are no tears. God has truly given Aaron & I such a peace about this calling on our lives. We can't wait to begin camp ministry in Costa Rica! But sometimes, the loss does hit me...

I will miss family. Friends. Celebrations. Our sending church. The changing seasons and beauty of the Midwest. Garage sale deals. The accessibility of a $5 pizza when I'm too tired to cook! Daily bubble baths (ahhhh...).

These things compared to what Christ gave are small. For me the loss is worth the gain. Following Jesus Christ is so worth the possibility of losing material possessions!

Today, I have given myself grace in the packing process, and maybe a little extra luggage space...just in case a few more favorites need to join us on our cross-cultural journey. Who knows...down the road if I brought something to the mission field that we don't use, it may be the perfect gift to bless a new friend!

And that would be pretty awesome. 

"...small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life...{Matthew 7:14a}

Monday, May 2, 2016

Counting the Cost - Part 1 (Aaron)

This morning marks the first day of the last month I will be employed by a public professional company…at least for the foreseeable future.   If you happened across this page not knowing our story; God has called our family into full time missions work.  God has invited us to move 3700 miles almost directly south of Michigan to Costa Rica.  If you have followed our story then this is no surprise but the reality of time passing catches us off guard at times.  This move will take place later this year if the Lord wills. 

As I reflect on everything that this move means and represents, so many thoughts flood my mind.  It is easy to allow my mind to reflect on regrets and missed opportunities, but I know that for all of my inadequacies God has orchestrated and prepared me, my family, friends and those receiving us for this very time. 

I had the opportunity to present briefly at a church in Jenison, MI yesterday, and as I was driving home I contemplated one thing that seemed pressing; the one thing I really want people to be left with is the reason why we are going!  So, WHY ARE WE GOING?  You might ask as many others have – why go somewhere else when there are so many opportunities to minister locally?  Why don’t you want to be near family?  Aren’t you afraid of the dangers that await you?   I could list a hundred questions here - so insert your own - but the answer is that GOD CALLED US and WE ARE GOING TO OBEY! 

God gives us all multiple chances to obey and I can honestly say there are some things I said “No thanks – not interested God”.   For many years I held a belief though I never said it out loud, that God wanted to give me a comfortable life…safe for me and my family!   The last several years God has told me over and over again that He loved me unconditionally AND we went through some really hard things.   C.S. Lewis once said, “The son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God”.  What a great statement but at what cost?  WHAT IS THE COST?

The truth is the cost is different for every individual but this I know that we are identified with Christ in our sufferings.  If you don’t believe this then I petition you to read Romans 8:15-18, Luke 9:23-26, 1 Peter 4:12-19, Matthew 16:24-26, 2 Timothy 1:7-14, Mark 13:6-13, Colossians 1:24-29, Philippians 3:7-10, John 15:18-33, Luke 17:33, Matthew 10:16-33 etc…

For those of you who know me well, you know that Ravi Zacharias has been instrumental in my development as a believer and my thinking.  In Ravi’s book The Grand Weaver, Ravi says, “Only if you are willing to pray for God’s will to be done and if you are willing to live the life apportioned to you,  will you see the breathtaking view of God”.  Most of us would agree that if we do not listen and obey the voice of God our lives probably are not going to reflect His glory very well.  But those of us who do choose to walk in His light will reflect as Moses did the glory of the mountain even though we have come down into the valley.  This is my prayer for all of you reading, that you will weigh the cost and see as it says in Romans 8 that the cost is nothing compared to the future glory that will be revealed in and through us!

So as we take our next steps towards obedience please pray that we would be found faithful –

ALL GLORY TO GOD – for it is only by His grace that we have a role to play, and an inheritance we did not earn.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Looking ahead...

 ... to the path God's laid out for us is pretty exciting - and very humbling.

To reflect on where we've been and how far He's brought us is just part of the journey.

We're headed to Campamento Biblico Rio Naranjo (Orange River Bible Camp) in northern Costa Rica after our family completes a year of language school learning Spanish and cultural acquisition, Lord willing.

We never truly know what we'll face on the road ahead until, well - we face it - but we are completely assured of this calling. The lives along the way that God brings to us are what we get really excited about! It's why we're going. We're called to serve, as He would serve - disciple, teach and LOVE - the way He would. The mountains, volcanoes, camp buildings and land will just be part of the pictures...

...but the people!

Now that's whom God's preparing us for. The breaking, molding and shaping in our lives has all been for this calling. Never could we have imagined the adventure to come - or the beautiful friendships - that we have yet to, yes - we are looking ahead.  Humbly and boldly - with ALL our trust in our Guide.  He's making the way, building His support team of senders for us, and compassionately caring for our hearts along the way.  We are so very thankful to be His children and to be called to join the work He's doing in Costa Rica.

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus onto good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do."  Ephesians 2:10

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dirty Laundry

Everyone has it.  Dirty laundry. So, what's the stink?  Why try to hide it and pretend it's actually clean and neatly folded?  

In our lives lately - well, there's been quite a bit of dirty laundry, and we're not just describing the cloth kind.  We didn't ask for the mess nor do we enjoy it, but we have learned at least how to balance a load or two. And the balance doesn't come without a few tears.

You see, God has asked us to do a HUGE thing for Him by preparing to leave for the mission field, and some days that includes being really uncomfortable. We believe that because we are willing to follow Jesus and let go of many of our comforts here in the States, that much of what we've experienced lately has been pretty good training. 

Satan hates what we're doing, and he's obviously been trying to throw some extra dirty laundry our way. And right now, one of our biggest struggles has been truthfully, not actually being able to WASH that dirty laundry ourselves. Our growing family of five (and soon-to-be six) is without our own working washer & dryer. You might say, what's the big deal? What's the fuss? Why the tears?  For us - it can be a big deal. This lack of "comfort" has been just one of many obstacles thrown our way since we began the journey of preparing to become full-time missionaries in a culture not our own. 

There is the extra weight & stress of balancing the preparations of leaving:  packing, purging, organizing, re-organizing...while also managing homeschool and family life, restless nights up with a sick 1 year old, pregnancy tiredness, fundraising, Aaron working full-time, and the occasional bouts of sadness that hit us when we realize, "Wow, this may be our last gorgeous mid-west Autumn for awhile..."  or "Mom, will I be able to take this birthday toy with us or is it too big?"  etc,  These are just a few of the struggles that can be quite stinky. 

Some days we try to shove our emotions and dirty laundry into neatly bundled clean-looking bags, 
smile, and say "We're good!"  

But what if we simply answered, "Today stinks!"  And what if we offered that sometimes we're supposed to be uncomfortable or that even maybe we're meant to not be able to wash our own dirty laundry?  What?!  It may sound a little crazy. But that's okay. 

The bible teaches us in James 1:2 to "Count it all joy, brothers & sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."  Count it as joy? How can we count our dirty laundry as JOY?  Testings and trials of many kinds come - sometimes at lightning fast speed - and we as Jesus followers are learning to not treasure a spot-free life. We are learning that we must treasure Christ more than the elusive trial-free days.

Our goal lately has been to give our stains, sadness, sin, struggles, sleepless nights and ALL our dirty laundry to the ONLY ONE WHO CAN RECEIVE AND WASH IT COMPLETELY CLEAN. Jesus Christ.

And what happens when we do? Well, we are given a much lighter load. And just as my own dad hands back a fully washed load of beautifully cleaned clothes for our family, I am reminded that our heavenly Father waits. He waits patiently for us with arms outstretched - always! Ready and willing to grab our stains, smells and sadness.  God our Father takes it all. ALL. Lovingly. Sacrificially.

We just have to give it! 

So, how are we doing life lately with lots of dirty laundry? Some days, "It stinks!" But many days - we triumph! Simply because we can't do this journey alone. Today we are claiming His joy and we will remain steadfast under trial. Why? Because comfort is not our main goal in this life. It used to be. But our family is following Christ - and through trials and triumphs - our joy will override the stink. 

And the appliance repairman that came today?  His name was Brian. Thankfully, he didn't know that I was restraining a hug the whole time he was here. Maybe he should have been told that he was an answer to our prayers.  He came as our appliance angel and healed our "Craigslist special".  

Thus, tonight - after months of waiting & praying and months of using the local laundromat or our sweet neighbors & parents machines - we have our own working stackable W/D. Yay! 

This beast will now be known by the name of "Stinker"!

Surely, the waiting, the hundreds of dollars spent, the failed previous repairmen's work, the grunts and flooded floor are all counted as joy....right?  Yep.  It's just part of our story as we learn to remain steadfast.  

Well, is there anything you can count as joy today?  Air it out!